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(12:11 p.m.-1:25 p.m.) September 11, 2001: President Bush Argues about Where He Should Go Next, but Agrees to Stay Away from Washington

President Bush spends time arguing with his colleagues about where he should go next while he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and is advised to stay away from Washington, DC. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 133] Air Force One landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001) and, about 25 minutes later, Bush was taken to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force at the base (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] The media are now asking about his whereabouts and why he has not returned to Washington. Bush is in fact keen to return to the capital. “I was worried people would get the impression that the government was disengaged,” he will later write. “The American people needed to see their president in Washington,” he will comment.
Bush Is Advised to Stay Away from Washington - While he is at the base, Bush debates whether he should return to Washington with the Secret Service and Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 133] These people advise him against going back. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] “The Secret Service agents felt it was still too uncertain,” he will recall, adding: “Dick [Cheney] and [National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who is at the White House] agreed. They recommended that I go to the Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. It had secure housing space and reliable communications.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] Meanwhile, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, spends time on the phone, seeking opinions from a number of trusted individuals. On the basis of these calls, he advises Bush that it would be reckless to return to Washington. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]
Secret Service Decides Where the President Goes - Despite Bush’s desire to return to the capital, the Secret Service has the power to determine where the president should go in a crisis, according to Dave Wilkinson, assistant special agent in charge of the presidential protection division. “By federal law, the Secret Service has to protect the president,” he will say, adding: “The wishes of that person that day are secondary to what the law expects of us. Theoretically it’s not his call, it’s our call.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Bush therefore acquiesces and a few minutes before 1:00 p.m., according to the London Daily Telegraph, agrees to fly to Offutt Air Force Base rather than going back to Washington. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] “I resigned myself to delaying my return once again,” he will comment. [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] Bush “fought with us tooth and nail all day to go back to Washington,” Wilkinson will say, but the Secret Service “basically refused to take him back.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Bush Is Frustrated at Being Unable to Return to the White House - After returning to Air Force One, but before the plane takes off, Bush gets on the phone to Cheney again and expresses his increasing frustration at being unable to return to the capital. He tells the vice president: “I can assure you I’d like to come home now. Tonight would be great.” Then, at 1:25 p.m., he turns to Card and Edward Marinzel, the head of his Secret Service detail, and says: “I want to go back home ASAP. I don’t want whoever this is holding me outside of Washington.” But Marinzel tells him, “Our people say it’s too unsteady still.” Bush replies, “Cheney says it’s not safe yet, as well.” Card then advises, “The right thing is to let the dust settle.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 118-119] Air Force One will take off from Barksdale Air Force Base and head to Offutt Air Force Base at 1:37 p.m. (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Dave Wilkinson, Edward Marinzel, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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