Meets with Congressional Leaders on Homeland Security
The Cabinet Room
The White House
June 7, 2002
8:31 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I want to welcome members of the Senate and the House, members
of both political parties, to the Cabinet Room this morning to discuss how best
to implement the strategy that I talked about last night, that other members
of Congress have been talking about for a while, and that is the development
of the Department of Homeland Security.
We've got a lot of work to do to get this department implemented. There's going
to be a lot of turf protection in the Congress. But I'm convinced that by working
together, that we can do what's right for America. And I believe we can get
To this end, I'm going to direct Tom Ridge to testify before Congress about
the need for the establishment of this Cabinet agency. I feel strongly that
he is the -- he can represent the interests of the administration on the Hill,
and he can bring our message to the Hill.
And I look forward to working with Senators Lieberman and Specter, and members
of the House, to get this important legislation passed. Obviously the sooner
the debate begins, the sooner the passage of this bill can happen. And that's
good for the country.
Again, I want to thank the members who are here. I want to thank you for your
leadership on this issue. Thank you for your willingness to speak out about
the importance of protecting our homeland.
I'll answer a couple of questions. Yes, Ron?
QUESTION: Thank you. If I could, looking ahead the next couple days, it's been a couple
months now since you asked all the parties to step up in the Middle East, and
there are still suicide bombings, still the incursions by the Israelis. Is there
any hope for any progress in the next couple days with the President of Egypt
and the Prime Minister of Israel?
THE PRESIDENT: We're going to have good discussions, and that's always important.
George Tenet has just come back from the Middle East. Ambassador Burns is coming
back from the Middle East. There's been consultation with all the parties. And
after my meetings with President Mubarak and Prime Minister Sharon, I'll talk
to our country about how I think we should move forward.
Progress is being made. The Arab world now understands they need to be involved
in pushing for peace, and fighting against the terrorist actions that make it
very difficult to achieve a peace.
I still am disappointed in Mr. Arafat's leadership. He needs to cut off the
QUESTION: So you're talking about a speech on the Middle East?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know if it'll be a speech. Maybe a discussion.
Could be a paper. I haven't decided the forum.
QUESTION: But you'll lay out a new vision?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I'm going to lay out -- listen, if you're interested to know
what I think, go back to the April 4th speech.
QUESTION: Mr. President, how are you going to deal with some of the turf battles that
come up? And what made you change your mind about a Cabinet agency?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I have always been -- ever since we first
got going, I've been exploring this idea. My mind was never made up one way
or the other.
I knew I needed to act right after September the 11th, and that's why I called
upon Tom to serve in the capacity in which he has served. We needed to something
very quickly right after the attack.
We've been exploring this idea for a while. I've been listening to members of
the Congress, who have been quite articulate on the subject. And after doing
a lot of work on the feasibility of setting up this Cabinet position, we decided
to move forward yesterday.
Now, in terms of turf battles, there's nothing wrong with a good turf battle
fight. And one way to win that argument is to call upon the good services of
effective members of the House and the Senate. And that's what this meeting
is all about; it's the beginning of winning the turf battle.
I think most members of Congress understand the need to act. I know members
of Congress know that we're in a new type of war. And there's been precedent,
as I talked about last night; Harry Truman moved, asked Congress to move, in
the reforms of our warfighting capacities. And we need to do the same thing
for the homeland.
And we've got members here -- if you look around this table, we've got members
here with plenty of seniority and plenty of stroke, and plenty of credibility
to move this package through both the House and the Senate.
QUESTION: Mr. President, many Americans, when they hear about this plan, may think it
is a growth in the size of government and in the bureaucracy. What do you say
to people who might have that concern, might be concerned that this is just
a reshuffling of the deck?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would tell them that there's going to be savings by when
we combine accounting units, and savings when we combine people in place to
worry about administration. You see, when you combine agencies that are scattered
throughout the government, there are inherent savings, which means that we're
going to be able to have more money on the front line of our homeland security.
There is -- one of the things that's important about government is that there
be accountability within government. And as I mentioned last night, there's
over 100 different agencies involved in homeland security. In other words, the
ability to protect the homeland is scattered throughout. So there really is
I mentioned the example of Customs -- you know, they collect tariffs. But they
report to the Secretary of Treasury, who really isn't in charge of homeland
security. And so the idea is to configure those existing agencies that are responsible
for pieces of our security into one agency, so that accountability is clear.
And obviously -- Harry Truman said "The buck stops here" in the White
House. I understand that. But if that's the case, I want to make sure that accountability
to me is clear, that we've aligned responsibility and authority.
And so this is a very important reorganization to -- it'll enable all of us
to tell the American people that we're doing everything in our power to protect
QUESTION: Mr. President, we were told yesterday that this would lead to no substantial
changes at the FBI and the CIA. Since those are the two agencies under the most
scrutiny right now, how can Americans rest assured that this reorganization
will really do something to address the root intelligence failures behind the
September 11th attacks?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the FBI and the CIA are changing. They understand
that there have been gaps in intelligence sharing. If you listen to the testimony
of FBI Director Mueller, you will understand that the FBI is making changes.
Now, FBI Mueller came to work one week before September the 11th. He'd been
one week on duty. And he has taken the testimony of the lady, the FBI woman
out of Minneapolis, very seriously. He's looked at the report from Arizona.
And he's reacted with reform.
The CIA and the FBI -- I've said this in many, many speeches -- that is, if
you were paying attention to them -- that the CIA and the FBI now talk like
they've never talked before. In other words, we've learned lessons from what
took place prior to September the 11th. And so the reforms, they're already
going on, and they're making great progress, and communicating in a much more
seamless way, in a way that will help protect the homeland.
Thank you all.
QUESTION: Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, one question. I want to answer this. Yes?
QUESTION: Are you satisfied that the Philippine troops did all they could in the rescue
attempt of the Burnhams? And have you contacted their family here at home?
THE PRESIDENT: First, let me say how sad we are that Martin Burnham lost his
life. And I will call his parents. I'm pleased that Mrs. Burnham's alive; that's
I talked to President Arroyo of the Philippines. She told me that she had called
the Burnham parents, and I thanked her for reaching out. She assured me that
the Philippine government would hold the terrorist group accountable for how
they treated these Americans, that justice would be done.
We are obviously going to look at all the particulars and the facts, and the
State Department will be talking about that later on today.