Monitor Breakfast

Selected quotations from a Monitor breakfast with Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr.

Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr., from Oklahoma, is the chairman of the House Republican Conference. He also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and its Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism.

On creating a new Homeland Security Department:

"This is a massive undertaking, what we are trying to accomplish. This is going to be the most significant, the most massive change in the federal government probably in 30 or 35 years, and I think we need to go into it understanding that it is not going to happen in 30 or 35 days...

"I think that anyone who would suggest it is going to be done by Sept. 11 [is]... being overly optimistic and unrealistic."

On the challenge facing the new head of the Homeland Security Department:

"You could have Satan himself trying to run this operation–as mean as he is–and it would be extremely difficult based on the way the federal government operates."

On how Congress dealt with Sept. 11:

"Since Sept. 11, we have had over 150 hearings in the United States House of Representatives on homeland security. Over 150 in a lot of different subcommittees and committees. There has been no overall strategy for these hearings. ...There has been no one focal point, [no] one driving committee to say this is why we are having this hearing one committee or subcommittee whose sole purpose is to protect the homeland."

On the political impact of homeland defense:

"Republicans have to be careful that we don't try to win elections on homeland security.... So when the issue turns more to education, jobs, prescription drugs, I think we have to have performed, we have to be prepared.

"So I think it is a very dangerous strategy, in my opinion, to say we are going to win the election on the war. I think that is very shortsighted. We need to continue to be concerned about educating our kids, creating jobs, and prescription drugs. I think we are positioned very well in those issues. But [it is] very dangerous to put all our eggs in the homeland security basket."

On putting part of the FBI into the new Homeland Security Department:

"The FBI needs to be restructured and revamped, reformed, whatever word we want to use. I am prepared to allow the Government Reform Committee or the Select Committee to evaluate and make that determination. I can tell you this, it sure wouldn't hurt my feelings if that is what they concluded."

On civil liberties in a time of war:

"I think our challenge is to try to provide...the maximum amount of safety that we possibly can for our citizens without throwing the Constitution out the window. That can be a very, very delicate balance sometimes."

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