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Bush Threatens to Veto Senate Version of Homeland Security

Aired July 26, 2002 - 08:44   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Watching the White House this morning, the House could vote later today on a bill about homeland security. The president is talking about that now.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... local level and the state level. I know we've got some governors here. And I want to thank you all for coming.

We're on the cusp of doing something right for America.

And I appreciate members of my Cabinet who are here and I want to thank the secretary of defense, attorney general, the secretary of transportation, the head of the Office of National Drug Policy. I appreciate Kay James being here. I want to thank Tom Ridge for his hard work.

But most importantly, I want to thank the members of Congress, who got up pretty early after not much sleep, for your hard work and your care for our country. I see Senator Lieberman who is really working hard in the Senate to cobble together a homeland security bill that will work. I appreciate Senator Nickles being here as well. Senator Bennett from Utah. Thank you all for coming.

I really want to thank Chris Shays and Jim Gibbons for coming and Mac Thornberry as well. Three fine Republican members, along with Steve LaTourette. But I also want to thank Ellen Tauscher from the state of California. She's been working really hard to make this bill a bipartisan bill where the American people can see both Republicans and Democrats working together to do what's right for the country. I really want to thank you all for coming.

I also want to thank the heads of agencies who are here. Jim Loy, who's the undersecretary for transportation, chief operating officer of the Transportation Security Agency. He has served our country nobly running the Coast Guard and has now put on another uniform called a coat and tie.


I want to thank Tom Collins who does head the Coast Guard, Robert Bonner who runs Customs. I want to thank Jim Ziglar for running the INS. I appreciate again my governor friends, Rowland, King and Patton, for coming up today. And I also want to thank my mayor, Anthony Williams, the mayor of Washington, D.C.

I want to acknowledge Mike Carona of Orange County, California, the sheriff, for being here. Where are you, Mike. Oh, there you are. I was looking right at you. I appreciate you coming. He represents the local officials. What we call in Texas the high sheriffs. He's the fellow who recently apprehended the killer of Samantha Runnion there in California. I want to congratulate you for your good work in helping to make your community as safe as possible.

We're in our 10th month on the war on terror, and we've got a great deal to show for our efforts. We're making progress, and that's important for the American people to know. We continue to lead a mighty coalition of civilized nations, all adjoined in facing a common threat to humanity. This is the first war of the 21st century, and we're making progress.

We and our allies have uncovered terrorist cells all across the world. We're disrupting plots. We're doing a pretty good job of seizing their assets and cutting off their money, and we've got them on the run. See, these are international killers. That's all they are. And we're getting them on the run. So far, we've captured over 2,000 of the terrorists.

And just about that many weren't as lucky. But there's still a lot of them out there.

And what you need to know, as leaders in your communities, is that no matter how long it takes, we're going to run them down one by one and bring them to justice. And we do so not only to defend freedom and civilization itself, we do so to protect the American people, which is our highest calling.

We defeat the threat abroad, and we're doing a pretty good job here at home, as well. Congress has passed new laws to help. Congress has already acted to help our law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute terrorists. Congress responded quickly after September the 11th in a fashion that made me proud and I know made the American people proud.

We've strengthened our aviation security and tightened our borders. We've stockpiled medicines to defend against bioterrorism. We've developed new technologies to help first responders identify and react to attacks. We've dramatically improved information sharing amongst our intelligence agencies. And Governor Tom Ridge has produced the first comprehensive plan in our nation's history to protect America from terrorist attack.

It's a good piece of work, and I appreciate you and your staff, Tom, for working on it.

We're taking urgent measures against clear vulnerabilities, and now we must also prepare our government and our people for the long- term vigilance that the new threats will require.

I say "long-term" because this is a determined enemy we face. This isn't just a one-battle war. This is a war that will occupy not only our time, but will occupy the time of future presidents and future members of the United States Congress and future agency heads. The number-one priority of this government and the future governments will be to protect the American people against terrorist attack.

And so, therefore, I believe it's important we must create a Department of Homeland Security to prepare America for the permanent duty -- for the permanent duty -- of defending the homeland. And these members here today agree with me.

We need this department for one main reason: America needs a group of dedicated professionals who wake up each morning with the overriding duty of protecting the American people. The agencies in this department will have other duties, no question about it, but no higher responsibility. Protecting American citizens from harm is the first priority, and it must be the ruling priority of all of our government.

The Department of Homeland Security will have four primary tasks:

It will control our borders and prevent terrorists and weapons from entering our country. The way I like to put it is, we need to know who's coming in and why they're coming in and what they're bringing in with them and whether or not they're leaving when they say they're going to leave.

Secondly, the new department will work with our incredibly brave and dedicated first-responders, the representatives of whom are on the stage with me today. We need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies. We need good cooperation between the federal government, the state governments and the local governments.

We bring the best scientists together to develop technologies that will detect biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and to discover drugs and treatments to protect our citizens. We need to harness the great genius of the American people to make sure that it's focused on the true threat of the 21st century.

And for the first time this new department will merge under one roof the capability to identify and assess threats to the homeland, to map those threats against vulnerabilities and then to act to secure America. The Department of Homeland Security will draw on the knowledge and experience of every sector in America. We will work in a collaborative way with the people who care about America and that's the American leadership and the American people, at all levels of government.

This administration is working with Congress to forge a bipartisan bill, and I appreciate the members of both parties for coming this morning. I believe we're making good progress and, of course, being the modest fellow that I am, I'm willing to recognize a good idea even if it comes from Congress.


Yet, it's important to understand this: I'm not going to accept legislation that limits or weakens the president's well established authorities, authorities to exempt parts of government from the federal labor management relation statutes when it serves our national interests. Every president since Jimmy Carter has used this statutory authority and a time of war is the wrong time to weaken the president's ability to protect the American people.


And as Congress debates the issue of how to set up this department, I am confident they're going to look to me to say, "Well, is it being done right," after they got the bill passed. And therefore, it is important that we have the managerial flexibility to get the job done right.

We can't be micromanaged. They ought to say, let's make sure authority and responsibility are aligned so they can more adequately protect the homeland.

Now, look, I fully understand the concerns of some of the unions here in Washington. Somehow they believe that this is an attempt by the administration to undermine the basic rights of workers. I reject that as strongly as I can state it.

I have great respect for the federal employees. I travel the country as one of them, talking about how we need to work together to protect the homeland. I think of the times I've got to Coast Guard cutters or gone to ports of authority or gone to our labs or seen our first responders, many of whom happen to be a member of the union. Never have I said, "Show me your card." I've always said, "Thanks for being a proud American and for working hard for the American people."

So the notion of flexibility will in no way undermine the basic rights of federal workers. Workers will retain whistleblower protection, collective bargaining rights and protection against unlawful discrimination.

But the new secretary must have the freedom to get the right people in the right job at the right time and to hold them accountable. He needs the ability to move money and resources quickly in response to new threats without all kinds of bureaucratic rules and obstacles. And when we face unprecedented threats like we're facing, we cannot have business as usual.

I am -- I appreciate the work of Senator Lieberman. He's working hard. I am concerned, however, the way the committee has passed out the homeland security bill. The bill doesn't have enough managerial flexibility, as far as I'm concerned.

I look forward to working with the senator and the Republican members to get the bill right, to make sure that when we look back at what we've done we have left behind a legacy, a legacy that will allow future senators and future members of the House and a future president to say, "I can better protect the homeland thanks to what was done in the year 2002."

It's very interesting that Harry Truman took on the same task, and as I understand it, it was on this day 35 years ago that he signed the National Security Act of 1947.

It was the act that helped win the Cold War by consolidating the Navy and the Army and the newly independent Air Force in what was interestingly called the National Military Establishment, now known as the Department of Defense.

But he thought boldly and so did the members of Congress. They recognized that after World War II, we were going to enter into a new era, and, therefore, they adjusted the sights of the federal government. That's what's happened now. History has called us into action. We're entering a new era, and we must adjust our sights. We must respond.

I know the members here and I know the members on the floor that are working hard, and I'm confident we will respond in a way that will make America proud; America proud of our efforts to come together. But more importantly, an America more secure in the knowledge that we're doing everything we can to protect the homeland.

Thank you all for coming.

May God bless your work and may God bless America.

HEMMER: All right. President Bush, at the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. talking about homeland security, what's happening right now. A bit of a dispute, a labor and management dispute between what is happening right now in the Senate side of this -- the version of homeland security and what the White House wants ultimately. There is the threat of a veto coming from the White House if, indeed, the version of the Senate is not changed or reworked at some point. You heard the president's words, not enough flexibility on the management side. What does this all mean at the White House?

Here's John King, our senior correspondent, tracking that. John, it continues to be somewhat of a brouhaha, for lack of a better phrase. What is the White House position now?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House position, and you just saw it there from the president, polite but still some bare knuckles, in your face politics if you will. Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut sitting there in the Old Executive Office Building. He's the chairman of the Senate committee that has put forward the legislation that Mr. Bush says is unacceptable. The president did not use the word veto, but you just had the president there, promising that he would not accept, meaning he would veto, legislation creating the very department he says is so urgent to create if the Senate version made it to his desk.

Now, nobody believes the Senate version, as it now stands, will make it to his desk. That bill is just out of committee. It will be debated on the floor. A very evenly divided Senate, number one, plus the House votes today on a version that is much more acceptable to the president. It goes along with almost everything the president wants.

But the main reason for this event today, the president wants this bill so he can sign it in time for the September 11 anniversary. He wants these differences resolved now. He wants the right to move workers around when they come into the new department. The Senate bill would not give him that flexibility. This is the president's way of saying, move it my way and move it now.

HEMMER: A bit of a line in the sand there. Thank you, John. John King on the Front Lawn, raining in Washington, D.C.





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