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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Anthrax Scare: Discussion with Minority Leader Dick Gephardt

Aired October 18, 2001 - 07:40   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Beautiful picture today from a very sunny Washington, DC. As you know, though, life is very different on Capitol Hill. We're going to go back now to the issue of the anthrax investigation there.

As we mentioned, the Capitol Building is open today, but the congressional office buildings are closed. Now the Senate will conduct business, but the House of Representatives is in recess until next Tuesday. Thirty-one people on the Hill have tested positive for exposure to anthrax.

Some perspective now from House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt. He was on a very quite Capitol Hill this morning.

Thank you for joining us.

REP. DICK GEPHARDT, MINORITY LEADER, (D), MISSOURI: Thanks Paula.

ZAHN: So do you have any second thoughts about not going back to business today?

GEPHARDT: No, it was the wise and prudent thing to do. We had a meeting with the president yesterday morning at 7:30 and the consensus was that we should get people out of the buildings and do the wise thing. We've got a responsibility to the young people that are here, to make sure people aren't in harm's way, and we have a responsibility to make sure that these terrorists don't succeed.

So it was the right thing to do. The Senate will do one bill today that we did yesterday and then they'll be out, and then the sweep can start.

ZAHN: Well let me ask you this. In some editorial pages across the country, it is being suggested by taking the action the House has that you're sending a very mixed message to the public. If you'll indulge me for a moment, I'd like to read just one small part of this editorial in "The New York Times".

The paper writes, but whoever has been mailing letters laden with anthrax scored a coup when he or she got the House to shut down. Public officials who are continually urging the public to go about their normal lives have an obligation to lead the way.

So I guess the inference is that you guys caved in or wimped out. Are you insulted by that?

GEPHARDT: No not at all. I think what we're trying to do is what we should do anywhere in the country where something like this happens. We are saying let's resume our normal lives, but let's also be careful and let's be responsible for others. And that's what we've tried to do here. We've tried to make sure that there isn't a problem and the prudent thing, the careful thing to do was to shut down.

That's what was done at NBC. That's what was done at the building in Florida, and that's what we hope people will do everywhere. We live in a new world today. We're on the front lines in a way everywhere in this war against terrorism, and we got to do sensible things.

ZAHN: I certainly respect your right to want to make sure you and your colleagues are safe, but you got to understand - and even Senator Shelby didn't want to comment on House actions this morning. You got to understand how the American public is looking at this thing. Wait a minute - why does the Senate think it's safe to go back to work, but the House doesn't.

Can you give them your analysis to that and your conclusions?

GEPHARDT: Well it really is the same decision. Again, now all the employees have sent home on the whole campus. The Senate is going to do one bill that we did yesterday. It really is a distinction without a difference. I think what's happened here is we made a joint decision to allow a sweep of the buildings to find out if there are other hot spots, other things to be worried about.

There was a report there were problems in the postal unit in the Senate, and we've got to look in the House as well. You got to worry that there were other letters sent to other members. So the careful thing to do is what we did, and I think it was the right thing to do, and it's what we hope citizens everywhere would do.

ZAHN: Representative Gephardt, is there any evidence that letters laced with anthrax were sent to House members?

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Rule that out.

GEPHARDT: You just can't rule it out. The Speaker's office had a letter that was not open that looked like the same handwriting on it, as on Senator Daschle's letter and the Brokaw letter. So they've taken that off for analysis. You got to suspect that there could be other letters that have come in. We've stopped all the mail to all the offices in both the House and the Senate.

And we're going to have to look at things before we can get back to business as usual.

ZAHN: And what do you make of the news this morning that the strains of anthrax were the same that were sent to New York and sent to Florida? GEPHARDT: Well the obvious suspicion here is that it came from the same person or persons who were trying to do this. Obviously it gives us now some leads for the FBI to go back on the postal units where they were deposited and try to figure this out. It's going to be hard to do.

I don't know about, you know, making a conclusion about where this came from. Obviously you've got to suspect it could have come from another country. There are not that many countries that have the capacity to produce this stuff. What is here is obviously professionally put together. The FBI is checking to see if it was weapons-grade material.

They suspected maybe, but they haven't done the conclusive tests. So when all that's done, we'll have more leads and hopefully we can get to the bottom of this detective story, find the people who really did this.

ZAHN: You have been serving our country for a long, long time. How violated do you feel that you can't get back to receive business today until the buildings are fully swept?

GEPHARDT: It's a big setback, but it's the world we're in. I told the members yesterday that we're - it's like we're on the front lines now. A few weeks ago it was New York and the Pentagon. Now it's here. It's in New York again at NBC. It's in Florida. We kind of got to think like defensive football coaches.

They never run the same play twice. We got to get ready for what comes next. This is the world we right now live in. But we've got to find the people who perpetuated this and most importantly, we've got to have long-term ideas out there to diminish the army of terrorism, not increase it, so that we can be preventing these attacks from happening at all.

ZAHN: Need a quick answer to this one. So what are you going to end up doing today?

GEPHARDT: Well I'm going to work in another building that's off the campus and then I'm going to St. Louis tonight, my home district, and talk to people there about what can be done in my district and in other districts to prevent these things from happening at all.

ZAHN: All right, Minority Leader Gephardt. It's always good to have you on the air with us - appreciate you stopping by.

GEPHARDT: Thank you.

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