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House Minority Leader Discusses Gary Condit in Press Conference

Aired September 5, 2001 - 12:04   ET


COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: It's back to business for Congress. A budget battle is looming, and so are some potential political problems for Congressman Gary Condit.

CNN's congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl is on Capitol Hill, live.

Hey -- Jon.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Colleen, a lot has changed for Gary Condit since Congress went on this five-week recess. The biggest thing, of course, is he finally came out and spoke about the Chandra Levy matter, with a series of media appearances. Those appearances were not met with much in the way of positive reviews here on Capitol Hill. Even though Congress was on recess, some members of Congress did speak out about it, and privately many members and their aides expressed disappointment with Condit's performance, feeling he should have been more forthcoming.

One of those who had been most critical of Condit and his performance and spoke out publicly on it was Representative Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House. Congressman Gephardt is holding a press conference to talk about the budget, the looming issue here on Capitol Hill, and is expected to face a question or two on Gary Condit.

Maybe we can listen in for a minute.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: And let me say that I think a few months ago we had a budget that accomplished what we thought was everything that should be accomplished. And I would argue to you that if we could get back to that budget, we would have a better economy. We'd have a better picture out in the future on long- term interest rates, for instance, which is a very important part of this whole economic equation.

Democrats have argued for eight years that the best way to get the budget in shape is to get the economy in shape. But to get the economy in shape, you've got to get the budget straightened out.

That's what we did beginning in 1993. We put together a balanced budget plan that had adequate spending for domestic needs, for defense needs, security needs, and our budget, which was refused a few months ago, also had a very adequate tax cut, especially for middle income Americans and Americans trying to get in the middle class.

So I would just repeat what we argued a couple of months ago, and that is, if you had a different budget that was more sensitive to balance, that kept our budget in balance, that saved Social Security and Medicare, that gave an adequate tax cut to the middle class, and that made proper investments in health care and education and the public structures of our society, we would have a better economy.

The whole thing works together. If you have a proper budget, you get a proper economy. I think we've proven that over the last eight years, and that's what we'd like to get back to.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) because 12 Democrats in the Senate voted with the Republicans on the tax cut. So given that reality, do you now want to be locked into a situation where you say save Social Security even if we're going into recession and...


GEPHARDT: No. I've said for the last month that I think the president ought to give us a new budget. The budget that we've been working off of was passed two or three months ago. It was based on a budget presentation in February of the year 2001. And ever since the budget was presented, we have seen increasingly pessimistic or increasingly different budget forecasts and economic forecasts. And the economy has changed before our eyes.

And I would argue to you that that means that we ought to go back to the whole budget. We have a new budget situation. We have new numbers. And we need to be able to change the budget we're operating under. And I would hope the president would give us a new budget in light of the completely new numbers that we're looking at.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, do you personally think that Gary Condit ought to resign his seat in the U.S. Congress?

GEPHARDT: Well, I said last month what I've wanted to say about Gary, and I stand by those statements. I don't really have anything new to add to it.

QUESTION: You said that you were going to consider though some sort of discipline for Mr. Condit after consulting with Congress. Is that still operative?

GEPHARDT: No, what I said was that when I came back, I would talk with colleagues, as we should under our process, about Gary and his situation with intelligence, and I will undertake those conversations in that process. It will be done in a fair and respectful way, and we'll just do the process in the right way.

QUESTION: When do you expect to be able to reach a decision on that?

GEPHARDT: I don't know. I don't have an answer to that.

QUESTION: Is there the idea of possibly removing him from the committee?

GEPHARDT: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know what the options are at this point, and I don't know what will come of the process. But you have to deal with a fair process here. This is not something where I go off and make decisions. I have to talk with my colleagues, talk with the caucus. We have an ethics process in this House that has to be respected. We're going to do these things in the right way.

QUESTION: To be clear, Mr. Gephardt, is there a process by which you, as the leader, could remove Gary Condit from his seat?

GEPHARDT: We have a process by which we deal with all members, any member who would be accused of anything. It deserves to be treated by the caucus and by the Ethics Committee by a proper process, and that's what we're going to do.

QUESTION: Do you expect to talk to Mr. Condit one-on-one?

GEPHARDT: I don't know.

QUESTION: Would you like to?

GEPHARDT: We'll do what's right.

QUESTION: Has he asked you for a meeting?

GEPHARDT: We have not.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, you said some pretty serious words immediately after the interview that Mr. Condit had with another network...


QUESTION: Fox didn't get the interview.

Would it be helpful to you, sir, in your goal to win back the House if Mr. Condit came out and announced that he would not run for re-election?

GEPHARDT: I don't want to comment on any of that. I said what I had to say and what I wanted to say a few weeks ago, and I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Sir, in regards to the economy, Secretary Evans said last week that one thing...

KARL: What Representative Gephardt said over the past month or so about Gary Condit is that he was disappointed with his lack of candor during his interviews, disappointed with his approach to talking about the Chandra Levy matter. But as far as what to do about it, could Gary Condit be punished by the Democratic leadership, Gephardt said that is something he will talk to Democratic colleagues about.

One thing he mentioned there is the question of the Intelligence Committee, perhaps the most sensitive committee in the House of Representatives. Gary Condit is a member of that committee. Some republicans have suggested that Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leadership, should remove Gary Condit from the Intelligence Committee. What Gephardt was saying there's is he's not even sure if he could even do that and that's something he wants to talk to his Democratic colleagues in the House about before he goes about unilaterally taking any actions on that.

Meanwhile, while Democrats aren't rushing to the cameras to defend their fellow Democrat Gary Condit, his family and his staff have been out there doing so. The latest was Gary Condit's daughter, Cadee Condit, who went on Larry King last night, vigorously defending her father.

Larry King asked her if she felt that Gary Condit should have come out earlier and talked about this. Here's what she said.


CADEE CONDIT: This wasn't a popularity contest or a mission to save Gary Condit's career. This was about finding Chandra Levy. And he went to the appropriate people. He got the law enforcement involved, got the FBI involved.

So by him holding a press conference, no, I don't think that would have changed things.

LARRY KING, HOST, CNN'S "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you think an interview might have changed things?

CONDIT: Well, it didn't.

KING: But a sit-down interview earlier might have changed things?

CONDIT: The press would have said, if he would have done that, that he was taking the focus away from Chandra and her family. It would have played the total opposite way. He wanted people to focus on finding Chandra Levy, and did everything he could to do that.

KARL: Colleen, that interview happened last night, bit it will air on CNN tonight, 9:00, on "LARRY KING LIVE," and on that, you'll hear more from Gary Condit's daughter, Cadee Condit.

Back to you, Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: CNN's Jonathan Karl, thanks very much.



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