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Reviewing the Agenda

January 31, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: Now for some perspective on President Bush’s speech, his agenda, and what lies ahead we’re joined by four former Senators: two Democrats, Dale Bumpers of Arkansas and Sam Nunn of Georgia, and two Republicans, Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming, and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire.

Welcome, gentlemen.

As the president himself said, the nation is confronting both a war and a recession. Senator Wallop, how do you think he did, sort of laying out a game plan and a vision for dealing with that?

FORMER SEN. MALCOLM WALLOP (R-WYO.): Well, I think clearly on the continuing war against terrorism it was very explicit and very clear, increases in funding for military and for their equipment and pay raises, and the implication that it isn’t going to be a military war entirely – I mean, it was clear that they had in mind that we would use other means, economic, subversive and what not.

And the economy is the hardest thing to deal with, but I think he dealt with it pretty fairly, in especially asking the Senate of the United States to pass the economic stimulus package that both the House and a majority of senators would like to see passed.

MARGARET WARNER: What did you see, Senator Bumpers, as you watched that speech in terms of the leader that he is?

FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS (D-ARIZ): Well, he’s improved dramatically of course since last year at the same time. And he sold the American people. He didn’t really have to deliver a State of the Union address to bring the people along and approve his conduct with the war in Afghanistan.

I think everybody’s onboard on that, Democrats, all Americans. And nobody quarrels with that.

But I would say this: When it comes to the domestic agenda, the strength of this nation is not just how strong we are militarily, how many tanks and planes and guns we have; the strength of this nation also goes to whether our people are working, how many people are in poverty, what are we doing about health insurance for the millions of children in this country that aren’t covered, and the millions of elderly who really do have to make a choice every day between eating and drugs, prescription drugs. Those things go to the heart of the strength of the nation, too.

And so my concern is, when we passed the tax bill last spring — I hate to go back and rehash this, but when we passed the tax cut last spring, 70 percent of which went to the wealthiest 5 percent of the people in this country and we’re now staggered… His budget that he’s getting ready to submit will probably show $106 billion deficit this year, in September. And that means we’re literally going to be transferring Social Security funds into the tax cut for the wealthiest people in the country. I take strong exception to that.

MARGARET WARNER: What did you think of his message, his agenda?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN (R-NH): I think that the central point that the American people, I hope, got in that speech was that this administration, from the president through his entire cabinet, have a recurrent message to the American people: This is not going to be easy, it’s not going to be short, and with all due respect to those critics who don’t believe he’s spent enough time on economic policy during the speech, I believe that is a vital message if the president is to keep the support of the American people over what is going to be a very long haul.

We heard about warnings today against nuclear power plants — the Secretary of Defense talking about other kinds of terrorist activity. As you know, Margaret, from the commission that I headed with Senator Hart, we predicted that there would be these events and there will be more.

And I think there was a very deliberate decision in the White House that the centerpiece of this speech and the follow-up around the country would be that the president would keep telling the American people, “you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to be strong, this is going to take a while, a very long time in some instances.”

And I agree that that’s a very important message because, of course, if you lost the support of the American people for the long-term fight against terrorism, then we’ve really got a problem. Obviously, the economy is important, and I believe that will be dealt with.

And I agree with Senator Bumpers. There are other issues that must be addressed. But the central issue facing this president right now is to keep the American people focused on his war on terrorism, and that was the purpose of the speech. I thought it was a splendid speech.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Nunn, the right focus as you saw it?

FORMER SEN. SAM NUNN (D-GA): I agree with Senator Rudman’s emphasis on the president’s words of caution to the American people not to believe this is going to be quick or easy, and he even said that it may not be finished on his watch. And I think that message has got to be repeated. I think the president did a good job of that. Further, I think he did a good job of appealing across the aisle.

A lot of these State of the Union speeches, you basically, if you’re a president, you bait the other party, make it awkward for them not to applaud. I didn’t see much of that. I think the president has led the country well. I think we’re united.

I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on our allies because al-Qaida is, in some 40, 50 countries around the globe, and I think we’re going to have to have partnerships all over the globe, different kinds of partnerships.

I particularly believe we’re going to have to have partnership with Russia because that’s where weapons of mass destruction and materials are, and I think that a U.S.-Russian partnership can help lead the world to secure nuclear weapons and materials and embark on a real effort to get biological materials under control and to deal with the know-how.

That’s going to be a very important ingredient, keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorist groups. I think is our number one security challenge.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Nunn, did you agree with what he did… What did you make of what he did essentially equating nations that sponsor terror and nations that are seeking weapons of mass destruction?

FORMER SEN. SAM NUNN (D-GA): I think that’s exactly the right message. And I agree with Bush’s concept on that. I would agree more with the way he approached it today to make it generic and let the slipper fit whatever shoe it really fits rather than singling out countries, because it’s going to make the diplomacy and all of that much more difficult.

But certainly I would agree with the concept. I believe that some of the words, particularly in singling out individual countries, may be out in front of our diplomatic plans and our military plans, and those plans are going to have to be, I think, put in play, particularly with countries like South Korea and Japan and countries in Europe and our Russian and Chinese friends. All of that has got to be emphasized, and we’ve got to have a sequence. I think the proper priority is al-Qaida.

That means we have to have support all over the globe. And then we can decide on some of the other countries, what we do then, because it’s going to take a lot of tools and not simply military tools.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Wallop, there were expressions of some alarm from overseas today that President Bush had been somehow threatening to act preemptively and unilaterally. Did that come through to you?

FORMER SEN. MALCOLM WALLOP (R-WYO): No, but I mean it’s not surprising that Europeans do that. They said that before we went to the war… conducted the war in Afghanistan. Europe has not had a century of courage. I mean, face it, they have given us, with their standoffishness, they’ve given us Mussolini, they’ve given Hitler, they’ve given us Marx, they’ve given us all kinds of people. And basically they have relied on the United States to come in.

I think what you’re seeing now is that they’re reacting very positively to the fact that Bush not only says something; he follows through with it and accomplishes it. So you will hear these left-wing… Because Europe is essentially a socialist world now. You will hear those complaints, but you won’t see any action taken to stop them.

MARGARET WARNER: But Senator Bumpers, even Bill Crystal, who we would all agree, I think, is a conservative writer, said today he took it as a declaration of a new foreign policy in terms of, again, this equating weapons of mass destruction and states that sponsor terror and sort of an implicit threat, at least, to act preemptively.

FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS (D-ARIZ): Well, first, Margaret, you know, I’ve been reading a series in The Post about everything that went into the decision to go into Afghanistan after 9/11.

And Secretary Powell, when the issue of Iraq, Iran and North Korea came up, Secretary Powell voiced considerable skepticism, not to say we shouldn’t do this, but to say we ought to proceed with some caution.

One of the best things to come out of all this is international cooperation. It’s been absolutely unbelievable. And one of the really great things is I think for the first time in modern history, we have an opportunity to establish a durable relationship with Russia. And we ought not to squander that.

And so even in this country, the FBI and the CIA are talking to each other for the first time that anybody can remember. Those are all real positives. And so far as I can tell you that this international cooperation that we are enjoying right now, when the President just sort of unilaterally throws out Iran, Iraq and North Korea and scares a lot of people, particularly the Europeans, you know, we can lose one of the biggest assets that we’ve had out of this. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but if we’re going to do anything, we need to act on really conclusive information that we have, and then based on that massive… weapons of mass destruction that may be proliferated to terrorists, we don’t have any choice but to go in.

But we need to proceed with some caution, and we certainly need to consult with the Europeans.

MARGARET WARNER: So how did you read him, Senator Rudman? He followed it up today by saying and we all saw it, that these states are to get their house in order. What’s he really saying? What’s he committing the U.S. to?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN (R-NH): I agree with him completely and I’ll tell you why. Sure, we have to worry about coalitions, but when push comes to shove, the coalitions will be there.

If the threat is there, I mean let’s just focus on one country, Iraq. Iraq has been working on weapons of mass destruction for years. That’s not intelligence; that’s public knowledge. They threw the UN inspectors out. We don’t know what they’re doing in there. We do know this, that if they get weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear and they can put them in the hands of a terrorist organization, we’re going to face a disaster in this country unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

And what the president is saying, that if we are going to continue working on finding out what you’re doing, and if you’re doing these things, look out. And that’s the right message.

MARGARET WARNER: Before we end tonight I’d like to get all four of you on the other big theme, which he’s really emphasized on the road this week is he’s called to mobilize civilian Americans through all different ways, expanded Peace corps and Senior Corps and a new civilian corps.

Senator Nunn, what did you think of that?

FORMER SEN. SAM NUNN (D-GA): I give it three cheers. I think it’s the right direction. I favor myself tying national service to student loans, so that you basically enjoy the support of the taxpayers if you have served the community.

But the president is has expanded the Americorps concept. I applaud that. I think the Peace Corps needs to be expanded. I applaud that.

And I would like to see us expand into a health corps as part of the Peace Corps where we basically help people in particularly the third world countries to enjoy a much better standard of health. I think that’s enormously important.

So I’m with the president 100 percent on this one.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Wallop?

FORMER SEN. MALCOM WALLOP (R-WYO): I loved it, and I think it’s there. I think the president tapped it but I think the country saw it with the reaction to the World Trade Towers. It was a wonderful thing, and the country will respond very positively.

MARGARET WARNER: And do you think it sort of satisfies the American need to contribute something?

FORMER SEN. MALCOM WALLOP (R-WYO): Oh, yeah. I mean you can see the reaction of the audience, the seniors and others. I mean you’ve got Maine lobstermen helping the Coast Guard. This is a country that volunteers.

FORMER SEN. DALE BUMPERS (D-ARIZ): I couldn’t agree more. That’s the one thing the president said last night that I… Well, I agreed a lot with what he said, about but I certainly agreed with, that that to tap that tremendous reservoir of good will and patriotism right now and saying, “help your neighbor,” how can you improve on that?

MARGARET WARNER: And do you think that even Republicans, Senator Rudman, who in the past have been kind of cool toward some of these programs, that Sept. 11 changed that and there’s going to be support for all of this?

FORMER SEN. WARREN RUDMAN (R-NH): There is no question. And I particularly look at homeland security. If we have disasters in this country, we are going to need trained people far beyond what we have in our police forces, our fire departments, our emergency medical technicians. There is a huge reservoir of Americans who want to help their fellow citizens, and I think it really was a… It was a ten-strike.

It was one of the most, I thought, moving parts of the speech.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Senators, all four, former Senators, all four, thank you all.