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President Bush Lands in Manhattan to Visit Ground Zero

Aired September 11, 2002 - 16:54   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to turn our attention back to Ground Zero, where it appears as though hundreds and hundreds of people await the arrival of the president, the president having landed on the West Side of Manhattan, slowly making his way over in a motorcade to this exact spot.
And, in his pocket, he's carrying the badge of a Port Authority officer, he says to remind him of the ultimate sacrifice almost 3,000 folks made that day on September 11 of last year.

And we're going to check in now with Bill Hemmer, who is standing by, to give us a better sense of how much time family members can expect to spend with the president. There will be no mikes there. This will be a private moment that these family members get to share with the president -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, good afternoon again.

The numbers that we saw are considerably down at this point. Well over 20,000 is what the city says came out for the ceremony in the morning. We have seen several hundred people, a bit hard to say much more beyond that. But they have gathered down in the pit, that pit area.

And interesting to note here. About 90 minutes ago, the city brought in a fire truck and about two other water trucks as well. We saw all that dust kick up in the family's faces earlier today. They don't want to see a repeat of that this afternoon. They have watered down the area to make sure they can try and keep some of that dust and the dirt on the ground.

The flowers still remain, Paula. And, boy, what a scene it was earlier today to see those family members walk down there and lay their roses and their sunflowers and the Hawaiian leis that were shipped in specifically from the state of Hawaii. They will be preserved and put into a memorial, a display, at some point later in the year, possibly into 2003. It has not been completely decided as to what they will do. We just know that they will save on to them and display them at some future date.

The other thing, you and Aaron were talking earlier today about the flags, that we have seen so many, just an absolute abundance down here in the Ground Zero area. There is a place here, Paula, at the south end of Ground Zero, the Deutsche Bank. You might remember that building. It is extremely tall. And it has sat emptied and abandoned a year ago -- ever since a year ago today. Well, there's a large American flag flying near the top. You can see it there in the picture. It has been up there as far as I can remember. And the guys down here working with us as well say they believe it went back up along that building in early October. The wind got too strong today and literally shredded it in half. It still stands there and still hangs. But, nonetheless, it gives you an idea of what we've been contending with down here.

Again, the president is en route. It will be a solemn ceremony, again, today, as he heads down that ramp, seven stories down into the pit, where the wreath-laying ceremony will take place, and, again, as we mentioned a short time ago, off to Ellis Island for a speech, a short address later tonight to the people of America.

It has been a remarkable day. And I say that with all due respect. It has been truly an experience that we all have sat here with amazement at times and just taken it all in. From this vantage point here on the Merrill Lynch Building, 10 stories off West Street and the West Side Highway, just to see the images and to see the way the country has paused to remember today, it has been absolutely remarkable -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Bill.

And we're going to bring John King into the discussion now just to remind us of the incredible security that is in place here, as the president slowly makes his way to this Ground Zero site, particularly in light of this heightened state of security that the country is in. But we should also make a mention of the fact that the city of New York has been in this orange zone for several weeks now -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Paula, presidential security always of paramount concern to the White House, and all the more so in the past year, and all the more so in the last 24 hours because of what you noted: the intelligence data that led the government to increase the threat level from elevated to a high threat of terrorist alert.

We are talking throughout the day to senior administration officials. They say they believe there's no evidence of any specific threat against the president or any sites, any ceremonies here in the United States today. But they have been on hand here for several days. One reason the property was cleared earlier today was for one last security sweep before the president came in.

And we have seen a number of security improvements around the White House grounds and around the president as he travels in the past year. We don't discuss the details, for obvious purposes, but that is now part of the job, part of the job of the Secret Service and others.

And we should tip our hat to them as we pay tribute to the policemen and the firefighters and all those who lost their lives here. The people who guard the president, and the vice president -- and us as we travel with the president in Washington -- are under a great deal of stress, and certainly more so on the day of September 11, when they believed the White House might be a target. And they do quite a remarkable job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

ZAHN: I know as we watched the president earlier today, you could see just how moved he was by being able to have individual conversations with family members.

And I guess his aides are telling us all just how comfortable he is doing this. In fact, as his own father, the former president of the United States, told me that's something that he thinks is a great gift of his son, his ability to be able to connect one-on-one, particularly with people during these very difficult times.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: There is, John was talking about security concerns. It's my understanding the president is going to walk down the ramp. There's this long ramp that goes into Ground Zero. It is quite exposed and you know it's the kind of thing, if I was supposed to be protecting somebody it would make me a little bit nervous.

Anyway, Jeff Greenfield is with us. Jeff, as you know, they control these movements very carefully and that's like the one area that would just make me nervous. I assume they are way ahead of me on this. They always are.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think if you go back to last fall when the president showed up at Yankee Stadium and threw out the first ball for Game 3 of the World Series, you've never seen security like that at a ballpark and that was in the shadow temporally of 9/11. It's just one of those things that I think every president says to his Secret Service even at ordinary times, don't put me in that bubble, or get me out of it as much as possible.

BROWN: Right.

GREENFIELD: In this case, I think it was very important for the White House, very important for the president to say, I am not going to be a prisoner of these times. I've got to be able to show that the leader of the strongest country in the world is not towering behind security, is out meeting with people, is living what I'm telling other people to do, a relatively normal life.

BROWN: Right. I think that, as the president makes his walk, I think that's exactly what I was thinking about. It's hard to make the argument to the rest of the country to go about normal, there's nothing normal about the life of the president of the United States, and the president will be in the bubble or the cocoon no matter what, but there are moments where symbolically you have to do things to send a message and oddly this does seem to me to be exactly one of them.

GREENFIELD: Particularly because if you go back and look at what Osama bin Laden had said about his notion of the United States and its leaders that the country was composed of cowards, that they would cut and run when challenged, whether the bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon after Somalia, that was one of the things I think that led him to decide that he could get away with something like this with something like impunity. And, for the president to go literally to the center of the attack of one year ago and say I am here, I am out, I am meeting with the victims, there is a message not just for the country, not just -- and we have to put this on the table, a political message that I am the leader of this country and I want people to see that.

But he wants, I think, our adversaries, he wants the enemies of the United States to know that that hasn't worked and that message is being communicated literally all around the world by those pictures you're seeing.

ZAHN: And, I think the president made quite clear in his remarks earlier today at the Pentagon just how much he thinks we're going to have to rely on the military when he basically said that this war on terrorism is the first great struggle of a new century.

GREENFIELD: We're going to hear this, I think, in much more substantive terms tomorrow in New York at the United Nations, and I also think this is a very difficult thing to say on a day like this, but without any intention, as we hear the applause, this changed the stature of this president, as Oklahoma City did with Bill Clinton, as the president approaches. This made him very different in our eyes.

BROWN: A brief wreath laying ceremony here. This is very much what we saw now several hours ago in Shanksville. John King, if you can hear me, do you know what the plaque says?

KING: Aaron it has a very brief inscription from the president on it, and I can read it to you in just a moment, as you see the president and the first lady down on the site. The plaque says this: "Every life taken here, every act of valor performed here the nation holds in honored memory" and it is signed George W. Bush.

BROWN: I knew you'd know, John, our Senior White House Correspondent John King who's been with us in New York. The president now starting to meet some family members and some of the first responders, rescue workers, others.

ZAHN: Among those that he first greeted were Christie Farer (ph) if you saw the woman with the scarf rapped around her neck. Her husband headed up the Port Authority and, in spite of the great pain she has endured when he died of course a year ago today, or as she says was murdered, she has become the liaison between the city and family members, and as tough as that job is, she talks about how it has been at times consoling for her to at least feel some collective empathy.

GREENFIELD: Anyone who has lost a family member, even under the most ordinary of circumstances, I think is filled with an impulse to mark that passing, to give it some kind of meaning. That's why many religions a year after the death of someone, there is a ceremony. When people talk about why are we doing this as a country, why is the president here? This is very much part of a human impulse, even absent the unprecedented public consequence of what happened. It is one of the most significant awful days in American history. So, what the president is doing now, you know, the act of consolation, it's one of the things we expect of a head of state. We don't just hire a president to run the government and pass laws, whether it's Reagan after the Challenger blew up or Clinton after Oklahoma City or George W. Bush after this, this is one of the things we want and need from a leader.

ZAHN: And he clearly has the gift of connection, doesn't he Jeff?

GREENFIELD: I think that was one of the reasons why he was elected president in the face of what looked like a political situation, the favorite, the party in power, more so I think to be blunt than his father.

ZAHN: His father concedes that.

GREENFIELD: This fellow does have, it's always been his greatest strength is he has a kind of personal connection. The doubts about him were never about that. They were always about substance. They were doubts, I should say, that had not really been answered, either by the tie in the Election of 2000, or in the days before September 11 when one poll showed if you'd rerun the election on September 1 it would have been a tie again.

Everything about our political system was shaken up as well as our sense of confidence, as well as our sense of invulnerability. There's a lot of argument about should the president be seen a more significant political person because of this. To some extent and to a large extent it's inevitable. You can't lead a country through something like this and not be changed in the eyes of all of us.

BROWN: The president in these brief moments that he has with people, I think it was Bill Hemmer earlier, though it might have been John, talked about where the country is today that the country had by television, I gather, participated in this.

I think one of the great questions, great to me because I'm in this business, is in fact where the country was today, the degree to which people around the country wanted to participate in this moment, this day. I agree with you. There is something important psychologically in human nature about a year. We have gone through the cycle and I've been asked this 100 times and I have no answer. I have no idea where the country is today on this, none.

KING: I've been e-mailed a couple of excerpts from the speech tonight. I believe, I need to check quickly, but I believe we can use them now.

BROWN: Okay and I believe that's off air, or at least ought to be. Jeff, go ahead.

GREENFIELD: What I wanted to say was that having been in California just a few days ago, I think you have to say that for people outside of New York and Washington and people outside this business, it is different. It's not a lack of sympathy. It's not a lack of feeling but the visceral overwhelming power and horror of what happened is, I think, understandably a little more attenuate.

I think they look on New York as sympathetic people would do to victims of an event. I don't think they see it quite as much, I mean the rest of the country, as an attack on America as much as New York, because we felt it here, and the policymakers in Washington because they know it scrambled the entire international chess board. It required the commitment of American forces. We may be seeing it again. I do think it's different.

BROWN: But it's their sons and daughters also who are in Afghanistan today. It's not just the children of parents in New York who are in Afghanistan, who may be going to Iraq. It is the children of Peoria and Dubuque and Menomonee (ph) and all those other places.

GREENFIELD: I respectfully disagree, not like in World War II where everybody was subject. There is a relative handful of volunteer professional armed forces people. Most of us, and a lot of people have made this point, haven't been asked to do anything. We haven't been asked so much as are your taxes higher than the way they were in World War II? Is our food rationed? Is our gasoline rationed?

I mean you can still drive an SUV and be exempt from federal fuel regulations. It's hard to know what most Americans have been asked to do other than to feel. I think that's a great difference and I think in that sense the country is not as engaged in a sense that every American family in World War II felt it viscerally, personally. I think it's different.

ZAHN: Well, one wonders as the president not only -- soon, I guess we're going to be able to go to John King and hear a little bit more of what the president is expected to say tonight. But let's talk about his challenge ahead tomorrow when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly.

Now, if you're talking about the mood of the country being where it is and the statistics all over the place on whether the American public would openly embrace a war with Iraq, what is the president up against, Jeff?

GREENFIELD: Tomorrow is probably a harder challenge than he had last September 20 when he talked to the American public because that speech was given in the context of a country that desperately wanted him to succeed. You know, unlike many presidential speeches where half the country doesn't want the president to succeed, because they're a different party.

Tomorrow he's talking to a world which we've all talked about, except for Britain and Israel. Be very skeptical to be charitable about it, about the idea of Iraq, and he's got to -- we've heard this cliche that he hasn't made the case yet to America. He certainly hasn't made the case yet internationally and the challenge tomorrow, to speak both to a skeptical country and to an even more skeptical world about what he has in mind, I think it's as difficult a challenge substantively and rhetorically as any president has had.

ZAHN: Bill Bennett, in an interview with Judy Woodruff just moments ago, suggested this whole idea of allied support as a bit of a canard, and he essentially said they will come. It was us that was attacked. It was the U.S. that was attacked.

GREENFIELD: That is certainly the argument of, if I can use that old Vietnam cliche, of the hawks. They are saying that strong action will change the dynamic but I think any president who goes to the international community has to make the case in international terms, even if he plans to go alone.

He can't just say we're going to do this. He's going to lay down, I believe, the same kind of marker that Clinton did about Kosovo and that Bush did about going after bin Laden, that what our adversaries are up to threatens the international community and it's a matter of collective necessity that everybody get behind this.

BROWN: John King, our senior White House correspondent, chomping at the bit here, so chomp John.

KING: Aaron, we have some excerpts from the White House of what we will hear from the president tonight, and as we watch the president and the first lady down at Ground Zero greeting families, it is very much as we expected a reflection on the pain, the suffering and the challenges this country has faced in the past year. Let me read you the two excerpts released by the White House.

One is: "For those who lost loved ones, it has been a year of sorrow, of empty places, of newborn children who will never know their fathers here on earth. For members of our military it has been a year of sacrifice and service far from home. For all Americans it has been a year of adjustment, of coming to terms with the difficult knowledge that our nation has determined enemies and that we are not invulnerable to their attacks."

The president also, in his speech to the nation tonight will say: "The attack against our nation was also an attack on the ideals that make us a nation. Our deepest national conviction is that every life is precious because every life is the gift of a creator who intended us to live in life and liberty."

So, as anticipated, the president's remarks tonight, which we are told will run about eight to ten minutes from Ellis Island, and you see the president greeting the families down here in Ground Zero, very much a reflection of the pain and suffering of those who've suffered here in New York and, of course, at the Pentagon, and as the president stopped earlier today in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Bill.

HEMMER: John, look at this picture we're seeing here. This has to be in the world of politics the most dignified and solemn rope line that we have ever seen. Here is a man who is now taking on hugs from families who lost husbands and brothers and wives and sisters in this, and we talked earlier today about how much emotion has touched this man given the events a year ago today. You have to think that this is getting to his heart once again today.

KING: He is a very emotional president and the joke in the Bush family is that the Bushes cry and Laura Bush, who has repeatedly made the joke that her husband cries more than she does because he is more outward in his emotions. I think Jeff Greenfield hit it exactly right a few moments ago when he says the nation expects this of its president, and the president is always a politician.

But at a moment like this, that is pushed to the background and he is the president, and healing the nation is part of his job and it was from the moment this happened; and certainly, as we pause to remember one year later, it is again. We are in a political year.

We're in a very different environment, not quite the bipartisan environment we had in Washington in the early weeks and months after the attacks, but today is a day even as partisanship rises up before the November elections comes, put all that aside once again. And, you see the president just very quietly doing this the way he thought was the right way to do it.

BROWN: As you guys were talking, I was actually looking at the moment from the other end, what it must mean to those family members, to the rescue workers, to the people who lost family members, what it must mean that the president of the United States, the president of the United States came to them, shook their hand, signed an autograph, stood for a picture, gave them a hug, said a kind work, shed a tear, whatever it was that went on in those individual moments, what must it mean to them?

You know we can talk the politics of this and that and all the rest but what you can't, at least to me, I mean I can't find a way emotionally to get my arms around how powerful and important that moment must be for a widow or a child, you know.

I mean the president of the United States, you know those of us in the news business, you know, we pretend that these things don't -- he's a president. I've met three presidents, not that big a deal. What the heck. Well, the truth is when the president of the United States walks into a room under any circumstance that gets your attention big time.

ZAHN: Oh, it means a tremendous amount to these folks you know some of whom have not had it in them to come to Ground Zero until today and I know we've all had the opportunity to talk with these folks who sometimes they think that America is a false impression and where they are on the healing process.

They are deeply offended when they hear people casually bandying about the word "closure" because they say there is no closure and one would hope, as Aaron just said, that the amount of respect the president is showing these families today will in some small part help them feel better.

BROWN: Well, it's a comfort.

GREENFIELD: And these people are parts of families, unlike say families in the military who were no part of that bargain. If you have a loved one in the military, even in the time of peace, you know that there may come a time when your loved one will be put at risk and there may come a time when that risk will wind up in its worst possible way and there will be a ceremony and there will be important people, even a president come to acknowledge that sacrifice.

But when you go to work in the morning in a World Trade Center investment firm or a consulting firm and you take the train in on the 6:15 and you get your cup of coffee and you go up in the elevators, unlike even the firefighters and police officers' families who know they might the call, you've been thrust into a role. You've been made in the most horrible part of the way, part of one of the most consequential public days in American history.

And, you know, I think for these families it's two levels, gratitude, and in a sense an overwhelming sense that the president is there and then tomorrow morning, it's Year 2 of what they have to live with and you have to wonder, you have to hope there's some measure of consolation in this, but you know what the reality is.

BROWN: Well, we talked earlier today with Dina Burnett (ph) and she talked about -- her husband was on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, and she too, she talked about the importance of a year. I've made it. I've made it through the cycle. I made it through all those events that are a year, and that chair at the dinner table remains empty. It will be empty still tomorrow.

But we hope, I think all of us, all of us in the country and well beyond the country hope that the year becomes an important marker in grief in a way that does help people feel a little bit better. One more step down that difficult road that people have to travel when these tragedies strike.

ZAHN: I guess, John, you can help remind us of exactly how the president comforted the family members, the military personnel who have been deployed when he very much talked about America counting on them and how our confidence as a nation is very well placed.

KING: Well, the president certainly in his remarks at the Pentagon and his many stops at military bases in the past year and at every opportunity he thanks the men and women of the armed services, and as he does so, the president also makes the point to thank their families, and I think that is a key point for this president. It is the families who pay the sacrifice and have the daily fears, if you will, when their sons and daughters, wives and husbands, are deployed overseas.

We're seeing in public today much of what we are told happened in private the last time the president was here at Ground Zero. He brought with him a minister from Houston who he knew well from Texas and the minister said after the event that I do this for a living and I was exhausted. I had no energy left and the president kept going.

He is someone who views this as, I guess, part of the job but that just sounds almost just not the way to say it. It's hard to find the words and I think whether you're a Democrat or Republican, no matter what you think of this president politically, I think the woman to his side has also stepped forward in the past year.

Laura Bush was a woman who did not want to be a public first lady in the model of a Hillary Rodham Clinton. She wanted to focus on education and keep a very low profile. September 11 changed her life, and as she put the words this past week, changed her job too, and I think seeing her at the president's side, and he again says in every speech how important she has been to his own coping in this past year.

BROWN: It's a very touching scene to watch, I mean as we chat about all of this. Each of these people seems to get something different. Some want a handshake or a picture or the president will pull out his felt tip pen and sign an autograph. Someone else -- I just saw him just kiss a woman on the cheek in a very sweet moment. He poses for pictures.

This is a very tender moment and, you know, not everything in our lives has to be seen through the lens of politics. Some things can be seen simply through the lens of human behavior. What's the right way to behave for no other purpose than that?

GREENFIELD: And interesting, it's...

(CHORUS OF "AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL")

ZAHN: That one shot, some of the president's closest advisers move in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) area near the president. I saw Condoleezza Rice there, Governor Pataki, of course, Mayor Bloomberg, Secretary of State Powell, also acknowledging the crowd.

We should note that a hundred different families are here representing 100 different rescue groups that showed up to Ground Zero September 11 and the days thereafter.

BROWN: You were about to say, Jeff, and then I want to draw Judy in if I may.

GREENFIELD: There's a line from the last verse of "American, the Beautiful" it's one of the verses we never hear because we -- the song talks about a country undimmed by human tears and there's a really powerful irony about that line when you consider that there probably have been more human tears shed in the last year over what happened than anything that every happened on any one day in the history of the United States.

And, part of why I think so many people feel as strongly as they do is that this now joins the public and the private grieving one year later in a very powerful way. People also talk about, are we over covering it? Are we overemphasizing it? This is one of those events, and I'm normally a skeptic about what we do, but this is one of those events when it's very hard to say we're doing too much.

BROWN: Well, I'm one of those people that says, you know, television in moments like this is community and we make it available and if it is helpful and good for your spirit to join us, come on in and if the day for you is better spent in a more normal routine way, then God bless that too, but we are here in a sense. We're open for business; Judy Woodruff in Washington, Judy.

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