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Interview With Senator Zell Miller; Interview With Wesley Clark

Aired August 30, 2004 - 07:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We will hear from both men in a moment here.
Also perhaps the most memorable moment for the president after 9/11. The man on the right is retired firefighter Bob Beckwith. He's 71 years old. We caught up with him recently, and we'll tell you what he thinks of his own place in history.

Also, good morning to Heidi Collins here New York across town outside today. Do you like those digs -- Heidi?

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I do like these digs. It's a lot more fun to be outside than inside, right?

HEMMER: That's right.

COLLINS: All right, Bill, thanks so much.

We want to go ahead and check the stories now in the news this morning.

French officials say they are planning to press ahead with a controversial law banning Islamic head scarves in schools despite demands from a militant Islamic group holding two French journalists hostage in Iraq. France's foreign minister arrived in the Middle East this morning to appeal their release.

And captors freed two Turkish men yesterday. They are said to be in excellent condition.

U.S. officials in Afghanistan are warning Americans to keep a low profile in the wake of a deadly car bombing. Witnesses say at least nine people were killed in yesterday's blast in Kabul, including three Americans. According to the Arabic language network, Al Jazeera, a Taliban group has reportedly claimed responsibility for that attack.

To South Carolina now, cleanup crews are tackling downed trees and power lines. Tropical Storm Gaston hit yesterday with high winds and nearly 10 inches of rain. A state of emergency has been declared. Meanwhile, Hurricane Frances is gaining strength as it heads for the Bahamas. The National Hurricane Center is warning Frances could affect travel plans for Labor Day weekend.

A 3-year-old boy who disappeared from a campground near Mazola, Montana, has been found safe and sound. Kenneth Gergen (ph) was found by a volunteer searcher. The boy disappeared from the camp on Thursday. Gergen (ph) was the subject of an alert sent out by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He was reunited with his mother last night, and a happy mom I'm sure she was.

Bill -- back over to you.

HEMMER: Indeed you are right. All right, Heidi, thanks for that.

Back inside Madison Square Garden now. When Georgia Senator Zell Miller delivers his address, the keynote address, on Wednesday night, it will be deja vu all over again, to quote a famous baseball philosopher. Twelve 12 years ago Miller was the keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention that nominated Bill Clinton; in fact, in this very hall at Madison Square Garden.

But Miller, a lifelong Democrat, says he's voted for every Democratic Presidential candidate going back to 1952. Now he says he has a change of heart and supports George Bush, the Republican candidate, in 2004.

Senator Zell Miller is my guest now in New York City.

Good morning to you.

SEN. ZELL MILLER (D), GEORGIA: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: You said back in 1992 on this floor, behind us, as we sit up here on the fourth level of Madison Square Garden, you said, I'm a Democrat because we are the party of hope. For 12 dark years the Republicans have dealt in cynicism and skepticism. They've mastered the art of division and diversion, and they have robbed us of our hope. What's changed in 12 years?

MILLER: The Democratic Party has changed. Not me. Seventy-two- year-old men don't change very much. The Democratic Party has changed.

Back then, Bill Clinton was trying to bring the Democratic Party back to the middle. He was talking about punishing criminals instead of explaining away their behavior. He was talking about the era of big government being over. He was talking about changing welfare as we know it.

He was the Democrat I had been looking for to bring the Democratic Party back to the center. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party today has gone further and further to the left. It's left me. It's left moderates. And it's left a lot of people who want to support a strong commander-in-chief.

HEMMER: If John Kerry was not the Democratic candidate, would you still back George Bush?

MILLER: Of course, I would. 9/11 changed everything. George Bush is the strong commander-in-chief that we need right now in America. HEMMER: Back to 1992, if I could. You also said, and emphatically, too, when you stood on the podium down on the floor here, George Bush, meaning the first George Bush, No. 41, George Bush does not get it. Have you ever discussed that comment with the current president?

MILLER: I've discussed it with the George Bush I was talking about. I talked to him about that. I apologized for using those intemperate remarks, and he wrote me a nice note after we had that conversation.

HEMMER: John Lewis is a congressman from your home state of Georgia.

MILLER: A very good friend.

HEMMER: And he is wondering why you don't just go ahead and cross over to the Republican Party. Why still list yourself as a Democrat?

MILLER: Because I am a Democrat. I was a Democrat before John was. I'll be a Democrat until the day I die. John Lewis also said about Zell Miller just a few years ago that he was an extraordinary man who had done extraordinary things for his state. It's just politics right now. That's the season we're in.

HEMMER: Wednesday night when you give the keynote address, your message is what?

MILLER: My message is, why is this man who has voted for every Democratic presidential candidate since 1952, 13 of them, why is he now not doing that?

HEMMER: And we will hear that?

MILLER: I'll give the speech when I give the speech. But the reason is, as I've already said, because of this very strong commander-in-chief that we have in the White House. We are in time of war. We don't need to be bringing down this commander-in-chief and putting someone else in. 9/11 changed everything as far as I'm concerned.

HEMMER: Who vetted your speech on the Republican side?

MILLER: I don't know.

HEMMER: Has it been reviewed?

MILLER: I sent it to them a couple of three weeks ago.

HEMMER: And were changes made, or is everything in black and white the way you wrote it?

MILLER: No, they said, cut it down a little; it was too long. But I was the one who did the cutting.

HEMMER: We've heard it before. Zell Miller, thank you for your time this morning.

MILLER: Thank you.

HEMMER: And good luck to you this week.

MILLER: Thank you, Bill.

Also, tonight's speakers include former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. In fact, he'll be our guest next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING. On duty during 9/11. Senator John McCain of Arizona, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, all speaking tonight at the podium. Coverage all night long here on CNN -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Well, it's the Republicans' party, that's for sure. But Democrats won't stray too far from the spotlight this week.

Joining us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, with his insight on all of this, as well as the sirens behind me, retired General Wesley Clark, a Kerry supporter and former Democratic presidential candidate.

Thanks so much for being with us, General Clark. Nice to see you again.


COLLINS: I want to ask you about something we just heard Zell Miller say. And what it was is that he says, you know, he hasn't changed. The Democratic Party has changed, moving not towards center, but to far left. Do you agree the party has changed?

CLARK: Well, I think all of the elements that Zell Miller was looking for in 1992 have been done. We are tougher on criminals. We have done welfare reform. This country was moving in the center. It created 22 million jobs under the last Democratic administration headed by Bill Clinton.

What we've got right now, though, is a nation that's at war. We need a commander-in-chief with good judgment. George Bush hasn't shown that good judgment. He made a huge strategic blunder putting us into Iraq and putting us in there in a way that alienated our allies, left us isolated in the world and has made it more difficult to cope with the challenge of fighting terrorists.

COLLINS: Well, General Clark, let me get your comment on this thought then. Vice President Cheney is here in New York, stumping for the president, of course. He says his war leadership is very, very strong. Actually, leadership, of course, is going to be a dominant theme throughout this convention. Your reaction to that?

CLARK: Well, I think the war leadership has been wrong. We've gone the wrong direction. After 9/11, when we should have put all of our attention on Osama bin Laden and the terrorists, this president had in his mind that we would go after Saddam Hussein. He distracted our efforts. He distracted the work of the men and women in the armed forces. And he's caused our armed forces to go to Iraq, where we are decisively engaged. We've suffered almost 1,000 dead there, $200 billion, and he hasn't made us safer in the war on terrorism.

COLLINS: But there is...

CLARK: He has made us less safe. That's not good leadership. And what we need is good leadership.

COLLINS: There are actually some numbers to look at regarding that, General Clark. If we could put them up on the screen. As you have said in the past, it's important for a commander-in-chief to have been through combat as a young soldier. But when you look at these numbers, we see Bush at 54 percent on terrorism and Kerry at 37 percent. As well as the issue of Iraq, 49 percent for Bush, 43 percent for Kerry. What does that tell you about the situation and what voters are thinking?

CLARK: Well, it tells me that this is about communication and the inherent advantages of the incumbency. But I hope the American people will recognize that it's important, not just to listen to the rhetoric that comes from an incumbent president, but to judge his record. And his record is that he has made one, one key strategic failure. He's taken us into Iraq.

The important other issues associated with terrorism, building alliances, strengthening international legal cooperation, dealing with the nuclear challenges of North Korea and Iran, he's done very little on. Instead, we are decisively bogged down in Iraq. It's distracting us from the war on terror.

COLLINS: Oh, quickly, General Clark, there are some pundits who say that Senator Kerry has made some mistakes, particularly in Boston when he has talked so much about his war record and not so much about his Senate record. Do you think that was a mistake?

CLARK: Well, you're talking about politics there. I'm talking about strategic leadership of a nation at war.

And what we need is a commander-in-chief who sees the big issues, who doesn't build foreign policy on sloganeering, but on practical measures to build alliances, focus on the key threats to America and make America stronger. That's what George Bush hasn't done. That's what John Kerry. He will make America stronger and more respected abroad.

COLLINS: Retired General Wesley Clark, thanks so much for your time this morning. Nice to see you.

CLARK: Thank you.

COLLINS: Some dangerous storms we want to talk about now are still causing some trouble.


Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, we'll go back to Bill at Madison Square Garden. He'll talk to a man who became part of history in the days after 9/11, a retired firefighter who answered his own call to duty.

Plus, we'll go live to the CNN Diner. Jack Cafferty is talking to the man and woman on the street to get a feel for what they think about the RNC.

Keep it here on AMERICAN MORNING.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're taking pictures here at the CNN Diner, where they actually did shoot two episodes of "Happy Days" back in the '50s.

New York's mayor insists that New York is going to make money on this convention. There is room for a lot of debate about that. The city's controller says, not so fast.

Andy Serwer is here "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Welcome to our little nest.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Well, thank you. It's very comfortable. I get to be Fonzi (ph) in the remake, by the way.


SERWER: OK. A big controversy this morning about whether or not New York City is going to be getting economic boom from this Republican Convention or whether it's going to be bust. The mayor says $250 million-plus in additional economic activity. The city controller says, no way; $300 million in the hole is what this will cost. That's a $750 million disparity.


SERWER: And obviously a lot of the additional costs will be in terms of security. And also in terms of economic activity lost because a lot of stores around here, Jack, are going to be feeling the pinch, close down. A lot of workers are not coming in.

The way it's going to work, according to the controller, is $70 million a day lost in economic activity times four. That gets you to 280.


SERWER: Additional security costs there, you can see, of 28 million, and that gets you to 300 million. Stores are closed. The cable company is not doing their jobs. Apparently they're going to be off. Restaurants, like Nobu (ph) downtown, apparently you can still get a reservation there. And the security presence obviously in terms of police overtime is going to be awesome.

CAFFERTY: I also heard that the federal government is not giving any more money to New York than they gave to Boston to pay for security... SERWER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: ... despite the fact that we're probably three times the size of Boston.

SERWER: Well, that's right. Well, that's true. And that's why the city is going to have to pick up that $28 million in additional costs there.

CAFFERTY: I think the controller might have the inside track on this one.

SERWER: I think that's right.

CAFFERTY: The markets are going to open, but they're going to have trouble even getting to work down there.

SERWER: I don't know who is going to be down there ringing the bell. There's really not going to be a lot of people down there.

Let's take a look at what happened last week; actually kind of a good one, a slow, quiet week. But we did manage to get a six-week high on the Dow, you can see here. We've got the big jobs report for the month of August coming on Friday. Oil prices are up a little bit this morning.

And like you said, Jack, it should be a very, very quiet week on the Street.

CAFFERTY: All right, thanks, Andy. Andy Serwer, "Minding Your Business."

SERWER: You're welcome.

CAFFERTY: We're going to do something a little bit different today. We have decided we'll call it the "Voice of the Voter." We went down to Times Square yesterday, and we took one of the CNN crews. Actually, I didn't go. Casey Fisher (ph), my very able producer, was the one who did this assignment.

We talked to New Yorkers as well as people who are in from out of town, about what they think of all of the security measures in place all around the city. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very, very, very secure. The safest city in America right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes the city a pretty crazy place. It feels like a war zone a little bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of disconcerting to watch National Guardsmen going around with humongous guns, but I guess security is important. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reports we are getting back in Washington State basically were, don't go. You know, you're going to have confrontations. It's going to be a problem. And it's not going to be a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say that I'm definitely a little bit more vigilant on the trains at this point, more so than usual. But, yes, the cops are definitely making me feel safe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down here anyway.


CAFFERTY: A statistic I heard over the weekend that there is one police officer for every two and a half Republican delegates in the area around Madison Square Garden. So, they got this thing locked down tighter than a drum.

The e-mail question this morning: How can the Republicans win the undecided vote? The address is

And with that, we will go back uptown to my pal, Heidi Collins.

COLLINS: All right, Jack. Thanks a whole lot for that.

And still to come this morning, we're going to go live to our pop culture correspondent, Toure, who has got a recap of last night's hot night at the MTV VMAs. This year's VMA buzz has a political twist, too, courtesy of John Kerry's daughters. Let's just say the boo-bergs (ph) out. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everyone. It's just about 10 minutes before the hour now live in Madison Square Garden.

Without question, back on September 14, three days after the events of 9/11 when the president came to New York City, there will be one image and one picture that is indelible and one constant reminder, too, over the next four days. After the attacks of 9/11, one of the men who became an unexpected hero was Bob Beckwith. He is now fixed forever in a picture of American history.



HEMMER (voice over): It was one of the moments that may have defined his presidency: George Bush, bullhorn in hand, speaking to rescue workers and the world. Standing next to him that afternoon amid the steam and twisted steel, retired firefighter Bob Beckwith.

(on camera): When you were standing there with the president to your right, what did you see out there on ground zero?

BOB BECKWITH, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: I believed at the time that we had people that we had to get to, and I believed that they were under the ground. They had an air pocket or something. And I really believed that, so we had to get down there.

HEMMER (voice over): For Beckwith, father of 6, grandfather of 10 and nearly 30 years of service, those few days had been a bad dream. He had gone to ground zero on September 14, talking his way past police and the National Guard, to help out. He ended up a part of history.

BUSH: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people...


BUSH: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

HEMMER (on camera): When you think about the image we've seen on the cover of "TIME" magazine, have you ever stopped to think about how you are now a part of American history?

BECKWITH: I would trade all of that to have gotten a couple of the guys out. It didn't happen, I mean, but we did give it our best.

HEMMER (voice over): Months later, Bob and his wife, Barbara, were in the Oval Office. The bullhorn was a gift for the presidential library.

(on camera): Do you remember what the president said to you that day? He said, "You made me famous that day."

BUSH: And Bob was standing there by my side. I told Bob when you came in, you made me famous that day.

BECKWITH: I thought he was, you know, just kidding around that I made him famous. He's the president of the United States. I'm a fireman. I made him famous?

HEMMER: What do you want people to know about you?

BECKWITH: There's nothing to know about me. I'm just Bob Beckwith, that's all. A retired firefighter, that's all I am. And you wonder sometimes, you are in the right place at the right time, and that's all it was. It happened to be. Why I was chosen, I don't know.

HEMMER (voice over): But we do know Beckwith answered the call to duty one more time at the most important time.


Now age 71, Bob Beckwith continues to give back to the community, as he has for so many years, regularly volunteering at New York Presbyterian Hospital's burn center here in the New York City area. An amazing man with a heck of a story to tell.

Back to Heidi now outside of our studios.

COLLINS: Yes, that was fantastic. I always wanted to know a little bit more about him. Thanks so much for that, Bill.

Also an incredible night last night for those of you who love your music. OutKast and Jay-Z won big last night at the MTV Video Music Awards in Miami the first time the awards were held somewhere besides New York and Los Angeles. Usher was also there, decked out in white. You see him. He won best male video for his song, "Hey Ya!" featuring Little John and Ludacris. Other celebs, including Mandy Moore and Bruce Willis, were also on hand for all of the fun.

The daughters of Democratic hopeful, John Kerry, encouraged young people to vote this November, but a cold reception of boos made them a little uncomfortable.


VANESSA KERRY, SEN. JOHN KERRY'S DAUGHTER: I was scared out of my mind. I mean, I grabbed my sister, and I thought, 'What is happening?' And -- but it doesn't matter, because we are fighting for something that I believe in so strongly. I will go up there and hear the whole arena boo if it means connecting with one person.


COLLINS: And the best video of the year award went to OutKast for "Hey, Ya." Such a catchy tune there. Maybe it could be the theme for the convention. I don't know. What do you think, Bill?

HEMMER: Yes. What's cooler than being cool, huh?


HEMMER: Yes, they did. It worked, didn't they? Thank you, Heidi, for that. We'll be checking in with what happened in Miami throughout our show.

And also back here in a moment, about two hours away from the official start of the convention. We're going to get a gavel order about 10:00 a.m. local time here on the East Coast. We'll talk to the man who kicks it all off. RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie is our guest, standing right off to the side here. We'll also hear what he has to say about some division within the party about the platform that as out over the weekend.

Back in a moment with a whole lot to talk about so far this morning on a Monday edition of AMERICAN MORNING.


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