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Congress Not Advised Of Shadow Government: Bush Calls Security 'Serious Business'
2 March 2002
Key congressional leaders said yesterday the White House did not tell them that President Bush has moved a cadre of senior of senior civilian managers to secret underground sites outside Washington to ensure that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack on the nation's capital.
Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said he had not been informed about the role, location or even the existence of the shadow government that the administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings. An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he similarly was unaware of the administration's move.
Among Congress's GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said they were not sure whether they knew. Aides to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.
Bush acknowledged yesterday that the administration had taken extensive measures to guarantee "the continuity of government," after it was revealed that about 100 top officials, spanning every executive branch department, have been sent to live and work in two fortified locations on the East Coast. This system, in which high-ranking administrators are rotating in and out of the two sites, represents the first time a president has activated the contingency plan, which was devised during the Cold War of the 1950s so that federal rule could continue if Washington were struck by a catastrophic attack.
It was unclear yesterday whether any federal documents - prepared either by the current White House or by Bush's predecessors dating to Dwight D. Eisenhower - specify whether congressional leaders should be told if the plan is put into effect. At least one relatively general document, a 1988 executive order entitled "Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities," said the White House's National Security Council "shall arrange for Executive branch liaison with, and assistance to, the Congress and the federal judiciary on national security-emergency preparedness matters."
The executive order, signed by President Ronald Reagan, is a precursor to documents outlining the contingency plans in greater detail, which have not been made public. Regardless of whether Bush had an obligation to notify legislative leaders, the congressional leaders' ignorance of the plan he set in motion could raise the question of how this shadow administration would establish its legitimacy with Congress in the event it needed to step in for a crippled White House.
At least some members of Congress suggested yesterday that the administration should have conferred about its plans, which were first reported in The Washington Post yesterday.
"There are two other branches of government that are central to the functioning of our democracy," said Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. "I would hope the speaker and the minority leader would at least pose the question, 'What about us?' "
Other lawmakers said they believe the federal government lacks adequate plans to be certain that all three of its branches could function if terrorists disabled Washington.
White House officials did not elaborate on why the president did not consult with congressional leaders. "The president addressed this earlier today, and I will have to refer you to his comments," spokesman Taylor Gross said.
Speaking yesterday on a trip to Des Moines, Bush did not describe the deployment in detail. He said he had "an obligation as the president [to] put measures in place that, should somebody be successful in attacking Washington, D.C., [would guarantee] there's an ongoing government."
"This is serious business," the president said. "I still take the threats that we receive from al Qaeda killers and terrorists very seriously." He made clear the extent to which he believes that terrorism poses a lingering threat to the U.S. government. "That's one reason why the vice president was going to undisclosed locations," Bush told reporters.
"And I will tell you, there are people still in this world who want to harm America," the president said, vowing that "we're doing everything in our power to protect the American people."
At the Pentagon, which routinely rotates top military officials to secure locations, spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said: "It is absolute common sense, absolutely appropriate that the government should have all the parts and all the pieces in place so in case of a crisis, in case of an emergency, the government can and will continue to function."
The House and Senate each has a contingency plan. "Precautions have been taken and arrangements have been made to move the work of Congress to another location," Daschle said.
Bush made his remarks at the Printer Inc., a relatively small Des Moines business that the White House chose as a backdrop to tout changes the administration favors to the nation's pension laws. The printing plant assists workers with 401(k) plans and encourages them to take an active role in saving money for retirement.
For the second day in a row, Bush sought to draw attention to his plans for what he has begun to call "retirement security," a combination of pension changes and redesign of Social Security.
"You see, we're going to have to encourage more savings in America, because people are going to live longer lives," Bush said. Alluding to his more controversial view that workers should be allow to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, Bush said: "We ought to do everything we can in Washington, D.C., to encourage people to own a piece of the future."
His visit to Iowa of slightly more than three hours followed a formula the White House has used since New Year's, as the president has begun to travel to states in which GOP candidates face tight races in the fall elections. These visits combine a forum to promote one of the administration's legislative priorities with a political fundraiser.
Bush attended a luncheon on behalf of Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), a quiet conservative first elected in the "Republican Revolution" of 1994. He has easily won reelection since then, but his prospects are far less certain this year because his district -- until now heavily Republican -- has been redrawn to include more Democratic voters.
The luncheon raised $275,000 for Latham and $200,000 for the Iowa Republican Party.
This was Bush's fourth trip to Iowa since becoming president. The state is significant to the GOP's struggle to retain its majority in the House and to win back control of the Senate this fall -- and to Bush's reelection aspirations in two years. Bush narrowly lost the state to Vice President Al Gore in 2000.
Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin