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Jonathan Karl: Congressional bipartisanship in trouble

Jonathan Karl is a congressional correspondent for CNN and joined the chat room from Washington DC.

CNN: thank you for joining us today, Jonathan Karl, and welcome.

JONATHAN KARL: Greetings from Capitol Hill. I hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving.

CNN: Prominent Republicans and Democrats are concerned today with civil liberties issues. Who are the main voices on these issues and what are their main concerns?

KARL: There was a pretty contentious hearing today. The Senate Judiciary Committee was grilling assistant Attorney General Mike Chertoff. The most serious issue for the committee was the president's executive order allowing terrorism cases to be tried in military tribunals. Even Republican Arlen Specter was upset that the president went forward with this without consulting Congress.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Karl, how is the Senate divided over the civil liberties issue?

KARL: If you're asking how does the Senate split down in terms of supporting or being critical of the president's approach, the president still has very strong support, I would say well over half the Congress, even on such controversial issues as the limited used of military tribunals. Don't forget the antiterrorism bill that the president wanted passed the Senate with only 1 dissenting vote, Senator Russ Feingold. That said, there are some vocal critics on both sides of the aisle.

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CNN: What are the main disagreements between Democrats and Republicans on homeland security spending?

KARL: As a matter of fact there's some movement on this today. The Democrats had insisted that spending for homeland security be included in the bill to stimulate the economy but have dropped that and will take up the issue elsewhere. Basically, the issue is this: The president says he has enough to spend on homeland security for now. Democrats insist he needs more, especially in the areas of bioterrorism and aid to state and local law enforcement. Today, by the way, Democrats have cut in half the amount they say needs to be spent from $15 billion to $7.5 billion

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Jonathan: Was the president able to make any headway on convincing both sides to move ahead on the economic package?

KARL: Well, he's managed to make a little headway. And I stress "a little". The two sides have agreed to negotiate. So they've cleared one hurdle and at 6:30 tonight, House and Senate leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, will meet to try and negotiate a deal. But they are still miles apart.

CNN: Do further tax cuts remain the sticking point regarding this issue?

KARL: It is one of the sticking points, but it is not the only sticking point. Republicans want to accelerate the tax cuts that congress passed earlier this year. Democrats call that counterproductive.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Jonathan: Is the spirit of bipartisanship that occurred after 9/11 getting ragged around the edges?

KARL: Yes. In short, Yes. There's been almost a complete breakdown on the issue of economic stimulus and even before that there were some strong partisan differences on the issues of airline security. So the days of Democrats and Republicans standing on the steps of the capital side by side singing "God Bless America" are over, at least for now.

CNN: A provision was introduced Tuesday that would give American workers and employers a break from their Social Security payroll tax obligations for one full month. What is the reaction to this idea?

KARL: Democrats like the idea which was proposed by Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and supported by Sen. Trent Lott. But a lot of conservatives don't like this idea because one problem with it is those payroll taxes are those that fund social security.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How is the so-called payroll tax holiday faring, and what are the procedural concerns voiced by democrats on this issue?

KARL: As I mentioned, democrats by and large like the idea, although some people are concerned that it would be hard to administer. But the idea has gotten a fairly positive reception on the Hill and now is the center piece of the Republican plan. But there still are many disagreements about what accompanied the payroll tax holiday, what else is included.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Will the general treasury reimburse the Social Security fund?

KARL: That's the plan. But you must keep in mind that the general treasury is headed for a deficit this year. Which means the only way to reimburse social security would be to go further into debt.

CNN: Is the leadership supportive of Mr. Bush's suggestion that Iraq, and then other countries such as Somalia and Sudan, could be the next venues in the war on terrorism?

KARL: There is significant support for the idea that Iraq needs to be phase two of the war on terrorism, including support from leading democrats like Senators Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh. Both have suggested that military action to take out Saddam Hussein's military capability would be justified and necessary. Although Sen. Tom Daschle said today that there is still significant work to be done in Afghanistan before even talking about expanding war to other countries.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Jonathan, seeing that Congress only gave the president the authority to go after those directly responsible for the 9/11 attack, will he have to go back to them for approval to go after Iraq?

KARL: Congress authorized the use of force against any nation or organization tied in any way to the September 11 attacks. So, if any kind of link can be established, the president already has the authority to take the war to other countries. So the question regarding Iraq is. is there any link at all between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden?

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

KARL: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I look forward to doing this again.

Jonathan Karl joined the chat room by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview which took place on Wednesday, November 28, 2001


• House of Representatives
• U.S. Senate
• White House

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