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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Congress Holds Special Session in NYC

Aired September 6, 2002 - 16:22   ET

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


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us. We are here at the site where the very first Congress met, in the shadow of ground zero. This the 107th Congress came together today to honor New York and its people, hard hit by terror almost a year ago. We will talk to the House speaker and the minority leader about their rare special session outside of Washington, and with New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
But first, a look at this emotional day for lawmakers, the resolve they showed and the unity they showed as well. Our congressional correspondent, Kate Snow, is in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: Special ceremony, the meeting will be in order.

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a day for symbols, back in New York for the first time in more than 200 years, Congress reflected on September 11 and looked forward with hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We pray for a good year for America and for the world.

SNOW: With heads bowed, some 300 members of Congress listened as Vice President Dick Cheney compared ground zero to a battlefield.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since the hour of those attacks, we've been a nation at war, called once again to defend our liberty and our lives and to save humanity from the worst of horrors.

As a nation born in revolution, we know that our freedom came at a very high price. We have no intention now of letting it slip away.

SNOW: Freedom, liberty, courage and bravery.

HASTERT: New York lost hundreds of sons and daughters in that brutal attack on our nation's freedom. She lost firemen and custodians, stock brokers, police officers, construction workers and executives.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: As we near the first anniversary of September 11, with profound sadness, our hearts ache for those who died and for their families and loved ones. At the same time, we are filled with an abiding sense of gratitude to the people who live and work in this great city.

SNOW: They arrived in New York together, walked the streets together, no partisan bickering on this day, instead talk of a united purpose in fighting global terrorism.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: On the fundamental issue let there be no doubt. In this great and faithful struggle, there are no Republicans. There are no Democrats. There are only Americans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Kate Snow is here with me now. Kate, over 300 members of Congress here, and yet some members of the House and the Senate have decided not to come, and one was very vocal about it.

SNOW: Many of them had scheduling conflicts. They told me yesterday they simply couldn't make it, as much as they want to be here, but Senator Bob Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia, always sort of vocal about his opinions, said to a reporter he wasn't coming. He didn't think it was appropriate. He thought they have too much work to do back in Washington. He says Congress ought to be here working rather than up there. He said we have already expressed our sorrow to New York.

And we asked many members about those comments today. Senator Clinton said to us, you know, symbols are important, and she felt it was important for them to send this symbol here today. Senator Specter said it's appropriate to commemorate. Besides, they don't usually do a lot of work on Fridays. He said they might as well be here doing something special.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kate, thanks very much.

Kate mentioned Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. In fact, I talked to her as well today and asked her a little more about what she thinks the real value of a session like this is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Of course, it has great symbolic and historic significance that the Congress would come back where the Congress starred here in New York at Federal Hall, but it's also a very tangible way for New York to say thank you to the Congress and to America, and for members of Congress to see what has been accomplished.

You know, the last time many of them were here was a week after -- or so after September 11. I think it was actually the 20th. And we walked over to the site of such devastation and horror that it was a really hard day. And then of course, the Congress came through and provided the funding that we needed to do the clean-up and remove the debris and take care of a lot of the human needs that we were faced with. And this was a way for the Congress to see what they helped accomplish. So it's not only is a looking back, if you will, about where we've come from, but I think it's also a way of looking forward, because clearly we are going to need more help. I'm going to be going to my colleagues as the months and years go by, just to make sure they know what our needs are. This makes it very real.

WOODRUFF: Now, much of the focus is continuing to fight the war on terror, on Iraq, on the minds of every member of Congress. Yesterday, your husband, former President Clinton said in California that what President Bush should focus on is not Saddam Hussein right now, but Osama bin Laden. In so many words, he said it was Osama bin Laden who killed 3,000 Americans, not Saddam Hussein, and we should be going after bin Laden. Do you agree with him?

CLINTON: Well, I think the war on terror has a lot of targets, and from my perspective, we have to pursue those who would use weapons of terror against us, no matter who they are or where they are.

Clearly, we have a lot of work still to do in rooting out and eliminating the al Qaeda network, but the president is going to make his case to the Congress and to not only America but the world as to why he believes that Saddam Hussein is also a very significant target in this war on terror. And we are all going to be listening.

The real goal, I think, all of us share is that we do everything necessary to defend our country, to defend Americans and defend freedom-loving people throughout the world, and we have got, unfortunately, some committed, dangerous adversaries, more than one out there.

WOODRUFF: But it sounded as if your husband was saying the president's priorities are not correct, that Osama bin Laden should be first before Saddam.

CLINTON: Well, I think that that's a question a number of members of Congress and people generally raise. We don't know what's happened to bin Laden. We do need to know that. We also need to make sure that the positive mission that our military undertook is a lasting one so that we don't leave a vacuum for terror to grow again in Afghanistan.

But unfortunately in today's world, terrorists have many different locations from which they can strike against the United States, and what we are going to wait and see in the Congress is the case that the administration makes.

One thing we don't want -- and I know that a number of military leaders have been pointing this out -- is to, you know, spread our resources so thin that we are not effective anywhere. So we really have to take this carefully, weigh all the alternatives and act. But I don't think anyone would argue that Osama bin Laden has to remain the number one target, because clearly that's who brought so much destruction and death on this city.

WOODRUFF: Final question. We're INSIDE POLITICS, how actively are you going to be involved in the gubernatorial race? Apparently Carl McCall against George Pataki?

CLINTON: I'm going to be very active. I didn't take a position of endorsement in the primary, because I think I'm better suited to wait until the nominee of our party is chosen. And we have now a nominee, a very able, accomplished nominee, indeed. And we are going to be working as hard as we can to get him elected.

WOODRUFF: So, George Pataki should be defeated?

CLINTON: Well, I think that Carl McCall has a lot to give to New York. And when New Yorkers hear him and know where he stands on the issues and the changes he wants to make, I think this is going to be a real horse race. Stay tuned.

WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Clinton, thank you very much for talking to us.

CLINTON: Thank you, Judy. Appreciate it.

WOODRUFF: Well, not far from Federal Hall where I'm standing, the work of the financial markets went on today.

And for the latest on what happened in today's stock market activity, let's go down to Bertha Coombs. She's on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange -- Bertha.

BERTHA COOMBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Judy.

Today, in fact, Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott opened the markets. It seemed to be a good omen for the markets. Also, a couple of better-than-expected reports seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for Wall Street this session.

August employment reports showed that the jobless rate dipped to 5.7 percent. That's a five-month low. And tech bellwether Intel trimmed its quarterly sales outlook, but by not by as much as Wall Street had feared. Stocks sprinted out of the gate from the start, with techs leading the pack: the Nasdaq composite 33.5 percent. Shares of Intel added 7 percent after hitting a 52-week low yesterday, while the Dow Jones industrials rose 143 points. And the Standard & Poor's 500 also ended the session higher.

But even with today's run-ups, stocks fell short for the week. The Dow lost more than 2.5 percent. The Nasdaq finished the week down slightly. And the S&P 500 shed nearly 2.5 percent as well.

That's the latest from Wall Street -- more INSIDE POLITICS after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: I'm here in Midtown Manhattan with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.

Gentlemen, we're just about a mile and a half, two miles away from ground zero right here.

Mr. Speaker, today's ceremonial session, what does this signify? What do you want to tell people by having held this?

HASTERT: I think, first of all, we want to say that we're in solidarity with the people of New York and the people of Virginia, too, that went through the Pentagon -- but of their extreme courage.

We want to salute, certainly, and commemorate those people who died, but also the great heroes of the city. I think New York, in going through this tragedy, in their coming back and fighting back, really exemplifies the spirit of America. And we want to honor that.

WOODRUFF: Only the second time something like this has ever happened. Was it really something you think that needed to be done?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think it's important. This attack on the United States was the largest attack probably in our history, probably since the War of 1812 of the Revolution. So this was an enormous attack. And people are still trying to get over it.

Obviously, the families of the people who were killed are never going to get over this tragedy. We wanted to honor them. We wanted to honor the rescue workers, who -- many of whom also died, and say to the whole country that we're back, that we're united, and we're going to try to fight against terrorism in the days ahead.

WOODRUFF: Speaker Hastert, so you have one day where you have all come together in a spirit of support for the city, the Congress working together. Is there any chance this is going to spill over into any of the other contentious issues before the Congress in the weeks ahead?

You've got spending questions. You've got health care questions. You all are very far apart on some of these issues. Is any of this going to have any effect on the rest of what you do?

HASTERT: Over the years, we have worked together. And, ultimately, we get things done. And I think we will continue to work together. Sometimes we have differences of opinion. That's how we get elected. But we're going to continue to work together.

I think the Congress in the past year has moved a tremendous amount of legislation to try to make our skies safe, to make this country safe, to apprehend terrorists, to do all those things that we've done, extraordinary amount of legislation that we've worked on together.

WOODRUFF: Does it make a difference, one day like this, do you think? Does it help solve any other problems?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think 9/11 has had an impact on all of us. I think we've done pretty well in working together as best we can, in a bipartisan way, to get the things done to respond to this terrorist attack. We passed lots of legislation in the two or three weeks after 9/11. We are working now on a Homeland Security Department. And it's been a bipartisan consideration. So I told the president on 9/12, "You've got to trust us and we've got to trust you." I think we've done pretty well at that. And we're going to continue to do that. This fight is not over.

WOODRUFF: Speaking of which, Mr. Speaker, the focus now on Iraq, some congressional officials saying this debate, your hearings, could go on into and past the November midterm elections. Is that a timetable you're comfortable with?

HASTERT: We're not sure what the timetable is yet.

But there's a time for talking and then there's a time for action. And I think we're united in saying that we don't want to see this happen again in this country. And we need to do everything we can to protect the people of this nation, so that we don't have this type of terrorism enacted again on the people of the United States. And we'll do everything to stop it.

WOODRUFF: But are you comfortable with the hearings going beyond November 5?

HASTERT: We need to take the case to the Congress and to the American people. And when that case is made, then we'll have the right form of action.

WOODRUFF: You're not answering.

HASTERT: Well, we don't know. We don't know how long it takes.

WOODRUFF: But the president has said he'd like to get it done by early October.

HASTERT: He said he'd like to get it done before Congress leaves.

WOODRUFF: Which will be in October.

HASTERT: We don't know.

WOODRUFF: What are you thinking?

GEPHARDT: I think you have got to take it a day at a time. I don't think we can get ahead of ourselves. We do need hearings. He's going to the United Nations on Tuesday. I don't know what he will say there, but there may be some activity there.

He's calling other countries. He's trying to build a world coalition. So there are other things that could intervene here. But, as the speaker has said, we need to do what it's Congress' responsibility to do. A lot of us said to the president, "You need to come to the Congress." Well, he's done that now. And I'm glad he did that. We need to do our part and we need to do it in a responsible and successful way. WOODRUFF: How much of a factor will Iraq be in these midterm elections, Mr. Speaker?

HASTERT: We don't know.

Iraq and what we were doing here today is beyond politics. We need to stand together and do the right thing. I don't know what the consequences are for the midterm election. We need to do the right thing for the security of this country. And I think Dick Gephardt and I both agree. Politics doesn't have anything to do with this.

WOODRUFF: And yet, for the Democrats, Mr. Gephardt, if the Democrats aren't able to talk about some of the issues that you've said are important -- the economy, prescription drugs, and so on -- if the debate is all about Iraq, how do Democrats get their message out?

GEPHARDT: Well, we're going to continue to talk about all the domestic issues. And I'm sure the Republicans will, too. Those are issues that are important to the American people. And we need to be heard on those. Those differences still exist. And those will be sorted out in the election.

At the same time, we need to put politics aside to deal with these issues. We've got to do the right thing for the American people. These are life-and-death issues. Our highest responsibility is to keep the people of this country safe. We simply cannot have another attack, certainly, with weapons of mass destruction, against the American people. We've got to prevent that, if it's humanly possible. And the only way to do that is to put politics aside and do what you think is right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Talking with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.

As you've been hearing, the events of this day more significant because we're so close to ground zero and so close to the humble beginnings of this country.

Here's CNN's Bruce Morton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first Congress met in New York, not where they're meeting today, but in this building, remodeled in 1789 by Pierre L'Enfant after the Continental Congress had used it.

The Senate was upstairs. It is still called the Upper House, behind closed doors, the house downstairs with room for visitors. This is an artist's impression of the Senate session, another of President Washington being sworn in. It took some members from the South and West a month to reach New York. They didn't stay long.

DONALD RITCHIE, SENATE HISTORIAN: They finally started the House on April 1 and started the Senate on April 6, 1789. And then they stayed there until August of 1790, so just about a year and a half.

MORTON: Then they moved to Philadelphia -- that building is still standing -- for 10 years. It was a deal, of course. The South would help the Northern states' debt and the government would move to the Potomac.

RITCHIE: George Washington picked the site, not surprisingly about 20 miles from where his home was. And he had hoped that this would help to improve commerce of the states of Virginia and Maryland.

MORTON: Philadelphia hoped Congress would love it and want to stay. Would our national dish be Philly cheese steak if they had? But a deal was a deal. And they came to Washington, which looked nothing like the way it looks today.

RITCHIE: Just part of the Capitol Building, the White House and a few other federal buildings were open in 1800. They still moved down there. And the congressmen sorely missed the amenities of Philadelphia and of New York. They lived in very rudimentary boarding houses. And they complained bitterly for years, in fact for decades, about how primitive Washington was as a site for a capital.

MORTON: But they stayed, stayed when the British were burning the city during the War of 1812, stayed ever since, with two exceptions: Congress held a session in Philadelphia in 1987 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution, and in New York today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): ... that our flag was still there.

MORTON: Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, we want you know we're still waiting for that second verdict in that Florida murder trial involving two young boys. It will be coming down around the top of the hour.

But, next, we will head to New Jersey, where a Republican candidate says he smells blood. Plus: Senate hopeful Elizabeth Dole kicking up controversy over her role as a poster girl of sorts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: While many senators gathered here today in New York City to remember September the 11th, Democrat Robert Torricelli stayed home in New Jersey to campaign. Exactly 60 days before the November election, Torricelli's bid to get reelected remains shaken by questions about his ethics.

Here now: CNN's Brian Palmer in New Jersey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGLAS FORRESTER (R), NEW JERSEY SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Bob Torricelli has managed to step in it this time with regard to the Superfund and accusing me of being indifferent.

BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Doug Forrester smells blood, attacking Bob Torricelli's record at a Northern New Jersey toxic waste site. Torricelli supporters showed up to defend their man.

TOM RICHARDS, MAYWOOD CITY COUNCILMAN: Congressman Torricelli at the time grabbed hold of the reins and made an effort, a successful effort, to clean up the homes in Maywood.

PALMER: The powerful incumbent Torricelli is on the defensive, dead even in recent polls with the political unknown Forrester. Torricelli has been hobbled by a Senate Ethics Committee admonishment for using poor judgment in taking gifts from a donor in 1998.

SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI (D), NEW JERSEY: I agree with the committee's conclusions, fully accept their findings, and take full personal responsibility.

PALMER: That apology isn't enough for Forrester, who has blasted Torricelli throughout the bitter campaign, as he did Thursday in their first TV debate.

FORRESTER: Mr. Torricelli is a repeat offender. Do you realize that he is the only member of Congress in U.S. history to be hauled in before the Ethics Committee in both the House and the Senate?

TORRICELLI: I have tried the very best I can to be accountable on this item. I've said there were mistakes. I've said there were misjudgments. It's really the best I can do. All I can do is, with the record that is now present where I made these mistakes, is ask people to consider all the other things that I have done in life.

PALMER: But the man known as "The Torch" is not just playing defense, attacking Forrester for his conservative politics, his lack of experience in elected office, and lumping the business executive with greedy CEOs.

TORRICELLI: Who is Doug Forrester? He won't release his income taxes, how he went from a middle manager in state government, sold political contacts, and made $50 million to $100 million selling overpriced prescription drugs in eight years.

PALMER: This race is much bigger than New Jersey.

INGRID REED, EAGLETON INSTITUTE, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: This is one of a few close races that will mean the balance in the Senate. Right now, there is one vote between Democrats and Republicans. And this campaign could make the difference.

PALMER: The national parties have lined up behind their candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Torricelli has a 100 percent pro-choice rating. Forrester would cut Medicaid-funded abortions for victims of rape and incest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Bob Torricelli thinks New Jersey will tolerate lies and corruption. Call Bob Torricelli. Tell him we won't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PALMER: With so much money flowing into the race and so much riding on its outcome, the eight weeks between now and the election promise to be long and tense.

Brian Palmer, CNN, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, the mayor of Providence, Buddy Cianci, was sentenced today to five years in prison for corrupting city hall. The 61-year-old Cianci says he plans to appeal. The judge described the colorful longtime mayor as a Jekyll-and-Hyde character who corrupted Providence's government even as he helped resurrect the city. About an hour after the sentencing, City Council President John Lombardi was sworn in to serve out the remainder of Cianci's term, which ends in January.

The "Political Play of the Week" is coming up next. Find out why raining on someone's parade helped one political figure shine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Unfortunately, our Bill Schneider is not here with us today in New York, but Bill has Big Apple politics on his mind -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy as you know, New York respects clout and it respects politicians who have clout.

This week, a New York politician showed clout without even voicing an opinion. That's unusual for a New York "Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): It was all set up. New York Democrats were supposed to nominate their first African-American candidate for governor this year, state Comptroller Carl McCall.

MICHAEL TOMASKY, "NEW YORK": It was pretty much wired for Carl McCall from the start.

SCHNEIDER: Then Andrew Cuomo, son of the former governor and member of President Clinton's Cabinet, got into the race. The whole New York Democratic establishment, including Senator Chuck Schumer, got behind McCall. That put New York's other Democratic senator, Hillary Clinton, on the spot.

TOMASKY: As the race wore on, pressure from black political leaders, particularly, mounted on her to make some gesture in behalf of Carl McCall, if not an actual formal endorsement.

SCHNEIDER: What to do? The polls gave Senator Clinton an opening. They showed Cuomo falling way behind. Pressure grew for Cuomo to pull out. Last Friday, Senator Clinton and her husband showed up at the New York State Fair.

CLINTON: We dream about this sandwich all year long.

SCHNEIDER: Andrew Cuomo was at the fair, too. But somehow, the Clintons never managed to connect with him. Hmm.

Monday: the West Indian American Labor Day Parade in Brooklyn. Senator Clinton was there. So was Carl McCall. It was raining. The senator needed an umbrella. Somehow she managed to connect with McCall.

CARL MCCALL (D), NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think I had a very big umbrella. And Hillary Clinton wanted to be under my umbrella to be protected from the rain.

SCHNEIDER: Cuomo got the message. The next day, he pulled out of the race, sparing his party a divisive primary.

ANDREW CUOMO (D), FORMER NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: If we were to now spend $2 million this week on an acrimonious campaign, we would only guarantee a bloody and broke Democratic nominee, whoever won.

SCHNEIDER: How bitter could it have gotten? Cuomo told a "New York Times" columnist, "I believe in my heart that, if I did a negative ad, I would have won." A frustrated Cuomo added: "How could I go against Carl McCall? How could you do that? Don't you like black people? Aren't you a progressive? Aren't you a liberal, you young, arrogant SOB?"

It looks like the campaign ended just in time.

TOMASKY: This is the first race, really, in which she, as a sitting senator, could deliver an endorsement that carried a lot of weight and meant something.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, it did. It meant disaster was averted for the senator and her party. It meant the "Political Play of the Week."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And, Judy, for the record, this is the first "Political Play of the Week" accomplished through the skillful use of a strategic umbrella.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: There are all sorts of umbrellas.

Thank you, Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS this Friday, September 6. We thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff in New York City.

And I'm going to turn it over to "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" next.

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