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CNN Live Event/Special

President Speaks Before First Responders

Aired March 27, 2002 - 10:24   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You are going to go live now to Greenville, South Carolina. You see there President Bush, who is just now beginning his remarks.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Mayor, I have fond memories of your beautiful city, and thank you very much for your leadership and your hospitality, and thank you all for coming.

One of the things that I'm not surprised about was how the good folks of South Carolina responded on September 11, in the aftermath. Good people here hurt for the people in New York because they realized an attack on one part of America was an attack of all of America.

And I want to thank you all for donating a brand new fire truck to New York City. I want to thank you for sending men and women to New York City in response to the emergency.

I know the firefighters and casualty experts and the emergency management director headed up north to provide help, and I'm here to thank you for that.

And I'm here also to thank you for what you do every single day. You know, the evil one's hit us, but out of that evil has come some good, and I want to talk to you about some of that good.

One of the good things that's come is a sincere appreciation and respect for the men and women who wear the uniform of police, fire and emergency medical units all across the country. And I'm here to thank you as well for your dedication and your service to the people of your communities here in South Carolina.

I appreciate so very much Tom Ridge's service. You know, he was a governor there in Pennsylvania, just kind of cruising along. Life was pretty good. And then the president called him and said, "I've got an assignment for you, to come and set a national strategy for our homeland security."

The enemies hit us. And we better be ready in case the enemy hits us again. And we need a strategy.

And I'm telling you, he's come to Washington, D.C., with a vision and a capacity. And we're developing and have got a strategy, some of which I will share with you today.

And, Tom, I want to thank you for your service.


And I want to thank the other fellow on the stage here, Jim DeMint. He is a strong congressman. He cares deeply...


He cares deeply about the people of this state. He is an ally of mine in the House, because he's a man of integrity. He cares deeply about national issues and issues that affect the people here in his district.

He understands the need for us to be tough and diligent and forceful when it comes to fighting terrorists. He understands the need for us to be strong at home, as well. And that's why he has led a discussion on a strategy to make sure that the textile industry here in South Carolina gets not only the attention of the administration but a strategy to help people who work in the textile industry. This man is a leader, and he needs to go back to Washington, D.C.


And we've got some other people from the fine South Carolina delegation; Lindsey Graham is here. And a little later on I'm going to try to give Lindsey a little boost.

And I appreciate Hank Brown for being here, as well. Thank you for coming.

And I want to thank members of the state house who have come. You got a fine lieutenant governor and attorney general. Thank you both for coming.

And, of course, your speaker, home grown boy, David Wilkins.

And I'm honored that you all have been here today.


I drove in and went by the BMW plant for about the 100th time and it was good that I was traveling by it with Carroll Campbell, who made sure that the BMW plant came here the first time around.

Governor, it's good to see you. Thank you for coming.


I want to thank the high sheriffs of Greenville County, Sam Simmons. I don't know if you call him the high sheriff around here or not, but play like you do, if you don't.

(LAUGHTER) But I want to thank the sheriff. I want to thank Willie Johnson, the chief. I want to thank Tom McDowell, chief of the fire department, and John Delagosa (ph) as well. And, again, I want to thank you all for coming.

The interesting thing about September 11 is that, even though the attacks were on two major cities, it reminded us -- and in the aftermath, it reminded us that we're all vulnerable as well. I mean, after all, you might remember that some of the initial discussions after September 11, about potential threats, was about crop dusters.

Now, they don't have a lot of crop dusters, you know, in Manhattan. They've got a lot of crop dusters in South Carolina or Texas. In other words, some of the intelligence we were getting was that not only were the enemy willing to use airplanes, obviously, as weapons, but what we were concerned about was that they would use other methods, like using a crop duster to spray a weapon of mass destruction if possible. It was an indication that we had to be on alert to defend all sites and all locations in our country.

We knew they were evil, and we're beginning to learn how really evil their intentions were after September 11. And that's why, you know, Tom and I and many of you all and others around the country have got plans in place to defend power-generating plants, dams and reservoirs, livestock and crops, all kinds of areas.

I mean, the truth of the matter is homeland security in the heartland is just as important as homeland security in the big cities, and that's what we're here to talk about today to make sure that America is safe.

See, that's my most important job; my most important job is to work with federal, state and local officials to prevent the enemy from hitting us again and taking innocent life. I think about it every day. And even though they're still under threat, and we are under threat, we're getting better prepared every day.

I sent a budget up to Congress that reflects my priority. The first responders of America -- all across America -- must have the resources necessary to respond to emergencies and save lives.


In the budget we sent up there is a 1,000 percent increase for first responders. We request $3.5 billion to make your jobs easier. I've requested $327 million right away, right off the bat to provide critical training and equipment to first responders: $327 will come this year hopefully; $3.5 is for next budget cycle.

In places like Pickens, South Carolina, and Union and Greer -- and by the way, I've been to all three and enjoyed every minute of it. One of the bedrock principles of small town life is you help a neighbor in need.

A volunteer firefighter in Fort Mill, South Carolina put it this way. "We may not be a big department like New York City, but we have the same goal: to help our neighbors in time of trouble."

That's how you all feel, too. That's how the Crawford, Texas Volunteer Fire Department feels, as well. I'm a proud booster.

And one of the things we've got to do is to understand that we've got to strengthen security in small-town America, as well, by helping smaller communities and smaller counties develop what we call mutual aid agreements. And in the budget that I've submitted to Congress is $140 million to do just that.

If one town's got 'em a good hospital facility, another may be able to lend fire trucks, a third may be a home to hazardous material experts. But we've got to develop these mutual packs, so that we can coordinate efforts, pool resources, all aimed at helping a neighbor in need if we need to.

So one of the things we're doing is focusing on big cities, medium-sized cities like Greenville, but we understand we've got to have a strategy for rural South Carolina and rural America as well.

And I'm here to assure the good folks of South Carolina that the strategies that we're putting out, the strategies that we're going to outline and work with the states and local authorities on will also include rural South Carolina, to make sure that assets are pooled, personnel is coordinated, all aimed at buttoning up the homeland of the United States and preparing our country.

But I want you to know that the best homeland security, the best way to secure the homeland and protect innocent life is to find the enemy wherever they hide and bring them to justice. And that's exactly what we're going to do.


We will hunt them down, one by one, and after September the 11th, we started. And I said, as plainly as I could speak, mustering up as much Midland, Texas, as I could find, I said, "Either you are with us, or you're against us."


And I made it clear that, if anybody harbored a terrorist or they fed a terrorist or they hid a terrorist, they're just as guilty as the murderers who took innocent life on September the 11th.

And thanks to a mighty United States military, the Taliban found out exactly what I meant.


I'm proud of our military. For those of you who've got a relative in the military, I want you to thank them on behalf of a grateful nation.

But we've got to do more than thank them; we've got to make sure that they got the best training, the best equipment, the best pay possible.

And that's why the budget I submitted to the United States Congress not only includes a significant increase for first responders and homeland security issues, but it is the largest increase in military spending in two decades. Because I understand that the price of freedom is high, but as far as I'm concerned, it is never too high when it comes to the defense of freedom.


And that's what we're defending. We don't seek revenge. We seek justice.

But it's more than just justice; this nation will defend freedom. We defend the freedom to worship. We defend the freedom to speak. We defend the freedom for all Americans, regardless of their background, to enjoy a country that says, "If you work hard, you can realize your dreams." That's what we defend.

And this enemy of ours hates what we stand for. They can't stand us. They're ruthless murderers. And they must not have understood American when they attacked us. They thought we were weak. They thought we were so self-absorbed in our materialism that all we'd probably do is just sue 'em.


Man, were they wrong. We've thrown the Taliban out.

And this past weekend, for the first time, many young women went to school. We went into Afghanistan not as conquerors, but as liberators, as people who are willing to sacrifice to defend our freedoms.

The first phase of the war is over -- holding people accountable for harboring a terrorist. That message is now loud and clear. I think other governments have heard that message.

And the next message is this: We're going to keep you on the run. If you're a killer, we're going to treat you for what you are, an international criminal with no place to hide, no place to sleep.

Oh, I know some of them think there's a cave deep enough. We're patient. We're determined. We're united.


As proud and patriotic Americans, I can assure you that distance between September the 11th is not going to cause me to weaken in my determination to defend our country and to fight for freedom.

I also want to explain right quickly what I meant when I was talking about the axis of evil. Let me put it to you this way: We cannot allow nations that have got a history of totalitarianism and dictatorship -- a nation, for example, like Iraq that poisoned her own people -- to develop a weapon of mass destruction and made up with terrorist organizations who hate freedom-loving countries. We can't afford to do that for the sake of our children and our children's children.

History has called this nation into action, and we're not going to let the world's worst leaders develop and maintain and deploy and aim at us or our friends the world's worst weapons.

My fellow Americans, we've got a lot at stake. We've got a lot at stake at home and a lot of stake around the world. We've been called, and I'm here to assure you that this great country is prepared and willing and will answer the call to freedom.


And I believe there's another calling at home as well.

I believe that we have an opportunity to fight evil at home in a different kind of way than people would have imagined. I'm asked all the time by people, "What can I do in the war against terror?"

You all are answering that call, but there's something else I'd like for you and others in South Carolina and around America to do.

You see, in order to fight evil, we can stand strongly in the face of evil with acts of kindness and compassion. We can better love our neighbor like we'd like to be loved ourself.

You see, the great strength of America is not necessarily our military might, and it's certainly not our government. Even though the system is great and the military is strong, the great strength of America is the heart and soul -- the great strength is the heart and the soul of our country. That's the strength.

The strength of the country comes when somebody walks across the street to a neighbor in need and says, "What can I do to help you?" When somebody walks into a shut-in and says, "I care about you," or somebody mentors a child or is teaching that child how to read, or a church or a synagogue or a mosque comes up with a program based upon the faith of the almighty to help a person with alcohol or drugs, that's the great strength of America.

And I believe out of this evil will come incredible goodness. I know this country can stand squarely in the face of evil by loving a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself.

And today, we've got a high school student, Gus Samuel (ph). Please stand up, Gus (ph). Gus (ph) is here because he's a living example of what I'm talking about. This guy goes to high school, and yet he is active in the Salvation Army. And he finds time to work with youngsters in the Girls and Boys Club.

Our society can be changed one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time. And it's the gathering momentum of millions of acts of kindness because of guys like Gus (ph) that we will show the world the true heart of America. And we will stand squarely in the face of the evil ones who did not understand who they were attacking. Out of evil will come a more lasting peace if we are tough and firm. And out of evil will come a new renewal of heart in the greatest land on the face of the earth.

May God bless you all.

And may God bless America.

HARRIS: Bush there wrapping up his remarks there before so- called first responders, those who are the first on the scene in the wake of any emergency -- and basically preaching to the choir this morning, he unveiled his portion of his budget, which he submitted to Capitol Hill that features some $3 1/2 billion, which he says represents a 1,000 percent increase for such first responders and their resources they need to do their jobs.

Let's go to our Major Garrett, who is covering the president's speech.

Hello -- Major.


The wrinkle here in Greenville, South Carolina, is an emphasis on the first responder aspect of the president's budget, dealing with rural areas. The president said everyone saw on September 11 tat terrorists could use commercial aircraft to attack America. But also he said intelligence reports thereafter and continuing on suggest that crop dusters could also be used; he said rural America could also be a target. Livestock, crops, reservoirs, other things. So he wants first responders and others in the rural areas to get the same emphasis from Washington that major metropolitan areas are getting as well in his budget. Here in Greenville, South Carolina, he was underscoring that message.

For the president's speech, he took a couple of questions from the traveling White House press pool. He talked a little bit about the situation in the Middle East. And despite the discouraging news that the Palestinian delegation has decided to leave Beirut and not attend an Arab League summit this weekend, the president said he is nevertheless encouraged about talks going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians to create a security arrangement.

Here's what the president had to say.


BUSH: The important thing about the Middle East is that we're making very good progress on the Tenet accord. In other words, there's a chance we'll have an agreement on the security arrangements necessary to hopefully then get into the Mitchell. Gen. Zinni is still in the area. Let me put it this way: I'm optimistic that that progress is being made.

And I asked Gen. Zinni to work with both parties regardless of whether or not they're headed to Beirut or not. The most important thing is getting into Tenet, getting into a security arrangement, and we're optimistic that's going to happen.


GARRETT: Leon, let's go through a couple of the key names here. Tenet -- is what is that? Tenet plan. Well, the tentative plan is one named after the CIA director, George Tenet. It is essentially a security agreement between the Israeli and the Palestinians where both sides share information about each other's movements and what's happening on the ground, to avoid terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, unexpected Israeli defense force actions in the occupied territories.

The whole idea is once a Tenet security arrangement is agreed to by the Israelis and the Palestinians, then you can get to the next name on the president's agenda, the Mitchell plan, which is a way of resolving other political issues that have long separated the Israelis and the Palestinians.

So in the president's consideration, Tenet must come first; all sides must agree to that. But until there is an arrangement, working on security between the two sides, no political discussions can take place; that's why there is so much emphasis in the president's mind on creating this Tenet security arrangement first -- Leon.

HARRIS: Major, the president's voice so far today being the only one that has expressed any optimism that there is going to be some sort of a settlement here.

GARRETT: Indeed. That certainly appears to be the case, but the president may, in fact, be privy to some information that Gen. Zinni, his personal envoy in there, is relating to him. And the president may be concluding that this Arab League summit in Beirut is not necessarily as important as some structural dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians toward achieving a security arrangement, with or without an Arab League summit. Once that is achieved, then there is at least a hope that some political dialogue can take place. Without any security arrangement, it doesn't matter how many Arab League summits there are, they will still be fighting, still be bloodshed and violence, and of course, under those circumstances, no political resolution is available at all.

HARRIS: Major Garrett, in Greenville, South Carolina. Thank you very much. Happy trails to you. See you later on.