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American Morning

Bush Discusses Immigration Reform; Coping with Stress in Iraq; Political Ethics 101

Aired June 01, 2006 - 08:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.


M. O'BRIEN: That investigation into that alleged marine massacre in Iraq is widening and deepening. In Baghdad, a U.S. military says if marines crossed a line when they shot and killed 24 civilians, there will be serious consequences.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: I would like to express our condolences to the families that lost a loved one in that accident. We mourn the loss of all innocent life and the loss of any life is always very tragic and very unfortunate. But let me be very clear about one point. The coalition does not and it will not tolerate any unethical or criminal behavior.


M. O'BRIEN: To that end, a top U.S. commander in Iraq is ordering troops to undergo a so-called core warrior values training session, basically a refresher course in values and ethics. And as you're about to see, some troops could also use some help battling the stress of war.

AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian with that.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Looper is a psychiatrist and a soldier, on his second tour of duty in Iraq, helping to fight the demons that haunt some combat troops while on the battlefield.

COLONEL JOHN LOOPER, PSYCHIATRIST: They're not sleeping, they're not eating. They may find themselves tearful where they're not someone who's prone to cry.

LOTHIAN: The violence of war is more than some can tolerate.

LOOPER: Anything from seeing more blood than they've ever seen in their lives or just the shock of seeing civilians involved in war time situations and being harmed. Dealing with dead bodies, whether Iraqi bodies or American bodies.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Looper, who works at this Boston-area psychiatric hospital and teaches at the Harvard Medical School, is a member of the 883rd, an Army reserve combat stress unit made up of mental health experts who treat soldiers as close to the front lines as possible.

(voice-over): Looper and his unit fear that mental wounds, left to fester on the battlefield, will grow into something much deeper and darker.

LOOPER: The purpose really is to avoid some of the short-term distress and the long-term problems that can occur during the years that follow from soldiers who might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

LOTHIAN: A recent study in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" revealed that post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and other mental health problems afflicted one in five soldiers returning home from Iraq. So the 883rd, seen here before deployment, acts quickly, listening to problems, offering solutions, and dispelling the notion that asking for help in the heat of battle is a sign of weakness.

LOOPER: What we hear from a lot of soldiers is that they feared that their reactions to traumatic situations mean that there's something abnormal with them.

LOTHIAN: That's why Looper and others are taking time off from their civilian lives to help soldiers fight the enemy within.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.


M. O'BRIEN: Gives you a little context to what's going on there. I mean, tremendous stress. They're under constant attack from the insurgency. Nothing justifies what is alleged to have occurred at Haditha, but nonetheless, asking a tremendous amount of young men and women over there.

S. O'BRIEN: And the stigma, too, as he mentions -- the stigma is still a big problem.

Let's turn to talk about congressional ethics. If you're a cynic, you might say, hmm, that's an oxymoron. This year alone, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay gave up his post amid an ethics probe. Congressman Randy Cunningham, well, he's in prison. Congressman William Jefferson, he's being investigated for bribery. And now Senator Harry Reid explaining those free boxing tickets.

It seems the rules should be simple, but actually, they're anything but. Senior political analyst Bill Schneider has got more for us from Washington, D.C. this morning. Hey, Bill, good morning. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: There are some rules -- and not that many of them -- so you'd think it would be pretty straightforward. Lay out the rules for me.

SCHNEIDER: OK, there are only four rules, four basic rules, covering congressional ethics, and here they are. You can't accept a gift that's valued any more than $50. Remember the $90,000 in cold cash in the freezer? Well, the limit is $50. The total value from any source in the year has to be less than $100. The gift cannot be cash, stocks or bonds, and favors cannot be offered to influence the legislator's performance of his or her government duties. That's it. Oh, by the way, you can't solicit gifts. Those are the four rules. They're very simple.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, that is so straightforward until you get to the exceptions to the rules, which is a far longer list, isn't it?

SCHNEIDER: Twenty-three exceptions to the rules. And one of them has to do with Senator Reid's acceptance of those seats in the front row of a -- close to the front in a boxing match. And that rule, that exception, says that you can accept a gift valued higher if it comes from a government agency, state or local or federal. And the boxing seats that he received were given to him, offered to him, by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Now that is a commission that was trying to influence him to support legislation to increase federal oversight of boxing.

Nevertheless, the rules say you can accept such a gift. And these seats were valued -- we checked with the commission -- they were valued at $1,700. The cheapest seat at that event was $350. So any seat, even up in the nosebleed section, would have been valued too high for him to accept. The rules, the guidelines, also say that taking such gifts, even from a government agency, when they might be connected to official actions, should be quote, "avoided." And that's why he's come in for some criticism, even though he claims technically he was just doing his job.

S. O'BRIEN: Technically, he's right. He also says from now on, forget it, because the appearance of impropriety is just a little bit too much. Because we're all still talking about it. Let's talk about meals. There's a meal limit. It's, what, 50 bucks?

SCHNEIDER: Fifty bucks, which is a -- it sounds pretty good if you happen to be going, say, to TGI Friday's and you want a burger. The menu there, you can eat easily a few courses for $50. The problem is TGI Friday's and chains like that are not normally big hangouts for lobbyists. One of the biggest hangouts here in Washington is The Palm. And if you look at the menu of The Palm, you can see that meals there are going to set you back $50 very, very easily. That's popular, that's expensive and that will cost a good deal more.

By the way, the rule goes up -- it allows you to spend $250; that's a pretty good meal -- if the person who treats you to a meal happens to be a personal friend. Who determines that? It's not very clear. But a friend can take to you dinner. And by the way, that $50 limit, there's one big exception. If it's a relative, then there is no limit at all. And I checked on this. The rules say a fiancee can be counted as a relative. So an engagement ring is not considered an improper gift.

S. O'BRIEN: Huh, OK. So -- and that's why so many politicians have lobbyists as personal friends, because that bumps you from the $50 meal to the $250 meal.

SCHNEIDER: not considered an improper gift.

S. O'BRIEN: Huh. OK, so and that's why so many politicians have lobbyists as personal friends, because that bumps you from the $50 meal to the $250 meal.


S. O'BRIEN: There are a lot of weird exceptions. I mean, weird exceptions.

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's right. One of the weirdest is the fact that if you're standing up while eating, the limit does not count. Here in Washington, there are dozens of congressional receptions every day, where people stand up, they have a drink, they have hors d'oeuvres. The limit doesn't apply if you eat standing up. That's why so much of Congress looks like a perpetual bar mitzvah, because they're always standing around, gnoshing food, because there are no limits that apply when you do that.

There is also an exception they call the pizza rule. Now that's actually not an exception. That comes under the rule. If you're a lobbyist and say to a member of Congress or senator that I'm going to buy pizzas for everybody on your staff, no, no, no. In the Senate rules, you can't do that, because the total value for the whole staff has to be under $50. You better stick to coffee and muffins if you want to influence the legislature.

S. O'BRIEN: You can stand up, but if you're eating pizza standing up in your own office, no. That's a no-no.


S. O'BRIEN: That's so weird. You know what? I don't think it's necessarily clear to me how it works in Washington D.C. Bill. I think I am finally capitulating.

SCHNEIDER: I have all the rules right here if you want to read them.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Bill -- Miles.


M. O'BRIEN: I wonder how many hours of debate it took them to come up with those rules, you know.


S. O'BRIEN: Here is Anderson Cooper with a look at what's coming up on his program tonight.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Soledad, tonight on "360," day one of hurricane season. A staggering new report on homes not ready to face the storm. People unprepared, emergency plans simply unmade, doesn't anybody get it. The whole "360" team back in New Orleans keeping them honest. Tonight on "360" -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Anderson Cooper, tonight on 360 -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Got some questions?

S. O'BRIEN: I always have lots of questions.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Well, we're going to try to answer some. There's the old miles cam up and running this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Your office looks so messy today. Hey, guys, drop the banner there.

M. O'BRIEN: Drop the banner and you'll see -- No, no, don't drop the banner.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, you want to block them.

M. O'BRIEN: The place to -- yes. All right. All right. I had better mornings.

S. O'BRIEN: Old coffee.

M. O'BRIEN: It's well-used. is the place to send the questions. The Pipeline product is the place to get the answers. 10:30 Eastern time But we invite you to send those questions right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Put the banner back up, there we go.

M. O'BRIEN: Here we go. Soledad is directing now. Soledad, OK. Take two, now. Take two.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, parts of Florida still cleaning up after last year's brutal hurricane season. So how ready are folks there for this year's storms?

CNN's Susan Candiotti is there. We're going to talk to her about that.

M. O'BRIEN: And later, a carjacking and kidnapping caught on tape. This one had a happy ending fortunately. We'll tell you how you can protect yourself in such dire circumstances, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Looking at live pictures this morning. This is at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. We're waiting to hear from President Bush. He'll be making some remarks there. He's going to be talking about immigration reform, and we are expecting those remarks in about two or three minutes. And usually the president is right on time, so we'll be bringing some of that to you live when it happens.

First, though, let's get right to Ed Henry. He's at the White House for a little bit of a preview.

Hey, Ed. Good morning.


The president did not have to go far. The headquarters for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is across the street from the White House, and it will begin momentarily.

As you noted, a friendly audience for the president. The Chamber of Commerce one of the biggest supporters of the president's comprehensive approach, which means border security plus a guest- worker program. Pretty much the same kind of audience the president faced last month when he gave a speech to a restaurant trade group, and that's because he likes these friendly audiences obviously, and these trade groups and businesses groups really like the comprehensive approach. They do not to see the kinds of plans they've seen on Capitol Hill that would leading to a massive deportation of illegal immigrants.

Obviously these business groups want cheap labor. They want these immigrants to get some sort of a path to citizenship. So the problem for the president is this is almost preaching to the choir. These are the people who already support him. Until he starts converting conservatives on Capitol Hill who are opposed to this guest worker plan, he's really not going to get anywhere, and that's why we're still seeing this stalemate on the Hill -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, what exactly is the sticking point with the Chamber of Commerce over the president's plan?

HENRY: Well, they're mostly on board. The one provision they really don't like is the employer verification provision that we have seen in a lot of the bills floating around, and that's because that would force employers across the country to do a better job of actually figuring out whether their employees are documented or not. The business groups feel that's too onerous; they don't like the regulation. Obviously the president realizes the political reality. The conservatives on Capitol Hill in his own party already don't like the guest worker program. They have to at least have some sort of provision to make it palatable -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, still got a lot of work to do on that. Ed Henry for us at the White House. Ed, thanks.

HENRY: Again, let's go back to that live picture just for a second. We're going to see President Bush there in just a few moments. We'll monitor the president's remarks when he comes out. We just saw Karl Rove take his seat in the front row a moment ago. We'll bring some of those remarks, his comments on immigration reform, when that happens.

Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business."

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: I am, Soledad. Business news coming up. A CEO who is really, truly giving back.

Plus, the search for Juan Valdez. The next edition is on. We'll tell you about that coming up.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, that'll be interesting.

Also ahead on the program, an Alabama attorney is found safe and sound after a surveillance camera captures her parking lot abduction on tape.

Coming up, we'll have some safety tips for you on how to keep yourself safe in such dire straits. Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Juan Valdez. Colombian coffee.

SERWER: I'll let Soledad do that.

M. O'BRIEN: Actually, that was Ricardo....

S. O'BRIEN: It was excellent!

M. O'BRIEN: That was Ricardo Montaban (ph), you know? Rich Corinthian...

S. O'BRIEN: Or Ricky Ricardo!

SERWER: Deeper and deeper, Miles. Deeper and deeper.


M. O'BRIEN: The president is speaking. Let's get on to more serious news.

S. O'BRIEN: He's talking about immigration reform at the...


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... in making sure that Congress has sensible policies to keep this economy strong. And one of the most sensible things the United States Congress can do is to make the tax cuts we passed permanent.


You'll hear talk in Washington that says, "Well, you've got to raise taxes on people in order to balance the budget."

That's not how Washington works. They're going to raise your taxes and they're going to figure out new ways to spend your money.

The best way to balance this budget is to keep pro-growth economic policies in place and be fiscally wise about how we spend your money.

Pro-growth economic policies generate additional revenues for our treasury. Last year, our revenues exceeded expectations by about $100 billion. This July, we're going to find out whether it happened again. I hope it does. I think it might, because we're growing this economy. When the economy grows, people pay taxes.

And so the fundamental question is not whether or not we're going to have more revenues; the fundamental question is we're going to have rational spending in order to balance this budget.

I told the United States Congress to get a $92.2 billion supplemental to my desk. It's money needed to fund our troops. It's money needed to help the people down there who were affected by the hurricanes. It's money to do important other measures.

But if they bust the $92.2 billion, I'm going to veto it. It's important for Washington to have fiscal sanity in order to balance this budget.


A fundamental question facing this country is, "Do we fear the future or do we intend to shape it?" I intend to shape the future so America remains the economic leader in the world, which means we've got to have a good legal policy.

I want to thank the chamber for being on the leading edge of proposing and enabling me to sign meaningful tort reform.

We don't need junk lawsuits running good people out of business. We don't need junk lawsuits running good doctors out of practice. What this country needs is a rationale legal system that is fair and balanced. So I'm going to continue to work for tort reform in the halls of Congress.

We need a health care system that takes care of the elderly and poor but also recognizes that the best health care system is one in which the decisions are made by doctors and patients not by bureaucrats right here in Washington, D.C.

We need energy policy that's wise. You know, we've got a problem in America. We're too dependent on oil from parts of the world where people may not necessarily like us.

So I proposed an advanced energy initiative. And I want to thank the chamber for supporting me on helping this country diversify away from hydrocarbons. Today I want to talk about immigration. The Chamber of Commerce understands that in order for this country to be an economic leader, in order for this country to be a country that upholds our values, we've got to have an immigration system that is secure and orderly and fair.

For decades this country has not been in control of its borders. Yet we have an obligation to the American people to secure our borders. That's a solemn obligation of the federal government.

And as a result of not securing our borders, many who want to work in this economy have been able to sneak across. This is an issue I'm familiar with since I was the governor of Texas.

You've got to understand, there are people in our neighborhood who are desperate to put food on the table for their families. And if they can, say, make, you know, $7 in American versus 50 cents where they live, and they want to support their families, guess what? They're going to try to sneak across the border.

S. O'BRIEN: President Bush talking about the realities of immigration in this country. The president speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. this morning. Much more on this just ahead, as the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now.