WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders radically altered their original "go slow" playbook on the Sept. 11 commission recommendations, reversing themselves after reading the report closely and finding a variety of "law and order" issues they intend to use against Democrats during the fall campaign.
Senior aides to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search), R-Ill., and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), R-Texas, are preparing to order the following committees to hold hearings in August: Homeland Security, Defense, Intelligence and Judiciary. The committees are to hold hearings and prepare legislation for consideration before Election Day.
The House GOP leadership was in frequent contact with senior White House aides Friday plotting a strategy to, as one senior GOP staffer put it, "claim the 9/11 report as our own."
"We were reluctant to move fast before we read it but after a lot of us read it we saw there was a lot of law and order stuff in there that is ours," the aide said. "We'll act on the report. It will give us a chance to do some of the things we want to do."
Another senior GOP aide said the original strategy of delaying action on the commission's recommendations until next year was "untenable."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search), D-Calif., wrote Hastert on Friday urging the speaker to reconvene Congress to accelerate consideration of the Sept. 11 commission recommendations. Hastert still won't call all members back but will order significant disruptions in the recess plans of numerous lawmakers.
"A lot of members won't like it but they won't have a choice," a GOP leadership aide said. "The Democrats thought we'd stay where we were but we called their bluff. And when they come back and see the legislation they're not going to like it and they are going to pay."
Senior Republican aides devoted considerable time Friday to discussing the numerous immigration and airport security regulations in the commission report. Of the 41 recommendations, seven deal with border security.
The commission's report, the culmination of a 20-month investigation, portrayed the Sept. 11 terrorists as creative and determined while the nation they were preparing to strike was unprepared and uncomprehending of the imminent danger. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when 19 hijackers flew airliners into New York's Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.
The commission recommended a unified border and transportation database; creation of a biometric screening system that uses retina scans or fingerprints to verify identity; exchange of terror travel data with other nations; creation of a uniform federal standard for birth certificates and driver's licenses; beefed up "no fly" lists to prevent suspected terrorists from boarding flights; and an expansion of airport screening for explosives.
"We spent a lot of time on border security issues," a top GOP aide said.
The commission's call for "uniform federal standards for birth certificates and driver's licenses" is virtually a clarion call for a national identification card — something civil libertarians on the right and left have long fought.
"We have a lot of problems on our side on that but I think the political momentum may be unstoppable," a senior GOP aide said.
In the Senate, leaders from both parties joined together to urge the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to introduce legislation by Oct. 1 addressing the commission's intelligence proposals.
"The American people expect us to act," Sen. Susan Collins (search) R-Maine, the committee's chairwoman, said Friday. "We don't have the luxury of waiting for months."
Collins and the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (search) of Connecticut, said they would invite the commission's leaders, Republican Thomas Kean and Democratic vice chairman Lee Hamilton, to testify.
The hearings will focus on two of the commission's key recommendations: creating a national counterterrorism center and a new director of intelligence to be confirmed by the Senate and with Cabinet-level authority over budgets and intelligence policies.
"This is a crisis. People died, and more people will unless we get it together," Lieberman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.