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Hastert and Gephardt

September 20, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now, a joint Newsmaker interview with the two top leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives: The Speaker, Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois; and the Minority Leader, Richard Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri.

First, Mr. Speaker, what do you think of this announcement today from Afghanistan urging Osama bin Laden to leave the country?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think that is certainly a positive step for us. That is some of the pressure that we’ve been able to put on not only by ourselves but certainly other nations who are aligned with us and I think that is a good first step.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that, Mr. Gephardt?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I agree with the Speaker. It is better than just a no. I hope that they will encourage this to happen and will carry through and do what we’ve asked them to do.

We are trying to attack terrorism. We are not against a country. We are not against any ethnic group or religion. This is against people that practice terrorism. And we want to get them, bring them to justice in and eradicate terrorism from our country and the earth.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, but as a practical matter no matter what Afghanistan does with Osama bin Laden, were these attacks so vicious, so horrific in New York and Washington that some kind of negotiated peaceful settlement is not on the table?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I don’t think any negotiated settlement with Osama bin Laden is on the table. I think the president was very clear. That he said that he would move this country towards a position that we will get those terrorists whoever they are, wherever they’re at — and we also would not take anything easy on countries who helped harbor those criminals. And I think that’s maybe one of the reasons that Afghanistan has changed its position.

JIM LEHRER: Leader Gephardt, on the economy how concerned are you about the economy? Today the market went down another 382 points. What, how do you read the severity of what we face right now?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I don’t think we know, Jim. I think we got to give it a few days, maybe even weeks to see where we are, but we have got to deal with the problems that are obvious in front of us, we are trying to deal with an airline financial safety and security bill even this week.

We’ve worked together in a bipartisan way to do that. That industry obviously was deeply impacted by this problem and it has an effect that ripples through the whole economy. Hotels are down. Conventions are down, tourism is down, so it really has a large effect. We’re trying to help with that.

We then can look at other issue like the economy in general and if we can find a way to deal with that effectively and help with it through the tax code or through direct spending, that will help. Remember the Federal Reserve has put a lot of money in, interest rates are down, that will help. We are spending a lot of money in the recovery project and we will in this airline security bill. That will help as well. There are probably other things we need to look at as well.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, do you believe there is a need for an immediate, more general economic stimulus package?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I’ve talked with both Leader Gephardt and both leaders in the Senate. What we’ve tried to do is pull in some of the economists yesterday. We had Mr. Rubin; we had Mr. Lindsay; we had Chairman Greenspan to come in and give us an idea where the economy is and their ideas on some things that could help stimulate. Our situation is that every family in this country that works, that has some savings or usually pensions or 401Ks, it’s all based on our markets, on our securities. And we just can’t allow a freefall. What we want to do if it’s, when we find the right reason and to see this thing unravel a little bit, to get some answers what exactly is the right thing to do, we want to help stimulate the markets. We want to give people confidence in the markets. And we want to give people confidence in being consumers. That’s all part of that economic package, so we’re going to work together. We’re going to work on a bipartisan basis and bicameral to make this thing happen but we’re going to take some time and make sure we do it right.

JIM LEHRER: On airline security, Mr. Speaker, do you believe it’s the federal government’s responsibility to take that over, to fund it, and to operate it?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, on the security — I think clearly we’re going to get a report by the first of October, give us what our alternatives are, my personal ideas, I think it’s time that we take it over, that we ensure people’s security and safety when they get on an airplane. And we just can’t allow that to be passed off to somebody else’s responsibility. I think we’re going to have to do that. That is my personal opinion. But I think we will do that.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it, Mr. Gephardt?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I agree with that general view. I do think you know we’ve got to make sure the skies are safe. Right now, I would hope that we could get military police personnel on the planes.

I am urging people to think anew about this because we’ve got to get the people’s confidence to get out and fly and to move around and I think that would help do it. But I agree with the Speaker. I think we’ve got to review how this has been paid for. I don’t know what the exact balance should be. I assume that passengers should bear some of this. But the general public needs to be involved in this as well. And we mostly need to convince everyone that this will be done better than we’ve done it in the past.

One idea that is out there to is put unenterable steel doors so that the pilot’s space can never be invaded again. El-Al does that in Israel and I think we’re going to have to do that here in the United States.

JIM LEHRER: You mentioned a moment ago the direct aid to the airline. Where does that stand? How quickly do you think, you in the Senate can get some action down and how much do you think the amount will be when it’s all said and done?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: Well, first of all, we think this is justified. This industry was hurt more directly and uniquely than any other industry. Their planes were literally turned into weapons of mass destruction by these terrorists. And so they had a huge impact.

And, as I said a moment ago, it’s affecting hotels and conventions and food service, lots of other industries across the country. What we are trying to do is to compensate them for the time they were ordered on the ground by the United States government; that obviously was something beyond their control.

We are trying to open up a sensible line of credit — not to take care of problems that they caused on their own before this happened, but from the direct economic impact of what did happen. We are also trying to deal with the liability issues so that the victims and their families have an easily accessible process to deal with their needs and at the same time, we don’t have the airlines facing the prospect of not being able to buy liability insurance in the days ahead.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, how quickly do you think the Congress will act on that?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, we have hoped that we can move as quickly as tomorrow. I think it’s important that we move quickly so that first of all the airlines can fly. There is some question about cash flow — how some airlines have announced they may file bankruptcy next week. We don’t think this is an idle threat. We think this is a reality. I think our overall view is that the airlines are something of a national necessity. That is how we do business; that’s how we visit our families, that is how we go to places to relax and vacation; and we can’t allow the airlines to go down. If we do that, this country would have a hard time doing business. So we’re going to work real hard to make sure they are up, that they are secure, that people have the confidence in them that the safety is there, they can fly. But most of all we have to do what we can do to make sure they are in the air and economically viable.

JIM LEHRER: Leader Gephardt, in a more general way at a joint news conference that you and the Speaker had with other leaders of Congress this afternoon you said that this is now a different country. Flesh that out. How different is this in a more general way than the specifics that we’ve just been talking about?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: Well, Jim, we have seen the full face of terrorism. And it’s evil and it’s scary. And we have to confront it and we have to overcome it. To do that, we’re going to have to do some things differently in our country.

Let’s take a concrete example. If you go to fly, it’s going to take longer to get through the airport and airport security. You are going to have to show up a couple of hours before your flight rather than half an hour before your flight as we once could. We’re talking now here at the Capitol about closing off some streets between some of our House office buildings so that a potential truck or car bomb could not effect a terrorist attack on these buildings and on the people here.

Those are two small but concrete examples of the kinds of changes in every day life, conveniences if you will that we are all going to have to deal with in order to face this problem. And then of course there is the whole issue of the money that it’s going to cost at the federal level to prosecute this battle against terrorism, not only in the United States but all over the world. And someone asked me earlier today if it was right for the President to say we are going to end terrorism forever. Is that overstatement? Well, maybe it isn’t. You know, a little bit of terrorism is as bad as a lot of terrorism if you are involved in the impact. So we’ve got to do this. It’s a tough, complicated foe, and we’ve got to win the battle.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, do we have the will and the resources to do that do you think?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think we do. And I think that is one of the things that the President is going to talk about tonight. You know, I think he is going to have to talk about why the terrorists chose this country, a symbol of a place where people have freedom and liberty. And that’s the basis of our life. And I think he will talk about that. But I think the mindset of the American people that this isn’t something that we’re going to have 100 days of war or a bombing run on a certain area and it’s going to be won — it’s going to take a long time. We have to ferret these people out. And we have to punish them, and we have to make sure that not only this nation is free from this terrorist threat but the world is free from the terrorist threat, and we will do that.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Speaker, different country, is it a different Congress that the two of you are leading at least in the House right now, than you did 11 days ago or so after the 11th?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: We’ve seen a lot more of each other. And I think we’ve been able to work together. We’ve done a lot of things, last week we did the $40 billion appropriation. We don’t know if that’s the iceberg or the tip of the iceberg. We’ve been able to move and make sure that the President has the ability to respond. We’re working on the airline issues, working on a regular appropriation process. I think we are getting a lot of stuff done and I think that is what the American people expect us to do. And we’re not going to do anything less than that.

JIM LEHRER: Can this continue Leader Gephardt for very long, can the two of you and your colleagues continue to work together like this over the long haul to get this done?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: We have to do it. There is really no alternative. This is our job, our responsibility. I told the President yesterday that we are trying to be half as good as the American people have been in responding to this attack. I have been inspired and moved. I know the Speaker has by the heroism of the American people and their desire to fight this thing and won. And we’re just trying to be half as good as they are. We can keep this going.

Look, we are going to have disagreements. There are disagreements in our country. The reason Congress is here is to resolve conflict in the country. People’s viewpoints need to be expressed here. We’re going to continue to do that. But the first thing we have to do is to fight this terrorism. We’re going to do that — put other things aside. We’ll get back to those disagreements later.

JIM LEHRER: Speaker Hastert, in your years in Congress have you ever seen a tone, a mood like this before?

REP. DENNIS HASTERT: Well, I think it’s a great positive tone. I’ve not seen it during that period of time. I haven’t been here as long as some folks have. But I think we’ve had great cooperation on both sides of the isle and both sides of the rotunda and the President I think has done a great job in leading us and getting things down. I think you’ve seen a cooperative effort here. The Leader said this is a united government. I think it is. And we’re going to work to make sure that we get this job done.

JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.