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President Bush Holds Press Conference With Tom Ridge

Aired June 12, 2002 - 11:01   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we go live now to the White House and our Kelly Wallace, who is standing by with some news -- a nugget of news -- Kelly, go ahead.


You know the president's lobbying campaign for this new cabinet level agency, the Department of Homeland Security, fully underway. The president, using each opportunity to press lawmakers to act on his plan. And just a few moments from now our viewers will hear the president's latest push.

He was sitting before the first meeting of this new Homeland Security Advisory Council, made up of former government officials, private sector experts, charged with giving the president recommendations on how to protect the country from acts of terrorism. You'll hear the president say that these terrorists are, quote, "still lurking out there," sending the message that the threat to the United States remains.

And he talks about this new Department of Homeland Security. He says it will not be easy. He knows members of Congress will have to give up their turf, but he says this is not going to be about politics, it is going to be the president getting his message out, doing what is right for the country.

There has been a lot of concern about the FBI, the CIA not being part of this. The president saying the FBI and the CIA are sharing information. They're working better. But Mr. Bush says the time has come to create this new Department of Homeland Security.

Let's listen to Mr. Bush's comments from just a short time ago.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Mr. President, you have said in the war on terror knowledge is power. And this assembly of patriots from across the country, representing people, constituencies, institutions in the public and the private sector, combined with their ability to give us a very valuable and powerful tool in the war on terror.

As members of your presidential advisory team, they bring extraordinary experiences dealing with many of the issues that you've commissioned the Office of Homeland Security to deal with. Developing strong partnerships between the levels of government, involving government with the private sector, reaching out to citizens. These men and women have volunteered to work with you and with the Office of Homeland Security.

And it's a great pleasure and privilege for me to introduce you to them. Mr. President, this is your advisory team.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well thank you all very much for taking on this assignment -- Joe, thank you for your (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and Bill Webster. We've got a lot of talented folks around this table. And I want to thank you for agreeing to help our nation.

You know we're under attack. That's the way it is. The more we love freedom, the more we espouse values that are decent and honorable. The more we welcome religion in our society, open political discourse, the more this enemy is going to try to hit us.

And we've got two courses of action. One is to run them down wherever they try to hide and bring them to justice. That's precisely what we're going to do.

These people are the kind of people that -- you know they try to find a soft spot around the world and burrow in and plot and plan. And we're just going to have to enforce the doctrine, are you with us or are you against us? Either you join the coalition of freedom or you're on the other side of the fence.

And we're making good progress. We really are. The other night, when I announced this Department of Homeland Security, I made mention of the fact that our coalition has hauled in about 2,400 of these terrorists, these killers. The problem is there are still quite a number of them still out there.

We're using our military. We've got a great military, by the way. I'm really proud of the men and women who wear our uniform, and our nation is stand (ph) squarely with our military.

We're using diplomatic pressure. That's an important tool. We're cutting off their money. We've been fairly effective at cutting off their money. We can all do a little better job of denying them the funds they need. They don't need a lot of money, but they do need money to conduct their attacks.

We're sharing intelligence. I know many members of this committee have been very much involved in the intelligence-gathering capacity of America, and we're doing a better job of finding our weaknesses here at home and working on the weaknesses. The CIA and the FBI now are doing a much better job today than they had been prior to September 11th of sharing information across these -- what were once formidable jurisdictional boundaries.

The culture of our agencies has changed since the war. The FBI has got a new job, which is to prevent attack. And that's now their primary focus. And Bob Mueller is doing a good job of recognizing the cultural shift that needs to take place, of taking input, listening to people and responding.

And so we're making progress. We really are. But until we rout out every terrorist cell and every terrorist, until our attitudes change about freedom in America, we've got to protect our homeland in a new way. And I want to thank you all for agreeing to help us.

You're breaking new ground. And you're going to leave a legacy so that future presidents, future administrations and future Congress can deal more effectively with how to do the most important job any elected official has, which is to protect innocent life.

As you know, I called for the Department of Homeland Security. Obviously I wouldn't have done so if I didn't think it was the absolute right thing to do. I think it's important to focus the mission through reorganization. And I know it's going to help us be more effective here at home.

I also recognize how tough the chore is going to be. I mean, after all, we are asking people in Congress to give up turf, as they say, give up a little power. And I'm under no illusions that asking folks to give up power can be a difficult assignment.

So one of the things I'll do is remind the members of Congress that this is not a political issue. That protecting America is an American issue. It's a duty we all have and that I vow not to pay politics with doing what's right.

I'll also remind the Congress that I am going to continue to speak to the American people about this issue. Once I propose it, I'm going to take my case beyond Washington to the true influence -- the real influence peddlers of America, and that's the American people. The people who work every day and who got the capacity to inform their members of Congress or the Senate their opinion.

And that's what I'm going to continue to do. I'm going to continue to speak as plainly as I can about the need for this department, assuring the American people that we're not interesting in increasing the size and scope of the federal government. We're interested in efficiency.

We want an organization that can work closely with local leaders, such as my mayor, Mayor Williams. We want to be able to respond better if something were to occur. We want to know how better to enforce our borders.

We want to know when they're coming into our country and if they're overstaying their visas. We need to know that in America and to this new -- the new threats under which we live.

We've got -- I signed a bioterrorism bill today. I want to thank you all for coming for the signing ceremony. I saw Jim Schlessinger there, and I'm sure you're glad I cut my remarks in half, because the temperature seemed to be a little warm out there.

But the idea is to better coordinate our capacity to detect weapons of mass destruction and respond to them if they occur. And finally, we need an analytical capacity within a department that can take all the intelligence that's gathered not only by the FBI or the CIA, but all throughout our government and analyze it. So we have a better feel for what the terrorists might be thinking and then how to respond.

And you all can play a very useful role in this process. You bring a lot of heft and a lot of experience and a lot of know how. You can definitely help us understand how best to coordinate government activities with the private sector. And that's essential that we team up to do everything we need to do to protect America.

So I want to thank you for your service. I want you to know this administration is totally committed to protecting the people. Many of you are aware of the president's briefing he gets, sees or knows what the president reads. And they're still out there. These people, you know, these killers, they're still lurking around.

But they picked on a group of people who are plenty determined, and that's the American people. We've got a fabulous nation, and we're tough and we're determined and we're united and we're strong. And, at the same time, we're showing the world that we're a compassionate nation as well.

We won the first battle -- or we're winning the first battle in the war of the 21st century, which is in Afghanistan. And we went into that country not as conquerors, but as liberators. And I'm proud of our nation, and I'm proud of your service to our nation. And I want to thank you all for giving us your time -- God bless you all.


WALLACE: President Bush speaking there. The first meeting of this new Homeland Security Advisory Council, 21 members, former government officials, like former CIA and FBI director William Webster; local officials, such as D.C.'s Mayor Anthony Williams. The goal to get recommendations on how to protect the country from acts of terrorism.

This all part of the president's lobbying push trying to put pressure on lawmakers to pass his proposal and create a new cabinet level agency, the Department of Homeland Security, this year. Mr. Bush says he is not under any illusions. He knows how tough it will be; how lawmakers, more than 80 congressional committees and subcommittees have some say over this. How difficult it will be for lawmakers to give up his turf, but he says -- or their turf.

He says this is absolutely the right thing to do. He will take his message on the road. Later today, Daryn, he will be meeting in person, using some personal diplomacy, meeting with some of those committee chairs to say it is time to get this done -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelly Wallace, at the White House, thank you so much.




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