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Richard Gephardt Holds Press Conference

Aired November 15, 2001 - 14:36   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to make a quick U-turn, go to the Capitol. House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt discussing the agreement on an airline security bill.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: Pilots, for eight weeks, have been climbing into their cockpits wondering whether the baggage on the plane had been properly checked. Flight attendants for eight weeks have been stepping on the plane wondering whether passengers were going to greet them with a gun or a knife. Passengers for eight weeks have sat in their seats looking around them to see who was a good candidate to join a vigilante committee because they didn't feel safe and they didn't know if air marshals were really on their flights.

Families of the victims of September 11 attacks of eight weeks -- for eight weeks have watched a minority in the majority in the House stall progress for them. Victims' families still haven't got the bill that they want and that they deserve.

This caucus passed a resolution two days ago saying we would not leave before Thanksgiving without sending a strong bill to the president and asking that the Department of Transportation to immediately -- not a year from now, not two years from now -- but immediately begin checking all bags -- the bags in the belly and the bags in the top of the plane -- and putting air marshals on flights.

We are elated now that conferees have a deal after eight weeks and it looks like if the deal holds, we will be overhauling airline security and handing a victory to the American people this week.

This bill, this agreement, is not a victory for Republicans, it's not a victory for Democrats. It's a victory for the people of this country who want to feel safe on airplanes.

It will put federal law enforcement agents at almost all airports. It will finally scrap the private security system that is failing people, as we speak. It will significantly expand the air marshal program to get them on flights fast and will help airports get the technology to screen all checked baggage within two years.

We hope the deal holds. And we are confident federal law enforcement officers at airports is what's right for America and the American people.

Now, I want to introduce Alan Boswell (ph), a flight attendant from USAir, based out of National Reagan...

WOODRUFF: We've been listening to Dick Gephardt who is, of course, the House Democratic leader expressing pleasure on the part of his colleagues in the House that there has apparently been an agreement coming out of the Conference Committee between the House and the Senate to come up with an airline security bill that would put, as he said, federal employees at all airports around the country for a limited period of time and, in his words, scrap the failing private system now that, in his words, again, has left Americans afraid to fly, at left wondering if it is safe to fly for the last eight weeks.

Now to get some perspective from the other side of this argument, Kate Snow is standing by. And she's also at the Capitol, with one of the primary folks who were on the other side of this argument -- Kate.

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, that's right. I'm joined by the House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. he's been an integral player in all of this -- a key player in airline security.

We just heard from the other side -- we just heard from Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt talking about this really being a breakthrough, if you get this deal through. Do you take it the same way? Are we on the verge of a deal now?

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: Yes, I think we have a deal. In fact, hopefully we'll vote on it either tonight or tomorrow. And it's an important deal. It is a victory for the American people and the flying public. And not only that -- just flying, but it -- the House bill imposed upon the Senate a bill that covers all modes of transportation. So this is not just on the flying public, this is buses, railroads, trucks, shipping -- all modes.

SNOW: So the deal, as you understand it, will broaden out not just to cover airlines, but to cover other modes of transportation as well?

DELAY: That's what we tried to do in the House bill. And that's why, frankly, it took so long to do.

SNOW: The key thing that everyone's pointing to, and Mr. Gephardt just pointed to, is that this would essentially require federal employees to now be in charge of airport security for at least three years. And then at that point, airports could then opt out. Democrats are saying that that's pretty much a victory for them, because it's federalization -- making federal employees in charge. Do you take it that way, or do you see it as a victory for you as well?

DELAY: Well, it's not exactly the way I'd do it. But the president has told me through Secretary Mineta that this is the kind of flexibility that he needs. It's not imposing federal employees, it's more of a pilot program more than anything. There's (sic) five airports that will have a pilot program. We will see over the next three years what works and what don't work. And at the end of those three years, hopefully the Department of Transportation and the president can design the system that we need.

SNOW: That pilot program will be using private companies, which is something that you've -- explain why you've thought all along that that's valuable, to have private companies.

DELAY: Well first and foremost, what I'm supporting is not theory. Europe tried to nationalize their system, Israel tried to nationalize their system back in the '70s and '80s and it was a disaster. And they threw it out and brought in what is a very strong federalized system, with strong standards of criteria and certification overseeing private companies actually doing the work.

SNOW: Very quickly: Do you think we're going to see a very strong vote tomorrow in the House and the Senate?

DELAY: Oh, I think so. I think the members are very pleased that this is happening. They're especially pleased that it's happening before Thanksgiving.

And by the way, I might say, a lot of this bill will, the minute the president signs it, will go into effect. For instance, all of the screeners starting Monday, if the president signs the bill over the weekend, will have to be United States citizens, and have to speak English. And that's very important.

SNOW: And it will phase-in, we understand, over a series of months from now fairly quickly.

DELAY: Right.

SNOW: Thank you so much. Tom DeLay, the House majority whip playing a key role in this. We've heard from both sides now. It looks like they're very close to a deal; hoping that they can get this voted out by tomorrow.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, thank you Kate, and thank you Representative DeLay. We want to say that a lot of Americans are going to be asking when this is going into effect. We just heard Tom DeLay say as of now all screeners will have to be American citizens. Beyond that, I think we'll all be asking questions about when the rest of it will be implemented.




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