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Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond Taken to Local Hospital in Washington

Aired October 2, 2001 - 11:18   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: As we reported a short time ago, Republican Senator Strom Thurmond at the age of 98 has complained of some pains and has been taken to a local hospital in Washington.

CNN's Candy Crowley, who watches the Senate as closely as anyone, with us now in our bureau in Washington to bring us up to date.

This man has one heck of a history, does he not, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He really does. There is nobody like Strom Thurmond. He is one of those sort of original, break-the-mold kind of people. He's been a Dixiecrat, he's been a Democrat, he's been. He's now a Republican.

We should say that he has had bouts before. When he was 98 years old, there have been times before where he's been hospitalized before, and he's come out at this point. We have no reason to believe that this isn't also the case this time.

But this is a very colorful man who has very deep southern roots and has been one of the real characters in the Senate.

HEMMER: At 98, Candy, what keeps him hanging on?

CROWLEY: You know, one of the -- an unofficial biography was written about Strom Thurmond. It said that Strom Thurmond wants to be 100 years old and look in the mirror and see a U.S. senator. He loves the Senate. He loves being here. I mean, it's really his life. I mean, it's where he has spent since the '54 his entire professional life. He loves it here. He is the longest-serving U.S. senator. He is the oldest U.S. senator. He's broke a lot of records, and I think that's probably right. He wants to turn 100, and look in mirror and see U.S. Senator.

HEMMER: Yes, I think if you look at our screen, one of the more interesting thing him is that statistic, or that fact right there: Thurmond landed in Normandy on D-Day with the 82nd airborne. That is one heck of a thing to say about anyone, huh, Candy?

CROWLEY: That, and he volunteered to do it. He volunteered to go to Normandy, came in with the 82nd airborne, went behind enemy lines. He was wounded. He got a purple heart. You know, so he has a past that really runs the gamut of the history of the latter part of the last century. And he was a participant; you know, he wasn't just an observer.

You know, he came as a politician born of southern politics in the late '40s. It was southern state's right, segregationist, and yet as his state has moved, as the country has moved, Strom's politics have changed. He has never been one to -- he has never been able to win over the black vote in his native South Carolina, which is an increasingly very powerful constituency. But he the first member of his delegation in South Carolina to hire a black staffer way back when. So he's been a controversial figure. He's had a lot of things in history. He is the person who gave the longest filibuster in Senate history, and it was on civil right legislation, so a lot of people remember him for that.

He certainly has changed with the times, but he has led a career that has not just seen a lot of history, participated in a lot of history.

HEMMER: One might wonder after answer what he has not done, Candy.

Candy Crowley, many thanks to you.

We'll go back up to the Hill now get an update on the condition of Strom Thurmond.

Jonathan Karl tracking that with staff members for the South Carolina.

Jonathan, hello. What have you gathered?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, what we know is that the senator has been take taken away. His staff said they believe he was going to the Walter Reed Medical Center, which is where he has been treated in the past.

Strom Thurmond, we were told by those that were in the chamber when this happened, was at his desk for the entire time, would appeared to have lost consciousness. His staff says, though, that they believe that he did maintain consciousness throughout, but he was looking so out of it, that when one person, we are told, went up to take his pulse, they actually had a hard time finding his pulse.

When word spread, the word first spread that he had actually collapsed into a meeting of Republicans just off the floor, Dr. Frist, Bill Frist, senator from Tennessee, ran right into the floor. He is a heart surgeon, he is a doctor, who has actually helped Strom Thurmond in the past. He went and helped him get to -- we're told he snapped to quite soon. He came to, and pretty soon we're actually told that he looked up to Dr. Frist when he came to, and said, "You making all this fuss over me." That's what we are told from one of Frist staffers that that's what Strom Thurmond said to Frist as he was being treated there on the floor of the United States Senate, taken out in wheelchair, waving as he went out, talking and brought to the medical center, and we're waiting for the latest.

HEMMER: And, Jonathan, certainly, politics in a time like this, has really within put on the sidelines, but knowing the Senate is still so amazingly close in numbers between Republicans and Democrats, how much attention is still given to that in Washington?

KARL: Well, you know, there were a lot of people basically wanting to take Strom Thurmond's pulse every day when this Senate was sworn in. It was sworn in, you remember, in January, as a 50/50 Senate with Republicans maintaining control simply because they had the vote of the vice president, the tie-breaking vote of the vice president.

So if Strom Thurmond were to have to leave the Senate, there's a Democratic governor in South Carolina; that Democratic governor would be appointing the senator to replace him. So at that point, there was a lot of attention put on Strom Thurmond's health, and he was in poor health in the beginning of the year.

But of course, since then, Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched from the Republican Party to become an independent. The Democrats took control over the U.S. senate. So no longer does the control depend of the United States Senate depend solely on Strom Thurmond's heartbeat.

Nevertheless, there's a very tightly, very closely divided Senate. Strom Thurmond has been a fixture here. As Candy Crowley said, he was Elected 1954, sworn-in in 1955, the longest-serving U.S. senator in American history.

Still, an important part of that Republican coalition, with that, you know, majority so, so slim. One other thing you want to remember about Strom Thurmond, he actually ran for president against Harry Truman in 1948, as an independent, third-party Dixiecrat candidate.

HEMMER: The list just keeps going and going.

Jonathan, thanks to you.

Jonathan Karl, also Candy Crowley.




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