- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Congressional leaders yesterday met with the White House to begin the arduous task of creating a new Cabinet department for homeland security, an undertaking that is fueling turf battles and igniting partisan bickering.
Republicans say the jurisdictional fights are to be expected, but hope the seriousness of the issue will outweigh petty infighting.
"While I still believe the hardest obstacles will be the office politics, committee jurisdiction and parochial interest, I don't consider them foreboding to this task, because it's such an important thing," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
"What I have seen in this body since September 11 is a willingness of members at every level of rank-and-file and leadership to put aside personal interest in the interest of larger objectives," Mr. Armey said.
With so many federal agencies and departments involved, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said jurisdictional concerns are a reality.
"I don't know that it's that controversial, it's just something [Congress] has got to think through," said Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican.
There was an agreement at the White House meeting yesterday on an "unqualified commitment to put politics aside and stay focused on getting this job done," Mr. Armey said.
Republican staffers say privately, however, they don't expect cooperation, especially in the Senate, where some Democrats are preparing their own presidential campaign bids against Mr. Bush.
Hours after the White House meeting, a group of Democrats led by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt held a press conference calling for an independent commission to investigate intelligence failures in the administration prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr. Bush supports the ongoing bipartisan investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
"This must be nonpartisan and it must be moving as quickly as we humanly can," Mr. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said of the new Cabinet position's creation and a separate investigation.
Democrats did not raise concerns during the White House meeting that a second investigation should be established.
"The only reason we didn't bring it up is that the president left halfway through the meeting to get to an earlier commitment that he made in Kansas," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "So we weren't able to bring it up with the president, because he wasn't there."
Also, top White House staffers led by Chief of Staff Andrew Card offered a bipartisan briefing to senior House staffers Monday, which Republicans said backfired.
One Republican aide said the antagonistic behavior of Democratic staff members was "absolutely ridiculous."
"The Democrats' intent had nothing to do with gaining information and everything to do with complaining," the aide said. "The White House doesn't always do things right, but they were here on a mission of war and peace and tried to reach out to everyone with the same information, and they had their faces slapped."
Another Republican staffer said Democrats wanted to spend more money than the $37 billion already appropriated for the agencies Mr. Bush's proposed department would absorb. Democrats also wanted to protect pet agencies and programs, and ensure new collective-bargaining agreements for the 170,000 federal employees who are expected to be added to the new department. The staffer described the meeting as "petty."
"I believe this is so indicative of what we're going to face over the next few months," the first aide said.
The first congressional hearing on the new department was held yesterday, but the formal legislative process will be announced later this week by Mr. Daschle and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. Mr. Hastert is expected to appoint Mr. Armey to lead the House efforts; Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, is the top choice to run the legislation through the Senate.
Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, Texas Republican, introduced a bill in March 2001 to establish a Homeland Security Department.
Mr. Thornberry testified at yesterday's national security subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, and said the president's support is critical, but does not guarantee final passage.
"Just as the president ran into roadblocks in the executive branch as he put this plan together, so, too, will we run into roadblocks on Capitol Hill as we try to get this plan through," Mr. Thornberry said.


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