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Children Held Hostage in Russia; A Look at the Republican National Convention; Interview With Tommy Thompson

Aired September 1, 2004 - 9:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans reaching out to immigrants and undecided voters with Arnold Schwarzenegger. An optimistic message delivered with that Arnold touch.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say, don't be economic girlie men.


HEMMER: Two days the convention now down, two days to go. We'll look at what comes next later tonight.

And a developing story now in Russia. A school under siege by terrorists. Many children being held hostage.

That's up here on AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: This is AMERICAN MORNING. From the Republican National Convention in New York, here's Bill Hemmer.

HEMMER: Welcome back, everyone. Madison Square Garden, day three of our continuing coverage live from the Republican convention. As you see the floor and the main stage down there, that is where Dick Cheney will make his address later tonight. So, too, will Zell Miller, the Democratic senator from Georgia, the keynote speaker at this convention this year.

We'll talk about what happened last night in a moment. But first, here is what's happening right now as we're getting it out of Russia.

The Russian news agency reporting that at least 15 armed gunmen stormed a school in southern Russia in a province near Chechnya. The school was for children grades one through 11. The attack came on the first day of school, when many of the children's parents were there.

More than 100 people now said to be held hostage. Half of them may be children.

Much more as we go throughout the hour. We'll get you to Moscow live to find out the very latest from there.

Also, from last night's convention, the first lady, Laura Bush, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger the featured speakers here in New York. We'll show you some of the highlights from what they said.

But for now, I want to go across town and say hello to my colleague, Heidi Collins, with us again today.

Good morning, Heidi. How are you today?

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I am great. And boy, the weather is fantastic out here, too. It's kind of a contrast to yesterday. I had that big tent over my head. So Lovely 65 degrees still right here right in front of Time Life.

Want to get to some other news, though, this morning as well.

Stunning pictures coming to us this morning showing this flooding in Richmond, Virginia. Extensive damage in that city. We're going to go ahead and look into that a little bit further.

Also this morning, the Bush twins, they made their debut at the Republican convention last night. Pretty funny, but not every joke was exactly a winner. We're going to talk about their performance in "90-Second Pop" a little bit later on.

Right now, though, let's go to our ever-present funny man, Jack Cafferty. He's across the street from Madison Square Garden at the CNN diner once again.

Good morning, Jack.


This week, in conjunction with the convention, we're doing a little something called "Voice of the Voter." They arrested 1,000 demonstrators around this city, right at 1,000 yesterday. We went out and talked to some local people, New Yorkers, as well as visitors from out of town, and found out what they think about all the protesters, the cops, all the security.

That's coming up a little later. Back to you -- Heidi.

COLLINS: There's an awful lot of thought on all of that this week. Thanks so much, Jack.

There's another terrorist situation in Russia this morning. Armed attackers are holding at least 100 people hostage, including schoolchildren. The attackers just hours ago seized a school in the town of Beslan near the Chechen border. Ryan Chilcote is live in Moscow now. And he's keeping a very close eye on the situation for us.

Ryan, what's happening at this time?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, those hostage-takers are threatening to kill 50 children for every hostage-taker that is killed if there's any kind of Russian operation to take that school, to storm that school. They are saying they will kill 20 children for every hostage-taker that is wounded. We're also getting reports that the children in the school have been used as human shields in the school's windows.


CHILCOTE (voice-over): The terrorist acts just keep coming. Each more audacious than the last.

This morning, armed men and women seizing a school in southern Russia, threatening to blow it up if Russian authorities try to storm it. Inside, reports of more than 100 students, teachers and parents, who had gathered for a ceremony to mark the beginning of the school year. Suicide bombers, Russian officials say, are among the hostage- takers.

Last night, Russians went to sleep to these terrifying images after a female suicide bomber blew herself up outside a Moscow subway station. That attack killed at least nine and wounded dozens. And Russian officials are now look at the possibility that Chechen female suicide bombers were behind the nearly simultaneous attacks that brought down two airliners last week.

Known as Russia's Black Widows, they've become the preferred vehicles for selling terror. Their debut came nearly two years ago when they threatened to blow up a Moscow theater they seized in the middle of a musical. Then they struck at a rock concert, and outside a hotel.

Chechen rebels are not claiming responsibility for the most recent attacks, just eight days apart. But many Russian politicians are already linking them. The rebels, they say, are bitter that Russia held an election in Chechnya this weekend without their participation.


CHILCOTE: We have some breaking news from Russian state television. They are now saying that, according to their sources, there may actually be as many as 300 to 400 people inside of that school.

Remember, this is the first day of school in Russia. It's a big holiday here. Most students that went to school today probably came with at least one of their parents for a bit of a ceremony to kick off the school year at the beginning of the day.

COLLINS: Ryan, it's an awful story. We know that you'll be watching it very closely for us. We'll keep our eye on it. Ryan Chilcote, thanks so much, from Moscow.

Other stories in the news now.

Within the hour, seven truck drivers are expected to arrive back in Kuwait after spending more than a month held hostage in Iraq. The three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian man were released earlier this morning.

Meanwhile, the fate of two French journalists remains unclear. The kidnappers are demanding France lift its ban on head scarves in schools. The first day of classes begins tomorrow in that country.

New charges may soon be filed in connection with the abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan. According to "The Washington Post," Army investigators have recommended bringing abuse-related charge against 26 soldiers. This following a probe into the death of two detainees in Afghanistan in 2002.

A jury for the Kobe Bryant sexual assault trial is beginning to take shape today. More than three-quarters of the potential jurors have been interviewed. CNN's Chris Lawrence will have what's expected during today's closed-door hearing. That's coming up in the next half-hour.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: All right, Heidi. Thanks.

President Bush campaigns in Ohio today before make his way to New York City later in the day. Last night, Republicans featured the first lady, the first daughters, and a rising political star. Bob Franken was there to see it. He's live on the convention floor now.

Hey, Bob. Good morning.


And we have a theme for the night. Tonight is going to be called by the Republicans a land of opportunity. Last night, it was a night of compassion. Well, that depended on where you were.


FRANKEN (voice-over): While more than 900 protesters were arrested on the streets outside, the Republicans were keeping the volume up inside. Arnold Schwarzenegger left little doubt that he had gone from movie star to GOP political star.

SCHWARZENEGGER: And to those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say, don't be economic girlie men.

FRANKEN: Then it was time for the women of the president's family. First, his daughters.

JENNA BUSH, PRESIDENT BUSH'S DAUGHTER: Our parent are actually pretty cool.

FRANKEN: The pretty cool mother, of course, had warm words about her husband.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: He's a loving man with a big heart.

FRANKEN: He arrives later today. First, the president visits with firemen in Elmhurst, a not so subtle reminder of the September 11 attacks just a few miles away.

Then he settles in to watch first the keynote speaker, Georgia's Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat who will not be making his party very happy. And then the acceptance speech by the very Republican Vice President Dick Cheney. He's accepting, by the way, his re-nomination, which is what President Bush does tomorrow.


FRANKEN: And now -- and now I wanted to point out that in back of me there's a section of chairs that's going to be pulled out. President Bush is going to be -- have a special stage constructed for him.

He's going to, in effect, have a theater in the round as he makes his speech. Then they strike the set and everybody heads out to the bigger stage, which is the fall campaign -- Bill.

HEMMER: That's going to be an interesting construction job overnight then. Thank you, Bob, for that.

Back here in a moment here, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, will be my guest. What about domestic issues so far at this convention? At the halfway point, we'll get to it in a moment.

But first, here's Heidi yet again outside Time Life.

Good morning, Heidi.

COLLINS: Good morning to you once again, Bill.

You know, the aftermath of all of the activity with Hurricane Gaston is really wreaking havoc in Richmond, Virginia. In fact, 20 blocks of downtown Richmond have been sealed off now in the aftermath of that tropical storm.

The storm tore through downtown Richmond Monday. And look at this incredible video now captured by an amateur photographer.

Streets were turned into raging rivers, as you can see. Cars swept away. Dangerous debris washed down roadways. In fact, five people died during that storm.

Virginia's Governor Mark Warner has declared a state of emergency. He says it's a miracle that more people didn't die.

Hurricane Frances closing in on the United States. So where will it hit? Chad Myers has been watching that all morning long and has the very latest now -- Chad.


You know we've been talking about Frances for so many days now, and it's been so far out to the ocean we haven't really been worried about it. Yes, we know it's coming, but, yes, we know it's coming, but, yes, it's still five days away kind of thing.

But now look how close it is. Here's Santa Domingo, Haiti, Dominican Republic. It's right there.

There's Miami. There's the rest of Florida. So getting close.

So you just start take these hurricane preps seriously if you are in Florida, especially because the storm is now a 140-mile-per-hour storm, with wind gusts to 165. It's about 920 miles from Daytona Beach, moving through the Turks and Caicos this afternoon. Eventually, right through the Bahamas, Freeport, Nassau, and then to Florida.

Some of the latest computer models turning it a little bit harder to the right, on up toward maybe Brunswick, Jacksonville. The latest computer and also hurricane forecast right through maybe Sebastian Inlet.

Don't focus on the line. Remember we learned this from Charley. It could go left or right. Anywhere through this cone is still under the gun for Hurricane Frances.

Some showers across the southeast. Even a couple of showers around Atlanta slowing down the air airports.

Nice day in New York City, though, Bill. Sunshine about everywhere in the northeast. And your high today all the way to 82.

Back to you, bud.

HEMMER: All right, Chad. Thanks for that.

Tommy Thompson is the former governor of the state of Wisconsin, a battleground state where President Bush very narrowly now is ahead of John Kerry in the last "L.A. Times" poll. Secretary Thompson my guest now here in New York City.

Good morning to you. And thanks for hanging out with us.


HEMMER: I'm doing just fine. Thanks for that.

The critics will say there's no domestic agenda this convention just yet. Night one was all about terrorism and security. Last night was Laura Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Where is the domestic agenda for the Republican Party here?

THOMPSON: Thursday night, when the president lays out his vision for America. What he wants to accomplish over the next four years, he's going to put out his plan, his vision. And I think it's going to be a very comprehensive one that this crowd at this convention is going to go wild over. And I think it's going to respond very nicely across America. HEMMER: Now, Republicans were hitting back at Democrats in Boston because they said there was nothing specific on their agenda. How specific will the president be in his speech?

THOMPSON: Well, I think the president will be much more specific than the Democrats were. I think the president is going to lay out his plan.

As you know, John Kerry spent most of his time talking about things that happened 30-some years ago. The president is not going to talk about the past. He's going to mention the past, what he's been able to accomplish, but then he's going to build on what he's going to do for the future.

It's going to be a very outstanding speech. And he's going to blow the ceiling off of this Madison Square Garden.

HEMMER: You are pro-life, right?

THOMPSON: Yes, I am, Bill.

HEMMER: How do you feel about Rudolph Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who do not share that same view? Featured speakers here at the convention.

THOMPSON: I think they are outstanding. I think, you know, the crowd responded extremely well to both of them.

In fact, I think Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor Schwarzenegger's speech last night was one of the finest speeches I've ever heard at the convention. And I've been going to conventions now for 28 years, national conventions.

So I would have to say that his speech was outstanding. He gave a portrayal, a -- he painted a picture of why people should be a Democrat better and more ably than any person I've ever heard before.

HEMMER: That is very high praise.


HEMMER: Did you expect that from Schwarzenegger?

THOMPSON: No, I really did not. And I was moved and I was absolutely blown away by the way he responded, what he had to say about an immigrant, what America means to him, what it means to people coming to the shore, what it means as the shining light across the world, and how people can really differentiate between a Democrat and a Republican point of view.

HEMMER: Back up 24 hours. What were your expectations of Schwarzenegger before he came?

THOMPSON: My expectations were that he was going to come out here and be well liked and make a speech that would be received by this delegation very nicely but would not be one that's going to stand in the memories. I don't know if you remember the speeches that Ronald Reagan gave when he was being the speaker for Barry Goldwater. Those are some of the best speeches. And I would have to put Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech last night in that category, Bill.

HEMMER: Fifteen years as governor of Wisconsin.


HEMMER: Which way will that go, that state, on November 2?

THOMPSON: Well, Wisconsin is -- is trending towards George W. Bush. That's a very positive sign this early out.

We didn't have this kind of momentum four years ago until the last couple of weeks of the campaign. So we feel we're in very good shape. We think that this is the year that Wisconsin is going to be in the "R" column, it's going to be a red state for -- for George W. Bush, my friend.

HEMMER: We are two days away from the president appearing here.


HEMMER: He'll be here tomorrow night. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

THOMPSON: Bill, it's a pleasure. Good luck to you. Thank you.

HEMMER: Health and Human Services secretary. Thank you very much. Appreciate that.

At this time, also want to share something very special from AMERICAN MORNING with you, Soledad O'Brien and her new two boys, Charles Alistair Green Raymond (ph), Jackson Edward Arestus Raymond (ph) born to Brad and Soledad earlier in the week, 7.1 ounces and seven pounds two ounces for the other.

The first pictures right here on AMERICAN MORNING. She looks terrific, too. Beautiful, beautiful shot there -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Very, very happy. And you know what? Both of those babies were born a little over seven pounds, which is excellent.


COLLINS: Because lots of times twins are born a little bit smaller. So good job, Soledad.

HEMMER: Yes. And, you know, I think they are going to need a whole new type, by the way, too, Heidi, to get all those names out. I mean, if you listened to what they've done, it's just extraordinary.

By the way, the doctor with them there, a special note of him. He's been wonderful for Soledad for a long time. We had a brief conversation yesterday about what she has meant. Dr. Steven Oderiko (ph) from the NYU Medical Center there to Soledad's left of the two boys. So a happy picture and a good sight this morning. More in a moment here from the Garden -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Charlie and Jackson. We didn't say their names. All right. Very, very sweet little boys.

Still to come this morning, on the road with the other main contender for the race for the White House. We'll go on to Nashville, Tennessee, and the Kerry campaign. We're getting word a shakeup could be coming down the road.

Also ahead, the so-called governator scored some points with the delegates last night. But how did it go over with the rest of the country? We'll talk to Jeff Greenfield about that.

And the latest in the Scott Peterson trial. Attention once again focused on Peterson's alibi.

This all ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: That building right there in blue is the United Nations building on the east side of Manhattan, the island there. Beautiful shot here in New York City. Empire State Building just to the left there, the tallest building in the skyline.

And welcome back, everyone. Madison Square Garden is our location. Night number two last night. Night three comes tonight.

Brought out a familiar campaign theme from Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign. That was compassionate conservatism. That was from last night. So how did the speeches play?

Laura Bush was there. So, too, were the daughters. And so, too, was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from California.

Our senior political analyst here, Jeff Greenfield, back with us here this morning, live in New York City.

Good morning to you. First of all, before we jump off on Governor Schwarzenegger, he covered a long list last night. Listen to one issue he went on, and we'll talk about it now.


SCHWARZENEGGER: If you believe that this country, not the United Nations, is best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican. And, ladies and gentlemen if you believe that we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism, then you are a Republican.


HEMMER: That was one of the many themes. Also talked about immigration and a whole host of things. Even took a shot at the U.N. last night. How did he do in your estimation? You were sitting right here. JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It was an extremely effective speech for a couple of reasons. The whole message of Schwarzenegger -- and I don't just mean the words, I mean who he is -- is a message that Democrats used to deliver several decades ago. It's embodied in things like the Frank Capra movies, like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," or "Meet John Doe."

We're ordinary Joes, we're regular guys. We're not fancy people. We didn't come here with much. But this is a land where anybody can be anything.

And now that's an increasingly Republican message. And it's a message not only to Latino immigrants, to the sons and daughters of European immigrants who feel the Democratic Party has moved away from that kind of self-reliant optimism.

The line we just heard, that if you believe in this fierce fight about terrorism then you're a Republican, I was frankly a little surprised at that line, because that seems to draw a partisan distinction between who wants to fight terrorism more. But that's Arnold.

Look, he praised Richard Nixon last night. The last time Richard Nixon was praised at a Republican convention was probably in 1972 when he was re-nominated. But Arnold communicates his own language. That's one of his great strengths.

HEMMER: There is hyperbole all over these political conventions. But what Secretary Thompson just told me literally took me back a little bit. He said it was the best speech he's ever heard at a Republican convention, or any convention, for that matter, going back 20 years plus.

GREENFIELD: Well, he was comparing it to Ronald Reagan's early career as a speechmaker when he was campaigning for Goldwater in 1964 and gave a famous speech that was known as "The Speech," and it vaulted him into prominence. It was pretty effective.

But remember, it also comes with very special trapping. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be more famous than George W. Bush is if you count it worldwide. He's an extraordinary kind of figure. He comes to this whole arena from a whole different place.

HEMMER: Let's fast forward to tonight. Dick Cheney will be on the stage. What do you expect to hear from him?

GREENFIELD: We're the grown-ups, John Kerry can't be trusted to fight the war against terror, he has no moral clarity. And one of the themes that's been running through every speech, Giuliani, McCain, Schwarzenegger, is they are not backing off from war on terror equals the effort in Iraq, we had to do it. Maybe we made a mistake or two, but it was the right thing to do, I think is going to be a strong message from Cheney.

Cheney is one of the less popular members of this administration. In the country at large there's a survey that shows that on the VP side, Edwards actually runs ahead of him.

But he is the conservative figure in the administration. He is the go-to guy on everything from Iraq. He embodies the neo- conservative faith that we want a vigorous international presence to change the world.

He's the guy who helped get the administration into the war in Iraq. He is their guy more than anybody else. And while he may not be the most popular guy in the country, one of the ridiculous notions about him not running again was it would infuriate the conservative base. So you're going to hear a tough, grown-up, these other guys can't be trusted speech, I think.

HEMMER: And he is not hiding in any way here in New York City. He's sitting in that front row starting on Monday.

GREENFIELD: Right. It was a highly disclosed location, and perhaps he will apologize for the Bush twins' humor. That was the one note in this whole convention where I said last night, "Whoever wrote that speech is going to be getting out the vote in Kodiak, Alaska." It just, you know, I'm sorry.

HEMMER: Yes. I think there's room in Fairbanks somewhere in there.

GREENFIELD: That's too warm. Or he'll be up there in the rafters getting the balloons out tomorrow night.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jeff.


COLLINS: Still to come now this morning, they are putting together a jury in the Kobe Bryant case. The prosecutors want the judge to look extra closely at one of the questions on the prospective jurors' questionnaire. We'll have a live report on that coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Hey, that's Radio City Music Hall. It's right here on 6th Avenue, right across the street from where we're set up here on this Wednesday morning, the third day of the Republican National Convention.

Jack Cafferty is down at the CNN diner, the spectacular place. It used to be the Tick Tock Diner.

Now the upgrade in food has made it a better place, right, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know. The people who owned the Tick Tock wouldn't want to hear us say that, but they're in Italy on vacation, I think, so we're safe.

COLLINS: Roll with me. Right.

CAFFERTY: But it is -- it is a happening sort of location, as you can see by the beehive of activity going on behind me.

On the "Cafferty File" this week, we're doing a bit of a special segment called "Voice of the Voter." And about halfway through the convention we thought it would be interesting to ask people what they think of the Republican message so far.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they are trying to get across that the country is going to be safe. I think they did a great job. I personally think that any president would have done the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think they are going to cloak themselves in the flag and take credit. That's the message I get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I sat with some folks yesterday in the park. And what amazed me, I walked by and they said, "Well, tell me why you are going to vote for George Bush." So I said, "I come from the bible belt. That's good enough." You know, it's things I believe in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Bush is arguably the most dangerous president in recent memory. So I'm certainly not supporting him nor the convention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're there for the president. Everybody else is just icing on the cake.


CAFFERTY: "Voice of the Voters." We'll have a little more later in the hour.

Heidi, back to you.

COLLINS: OK. Thanks so much, Jack.

And still to come this morning, the convention has generated a lot of news for the Republicans. But what about the Democrats? In a moment, we'll go live to Nashville, Tennessee, for an update on the Kerry campaign. Surprisingly enough, he's speaking to a somewhat conservative audience today.

More on that in a moment.



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