Families of Sept. 11 victims will keep a “watchdog” list of any members of Congress who oppose legislation implementing changes recommended by the 9/11 commission, they said Wednesday.
“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 and is a member of the Family Steering Committee, activist families who forced creation of the 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, who has become one of the most visible advocates among outspoken Sept. 11 families.
The commission released its final report last week urging major, rapid changes in how the legislative and executive branches of government oversee the nation’s intelligence apparatus, consolidating oversight into one group of lawmakers, and one person in the White House who answers directly to the president.
The effort 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 up-front 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.”
Already, pressure from the families has produced results.
When the commission released its 567-page report, 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. For example, the Senate Governmental Affairs committee plans to hear testimony Friday from the two leaders of the bipartisan, 10-member commission.