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CNN Late Edition - Transcript

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CNN Late Edition - Transcript
Sunday, September 18, 2005

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, were you surprised that four years after 9/11 the president had to make that acknowledgement that the country basically wasn't prepared for this kind of disaster?

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Yes, I was surprised and disappointed, Wolf. I don't think that any of us are satisfied with the response at any level of government to this disaster. And from my perspective, as chairman of the Terrorism Subcommittee with the jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security, it immediately raises in my mind a question about whether we are capable of dealing with some kind of a terrorist attack. You could easily postulate a terrorist attack that would replicate the kinds of conditions in the Gulf region.

Clearly, we have a lot of work to do at all levels of government to get better prepared.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, do you have a good explanation? Is there a good explanation as to why the country was not prepared for Katrina?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: No, I don't think there is a good explanation. I guess you could argue that we lacked leadership at a number of levels.

I agree with Senator Kyl's answer to the question. One thing I do think we should acknowledge is the president stood up; he flat said it. And I take him at his word that that means he is going to lead from this moment on in rectifying that situation.

BLITZER: Here was a question and answers in a poll -- an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll: Do you think the United States is adequately prepared for a nuclear, biological or chemical attack or not?

Adequately prepared, 19 percent. Not adequately, 75 percent.

Senator Kyl, there's not a whole lot of confidence in the aftermath of Katrina that the country is prepared for that kind of terror attack.

KYL: I suspect that's probably right. And, frankly, I would be in the category of those that don't think we're adequately prepared.

May I just digress for one second, Wolf? Looking at the pictures of those kids that you're showing on the screen -- they are just awfully sweet-looking kids. And I compliment you and CNN for showing those pictures, trying to unite them with their parents.

And we just hope that every one of them are going to be OK.

But back to this other point again -- Joe and I, everybody in the Congress, the president, and the folks at the local level and any place where there could be a disaster like this have really got to take this as a warning that we are not ready for something -- for every disaster in any event -- and that we have got to redouble our efforts to get prepared, because what happened here was not acceptable.

BLITZER: So, Senator Kyl, what's the single most important thing that the federal government must now do to get the country prepared?

KYL: I'm not sure. We're going to have a lot of hearings, and we'll probably find out. But I suspect that one of the things is to simply get the lines of communication straight here so that we understand who has what authority in certain circumstances and, specifically, when does the federal government have the authority to step in, for example, bring federal troops in? What kind of law enforcement authority are they going to have?

I think that's one of the things that's going to have to be straightened out, in any event.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, former President Bill Clinton offered this advice when he was on "Larry King Live" Friday night. Listen to what he said. Actually, I'll read it to you.

He said, "I think the important thing is that they probably should have some requirement that anybody who has the job has some prior experience in emergency management. It is a very serious, important job" -- he's referring to Michael Brown, the former FEMA director, who didn't necessarily have a whole lot of experience going into this job.

Two-part question. The first part is, obviously, reacting to President Clinton -- do you agree with him. But he second part is: Should FEMA be part of the Department of Homeland Security or a separate entity that it used to be?

BIDEN: As Jon said -- we'll have hearings. I thought it should remain a separate entity. I thought it at the time. I think it now.

But I don't claim any great expertise on that.

And I think, to follow up on what Senator Kyl said, the most important thing we have to do is say the single most important priority for the United States of America -- including taking whatever dollars it requires to get it done -- is providing for our homeland security, period.

And that means, in my view -- I've been on the other side of an issue here. I think we have short-changed what we should be doing. We're cutting the local COPS program, we're not putting enough money into first responders -- in my view. We are not focusing enough on the whole notion of dealing with terrorist attacks on rail, on our ports.

But, in fairness, that costs billions upon billions of dollars. And so we have very hard choices to make. And I think we should confront the American people straight up and say: Folks, look. These are what our needs are. This is how much it's going to cost. We're going to have to make choices. They're hard ones. We're looking for the president to make a recommendation as to what priorities he'll set. But it's going to cost more in addition to organizing better.

BLITZER: We're going to get to the cost in a second. But a quick question to you, Senator Kyl, on the lessons learned, the investigation that should be conducted. The president said all of his Cabinet secretaries will be reviewing what happened. There's going to be congressional investigations as well.

He didn't call for a sort of independent, 9/11-type presidential commission that would look at it from the outside and come up with some recommendations.

Was that a mistake? Should there be a 9/11 kind of investigation as well?

KYL: You can argue that either way. We had a vote on that in the Senate. I believe it was pretty much along partisan lines to go forward with the previously announced hearings that will be conducted jointly and in a bicameral way by the members of Congress.

Clearly, there are going to be a lot of investigations into what went wrong. But more important than all of that is, of course, how to figure out how to do it right in the future.

And I think Senator Biden is right on. We probably have not adequately faced up to the total cost, not only of the reconstruction here, but all of the things that are going to have to be done in the future.

And we've got to be more candid with the American people about what this homeland security is going to cost us.

BLITZER: It's going to cost a lot of money. The president, Senator Biden, says it's going to cost what it costs. But he is ruling out any tax increases to pay for it. He does say that there is an opportunity to eliminate some unnecessary spending.

Listen to what he said on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This is going to mean that we're going to have to make sure we cut unnecessary spending. It's going to mean we don't do -- we've got to maintain economic growth and, therefore, we should not raise taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you say?

BIDEN: Well, I say that everything has to be on the table. And if he says we're going to cut unnecessary spending -- he just sent us a budget, presumably with nothing but necessary spending in it.

Where is he going to find roughly half a trillion dollars over the next several years for Iraq and for Katrina? I think we're not level with the American people.

The idea that we're either going to share the cost with everyone, including the wealthiest among us by foregoing the tax cuts for the wealthiest, or we're going to put all the burden on the middle class.

I mean, these are basic, fundamental decisions we're going to have to make here, Wolf, and I don't know how the president could possibly -- any more than Franklin Roosevelt or anyone else -- could take off the table dealing with a natural catastrophe on two fronts.

We have one on the foreign agenda and we have one domestically. And they're going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

And the last thing I'll say is: The American people are tough, Wolf. They have never let their country down -- whatever the cost is to get it right for their fellow citizens and protect their soldiers.

And I think the president is -- well I think he's not stepping up to the ball here on that comment.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Kyl, the CBS News/New York Times poll asked: Would you be willing to pay more in taxes to help with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina?

56 percent said they would be willing to pay more in taxes. 37 percent said not willing. 7 percent don't know.

I guess the question to a good fiscal conservative like you: Where is the money going to come from, especially since Tom DeLay, the Republican leader in the House, says there is no fat in the current budget and there's no room to cut spending.

KYL: Well, there's a lot of fat in the current budget. I voted no on this highway bill that everybody has talked about. And if we would simply take about a fourth of that and all of the various port projects that were in the highway bill, and redirect some of that to the Gulf region, we would have billions of dollars to help rebuild that area and, by the way, not waste money that would otherwise be spent on a lot of things that don't have much to do with rebuilding highways and bridges.

There are a lot of areas of government where we're spending far too much money. And I note that in World War II, in the Korean War and so on, we cut back substantially on government spending during those two conflicts.

To the matter of taxes -- you have to be very, very careful here, because if you raise taxes, particularly in marginal income tax rates, for example, capital gains and things of that sort, you can slow down the economy.

And, clearly, economic growth is what brings revenue in to the federal Treasury. So you don't want to hurt the economy with tax increases, which is why the president said that's the wrong way to go.

We can actually continue to maintain robust economic growth by retaining the tax rates that we have right now. And that's more important than trying to raise money in the short term with a tax increase only to see us then slide into a recession. BLITZER: But if budget deficits continue to go up in the aftermath of $200 billion, let's say, for Hurricane Katrina, another $200 billion already spent on Iraq -- maybe approaching $300 billion -- our children and grandchildren are going to be stuck paying that bill down the road.

KYL: There's a good argument that can be made that state governments and local governments which bond for capital projects and repay them over a long period of time -- because those capital projects are in existence for a long period of time -- that that same concept could be applied to the federal government.

We don't need to pay for all of the cost of something in the immediate short term. If you're going to rebuild a city and have buildings that are going to last for 60 of 70 years, it's not unrealistic to spread the cost of the repayment of that over 60 or 70 years.

So at least with respect to that kind of capital reconstruction, there is an argument that can be made that the cost of that could be spread over a couple of generations.

But nonetheless, there are going to be significant pressures. And we;re going to have to be a lot more careful about the kind of spending that we engage in, especially with regard to things that are not the necessities that the war in Iraq and this reconstruction are.

BLITZER: All right.

Senator, stand by because we have to take a quick break.

Senator Biden, hold your thought for a moment because we have a lot more to go through with both of you, including where things stand in Iraq, the John Roberts confirmation hearings.

Up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest from Germany, where voters are heading to the polls today.

Much more of our special "LATE EDITION" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We feel one of the most important things we can do here at CNN is to try to help reunite families. As a result, we will continually show you children's pictures nonstop until 11 PM Eastern tonight. If you have any information on any child who may be missing, not united with his family or her family, please call this number: 1-800-843-5678. That' 1-800-THE-LOST.

We're continuing our conversation now with Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware and Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

An interesting question in that NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Senator Biden: What should be done to help pay for the hurricane relief efforts?

Almost half, 45 percent of those who responded say, reduce the Iraq war expenditures and use that money to help the Katrina victims. What do you say about that?

BIDEN: Well, I think we have two national emergencies: one relates to our interest in Iraq and the other in the Gulf, and I don't think you can take from one to deal with the other.

I'd like to make three very quick points on this. Number one, we don't have to raise new taxes, but we don't have to go forward with further tax cuts for the wealthy. There's a $70 billion tax cut in this particular budget. Permanently eliminating the estate tax cut is a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Maybe we have to forego those for the time being.

Secondly, with regard to stalling the economy: we're going to be investing this very money we're opening in the economy. We're going to be rebuilding American cities with American contractors and American workers.

And thirdly, in terms of the cuts in the government programs that are available to be cut: they are all the things that we need. Only government can take care of the health needs, the education needs, the insurance needs, and the employment needs of these people -- these millions of people in the Gulf area that are stranded now.

So, we have what we call -- you know, we've got ourselves a conundrum here. And the point is: I don't know how you do that in going forward with these additional tax cuts and without contemplating how we're going to pay for all of this .

BLITZER: You want to quickly respond to that, Senator Kyl?

KYL: Well, I had a little bit more time earlier before the break. I just want to make the point that one reason that we are collecting about $100 billion more than we thought we were going to collect this year in federal revenues from taxes is because we have a robust economy. And we don't want to do anything to slow the economy down.

Tax increases tend to slow the economy down. So there's a delicate balance there. I think we're better off not raising taxes.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to Iraq specifically.

Senator Biden, you wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post this week.

Among other things you said this: "He," referring to the president, "must convince Americans that he is leveling with them about the situation in Iraq and that he has a coherent strategy for securing our fundamental national interests and bringing our troops home."

You raise questions about the president's credibility in dealing with Iraq. What is the specific point you're driving?

BIDEN: The specific point I'm driving at is the president says we're going to stay the course. He hasn't laid out what the plan is. He hasn't laid out what the cost would be if we lose. He hasn't even included in his budget the cost of the war in Iraq as clearly anticipated. It's costing $5 billion a month.

So my whole point here is, what is going to change in terms of strategy. This is going to change things on the ground. And we haven't heard any of that.

BLITZER: In the last few days, Senator Kyl, more than 200 Iraqis have been killed by insurgents and terror attacks, more than 600 have been wounded. The killing goes on. Today it looks awful if we just watch what's happening on the ground.

KYL: Well, that's right. Although, look at the signs of hope. We had the elections in Afghanistan today that appear to have gone well. In another month we'll have elections in Iraq.

I think the president's plan has been laid out. It is essentially to train the Iraqis so they can provide for their own security, and at such point in time as the combination of American and Iraqi troops have secured the country, then the United States can withdraw.

I agree with Senator Biden that we've got to do a much better job of explaining the alternative to the American people. What happens if we do pull out prematurely, both to the poor people in that country and also our entire foreign policy goals in that region of the country, not to mention the worldwide war on terror.

It's unthinkable we would do that, but we've not done a good enough job of explaining that alternative, and therefore, the -- why there is simply no alternative to continuing to succeed in Iraq.

BLITZER: Both of you are members of the Judiciary Committee. Let's get to the John Roberts confirmation process that we all watched unfold this week. By all accounts he did very, very well.

Listen to what Senator Orrin Hatch, one of your colleagues, Republican senator of Utah, Senator Biden, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I've never seen anybody who has done a better job of explaining himself than you have. If people can't vote for you, then I doubt they can vote for any Republican nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you going to vote to confirm him, Senator Biden.

BIDEN: I haven't made up my mind on that.

Let me tell you what I think about whether or not he answered the questions and how he came forward. He was asked a number of questions of which gave virtually gave no answers. The same questions were asked of Ginsburg.

For example, Senator Hatch asked of Justice Ginsburg, which was -- the person against whom we are judging whether he answered questions, asked him whether or not in a case involving a grandmother not being able to live with her two grandsons in the city of East Cleveland, whether she agreed with the words of Justice Powell who said no, you got an absolute right to live with your grandkids or whether he agreed with the words of Justice Rehnquist saying, no, no, no, this doesn't rise to a fundamental level.

She said when Hatch asked her that that question, "I agree with Justice Powell's statement. People have a fundamental right to do what the grandmother is doing." He wouldn't answer that question. There's repeated examples of that.

So, for me, I don't know whether he is a Justice Kennedy, whether he is a Justice Rehnquist, or whether he's going to be a Justice Scalia. And it matters to me which on that -- where on that scale he will sit in terms of my vote.

BLITZER: What about that complaint that he refused to answer a lot of these questions? We heard a lot of that in the course of his answers, Senator Kyl.

KYL: Well, we'll just have to disagree on this one. He answered more questions than any other nominee. He answered the questions fully.

The only thing he wouldn't do is get into areas that he thought might come before the court. And I think we agree that that's not something that he can ethically do or that he should do. And he fully explained why that was the case. So there was simply a difference of opinion as to how far he could go.

And I know senators are pretty clever about trying to draw him out on issues. But if he thought it was coming before the court, that's where he drew the line and said, I just can't go that far.

BLITZER: Without, Senator Biden, telling us how you're going to vote, if you haven't made up your mind yet, do you suspect within the committee there are 10 Republicans, eight Democrats? In the end it will be a straight party line vote, 10-8 in favor of confirmation?

BIDEN: I give my word I have no idea. I've not had one single senator on the committee tell me how they're going to vote on the Democratic side. It's really a matter being discussed.

But I think a lot of us are where the American people are. If you look at the polling data you guys did after Roberts testified, well over half the American people still think they want know more about what he thinks on the major issues. Every single significant issue facing the country is likely to come before the court. Every single one he avoided giving any insight into how he would approach the question.

BLITZER; We'll leave it right there. Senators, Senator Biden, Senator Kyl, thanks to both of you for joining us. We'll look forward to seeing that vote come up. It's going to be on Thursday, is that right Senator?

KYL: I believe that's correct, yes.

BLITZER: We'll make sure we watch it very, very closely. Senator Kyl, Senator Biden, thank you.

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