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Gephardt: 'We need to get a bill done'

(CNN) -- The U.S. House of Representatives continues debate Wednesday about an aviation security bill. Part of the debate involves the federalization of airport security screeners, but the bill also includes provisions for improvement of airport and airplane security in general. The Senate passed a version of the bill 100-0 three weeks ago.

House minority leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) spoke with CNN's Paula Zahn Wednesday morning about the aviation security legislation.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Even though anthrax fears are keeping members of Congress out of their offices, both chambers are still in business. And tomorrow, the House takes up another major issue in the war on terrorism, aviation security. There is a big difference between the Senate and the various House versions of this legislation.

House minority leader Richard Gephardt joins us now from the White House, where he has just been meeting with the president.

Welcome back. Good to see you, sir.

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ZAHN: Good morning.

So what did the president tell you about the fate of this bill that you will be considering?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think the president will sign whatever bill we are able to send him. He obviously supports the Republican version of the bill in the House. But, if we are able to pass the Senate bill, which was passed 100-0 in the Senate, I think he would sign that bill. The main difference is, are the people doing the scanning federal law enforcement officials, or are we going to continue to contract this out to the lowest bidder?

ZAHN: As I understand it, the president successfully lobbied a number of Republicans yesterday who were sitting on the fence. How concerned are you that the Republican version of this bill might pass in the end?

GEPHARDT: Well, I'm not sure, it will be a close vote. But I think we'll get both Republican and Democratic support for making these folks federal law enforcement officials. I think people know that the system is broken, it doesn't work the way it is, we've got to change it, and making these people better trained -- better paid, frankly -- and better able to do a good job is what I think everybody really wants.

ZAHN: I know (President Bush's) White House chief of staff said over the weekend (Bush) will reluctantly sign the Democratic version if that's the version that makes it through the process. Did the president confirm that today, or is he still holding out the prospect of some type of executive order?

GEPHARDT: He has not told us that he would sign the Democratic bill that passed in the Senate. But he has said a number of times, and said again today, that he does not want to do this by executive order. He wants a bill. And that makes me believe that if we can get this bill to him -- and we could do it tomorrow night, if we could pass the Senate-passed bill -- that he would sign that legislation.

We really got to get this done. It's been seven weeks since September 11. People want to ride on airplanes, but pilots, flight attendants and passengers should not be worried about airline security. We need to take that fear away from them and the passengers.

ZAHN: We should make it clear to the American public this morning, no matter what bill passes, there are some common elements. You are going to get federal marshals on flights, you are going to get strengthened cockpit doors and you are getting other safety measures imposed, right?

GEPHARDT: That's right, and we are also going to put in new X-ray machines, so that every bag that goes in the baggage hold would be X-rayed to see if there are problems, explosives and other problems in those bags. That has not been done in the past. It should have been done a long time ago.

So there are real substantial, important improvements in both bills. We need to get a bill done; we need to get it done as quickly as possible.

ZAHN: Did the president tell you any more about this very nonspecific threat that the government shared with us two nights ago?

GEPHARDT: He gave us more information about where this information came from. I think it's obvious they do have some intelligence, that they felt important to pass along to the American people.

I know there is criticism that, you know, what can we do? Or why we are trying scare people? (But) I think that it is important when they have very credible intelligence that they try to disrupt a possible act, or throw the terrorists off, or make them delay doing something, make them worry, and of course federal law enforcement officials and local law enforcement officials are affected when those kind of announcements come. You can't do (this) often, but when it's warranted ... I think it is right thing to do. We've got to do everything we can to prevent further attacks by the terrorists.

ZAHN: So are you telling me then that the criticism coming from both sides of the aisle, coming from people like Senator McCain and Senator Biden, is unfair to the president?

GEPHARDT: Well, look, we are always going to need criticism. We are a democracy. We make better decision when we have all different viewpoints out on the table. It is just that I think if you look at the intelligence they have and you understand that we need to do everything in our power to disrupt any possible attack, that this was the sensible thing to do. It can't be overused. You've got to use it when you think it's really warranted. I just think in this case it was warranted, and we've got to try to hope that we can prevent these attacks from happening, and we need to do everything we humanly can to achieve that.

ZAHN: But, sir, do you understand the frustration of many Americans ... who are scratching their heads, saying what do you want us to do with information? We are supposed to be leading our lives.

GEPHARDT: I feel the same frustration. We are all frustrated and concerned. This is not what we would choose to have happening in our country, but we've got to overcome this. We live in a different, changed, more dangerous world, if you will. We are going to try to get rid of this danger. We need to defeat these terrorists. They are immoral. This is a lot like what Hitler represented to this country 50, 60 years ago. And you have to take it seriously, and you have to fight it, and you have to win. We are going to win this. We are going to make this country safer, and we are going to end terrorism as a human activity in our world and in our country.

ZAHN: Well, we hope that is the case. Representative Gephardt, as always, good of you to join us. We know how busy you are, and we would love to have you come back to talk us through what happens potentially if you get a vote tomorrow or the next day on this aviation bill.

GEPHARDT: Be happy to.

ZAHN: Appreciate it. Thanks so much.

GEPHARDT: Happy Halloween.


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