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Senators Lieberman, Specter Discuss Homeland Security Plans

Aired June 6, 2002 - 14:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to Washington. We understand that Senator Joseph Lieberman is there before the microphones to give us is opinion of President Bush's plan to reorganize the government for homeland security.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: ... the events of last September 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed showed that our government is not prepared to deal adequately with the kinds of terrorist attacks that I fear we're going to face again in the future.

And that led several of us in both houses and both parties, beginning last fall, to put legislation in to create a Department of Homeland Security, with a director, a secretary if you will, who had budget and line authority over the agencies underneath him, and to create a White House Office of Counterterrorism to coordinate counterterrorist activities across the government.

We did that because we felt that the president had given Governor Ridge the most difficult and now most important job in the federal government but did not give him the power to get that job done.

I am very pleased that President Bush will announce tonight the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. While the details of the proposal are not clear, it does appear to track the legislation that Senator Specter and I introduced last fall and Senators Specter and Graham and I put in in May and which our colleagues in the House put in as well in similar time frames, and may say, which our committee, the Governmental Affairs Committee, reported out favorably about two weeks ago.

It sounds, for instance, as if the administration will consolidate some of the key border security operations, that the administration will propose not just a new Department of Homeland Security but a White House Office of Homeland Security, and that the administration is indicating that the new department will be a focal point for coordination and communication with state and local officials and the private sector just as we envisioned in our legislation.

The battle now begins, and the good news is that this broad, bipartisan group of us in Congress and the White House are on the same side as we strengthen our guard to protect the American people at home against the threat of terrorism.

But make no mistake about it, change is never easy, particularly for large bureaucracies. And I expect that there will be opposition from the bureaucracies that are being put under the new secretary of homeland security and from members of Congress who are close to those bureaucracies.

But the hard fact is that we are living at a time that demands peak performance and maximum cooperation among every agency of the federal government that has to do with homeland security. And it is only through the kinds of changes that we have proposed and that the president will propose tonight that that can happen. The status quo has simply not worked.

And I'm looking forward to working now with the president and the administration to find and implement rapidly a better way.

I thank you.

Senator Specter, do you want to...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you very much, Senator Lieberman.

I shall be brief for two reasons. Number one is, it's very hot today. And number two is that Senator Lieberman has said it all. The latter doesn't usually stop any of us from talking at great length.

(CROSSTALK)

SPECTER: I think I may yield to the House on that one.

(LAUGHTER)

But the news that the president is going to be moving for a Cabinet officer for homeland defense is very, very good news. We are facing some really tough issues. And you can see it today in the Judiciary Committee hearings where we have heard this morning from Director Mueller and we'll hear this afternoon from Special Agent Rowley.

There is an issue as to whether there will be a pitched battle over seating turf jurisdiction, which is very, very tough in this town.

But my sense is that there is an awareness that this is such an important issue that we're going to get it done and we're going to get it done very promptly.

And as an appropriator, I can tell you that Senator Byrd and the rest of us will be glad to have access to Governor Ridge, presumably the new secretary, to lay out his programs for $38 billion. And I think this is a big step forward for the protection of America.

And now I'm going to go to the Veterans Affairs markup. REP. ELLEN O. TAUSCHER (D), CALIFORNIA: Wow, this is a great success for the American people on the Free Tom Ridge movement. For those of us who have wanted Tom Ridge to have a Cabinet appointment and a real job -- not just responsibility, but real authority -- this is what the American people need. We need a harmonized agency that is streamlined and responsible...

HARRIS: We will step away at this point after hearing the comments here from Senator Specter and Lieberman, who earlier had proposed legislation creating just such a cabinet-level post. Here, we hear now that they are actually thinking that the announcement being made tonight by President Bush is, in the words of Arlen Specter there, Senator Specter, very, very good news.

Let's check in now with our Jonathan Karl who is there on Capitol Hill right now -- Jon.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Leon, a lot of very initial, very positive initial reaction to the president's proposal for this Department of Homeland Security. Of course, the people up here on Capitol Hill are waiting to see the details of that proposal.

But the initial reaction from Democrats as well as Republicans is very positive, especially from Democrats like Joe Lieberman, whom you saw there, because Joe Lieberman has really led the charge here on Capitol Hill to do just what the president is talking about, create a department of homeland security so that Tom Ridge is not merely an adviser to the president, but is a member of his cabinet and somebody who would have to testify before Congress, somebody that would have authority over his own budget, not merely the authority to advise the president about the budgets of others.

So, very critical person there, Joe Lieberman, because he will be the person who will be carrying the ball up here on Capitol Hill as far as the Democrats are concerned for this idea. As a matter of fact, Lieberman's own proposal for a Department of Homeland Security passed his committee on May 22 by a vote of 9-7. And what's interesting about that, Leon, is it was nine Democrats voting yes and seven Republicans voting no.

The president, up until now, the White House has been against the idea of making it a Department of Homeland Security, saying it was premature. And Republicans largely have followed suit. So now you have a very different political dynamic up here.

One other note though, Leon, is that this is all going on while the judiciary committee is having its blockbuster hearing on the FBI's mishaps on September 11, featuring of course, the whistleblower, Coleen Rowley. And Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, was at that hearing testifying and faced some very tough questions from the members of that committee, saying did you know this was coming. Did you know that this big proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security, a proposal that will have a direct impact on the FBI, were you consulted about it. And Mueller would not answer that question. He would not say whether or not he even knew it was coming. And that led to some -- really some harsh reaction from the Democrats wondering, what is going on here. And even the chairman of that committee, Patrick Leahy, hinted that he believes that this could be an effort to take away attention from this hearing today, featuring Coleen Rowley, a hearing that will be very embarrassing to the FBI -- Leon.

HARRIS: Yes. Real quick, what's all that cheering we just heard a second ago?

KARL: All that cheering, well, they usually cheer CNN here wherever you go an Capitol Hill, Leon.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm not sure. It's look like a student group outside.

HARRIS: Yes, we've heard about your rock star status there in Washington, Jon.

KARL: Oh, it's amazing.

HARRIS: All right. Get out of here. Jonathan Karl...

KARL: Thanks, Leon.

HARRIS: ... from Capitol Hill, thanks.

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