Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert Shares Sept. 11th Experience
On a beautiful Tuesday morning in September 2001, Speaker of the House of Representatives J. Dennis Hastert received an urgent notification that something had happened in New York City. After turning on the news, he watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center. That’s when he knew it had not been an accident.
Not long after, Hastert looked out of his window to “see smoke rolling across the Capitol Mall.” He quickly learned that this smoke was coming from the Pentagon, which had also been hit.
Hastert shared his vivid memories from the 9/11 attacks in starting his keynote address to the audience of the American Bar Association Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice’s Homeland Security Institute on March 3.
Every Thursday following the Sept. 11th attacks, Hastert and other representatives met to work on policies related to improving national security and preventing terrorists attacks. The first issue that they had to respond to following the terrorist attacks was how to restore New York City.
It “was just a crisis, something we had never seen before,” Hastert said.
There were an abundance of other issues that Congress had to address as well, including travel, the economy and immigration. Congress was able, however, to find solutions as a result of cooperation between members of both political parties.
“The bipartisanship we saw after 9/11 was unique,” Hastert said, “People came together. There was no presumption of party power.”
In the end, the Congress passed many pieces of legislation dealing with homeland security issues, including the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. Hastert said that the House of Representatives did not just push into law what the administration had requested, but rather sent the USA PATRIOT Act through all the normal legislative procedures. He also said that, although the act is unpopular, at the time it was necessary for security reasons.
The Department of Homeland Security was also created in the aftermath of Sept. 11th through the Homeland Security Act of 2002, legislation that Hastert led the majority in passing. He recalled the difficulties of what he called the “turf battles” over the jurisdiction of the 22 agencies being consolidated into the Department of Homeland Security. Hastert also said that there were many disgruntled committee chairmen in the House who were not happy to see agencies and issues under their committee control moved to a newly created executive branch department.
When asked about recent partisan fighting in Congress, Hastert said that “politics is a game of relationships.” He continued by saying that homeland security is not a partisan issue.
When we are threatened, he said, “This country comes together.”