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Homeland Security Update

July 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: His first ten years in congress were spent in the minority, the last eight as majority leader, and so Dick Armey has had very few opportunities to chair a committee. That inexperience was evident at times today.

REP. DICK ARMEY: Those in favor say "yes." Those opposed say "no." Those in favor say yes. Those opposed?

RAY SUAREZ: By accepting the chairmanship of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Dick Armey took on the task of writing legislation creating the new Department of Homeland Security, triggering a massive restructuring of the government, the biggest in 50 years.

But today, Armey was criticized by committee Democrats for ignoring many of the recommendations made by the chairmen of the other permanent committees, all of them fellow Republicans. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority whip:

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It seems to me that that might have been an exercise in futility because although when our chairman and our ranking members came to present the bipartisan recommendations, in some indicates, in most cases unanimous recommendations from the committees, it was by and large rejected.

RAY SUAREZ: New Jersey’s Robert Menendez:

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ: And we should be looking, n accepting it carte blanche, but we should be looking at much of what Democrats and Republicans and bipartisan votes took in committees, with the enormous amounts of expertise they have in that area, to pursue some of the suggestions they have in how we make this country more secure.

RAY SUAREZ: Democrats, in fact, were complaining that Armey had adopted, almost in its entirety, the Department of Homeland Security designed by President Bush. For instance, the Coast Guard and its mission of patrolling the coastal waters of the U.S. would be moved out of the Department of Transportation and into homeland security. The Customs Service, which conducts all border searches, also would be moved out of the Treasury Department and into the new department.

The Secret Service, with expanded duties to include securing major events such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl, also would be moved out of treasury and into homeland security. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with its missions to respond to acts of terrorism as well as natural disasters, would become part of the department, as well. Tom DeLay, the House Majority Whip, said he had trouble understanding the objections of some committee chairmen.

REP. TOM DeLAY: The transportation and infrastructure committee did not want us to put the Coast Guard, FEMA and other agencies into the Department of Homeland Security. How in the world could you have a Department of Homeland Security without the Coast Guard — the preeminent organization to protect our shores and our borders?

RAY SUAREZ: Ohio Republican Rob Portman saw the chairmen complaints as an effort to protect their turf.

REP. ROB PORTMAN: While I agree that this is not all about turf, I think some of it is about turf. Look wt we did with the standing committee recommendations. And in every case, we made substantial changes to the original proposal from the President because of the committees, in every single case.

RAY SUAREZ: In fact, the President wanted the Immigration and Naturalization Service moved into the Department of Homeland Security, but the House committee decided to shift only the border and enforcement functions. Immigrant services would remain in the Justice Department.

REP. ROB PORTMAN: I respectfully disagree that we didn’t listen to and respect the ideas. We took up these changes and we have greater responsibilities. That’s why we were asked to serve on this committee. We cannot protect our turf at the expense of protecting American citizens.

RAY SUAREZ: Throughout the day, the committee’s Republican majority was able to approve or defeat a series of amendments without making a significant change in the chairman’s bill. The one exception was the amendment by Democrat Menendez, restoring the December 31 deadline requiring all airports across the country to be able to inspect and screen all baggage for explosives.

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ: The December 31, 2002, deadline was imposed in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that we passed last November by a vote of 410-9. And, in the debates on the bill, members on both sides of the aisle strongly supported a deadline for installation of explosive detection equipment and criticized the Senate bill because it did not have such a deadline. The deadline was necessary to ensure the security of our aviation system and it still is.

RAY SUAREZ: But Chairman Armey argued that his original support and the overwhelming support of the Congress for the December 31 deadline was a mistake that he wanted to reverse.

REP. DICK ARMEY: There are airports across this nation screaming at us, Mr. and Mrs. Congressman, "you’ve given us a task we cannot do." Are we to turn a deaf ear here? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have recently discovered the most comforting words in the English language is "to heck with it; I’m not running for reelection." Therefore I dare to put it in this bill.

RAY SUAREZ: Despite Armey’s impassioned plea, two of his Republicans, Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts and Ohio’s Deborah Pryce voted against their chairman and for restoring the December 31 deadline.

SPOKESMAN: Mr. Chairman, on that vote, there were six ayes and three nays.

REP. DICK ARMEY: That being the case, the amendment is ordered. Congratulations to the gentleman from New Jersey.

JIM LEHRER: But then, just a short time ago, those two committee Republicans handed Dick Armey a victory after all. They reversed their vote on the baggage issue, setting a new deadline December 31, 2003.