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CNN Live Event/Special

America's New War: President Bush in New York

Aired September 14, 2001 - 16:59   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Martin Savidge has been down on the ground, if you will, for this long day, and he joins us now.

Martin, I hope you can hear me, I know we're have a little problem.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can. I wanted to pass along two things to you, Aaron. First of all, I was contacted even down here by the Navy, saying that the New York area will have another visitation by a military vessel. This time it is going to be the Navy hospital ship the U.S. Comfort. It will be passing underneath the Verrazano bridge around 6 p.m. this evening, about an hour from now. And then about an hour later, around 7 o'clock, it will be tying up. This is a huge hospital ship that will be offering any aide, any logistical help, anything that it can do and provide in this area, if it needed. The unique thing about this is the fact that this is usually a ship you see on far distant shores. Now it is a military ship tying up here and not because it is coming back to its home berth.

As far as the speech that was given on the site there, impromptu by the president of the United States, through the benefit of radio here and other audio, some of the rescuers were able to hear that. I had to tell you, we talked to the rescuers this morning, early this morning, and it was dark and it was gloomy and it was rainy and it was cold. The morale had really been sapped out of a lot of them.

And yet when those words were heard -- as you heard the reaction out there at site -- a jolt of electricity went through them. And they have been renewed in two ways: inspired by the words of the president, inspired by the fact that the sun has come out, and now motivated probably twice as hard as they felt this morning to go back to the job that they want to do -- find someone alive, and bring them out and return them to their families -- Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you. Rather than sitting around talking about what the president had to say, I wonder if we can just go back and rewrap the tape. And a lot of people, I suspect in the East, are just getting home from work anyway. The president -- just to update you -- is in Lower Manhattan now.,

He has been touring, if that's the right word, observing, looking at the site. And there was a moment not very long ago where the president grabbed the bull horn in one hand and began to talk to the rescue workers who were down on the ground. It is a little hard to hear in parts, but it is absolutely worth taking a look at and listen to. If you guys have the tape, we can do it.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush, we can't hear you!

BUSH: I can hear you!


I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you. And the people...


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



BUSH: The nation -- the nation sends its love and compassion. And everybody that is here, thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud, and may God bless America!



BROWN: That was a president just a bit ago. Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is here. Judy, jump in whenever you wish, too.

Just -- there's no question here, Jeff. Look at it. What did you see?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I saw -- I saw an interesting twist. We thought the president was coming up to boost the morale of the people working.

BROWN: It worked the other way around.

GREENFIELD: I think the people were boosting the president's morale. I think that he got the tremendous amount of strength and energy from the fact that these guys, doing possibly as bad a job or as worse a job, rather, as horrible a job, as any American could even have been asked to do, were cheering him on, were saying we're with you.

It's one of the moments where the kind of political give-and-take that we are so used to and up to four days ago, was dominating the headlines, totally swept away by the magnitude of this. And we're going to be seeing a lot of this all over the country.

BROWN: It was -- go ahead, Judy.

WOODRUFF: I was just going to say, I think we're seeing an extraordinary rallying on the part of the American people That where, you know, we really can't even begin to know the dimensions of. I keep thinking back to what Billy Graham said at the prayer service here in Washington today. He said they were trying to divide the country and instead they've done just the opposite.

I think he called a backlash. He said they've united us instead. And he talked about the choice that we have to let this destruction implode on us and disintegrate, but instead our choice is to make us stronger. And that's exactly what it has done. And I think you saw that today with the president.

BROWN: It's not one of those things you can put a number on, but here are these numbers. Wal-Mart said that it sold over 300,000 American flags just Tuesday and Wednesday, and another 200,000 American flags sold at KMart. A couple of huge retailers. A lot of small retailers, I suppose, are selling flags, too. It is just one of those signs of how people have taken this all.

GREENFIELD: You know what I am even encouraged by? And this may sound weird. I am encouraged by the fact that they haven't completely put the politics aside. The Democrats wanted the resolution of support rewritten, not to give the president a blank check. And I almost think it's like when a loved-one is very sick. And then they start snapping a little.

You say, OK, I know that they are OK, because they are feeling good enough to even have those arguments. Politics is so in our blood that even at this moment, you have people saying, "No. We still have to remember we're the Congress, you're the president. We have to give you our support."

And I in fact take that as a point of strength, not a point of weakness.

BROWN: That politics when it's -- and without getting off completely on another tangent here, the problem with politics recently as I have been watched is that is has been so nasty. But politics is not a bad word, and the process is important and they ought to do the work of debating the side. It just needs to be done civilly and appropriately.

GREENFIELD: Absolutely. You remember the Gulf War, where we talked about how united Americans were. They had a debate in both houses of Congress. They had a vote to make sure the president was going to get the support he needed. We are not going to have anything like that, because this is so much more serious. But events of today it -- when we see these pictures and hear those words, it takes us beyond -- so far beyond the political terrain that things have been played in that it really has swept it off of the board. And yet, there enough left of our institutional strength to say, we are going to do this the way the constitution told us to do it. I think that that's a strong point.

BROWN: Expecting to see shortly some more pictures. It may be my imagination. Kelly Wallace is up on the roof. She can tell me if I am wrong. Looks like it got brighter a little outside. It's been so dreary here today. So nasty, cold and wet. And just about the time that the president arrived, we saw the sun peeking through to the west. Well, there's no question, Kelly, it looks a whole lot brighter than it was.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a whole lot brighter. As you noted, it was a short time after the president arrived in New York you could see the sun coming through the clouds. The first time we saw that on this very dark and dreary day. And obviously, somewhat of a symbolic moment lifting the spirits for the firefighters and the rescue workers who have been working out in the rain all day -- and obviously, that making their jobs a lot more difficult.

You know, I wanted to just add, it was interesting points that you and Jeff are making, too. And of course, something that that has happened here with the president. The president was somewhat criticized, as we know, earlier in the week on Tuesday when he left Florida and then the decision was for the president to go to Louisiana and then to another military base in Nebraska before returning to Washington late Tuesday night. Some criticism that the president should have been more visible, and then the White House saying the reason for that travel plan was that there was a real and credible threat to Air Force One.

Certainly, the White House, though -- obviously, the president getting out more. I'm not saying in response to that criticism. But certainly as the events have unfolded, and as the administration was able to sort of see what was going on and get all its systems in place, definitely putting the president out. We saw him, of course, going to the Pentagon. We saw him go to a hospital yesterday, and of course, coming here to New York.

Obviously very important for the president, because he has a role that really no one really else can fill right now -- and that is the role of the commander in chief, and of course making very important decisions about next steps. But also the person to comfort the nation and to try and come out here and lift spirits. And as you and Jeff noted, though, and we have talked about, he did that here, it appears, with the firefighters. But certainly, the president getting a boost. And it will be something that he'll probably look back to, as he works with his team on the very difficult decisions in the days, weeks and month ahead.

BROWN: Kelly, hang on a sec. Just hold on that shot a minute. Late on a Friday afternoon, the 14th of September. The sun finally comes out. And in all that has happened this week, that one gives you goose bumps right there. The shot of the Statue of Liberty, which is -- you could see so clearly of what was the World Trade Center. You can see from certainly where we are in New York, where Kelly can turn around and absolutely see it out there. And how pretty and different in a way it looks today. What a nice shot, guys. Thank you very much. We expect in just a moment or two -- and if it seems like we are vamping a little bit, we are -- the pool pictures of the president from the ground level, when he grabbed that bull horn, that American flag. These pictures would be, we assume, certainly much more clear, less grainy than the ones that we showed you a little bit ago. And I think you will get a better sense of the reaction of people, the reaction of the president, the expression on the president's face, will all tell us something about not only how this is affecting the rescue workers. Here is the president.


BUSH: It can't go any louder. I want you all to know that America today -- America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go get them, George!

BUSH: This nation stands with the good people of New York City, and New Jersey and Connecticut as we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush, we can't hear you.

BUSH: I can hear you!


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!



BUSH: The nation -- the nation sends its love and compassion to everybody who is here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless America!

BUSH: Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for making the nation proud. And may God bless America!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get back a little bit folks. Give us a little room.


BROWN: There's your shot.

GREENFIELD: I was just thinking, Aaron, that 30-something years ago in this neighborhood, the line between those who supported the Vietnam War -- the construction workers, the so-called hard hats and those who opposed it -- and sometimes how that literally spilled into violence in the streets of New York. If you can find that line today, I'd be amazed. There is no such line. There is no such division of any kind like that. In this case, this is not choosing of any sides. What has happened in New York on Tuesday, I think, has at least for now obliterated that line completely.

BROWN: Statue of Liberty in your shot. Judy?

WOODRUFF: Aaron and Jeff, quite a day for President Bush. From my perspective, that is the most comfortable I think I have seen him looking under extraordinary circumstances, as he stood there with his arm around that firefighter with the bullhorn in his hand -- comfortable in his role as president, since this terrible event on Tuesday morning. The emotions have run the gamut for this president today, from just now visiting -- touring the area around the World Trade Center, remains, wreckage in New York City.

Earlier today, the president was in Washington at a prayer service; a prayer service he called for at the National Cathedral here in Washington. And here are some of the sights and the sounds from that service.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those of us who are gathered here, Muslim, Jew, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu -- all people of faith want to say to this nation and to the world that love is stronger than hate. And that love lived out in justice will in the end prevail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, we gather to be reassured that God hears the lamenting and bitter weeping of mother America, because so many of her children are no more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In broken and humble hearts, and with tears in our eyes, we to you, O lord to give us comfort. Help us in our distress. Keep us together as people of diverse faith, colors and races. Keep our country strong, for the sake of the good and righteousness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us, and we'll know in our hearts that he will never forsake us as we trust in him.

BUSH: On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask Almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. As we've been assured, neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth can separate us from God's love. May he bless the souls of the departed. May he comfort our own. And may he always guide our country. God bless America.


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States at ground zero. The commander in chief today a witness both to what an unseen opponent is uncapable of doing to a nation and to the strength that rises from the ashes. Slowly, securely, the pace picking up at the nation's major airports. As the country shifts to a higher gear, a pause to honor the innocent, the victims of Tuesday's terror attacks.

Good evening from CNN center in Atlanta. I am Joie Chen.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. And I am Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington, where we have witnessed a day of remembrance, a day of prayer, and a day of the nation taking steps to prepare for war.

CHEN: At the request of President Bush, much of the nation has taken time to today to pause, to reflect on the crisis at hand and the events that have brought us to this point. About 90 minutes ago Mr. Bush touched down in New York to witness first hand the destruction in Lower Manhattan.

Mr. Bush is on his tour right now, as you see there. And a short time ago, he rallied, as you saw, some of the rescue workers. We'll have more on this in just a moment.

As you probably know by now, it has been a gray and quite drizzly day in New York City, about 54 degrees at the top of the hour. The weather has hampered the rescue efforts where the World Trade Center towers have fallen. These efforts, though, continue despite all that. Mayor Giuliani citing what he called "a strong sense that people are still alive."

Quickly, we look now to New York City. And President Bush is in the motorcade now, moving away from the scene of the World Trade Center towers. You see his motorcade moving out of the scene now. Kelly Wallace is standing by on a rooftop location with a view to what is going on in the city -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Absolutely, Joie. We do not know exactly where the president going, though, right at this moment. We know he was going to go to one more location after meeting with and talking with the firefighters and rescue workers around what has become known as ground zero, and the site, of course, of the terrorist attacks on Tuesday. We're not exactly sure what this location will be, but we did expect that the president would likely try and spend some time with some family members of the victims, people still holding out hope that maybe, just maybe the firefighters and those rescue teams will find some more survivors in that debris field.

So as soon as we see where the president will go, we will let you know.

Joie, we have watched these events unfold throughout the afternoon, and one thing we have all reminded of is the extremely tight security that is going on right now. We know that this administration is operating on a highest state of alert and the U.S. Secret Service operating at that alert and taking absolutely every possible precaution to make sure the president is safe and sound. We did see fighter jets in the air, and a lots of additional measures that we don't often see when the president travels, to again, ensure the safety of the president.

And Joie, as we've noted, the main focus for the president coming here was to try to lift the morale and spirits of these firefighters and these rescue teams, people who have been working around the clock. Obviously, trying to find possible survivors. Many of these firefighters and rescue teams and police officers...

CHEN: Kelly...

WALLACE: Go ahead, Joie.

CHEN: Kelly, we want to you stand by for a moment. Richard Roth is at the position where this camera is taking the pictures of the president's motorcade passing through Lower Manhattan.

Richard, can you hear us?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can, Joie. There would have been a lot of talk, I thought, in the days ahead of the presidential visit that it would be more of a smaller-sized security presence. But it seems like your typical, traditional jumbo motorcade for a president when he travels, moving through streets that of course have been cleared out. A large amount of the usual accompaniment of the security motorcycles. The Secret Service, obviously, coordinating the president's visit. And reportedly several units of the Secret Service offices in World Trade Center building number seven were destroyed, or heavily damaged, Secret Service having a lot of its New York headquarters there.

That obviously not hampering the president's visit and security preparations. Without really going where we are not supposed to go, moving up the west side of Manhattan and passing what seemed to be 100 satellite trucks covering the devastation to the World Trade towers. Joie.

CHEN: Richard -- let me ask you this, Richard. I am not sure where your location is and where the motorcade has just moved through in relationship to the World Trade Center. But I can see that there is still quite a bit of debris and ashes the motorcade moved through. Is this very far from the location of the disaster?

ROTH: No, it's not far. In fact, just before the motorcade headed up that -- that avenue, on the same street, the three large garbage trucks filled with debris went ahead of this presidential motorcade. President Bush is, of course, scheduled to return to New York September 24th for the start of the U.N. General Assembly debate. No word on whether that visit will be changed, though. They may lower the profile of the debate, Joie. CHEN: Let's bring back Kelly Wallace, who I see is standing by and listening as well. Can you talk about the impact of Mr. Bush's visit to New York. Really, the intention, I suppose, was to uplift the folks down there on the rescue site. But the president looked quite energized himself by the amount of spirit and determination he found there.

WALLACE: Absolutely, Joie. That's what -- the president's goal was to try to give a bit of a morale boost and lift some spirits. Again, we have noted firefighters, police officers, rescue teams, volunteers working 24 hours a day trying to find -- possibly find -- survivors. Many of these firefighters, police officers, have fellow colleague, their comrades who are among those missing. So the president coming here to try and thank these rescue teams and firefighters for their work and to say that the nation stands united with them. But just as you noted, we watched the pictures unfold. We heard of the crowds chanting, "USA, USA."

And as Judy Woodruff noted, which I think that is a very interesting point, the president would try to grab the bullhorn and talk to the crowd that assembled there. The president looking really the most comfortable that we have seen him since this crisis began on Tuesday. The president saying, "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon."

So the president seeming to get his own spirits lifted, a sense of strength, boosting his own morale as he probably leaves here, certainly at some point today. And then of course has to face big, difficult decisions with his top advisers about what steps the U.S. will take in the days ahead, Joie.

CHEN: Kelly, just an advisory on the viewers, on the left side of the screen you are seeing the live picture as the motorcade moves through -- actually has passed out of the shot there on the left side. On the right side of the screen, you are looking at some videotape taken just a few minutes ago of the president greeting the rescue workers, thanking them for all of their assistance. You see there that many people wanted to step up to the president, and the president had many people to thank for their tremendous efforts in the city of New York. Wolf?

BLITZER: Joie, Marty Savidge has been at ground zero in this entire search-and-rescue operation. He joins us now live. Marty, tell us what is happening right now in the aftermath of the rain that did some additional destructive damage to New York?

SAVIDGE: Let me point out something first to you, Wolf, and that is the fact that it was intended by the president's visit not to disrupt the search-and-rescue effort, which it did not significantly impact. It has impacted greatly the ability to get more supplies and to get more people into the site. The entire area immediately outside of where the president was visiting -- that being ground zero -- has been in lockdown, essentially, and the streets here now, which have been moving with equipment have been clogged for some time as they wait for the OK to begin moving in. It's important because it is not just the rescue effort that they are working to support, but also trying to deliver that sense of normalcy that the president has been so adamant in trying to get back to. Wall Street hoping to open on Monday. A lot of communication in this area has been knocked out. Restoring communication, restoring electricity, restoring basic services is essential to getting this part of the financial community online. That's why, with the president's words and the sunlight back out, they are anxious to get back to work. But this morning, you're right. It was very dismal. It was very cold, it was wet and it was windy.

All three of those made for difficult conditions for the firefighters. The wetness made it very slippery, very treacherous out there working on the debris pile. A number of those that were working out there said that everyone was slipping and falling and getting injured. It also had a dampening effect on the morale. Then there was the wind. The wind was a great concern, especially for the engineers that had been studying the buildings that had been so severely impacted.

These are buildings that still stand, but are in danger of falling down -- and falling down on the very people that are trying to rescue anyone who may be still alive. And one last thing about the rain, it made noise. Something they don't want. Because what they do out there is use their ears to listen for tapping sounds, any sound, any indication of life under ground.

The rain is gone. The wind is dying down. And now with the words of the president, they are ready to get back on the job. Wolf?

BLITZER: Marty, so the president's appearance, brief as it was, in Lower Manhattan did serve a low morale boost for all of those rescue workers who have been so deeply, deeply moved and so tired by what is going on. Can you tell that it's helped the morale of everyone down there?

SAVIDGE: Well, there a lot of people that have been locked out on the perimeter here, that were not able to hear the president's words. But a few of them were able to hear it over radios and other means. And they were inspired by what they heard. They liked that what the president had to say and the way that he said it. And they also agree that something needs to be done about this; not just finding survivors, but finding those who are responsible. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Marty. Stand by. I want to bring in Brian Nelson. He is also down in Lower Manhattan. He joins us via videophone. Brian, tell us what is going on over there?

BRIAN NELSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some of the traffic that has been backed up carrying in supplies into the site behind us is now beginning to move now that the president has moved out of the scene. They've been backed up for, I guess, an hour and a half during the visit's president. So now they're beginning to move past the police barricades toward the site of the World Trade Center. They're carrying everything from medical equipment to cranes, shovels, whatever. That site is what we have been trying as journalists to get to as close as we possibly can over the last few days. And it's been kind of a tough job. And so what we did was give a camera to a couple of volunteers working there. One of them was a medical worker. And they took a camera in on our behalf. And I think we're going to show you some video now of what that camera picked up. Here's part of it.

What we have is a ground-eye view of the destruction of Number 7, World Trade Center. This site -- adjectives somehow escape you. It's a compressed pancake. It's awesome, it's stunning, it's strucking (sic) to see it that close up. The other thing you notice is what is being called here the bucket brigade. You have lines of rescue and recovery workers, who will make their way up that pile of debris, and do it very gingerly. Their own lives are in danger as they do that because all of that rubble is in a precarious position.

They snake their way up to the top and begin filling buckets with pieces of debris, pieces of cement, pieces of anything that they can find -- and yes, indeed, even human remains. And that bucket is handed down, one at a time. It comes down to the bottom. And you may be able to hear some of it that's being dumped out. And workers will go through that debris very gingerly, looking for pieces of evidence and, yes, human remains, before it is all swept away and is started again.

So this is a really painful and painstaking process, and as you can see, it's going to take an awful long time for all of this debris to be cleared away. And you can hear in the background, maybe, the sounds of saws as they're cutting some of the metal girders as well.

Now the rain today -- Marty mentioned that just a moment ago -- it made thing I think somewhat difficult, a little -- that video was taken during the rain -- and so, it made things difficult, it made it messy, but the workers there are determined to keep going, and so that is what they have done the entire day, even during the president's visit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, tell us precisely where you are, so our viewers who are familiar with Manhattan can get a better sense of how close you are to the destruction?

NELSON: Well, I'm at the corner of Greenwich and I think it is Reid Street -- Harris Street, Harrison Street, and we are about 10 blocks from the destruction. And you can see it behind my shoulder when the smoke clears. Now that smoke has resurged all day long, even after the rain. But that's where it is. We can see it right behind us, and you have got this rooftop shot and you've got this shot from the ground.

It's absolutely stunning when you see it from the street level. That to me is the most shocking, to see how high that rubble is and to think of how long it is going to take to clear that away. And to think of all the people who have come here.

I just talked to a gentleman here who is from a local community college in New Rochelle, and he said he got together with some of his colleagues and they put the pressure and the finger on some of these suppliers to the college, and they put together two trucks of supplies. The shovels, the ropes, the gloves, anything that they could find, and they came down here to deliver it. There is such unity and determination here, as Americans, to get this mess cleared away and to give life as it was back to normal down here in South Manhattan.

BLITZER: You're on the -- you're right near ground zero over there, and I am sure, Brian, that you've been speaking to a lot of people. Tell us about what they're saying, their mood on this day?

NELSON: Well, you know, interesting, the day began with an encounter with a policeman. Now that policeman came up to us, you know, and I guess that you would describe it as somewhat belligerent way, and he said, "you know, that S.O.B. is watching you." Now, he is referring to them, of course, but he intended to personify the people behind this as a single person, and he said, "he is watching you." And I said, "yes, I know, he is watching all of us." And his word to me was, "you just tell him we will get him." And he was -- I mean, this is utter, utter anger coming out of this man.

And then I talked to a fire chief named Ronald Chrome (ph). He is from Westchester County. And this fire chief was working on his own time today. He came down here at 7:00 this morning, I met him at about 3:00 this afternoon when he was leaving. He was going back to work. He was going to go and do his regular shift as a fire chief, a deputy fire chief in Connecticut -- I'm sorry, in Westchester County -- which is Connecticut, I am sorry.

What he said to me was the hardest thing was pulling out some of his colleagues, and by that he meant other firemen. Now, these colleagues are New York firemen, but they are the most closely bonded group. Firemen in this entire area are closely bonded and they all consider themselves brothers. And at this point, he began to well up in tears and he couldn't talk. It was an absolutely moving moment.

BLITZER: Brian Nelson in Lower Manhattan, thank you very much. And just one note, you did point out Westchester County is in New York, not in Connecticut. We all know that, I know that, because I have relatives who live in Westchester County. In any case, Joie, let's go back to you.