Believing Democrats must show their strength on national security and anti-terrorism efforts, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has begun leaning on Members to break from their August recess and show strong attendance at Tuesday’s special caucus on the 9/11 commission recommendations.
The Democratic leadership hopes that more than 100 of the chamber’s 205 Democrats will fly back to D.C. to attend the meeting, House Democratic sources said. So far, party leaders have received only about 50 commitments.
These sources say the better the showing, the stronger Democrats will appear in their ongoing effort to show they can safely secure and protect the country.
“We are trying to show we are strong on homeland security and strong on issues of defense — sure, that is definitely part of it,” said one senior Democratic House aide. “But the overarching reason [for the caucus] is to push Republicans to get something done.
“It is frustrating to know that the public views Republicans as having strength on homeland and national security, but in reality what we see is an unwillingness to act as soon as could be possible,” the aide added.
Pelosi held a conference call with half the Democratic Caucus and sent a letter to Members last week reminding them of the upcoming meeting. Leadership staff has also been making personal calls to lawmakers to encourage them to return.
The Minority Leader has also tried to add more punch to the day’s agenda by scheduling security briefings from the Terrorism Threat Integration Center and the FBI on the heightened terrorism threat level and with the House Sergeant-at-Arms on Capitol security procedures.
“The meeting on the 10th will be an important part of our planning for a response to the challenge posed by the commission,” Pelosi wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter to her Members. “I urge you to make every effort to attend.”
“It’s important Members attend because these are serious issues — all of the Members need to be engaged on them,” added Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly.
House leaders say the caucus is the first step toward putting together a legislative package to implement the commission’s recommendations. That package is expected to be unveiled in September.
Beyond the special caucus, Pelosi and the Democrats’ presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), have also urged the Republican Congress to call Members back into session to act on the commission’s recommendations. Republicans have not responded to the Democrats’ calls, but beginning last week they initiated a host of House and Senate committee hearings on the matter.
In addition, President Bush recently called for the creation of a new intelligence czar to oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Republicans have charged that Democrats are playing politics with the 9/11 commission’s findings. The majority party insists it is acting on the matters and moving forward through committees and through staff-level action to make sure the recommendations are acted on responsibly.
“The irony is they are weak on security,” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “We’ve been working through the committee structure on a bipartisan basis to work on recommendations of 9/11. We want to get something done to make the country safer.
“Democrats seem to be wanting to do some kind of pep rally,” he added. “That’s not going to help them. The only thing that is going to help them is by them getting stronger on security, not just talking about it.”
But Democrats accuse Republicans of pushing for hearings only after Pelosi called on Hastert to bring Members back into session.
Pelosi called for the caucus during the Democratic National Convention so that Members could meet personally with the 9/11 commissioners and could begin considering ways to move forward on the proposals. Panel Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are both expected to attend the meeting to discuss the panel’s work and the urgency of the recommendations.
“The American people expect these reforms to be implemented,” Daly said. “It’s been almost three years since 9/11. The commission met for over a year and came up with bipartisan proposals. They worked very diligently, and we want to make sure they are implemented.”
The 9/11 panel’s final report, released last month, included more than 40 recommendations from the appointment of a national intelligence director to creation of a national counter-terrorism center.