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America Under Attack: Richard Gephardt Holds a Press Conference

Aired September 13, 2001 - 12:02   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we want to go to Capitol Hill. Richard Gephardt speaking. Let's listen in.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT, (D-MO), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Good morning. Well, first, let me say again that our country is responding in the spirit of many American generations that have faced up to severe challenges to our way of life and to our country and to civilization and humanity. I am moved by the stories of families and people responding to this atrocity that was visited on the people of the United States.

This is our country at its finest and at its highest. We are working together here in the Congress in a completely nonpartisan way. We are shoulder-to-shoulder; we are in complete agreement that we will act together as one. There is no division between parties, between the Congress and the president. And we will continue to work together in a nonpartisan way to solve the problems that this country faces.

The American people are showing the way and expecting that we would do that, and we are doing that, and we are responding. The resolution yesterday was the first response of the Congress. I thought the debate was moving and well done. Today we are working on dealing with other challenges, and we will continue to do that.

Let me say one other thing, and then you can go to questions.

In all my time in public service and in my whole life, I have not been part of such a severe challenge to this country. Terrorism is an action against humanity, it's an action against civilization, it's an action against everything this country stands for and is about.

In dealing with this, we will not give up our freedom. We're going to have to change the balance between freedom and security, but we will not give up our freedom, we will not be defeated as to the basic values and ideas that underlie this country.

And we will do that by standing together and having no air and no light between the president and the Congress and between the parties and the different viewpoints of this country.

QUESTION: You've made several times today the point that you are staying shoulder-to-shoulder with the Republicans. You still, however, have substantial differences on the appropriations bill, the breadth of authority the president will have to decide how to spend the money that will be appropriated, and also the breadth of authority the president will have on deciding who to and how to respond to this attack. How do you resolve those differences?

GEPHARDT: By what we're doing.

QUESTION: Is there light and air between you (inaudible)?

GEPHARDT: No, we're working to resolve them in a collegial, collaborative way. I just left a meeting with the leadership in the House and Senate, the appropriators in the House and Senate, and we talked about resolving what, frankly, are important but not substantial differences that still may exist. I am confident that in the next hours we can work out those differences. The same thing is going on with regard to the authority that the president apparently wants to deal with this problem.

And what you're seeing is real collaboration. What you're seeing is real working together. What you're seeing is real unity. And I said a number of times in the meeting, the people of our country are exhibiting incredible patriotism, heroism, bravery and courage. They are working together to meet this challenge, just as we have at many times in our long history. And that's what we're doing inside this building and will do in the next hours and days to meet this challenge.

QUESTION: Will you be able to pass the money today, will you be able to get it out today?

GEPHARDT: We're hoping to be able to have the Congress, at least the House, if not the House and the Senate, be able to act today on a supplemental appropriation.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, should there be a declaration of war?

GEPHARDT: My own thought is that the president has powers in present law to deal with what's in front of us. If the president wants and seeks additional authority, or a restatement of present authority, that's appropriate, we are quite willing to do that. We want to give him the tools that he needs and his administration needs to deal with this problem. We are behind that and we are for that.

And we will work today and tomorrow and if it takes Saturday and Sunday, we'll stay here and do what needs to be done to try to get these things done in a sensible, appropriate way.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) attack against somebody today, you believe he has the authority to do that under...

GEPHARDT: The president, under our Constitution, has the power to defend people in the United States. And I think he has the power to do something to retaliate against terrorism.

We're in a new world. A lot of the concepts that we have dealt with in the past have been with the normal situation where one country attacks another or attacks the United States. When Pearl Harbor happened, the president asked for and got an authorization to use force against the country of Japan, and he was pledged by the Congress all of the resources that he needed in order to succeed in that effort. And then, after that, we had a number of appropriation bills that gave him the resources that he needed.

I've said before, this calamity caused what I think will be the greatest loss of life on American soil by an outside force in the history of the country. When it's finished, I'm fearful that the 2,400 or 2,500 lives that were lost in Pearl Harbor will be exceeded substantially. This was an enormous catastrophe; this was an enormous attack against the people of the United States and I would say all the people of the world who love and honor civilization and humanity.

And we must act in concert and together to give the president what the president needs and requires in order to get this done. We don't want to contravene our Constitution; we don't want to blur the various powers of our government; we don't what to, you know, change the Constitution. And we don't have to do that. But what we have to do is work together internally, in the Congress, with the Senate and the House, Democrats and Republicans, and then with the president to get the right things in law and the right things done so we can meet this challenge.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, a declaration of war against the terrorists? Will Congress issue a declaration of war against the terrorists? GEPHARDT: It will be a piece of legislation which authorizes legally the president to take appropriate actions against the perpetrators of this giant atrocity.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, Ways and Means Committee chairman today unveiled legislation, an emergency stimulus package, that would permanently cut the capital gains tax. Does that also have bipartisan support? And did he have any consultation with Democrats on that?

GEPHARDT: Well, my understanding was they were working on legislation in Ways and Means that would take away the taxation of victims of...


GEPHARDT: Let me try to finish. That would take away the taxation of victims of this atrocity. Now if there are other matters that apply to all of our citizens, that have broader ramifications, we'll obviously have to take a look at that. I was not aware of that. I'll look at it at the time that we should.

QUESTION: Once military response time is going to be measured, it's going to cross international lines. Are you willing to support the president in any action he takes?

GEPHARDT: I support the president in his statement of the other day that unlike perhaps past policies, that we would try to find and bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime, but we would also take action against countries that harbor the perpetrators of this terrorism. I think that is an appropriate action to take. How that will be done; whether it will be done, is a question that has to yet be answered by what we find. But we have to be effective in dealing, facing down and dealing with, this terrorism.

Look, we've been faced with this for a number of years. This is not new. We've been talking about this problem for some time. This apparently was the work of a network of terrorists that may exist in a number of countries. We don't know the answers to all that. But what I do know is that unlike, perhaps, past times, we have to be effective in finally doing this in. This -- what happened the other day can never, ever happen again in this country -- and in my view, in any country.


GEPHARDT: A number of us have said for sometime that terrorism, in our view, was a greater threat than an errant missile from a rogue nation. That isn't to say we're not worried about missiles from rogue nations, but it is to say that we worried a little more about terrorist. So I think that, especially, with what's happened in the last days, that we have to look back at this problem and take more effective action than we've been able to take in the past to make sure that this never, ever happens again.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, can you be a little bit more specific about what your concerns are about the funding bill, do you think it's too much money? Do you have problems with the legislation that's written?

GEPHARDT: I think the concerns are primarily in the area of how -- the process by which the money gets spent. I don't think there's a great deal of disagreement about the amounts. In fact, I think most people believe that we face enormous costs from what has happened. When you think about the consequences, there is damage to two, perhaps six or seven or more major buildings in New York and in Virginia and, perhaps, in other places.

We have liability, potential liability for the victims and their families. We've got orphans that have been created by this gigantic tragedy that's gone on. I'm told there's damage to the subway system in New York. We have huge needs with regard to the transportation system in the country. We're going to beef-up security in all of our airports; you can imagine the kind of costs that can come from that. We need to, perhaps, better train personnel and, perhaps, we'll have added cost with all of that. Then you have the whole business of the military costs, just the military cost of the other day, plus the need to try to investigate and find who perpetrated these offenses, and then trying to fund the military effort to do something about it at some point.

So this has enormous ramifications. We've got to think it all through and we've got to have a process that we feel is adequate to the task.

The truth is nobody knows today and won't soon know what the total cost of this is going to be. But we got to get started. We got to give the president and the administration the tools that they need, both resources and legal authority, to get some real answers.

QUESTION: When you say the process, sir, are you talking about consultation with Congress?

GEPHARDT: We have, as you know, a long-standing process of the president asking for expenditures of money and then the Congress, through legislation and action of the Appropriation Committees, to provide that funding for specific areas. We also have a process of authorizing monies for different purposes.

GEPHARDT: I think the concerns can be handled correctly and properly. That's why we're meeting today and trying to work it all out.

QUESTION: If the United States did in fact declare war on terrorists, as Bob Barr is apparently going to propose in about an hour, legally -- how does that work legally? The United States has never declared war against an enemy that's not a state or a government. And if the United States declared war against the terrorists, is it not also declaring war against any country where these terrorists might be residing? How could that work?

GEPHARDT: As I say, we're in a new world. We're going to have to look for the proper way of describing both the threat and what we're going to do about the threat. In a way, the way we've done this before was for a different time and a different set of facts. We're in a new world. And we have to deal with what's in front of us.

The truth is, we don't know right now today who exactly did this and how it was done, and whether they're harbored by countries or whether they're not. And I think the president correctly described in general language the other day what our policy is and what we intend to try to do. And what we need to try to describe in legal language and as statute in a bill in the coming days is what we need to appropriately handle this from a legal standpoint.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, there have been some voice calling to lift the prohibition against state-sponsored assassination against guerrilla leaders. Do you feel that there will be at some point broad support among Congress to lift the prohibition?

GEPHARDT: I think we're trying to describe in the legislation I've talked about the legal authority that the administration needs to deal with these problems. I don't think that that particular legislation and whether or not to rescind it is really relevant to what we're talking about here. We need to describe legal authority so the president can act and will act in the days ahead to find the perpetrators, to bring them to justice, and to deal with countries that may be harboring the folks who did this.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, has the White House actually submitted language it wants on this -- not on the money, but on the use of force?

GEPHARDT: They have submitted a draft. GEPHARDT: That's why we're having a joint meeting right now to look at and talk about. We have members from both sides of the aisle in that meeting and they're trying to describe something they think is appropriate and fits the bill.

QUESTION: Is there an agreement on the dollar figure for the first funding bill?

GEPHARDT: I don't think there's disagreement about it maybe is the better way to put it. I think everyone is convinced that this is a large bill and that no one knows what it ultimately will be. I think everybody agrees it is a lot of money and so less relevant to this whole situation is the amount than a process that everyone can feel comfortable with.

We have a lot of concern being expressed by the New York delegation and the Virginia delegation about how this will be done and we've heard from the governor of New York and the mayor of New York. They have big concerns about how this will transpire and whether or not they're going to get the help that they need.

So there are a lot of legitimate concerns here that really have less to do with some kind of partisan disagreement and more to do with just technical, legitimate concerns that different people have about how we get our hands around this. I think we can figure this out.

QUESTION: Perhaps you might not be able to approach this. There's a question in here as to how insurance companies will react whether it is a declaration; is it seen as an act of war or as a terrorist act?

GEPHARDT: I understand that and that's a question we're either now or eventually, obviously, going to have to deal with. It's my understanding, if there is a war situation, that relieves insurance companies. But then what does that mean to our liability from the United States government? But we can work this out.

Look, I've never seen as much good faith in rooms. I've been in almost constant meetings with the speaker, the Senate majority leader, the Senate minority leader and other leaders in the Congress.

GEPHARDT: We have almost been in constant meetings the last three days. I suspect we're going to be in a lot more meetings. And there is a real desire to work together to collaborate, to respect one another's viewpoints and try to find essential agreements so we can display the unity that I feel is really between us.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the '02 budget process. Are you going to expect a speedy resolution to what was a really screwed up situation prior to this?

GEPHARDT: I think we've got to do one thing at a time. We are not talking about the rest of the budget. We're not talking about other issues. We are talking about the gigantic challenge that is in front of us, as we should be. We'll get back to the rest of the issues when it's appropriate to do that, but right now we're doing what we ought to be doing, and I'm proud of the unity and the effort and the motivation that's gone into this.

I said to the president the other day and I've said to the other leaders, "Look, we've got to trust one another. We've got to find a way to really trust one another." And to get trust, you have to have collaboration, you have to have communication and you have to have respect of one another and one another's motivation to get the job done for the American people.

And again, I'll say it: I am moved by the decency and the patriotism and the courage of the American people.

GEPHARDT: And we need to demonstrate an equal amount of ability to work together to help lead our country with the president to resolve this major challenge that we face.


QUESTION: ... the war powers resolution, whatever you call it, to show that the Congress of the United States is behind the president supporting whatever -- however he chooses to respond to this. Is that the main sort of a political message to the world as opposed to not granting him the authority you already think he has?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think, you know, in the Persian Gulf War we debated a resolution, and there were differences at that time. And we finally decided to give him the power to use force, and then we had a total vote, a unanimous vote behind that resolution. We feel that that kind of solidarity and unity...

KAGAN: We've been listening to House Minority leader Dick Gephardt, as he addresses reporters, talking about actions that he knows the House plans to take today, including voting and passing of what he says is a House appropriation bill to have the president have a large amount of money to go after the people that they have believed to carry out these acts, also the act authorizing the president to take appropriations action against what Mr. Gephardt said the perpetrators of this attack.

Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent Kate Snow to help us understand what exactly Congress is trying to do here.

First of all, Kate, when Congressman Gephardt was talking about passing this authorization to take appropriate action. He stopped short of saying that this would be a declaration of war.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're being very careful about the language. In fact, we understand that are there meetings ongoing between the White House and congressional aides working on the language. We don't think that that particular resolution, authorizing the use of military force, which is the way that they're putting it. We don't think that they will likely come up today, Daryn. We think that it will probably be tomorrow, maybe even beyond tomorrow before they work out all of the language. This is a relatively new thing.

The other resolution that you mentioned, the one that deals with money. That one, they've just came out of a meeting, you've heard him mention he is in a meeting with the other congressional leaders, that's the speaker of the House and Senate leaders, Republicans and Democrats, talking about this money. There is general consensus, Daryn, to send the president as much money as they think that he needs. They are talking about some $20 billion. That's what has been suggested by the appropriators. I am told about in the meeting if there is a discussion if it is appropriate to put a price tag and there is discussion if that's the right amount of money? Some members in New York who were in the room who said that we need specific money for New York, and also we need to consult with the president of how to spend the money.

So there is a little bit of talking going on, but they do want to get this done ultimately today, Daryn.

KAGAN: Which brings up an interesting point, Kate, when Congressman Gephardt first came out, he was very clear to talk about the unity, saying that there is no air, there is light between this Congress. And between the president and yet, as reporters were asking, and you are kind of alluding to as well, Washington is a partisan town, and everyone will have an opinion as to how this money should be spent and what actions should be taken?

SNOW: That's right. And when it was asked about an economic stimulus package, which has been mentioned by Republicans as a way to send a signal to Wall Street, which means tax cuts, you start to get into the politics. But, Daryn, I think the bottom line here is these people are human, too. I had a long talk with Dick Gephardt this morning about his feelings and his emotions, and he told me he's been bursting into tears watching some of the coverage. The man you just saw has been bursting into tears watching the coverage. So I think there is an unanimity, there is a feeling here on Capitol Hill, they have do what president wants him to do. One other thing, they passed a resolution here in the House, asking every American to fly the American flag for the next 30 days -- Daryn

KAGAN: I think that's something a lot of people would like to follow. Quickly, as we wrap, give us a quick civics lesson, does the House just vote on the amount of money, or does it have to be go by the Senate as well?

SNOW: It's going to be done by both the House and the Senate. But this is a rare occurrence on Capitol Hill. They are going to take it up at the same time, and it's the same language, the same bill. The same piece of paper passed by both chambers, sent to the president, because as I said,, they hope to do that by later today -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Kate Snow on Capitol Hill, thank you for explaining what is taking place there.



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