- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL, S.D. President Bush yesterday stood beneath the sculpted images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln to demand homeland security legislation to protect the American people from an enemy that hates them.
With Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in the audience of 3,000 in this historic park, Mr. Bush said the Senate was denying him the ability to consolidate more than 100 federal agencies that are supposed to protect the borders and keep out people bent on terror and destruction.
"And that doesn't make sense," Mr. Bush told the audience. "If the number-one priority of the government is to protect the homeland, it seems to me that those agencies involved with protecting the homeland need to be under one boss. They need to have one chain of command."
But Mr. Daschle was having none of it, saying among other things that Mr. Bush was demanding "dictatorial" powers over the agency.
The South Dakota Democrat stayed at the memorial for several hours after the speech to explain his differences with the president.
"I think that the president has misunderstood our intent with the bill," he told The Washington Times. "Our belief is that it is important for the rights of workers to be protected. We have shown how quickly we could respond after September 11 to whatever specific new names the president may have, and we'd be prepared to do it again. But the basic constructs of the law have to be maintained."
In a separate interview, Mr. Daschle said Senate Democrats did not want to "give this president or any president the dictatorial powers that I think compromise the checks and balances that our Founding Fathers recognized."
Asked what he meant by "dictatorial," Mr. Daschle replied: "The ability to fire an employee on the spot. The ability to move resources without any congressional approval from one agency to another. Those are powers that no president has had and we don't think this one should have them either."
Asked for comment on Mr. Daschle's "dictator" comparison, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said, "The president is committed to doing everything possible to protect the American people, and it would be unfortunate if politics and protecting special interests stand in the way of that."
As if anticipating a showdown with Mr. Daschle, Mr. Bush looked directly at the majority leader several times as he spoke at Mount Rushmore. The president said he wanted to work with Congress, but the Senate did not want to give him the flexibility he needs as commander in chief to put the proposed Department of Homeland Security on a war footing.
"I don't want our hands tied so we cannot do the number-one job you expect, which is to protect the homeland," the president said to applause. "I need to be able to ship resources without a time-consuming approval process."
"If you're trying to defend the homeland, if you need to act quickly in response to a threat, we need to be able to move resources," Mr. Bush said. "We're not trying to do away with congressional authority. We're trying to have the capacity to respond to the needs of the American people. Unfortunately, the bill in the Senate right now won't let me do that."
Administration officials traveling with the president dismissed Mr. Daschle's concerns, saying that employees of the proposed Department of Homeland Security would continue to be protected by civil-service laws and rules that protect them from discrimination and guarantee existing veteran preferences and whistleblower protections.
Mr. Bush started barnstorming the country Tuesday to rally voters behind his plan to reorganize federal agencies that protect the borders, control immigration, and monitor the flow of people and commerce into the country.
Yesterday's speech at Mount Rushmore was the president's fourth speech in as many states in three days on his agenda for homeland and economic security, after his national economic forum Tuesday at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Mr. Bush brought Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Republican Senate candidate John Thune with him. Mr. Daschle brought Democratic incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson, who is being challenged by Mr. Thune in the November elections. The stakes are particularly high because Democrats hold just a 50-49 edge in the Senate.
Mr. Bush, to the crowd's delight, also pointedly objected to Mr. Daschle's intent to repeal the administration's 2001 tax-cut package through "a quirk" in Senate rules that Democrats have invoked.
"In order to help our economic recovery, we need to make the tax-relief package we passed out of the Congress permanent," the president said to applause.
"Those tax reliefs came right at the right time. See, when you're in the middle of a recession, it's important to let people keep their own money," he said to more applause.
"It's also important to remember when we're spending taxes, it's not the government's money we're spending, it's the people's money. It's your money," Mr. Bush said.
The audience erupted with more applause and cheers, and one man in the audience yelled out, "How about that, Tom?"
Mr. Bush gave an example of the kind of power he wants.
"If intelligence were to show that the terrorists were planning to use a new type of biological weapon, it makes sense for the Department of Homeland Security to take money from one project to buy medicines, to stockpile drugs, to respond if the attack were to occur. We don't have that flexibility right now. I'm not allowed to reorganize old agencies to meet new threats."
He said border security permits no compromises anymore.
"On our border listen, we need to know who's coming in the county, we need to know what they're bringing in the country, and we need to know if they're leaving the country." The crowd erupted in cheers.
Mr. Ridge, who was listening to the president's speech from the standing audience, turned to a presidential adviser next to him at that point and said, "If they were sitting right now, they'd be on their feet."
The former Pennsylvania governor told The Times that Mr. Bush will use "the bully pulpit" between now and the November congressional and gubernatorial elections "and get out and champion the cause and call the country to action."


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