Published January 14, 2015
Families of Sept. 11 victims said Wednesday they will keep a "watchdog" list of any members of Congress who oppose legislation implementing changes recommended by the Sept. 11 commission (search).
"We're going to watch events unfold in Congress, and we want America to watch as well," said Lorie Van Auken, who lost her husband at the World Trade Center. She is a member of the Family Steering Committee (search), activist families which lobbied successfully for an independent commission to investigate the attacks.
"We need to have a list of the lawmakers," she said. "... We need to follow who's opposing and disagreeing and why."
Talk of keeping public track of contrary members of Congress comes even before legislation has been offered to implement the recommendations, a sign of how intent some Sept. 11 families are to maintain the momentum of public opinion on the issue and to prompt quick changes.
"This watchdog list, this report card, it's a shame that it's come to this, but we want to work with everyone to ensure that people aren't just feigning cooperation," said Kristen Breitweiser, one of the most visible advocates among outspoken Sept. 11 families.
Already, pressure from the families has produced results.
When the commission released its 567-page report last week, Congress had planned to be away for all of August. But several committees quickly scheduled a return to Washington to hold hearings on the panel's findings.
And House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search), R-Ill., announced even more Wednesday. He said at least six committees will hold at least 15 hearings in August on such issues as information sharing, terror financing, intelligence analysis and government reorganization. In a statement, he anticipated congressional action on legislative recommendations in September and October.
The commission's final report urges rapid fundamental changes in how the legislative and executive branches of government oversee the nation's intelligence apparatus, asking that oversight be consolidated into one group of lawmakers and one person in the White House who answers directly to the president.
Meanwhile, President Bush, vacationing in Crawford, Texas, held his second videoconference in three days with the White House working group considering the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations. Bush has said he will study the proposals but has stopped short of endorsing them, and a White House official said Bush is unlikely to move on any this week.
The effort by the families comes at a sensitive time for both political parties.
Democrats and Republicans are vying to portray themselves as best-suited to safeguard the nation. But the recommendations, if implemented, also would require some lawmakers and agencies to cede a certain amount of jurisdictional turf, something they are usually loath to do.
Van Auken said no lawmakers had yet been singled out for criticism, but the families are trying to take an upfront role from the very beginning of the process.
William Doyle, whose son Joseph also died in the World Trade Center, said an informal strategy worked well in getting the commission formed in the first place.
"The idea now is to have a list that works like a watchdog so that people can see what their individual congressman is doing," said Doyle. "If a lawmaker from say, Montana, objects to a particular bill, well I know a couple of Sept. 11 families there who can get on the phone with that person, who can speak out."