WASHINGTON – Recognizing that the American man accused of conspiring to bring a dirty bomb into the United States is one of many bad guys, President Bush and a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders agreed Tuesday that they will try to pass legislation by Sept. 11 — the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks — to create a Cabinet department for homeland security.
"As we run down these, you know, killers or would-be killers, we'll let you know. And this guy, Padilla, is one of many who we have arrested," Bush said of Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah Al Muhajir, who the Bush administration announced Monday was arrested on May 8 as he arrived at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
"The coalition we put together has hauled in over 2,400 people, and you can call it 2,401 now. And there's just a full-scale manhunt on."
The president wants to consolidate two dozen federal agencies and 170,000 employees into one Cabinet department, a reorganization that many say would be the most substantial change in the federal government since World War II.
Lawmakers, however, are now tasked with trying to pass a measure that won't be introduced for a couple more weeks and must go through careful scrutiny before it gets final approval by the Sept. 11 date first suggested by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.
"That's certainly an area that we'd like to aim to get done," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., also wondered whether there would be an opportunity during that time to answer questions about the efficiency of the FBI and CIA, first in some lawmakers' minds to make sure that any homeland security department will have the cooperation of the two embattled intelligence agencies.
The president was taking his homeland security theme to Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday where he was to visit a water treatment plant that would be an example of one of the sites that needs protection from future terror strikes.
Bush was to address some of the concerns stated by Daschle, by proposing the new department analyze intelligence from the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and others, but without having any direct authority over the gathering of the information.
In a speech at Oak Park High School in Kansas City, Bush was to argue the value of putting the people evaluating threats side-by-side with those deciding how to respond — a piece missing up to now, White House aide Gordon Johndroe said.
At the White House, Bush said that he was pleased that neither the American people nor the Congress is complacent with efforts to stop would-bet terrorists, and that partisanship is not a factor in the development of a homeland security agency.
"My message here is we want to work as closely as we can with the Congress to achieve this significant change and to leave behind a legacy for future presidents and future Congresses, the legacy of a department that will work in close coordination to secure the homeland," Bush said.
While in Kansas City, Bush was also to appear at a fundraiser for Missouri Rep. Jim Talent, a Republican hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan.
Fox News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.