CNN CAPITAL GANG
Interviews With Robert Torricelli, Spence Abraham, Wyche Fowler
Aired October 20, 2001 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.
Our guest is Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thanks for coming in Bob.
SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI (D), NEW JERSEY: Thank you for having me.
SHIELDS: Good to have you.
U.S. officials confirm that 100 U.S. Rangers infiltrated Afghanistan near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar and then withdrew.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are watching as our proud men and women in uniform, both in the United States and the United Kingdom and other nations, are joining the military part of the campaign are taking the battle to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: While past and future ground operation are cloaked in secrecy, the U.S. spelled out its war aims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The military role will be over there when the Taliban and the al Qaeda are gone. Gone. I mean, that's what this is about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president is determined that when this war is done, that Afghanistan will not be territory from which one can launch and train and house and abet terrorists.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, does this now shape up as a long war?
KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well Mark, from the very beginning the president has been saying the war on terrorism is going to be a long, difficult war. The first phase is to destroy the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan. And I guess after almost two weeks of air assault, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said, the planes can't get down on the ground, can't crawl around on the ground and find who we're looking for. So we now see some special forces having been inserted and taken out.
I also -- I think it fits the mission in Afghanistan, and it fits the message. The message is: We are committing ground troops; we are committed to doing whatever it takes to destroy this network. And we'll probably see more boots on the ground before we're successful.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak, 100 Army Rangers, a great fighting unit -- but is that what's going to be required to take out the Taliban and take over Afghanistan?
ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": It doesn't seem like it. You know Mark, the military -- I've dealt with the military for a long time, and they don't like to tell the press anything. And they've really reached their peak in this war, because we don't know what's going on.
Is that a terrible thing to say for this group?
SHIELDS: Yes it is.
NOVAK: But it's truth.
But it looks as though putting a few Rangers here and a few Rangers there are not going to do it. Some of my sources indicate that the contacts with the dissident Taliban commanders by the U.S. have not been very effective. But I don't know if that is fair or not.
But I do know that these little insertions of a few special ops people are not going to -- forget about the war against terrorism, Kate, they're not going to win the war in Afghanistan. There has to be either a lot more troops or a lot more effective coordination of getting dissident Taliban commanders to defect.
SHIELDS: Bob Torricelli, one of the arguments being used for getting ground troops in at this point is that the sustained bombing is making Pakistan's hold -- leadership in Pakistan's hold on its own country more chancy as time goes by.
TORRICELLI: That's why your question, is this a long war or a short war -- we can only afford a short war. A long engagement in Afghanistan threatens the stable of the government in Pakistan, which, as an atomic power, is more important than anything we face in Afghanistan. And indeed we could destabilize other important countries in the Arabian Peninsula as well. So the answer to your question, I think, is the war against the Taliban and against bin Laden, I think, is short. I think that we're making enormous military progress. This introduction of these Rangers is the beginning. This is the Doolittle raid of the Afghan war. From here it only escalates. This will be won.
The other question, however, is: How long do we live with all of this? When we do away with the Taliban, we do away with bin Laden, we're going to be living with war against terrorism in some form of another the rest of our lives.
SHIELDS: For our younger viewers, that's General Jimmy Doolittle and the bombing on Tokyo at the outset of World War II.
NOVAK: And not so younger, too.
SHIELDS: As opposed to Doolittle and DeLay, two Republican leaders in the House.
AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think Bob Torricelli is right. I think there are even some added elements. I think this bombing campaign they want to wrap up within the next couple of weeks. Among other things, Ramadan begins in a month; they don't want to be bombing during Ramadan. The bitter Afghan winter begins.
But Bob, you're actually right, we don't -- Bob Novak -- we don't know what's going on. But I'll tell you, I think the last couple days, officials based on second-hand intelligence reports, based on some of these refugees coming in, are pretty confident that Bob Torricelli is right, this is going to be wrapped up pretty quickly. The Taliban is shaky right now. I think it could well topple within the next week or two.
Do we get bin Laden? It's no accident we're putting the special forces in southern Afghanistan. We're convinced that's where he is. To get him with the next couple of weeks is going to require a little bit of luck, but we're going to get him sooner or later.
NOVAK: I sure hope you're right. I don't think we can rely much on the Northern Alliance. In fact, they've been -- they've had some setbacks up in the north right now. They're not exactly one of the great military operations of all time.
TORRICELLI: They're not, but when the army -- the Taliban having 40,000 troops, the fact that 10,000 to 15,000 of them happen to work for the Northern Alliance suits our purposes just fine. They're there as a pressure point; it's working very well.
O'BEIRNE: And there are always defections going on in the Taliban ranks, where a whole lot of young people join because they're either shot or they join the Taliban.
HUNT: But looking at the long -- you know, after the Taliban is toppled that's, as I think the senator said, that's when it really gets tough. That's when we do all kinds of things that will be somewhat controversial. And the U.N. is going to have to be involved, the World Bank is going to have be involved. We're going to have to have nation building.
I'll tell you one of the really tough issues; one of the really tough issues is to protect whatever post-Taliban regime there is there has to be a military presence. That cannot be a U.S....
TORRICELLI: And it is a little frightening that...
HUNT: ... and hopefully it will be a Muslim presence.
TORRICELLI: ... coalition that bothered me so far was to see the reluctance of the U.N., seeing this role coming. Everybody knows where this is going. We get a military victory, this cannot be an American army in Afghanistan. Who's going to step up to the plate? And to see the U.N. already resisting is a little troublesome for me.
SHIELDS: It seems though, Bob, that what's being suggested here is that what has been branded as sort of soft-headed, bleeding-heart nation building, of actually helping people build their own country, educate their children, cure disease and ignorance is now the endorsed policy of the Bush administration.
NOVAK: I think the policy of the Bush administration is to get rid of al Qaeda and get rid of Osama bin Laden, which requires getting rid of the Taliban regime. And I think -- I don't believe they're interested in the do-goody things that you're interested in, Mark.
O'BEIRNE: I think they always recognize that that's not a bad role for the U.N., but it's a terrible role for the American military, which is what's been happening here in the '90s.
HUNT: We weren't interested in 1989 after we got rid of the Soviet puppets over there, and look what came back to bite us. Now we better be interested in this kind of stuff.
SHIELDS: Al, that point was made today on a wonderful show, "NOVAK, HUNTS & SHIELDS" by Chairman Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who made that point that our failure then had left the Taliban in its wake.
TORRICELLI: It's true of Afghanistan, it's going to be true of the Sudan, it's going to be true of a host of places. We can...
TORRICELLI: We cannot afford -- the humanitarian part of this aside, we can no longer afford to have these festering pools around the world that breed this kind of fundamentalism, this kind of extremism politically; bred in poverty and ignorance. Every place is going to start becoming our business if we're not going to have these kinds of...
NOVAK: That's a disaster, if it replaces our business...
SHIELDS: Last word, Bob Torricelli.
Bob Torricelli and the GANG will be back with anthrax shutting down the U.S. House, but not the Senate.
SHIELDS: Welcome back.
As reports of anthrax sent through the mail spread across the country, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle revealed that his own office had received a letter containing the potentially deadly bacteria. Next came this announcement from the speaker of the U.S. House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: This stuff has gotten into the ventilation system, it's going through the tunnels. It was into, you know, the system of those buildings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Two hours later they shut down the House, but not the Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: We are in business this afternoon; we're going to be in business tomorrow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: The house closure resulted in senators smirking, at least one in public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Another chapter in "Profiles in Courage."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think it was the right decision. There was a lot of information flying around; some of it was probably right, some of it was probably wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Bob, was the House decision a mistake in the war against terrorism? NOVAK: It was a big mistake. I felt badly for the speaker and for Mr. Gephardt; they had bum information. That's one of few times that I've ever seen a politician defend something because they had bad information. They usually won't admit that.
But people are very nervous; they're panicky. People are even talking about not subscribing to a newspaper because it was attacked by a -- dropping a subscription to a newspaper because it was attacked by anthrax, as if that would come off in the copies of the paper.
So the idea of the House of Representatives just bowing out, and particularly when the Senate is able to be in session in the same building, I think they look bad. But I must add that nobody knows where this anthrax thing is going -- whether this is state terrorism, who's behind it. And our investigative agencies seem to be very slow on the trigger in finding out.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt?
HUNT: I think the Senate made the right call, but I think it's a cheap shot against Denny Hastert to criticism him for it. It wasn't a 95-five call, it was a 60-40 call. And I happen to think, as I say, that Bob Torricelli and his colleagues made the right call. But it's a tough call because, Bob Novak, you're right, people don't know what's going on.
I talked to couple bioterrorist experts who said, I'm not going to criticize the House for doing that. This is far more dangerous than we thought it was just a week or so ago. I said on this show that I was convinced that these were copycats perverts doing this; I no longer think that. I think this is all tied together. It's a sophisticated operation.
TORRICELLI: The facts could have just as easily gone the other way. This weekend we could be sitting here and we would have made the wrong judgment because they found anthrax, that it was airborne, people's lives were in jeopardy. We would have been the ones who were wrong.
NOVAK: You wouldn't have been here, though.
TORRICELLI: So it probably was not a good decision; it was probably based on bad information. But it was very close call, as Al said.
O'BEIRNE: I think we've seen a dress rehearsal. It hasn't been terribly reassuring in all respects, but we've gotten some small idea of what public officials -- what the demands are going to be on them in the face of anything in the future like this.
What's troubling is it seems to me that some vacillate between empty reassurances before they have all the facts to all the alarming possibilities, which I think is what Speaker Hastert was respond to. And of course there's an advantage in the Senate. Had Speaker Hastert just gone up to a microphone and said, is there a Doctor Frist in the House -- because it seems to me Bill Frist in the Senate, told by his colleagues, has been a very reassuring figure -- a heart surgeon. He talks with the doctors at CDC all the time. And he's kept, it seems to me, his Senate colleagues very well informed, has clarified the situation. And I think Denny Hastert would benefit by having a Bill First.
SHIELDS: That was a contribution in kind to the First reelection committee in Tennessee. Let's talk about Greg Ganske in Iowa, who's running against -- but I have to say.
O'BEIRNE: ... step forward and fill the same role, maybe.
SHIELDS: I have to say that I really think the House got sandbagged on this. There had been an agreement at the breakfast with the president; they were going back to close down both the House and the Senate, and they get into the...
NOVAK: That's the House story.
SHIELDS: ... they get in the Senate caucus and some senators started saying, hey we're not going to leave, we're not going to leave, we're going stay. And then they stay; they send all the staff home. They all go in for an hour, OK; CNN's there with the cameras, there they are -- someone tells the senators how to dial "9" to get an outside line, OK...
NOVAK: I thought you man John McCain was very gracious...
SHIELDS: John McCain took a real cheap shot, I thought. I mean, there's no question it was a great laugh...
O'BEIRNE: You know, though, Mark, that the Senate side does claim that there was no deal between the houses to both close, although it seems to me that Senator Daschle is getting back to normal, and politics as normal, as we're all supposed to be doing; and maybe he's not all that unhappy, given the politics of 2004, that Dick Gephardt looked the way he did.
HUNT: I want to say Tom Daschle has handled this thing magnificently, though. I really don't think Tom Daschle was playing politics. I think he is just -- this is something that has affected him deeply, and I think he's just handled it with incredible skill.
HUNT: Can I just say one thing, Bob? You know, I think Bob Torricelli said it: We're not quite sure what any of this -- the call could go the other way.
Again, if you talk to these experts, they will tell you that their hope is that these evil people have shot their wad, this is best they have and that's it. But they're not at all convinced this isn't just the beginning. And I don't see how you can make...
NOVAK: But as of now, Al, there is a very small part of the Hart Senate Office Building which is infected. And let me say one thing: Nobody is sick. Nobody on Capitol Hill is sick from this disease.
I really do believe that it was a nervous Nellie reaction.
TORRICELLI: It was, you know...
NOVAK: It was just -- it was a bad decision.
TORRICELLI: The more I'm in this country, the more I recognize that this institution is just a reflection of the American people. The House acted, the Senate acted just like the American people did. They were divided, they were uncertain, there was a...
TORRICELLI: ... and senators, we went into that room, then, said we don't want to send a bad signal. But the fact is, the debate was all over the place.
And let me tell you something else about the atmosphere, because I saw this in my office. Remember what most of these Capitol offices are like: These are 23-year-olds and 25-year-olds. I had parents calling everybody in my office telling those kids, come home. Parents were sending tickets, they were sending money saying, get out of the there, and we were trying to keep these kids calm.
NOVAK: And 23-year-olds and 25-year-olds elsewhere in the world are on the ground in Afghanistan.
TORRICELLI: They are, and that's a fair point.
NOVAK: And these people are wringing their hands, gee, I don't want you to be in danger.
SHIELDS: Bob, I've had enough of your swaggering braggadoccio.
NOVAK: Thank you very much.
SHIELDS: I've had enough of it on this subject. We'll wait for a little more.
Let's get one thing straight: Denny Hastert and Dick Gephardt made a decision, all right. They made a decision -- there's 18,000 employees on Capitol Hill, and lot of mothers and a lot of fathers and all of rest of it. And they did detect anthrax today, Saturday in the House -- the Ford House Office Building.
HUNT: Wait a second, Rambo leaves out a point over here -- Bob Novak -- and that is that over the last two weeks there's been twice as many cases of anthrax in this country as the average per year over the last 50 years.
NOVAK: How many sick people?
HUNT: We have -- one died, Bob. One death already, and who...
NOVAK: Four sick people in the whole country.
HUNT: Fine, we average four a year for 50 years, Rambo.
SHIELDS: Yes, let's put him on the ground in Afghanistan.
SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG -- hey, go to your room -- how goes the homefront and it's leader.
SHIELDS: Welcome back. Ten days after becoming director of homeland security, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge held his first news conference. Flanked by the attorney general, the FBI director, the postmaster general, the surgeon general and other officials, Ridge was asked whether security officials would take orders from him in the event of another terrorist attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Well, there are some areas that they certainly are going to have to listen to me. If there is a gap, if there is something I think that needs to be done differently, if there is additional preventative measures I think needs to be taken, if I think we have overlooked something, I make the call.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHIELDS: Al Hunt, how goes the war on the home front?
HUNT: Mark, if we were fighting in Afghanistan with the same competence we were waging the battle on the home front, the Taliban would be marching into Pakistan tonight. I mean, it really has been dreadful. There has been a mixed message, the cabinet secretaries have been engaging in ad hoc responses, there is more confusion than there is clarity.
We all hope that Tom Ridge, a really first class guy and public servant, can be the person to straighten all of this out. But I tell you, I am worried, because I think they have set up such a bad structure -- this is a guy with 16 people working for him. And I will tell you something, he may say he makes the call, but before the call gets to him the bureaucrats at the FBI and customs, the NSC, will eat him alive. We need Tom Ridge to oversee this, and we have got to do something to make sure that he is capable of doing that.
SHIELDS: Doesn't Al Hunt makes sense, Bob Novak? NOVAK: Well, unfortunately, he does. The -- I thought that whole -- they dragged the surgeon general out who has been in Siberia for nine months, he's a hold-over from the Clinton administration, and he won't turn in his uniform or leave his office. And they brought him out for this. That was one of the most...
SHIELDS: Do you have a replacement, Bob?
NOVAK: Anybody else. I thought they were trying to use the deputy. But I thought it was a ludicrous press conference of bringing all these people in. He does not have the authority. The plain- spoken Henry Hyde at our interview earlier today said, yes, he does not have the authority, and something should be done about it. And the FBI is still not sharing its information -- again, Henry Hyde confirmed that -- with other police agencies, or with other government agencies.
And that is the real test. Can Tom Ridge tame the FBI, and does he have -- you like him a lot, but does he have the will to tame the FBI?
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, two thoughts. First of all, Tom Ridge has an extraordinarily close relationship with the president. And that seems to be the reason that we don't need a structure and he does not need the authority statutorily. I don't think that stands up for any reason. He has to leave; the next person in won't have the same relationship with the president.
And secondly, missing has been -- as Al pointed out, any sense of sort of competent sense of command, a confidence on the home front to contrast with Don Rumsfeld that he has exhibited I think and demonstrated on a daily basis on the military side. And John Ashcroft, whatever else his virtues, is not somebody who inspires either a sense -- projects a sense or command or inspires confidence.
O'BEIRNE: Is there question in this?
SHIELDS: Well, I thought I'd make an observation.
O'BEIRNE: I totally agree. This goes back to my point about this is a dress rehearsal, and we are finding out that some people are ready for prime-time, like Rudy Giuliani, I think it's fair to say the president and Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld. Others I think have to work the kinks out in their responsibilities.
I don't -- I agree with Bob and Al, I don't see how this can work. When former Governor Ridge announces that when there are disputes, I will decide -- that's just not possible. He will not be substituting his judgment on public health matters for the secretary of HHS. He won't be substitute his judgment on criminal investigation matters for the head of the FBI and he's not going to be substituting his judgment on Justice Department, INS matters for the attorney general.
I wonder whether or not instead of trying to organize at the federal level, and you do have the cabinet and government that should be doing that, whether or not he really ought to be organizing at the state and local level, be the organizing unit for the state and local governments' responses. I think that would fit better in the overall scheme.
SHIELDS: Bob Torricelli, can it work?
TORRICELLI: He is a good choice, he is a great man, but there is not a person in this town who understands the way government works who believes that can you ever get control of anything without budgetary power. The mistake here is not to go to the Congress and actually change the laws, give him authority over money and people and a direct line of responsibility. If he fails at this, we all fail. We have somehow got to change the structure.
And the other part of this, no matter how long we delay at some point this government is going to have to look back at September the 11th, we keep throwing money at the same institutions, power these same institutions of law enforcement and intelligence...
NOVAK: Ones that screwed up.
TORRICELLI: .. and we are going to -- someone is going to have to find out what went wrong here. You know, Roosevelt by this time after Pearl Harbor already had a commission meeting to find out what was wrong with military intelligence. We are acting like throwing money and more power at the same institution is going to solve it. We don't know that.
SHIELDS: Al, you know why Brother Novak has turned on Governor Ridge? And that is he came out forcefully for federal responsibility for airport safety, and that upset our good conservative friend.
NOVAK: Is that right? Are you my spokesman now?
HUNT: That's the kind of thing that right-wing idealogues better get over, this thing like not having...
NOVAK: Since I have been mischaracterized -- I am, as Kate says, for federal responsibility. I am against -- I am against aggrandizement of Democratic-controlled labor unions getting more federal employees.
HUNT: There were 366 firemen and cops who died in that World Trade Center, and most of them had union cards. And you didn't complain about their...
NOVAK: They weren't federal workers.
HUNT: You didn't complain about their union cards then, Bob.
SHIELDS: Last world, Al Hunt. We will be back with the second half of CAPITAL GANG. Energy Secretary Spence Abraham is our "Newsmaker of the Week." "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Saudi Arabia with former U.S. Ambassador Wyche Fowler, and our "Outrages of the Week," all after thanking Bob Torricelli for being with us and the latest news following these messages.
SHIELDS: Welcome back. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.
Spencer Abraham. Age: 49. Residence: Auburn Hills, Michigan and Northern Virginia. Religion: Eastern Orthodox. Harvard Law School graduate, Michigan Republican State chairman, deputy chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle. National Republican Congressional Committee co-chairman. Served one term as U.S. senator from Michigan. Named to the Bush cabinet after being defeated for reelection.
Kate O'Beirne sat down with Spencer Abraham earlier this week.
O'BEIRNE: With gas prices down and rolling blackouts in California over, why is the administration's energy bill so important now?
SPENCER ABRAHAM, ENERGY SECRETARY: It is even more important today in the wake of the tragedies of September 11 to move ahead and pass an energy security bill that gives us more domestic sources of energy, that expands the energy protection system, the energy infrastructure system, and we have a number of security steps that we need legislation to accomplish.
Without energy security, you don't have national security. Without energy security, you don't have a strong economy, so I think the arguments are even greater today than they have been during earlier times this year.
O'BEIRNE: Should we be preparing for a possible Middle East oil embargo? Is that the kind of thing we should be ready for?
ABRAHAM: Well, I don't think so, and I think the OPEC countries have done a very strong job of ensuring and making commitments to keep supply steady and stable. But obviously, all these events do have implications in the Persian Gulf. America now imports more than 50 percent of its oil, and that's why we need an energy piece of legislation, an energy security bill so that we can do more domestic energy production, so we don't have to be at the mercy, to the extent we are today, of what's going on in the rest of the world.
O'BEIRNE: President Bush has repeatedly said that we are engaged in a war on terrorism, not on Islam. There are many Arab-Americans in Michigan. Do you think the Muslims among them appreciate the distinction the president makes?
ABRAHAM: Well, I think the president's done an outstanding job of making it very clear that this is a war against terrorists and people who want to do evil things. It's not a war against Islam. It's certainly not a war against the Arab world or the Arab-American community. And I think that the community has responded well to that. There was a poll out just a few days ago that showed that Arab- Americans support the president in his actions at virtually the exact same percentages as the rest of the people in this country.
O'BEIRNE: As a senator, you have chaired an Immigration Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, where you favored fairly liberal immigration policies. Do you now think we actually do need tighter controls at the border and tighter control on foreign visitors with visas?
ABRAHAM: Well, let me first say that throughout the time I was in the Senate I worked to try to beef up and dramatically increase the number of border patrol agents we had, especially on the northern border. We actually passed legislation that Senator Jon Kyl and I worked together on to increase those numbers. And unfortunately, the Immigration and Naturalization Service did not act on that legislation to truly increase the numbers, especially on the northern border.
I think that we also, as I understand it, at the State Department and other agencies who have responsibility for visa issuance are looking at ways to expand the basis on which these temporary tourist visas or business visas can be denied based on purported or identified support for terrorism on the part of the visa applicant.
O'BEIRNE: With respect to drilling in ANWR, one of the most controversial pieces of the energy plan, how important is it that that new source of oil be available?
ABRAHAM: Well, the numbers I think speak for themselves. The average projection right now in terms of the amount of additional oil which we could derive from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be enough to offset 50 years of imports from Iraq, 10 years of imports from the entire Persian Gulf region. And we've now come up with new technologies that allow for this to be done with the most minimum impact on the environment that one can imagine.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, does Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, as a Christian Arab-American, accurately described support for the war against terrorism by Muslim Arab-Americans?
O'BEIRNE: Well, the polls of Arab-Americans showing overwhelming support for the president no doubt reflects the fact that over 70 percent of Arab-Americans are Christian. I suspect that within a much smaller Muslim population among Arab-Americans there probably -- there obviously is more concern about the distinction that the president tries to carefully make.
But what the secretary it seems to me was so frustrated about this week is that Senator Daschle has been holding up the energy bill. And they're making the case, the administration, that following the events of September 11 it's even more important, and yet somehow in the Senate they've been made to feel as though it's illegitimate to point out that now we see how -- a stark example of how important less of a dependence on foreign oil is, and still they haven't yet gotten that bill on the Senate floor.
SHIELDS: What struck me was I never realized how much effort Spencer Abraham had devoted in the Senate to beefing up border guards on the northern border to keep out those hoards from Saskatchewan and Calgary who are constantly coming to this country, Bob.
NOVAK: Mark, he's talking about -- there has been cases of terrorists coming through the Canadian, through the northern border, which is very open and very porous. I certainly agree with Kate and with Secretary Abraham on the question of energy.
But you know, I'm really a little bit worried about the Muslims, whether Arab or not, and their attitude. The local columnist for the "Washington Post," Mark Fischer, had a frightening column the other day about this Muslim school in the Washington area where these kids have very conflicted views on Osama bin Laden. And so, I don't think it's quite as happy a situation as Spencer Abraham made it out.
HUNT: Well, that may be, Bob. I still think that the vast majority of Muslim -- of Muslims in America, you know, are horrified by what happened September the 11th, and I must say I was disappointed with the immigration answer he gave. Yeah, there are problems at the northern border, but what Spence Abraham was all about when he was in the Senate was free immigration and the open immigration policy and the strength it brought to this country, and he really backtracked on that answer to you, Kate.
SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt. Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Saudi Arabia with former U.S. Ambassador Wyche Fowler.
SHIELDS: Welcome back. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Saudi Arabia. A $10 million gift to New York City by Saudi Prince Al-Walid was rejected by Mayor Rudy Giuliani because of a statement by the prince calling on the U.S. to change its policy toward Israel. Prince Al-Walid then set forth the Saudi stand on terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRINCE AL-WALID BIN TALAL, SAUDI ARABIA: This crime, this horrendous crime that took place could never be justified by any act -- by any act by anyone. As far as my statements related to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people, it's very important for the United States to acknowledge that there's a big problem in the Middle East. And for the United States to go and fight Taliban and fight bin Laden -- they have all the right to do that, and I'm backing them all the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Joining us now is former Senator Wyche Fowler of Georgia, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Clinton administration. Thanks for coming in, Wyche.
WYCHE FOWLER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: Thank you, Mark.
SHIELDS: Wyche, can Saudi Arabia legitimately be called an ally of the United States in the war against terrorism?
FOWLER: Absolutely, without any question. And for very good reason. It's for their own self interest. You recall when we lost five Americans in the bombing of the National Guard in 1995, and then 19 American servicemen in 1996 in Bahrain on the Persian Gulf, there were also many Saudis killed at that time. And also importantly, it was the first wake up call, just like our horror on the 11th, that they had home grown terrorism inside Saudi Arabia, which they had never conceived of.
So at that time, they began the discovery of cells, trying to find who their bad people were, and actually, despite many accounts to the contrary, beginning to cooperate with us very seriously behind the scenes, sharing intelligence, sharing law enforcement efforts, because they had to. They had a problem. They were Sunnis, their own people within Saudi Arabia, and that cooperation has continued as a strong ally to the president.
SHIELDS: And repeated charge recently, Sy Hersh in "New Yorker" that this -- this is an administration in Saudi Arabia, a regime that has paid protection money to Osama bin Laden, to the worst terrorist forces and just to stay away from any trouble in Saudi Arabia -- unfair?
FOWLER: I do they can it's unfair. I read Mr. Hersh's article, both of them. I think it's certainly exaggerated, to say the least. I mean, has there money been given by somebody that happened to be Saudi citizens directly to terrorists? Probably. Have we identified it? No. Has there been leakage from charitable organizations where good Muslims have given to legitimate charity organizations but have ended up in bad places? Yes.
But I mean, you know, tracking money is very, very difficult. We had the same problem in the United States remember a couple of years ago with our own charity, United Way, two years of a scandal there. And with as much money invested abroad -- in the case of Saudi Arabia, the estimates are $500 billion to $600 billion. Does some of that go to terrorists? Probably so, but the government of Saudi Arabia is firmly in our camp, is firmly anti-terrorist, because they're not going to commit their own suicide.
SHIELDS: Bob Novak.
NOVAK: Real conservatives and other friends of Israel keep pounding on Saudi Arabia. It's a corrupt regime, they say, and it's something that we just cannot maintain these ties with -- it's of no use. And that reminds me a lot on the attacks of the shah of Iran a good many years ago. And wouldn't you say that the alternative of an overthrow of the kingdom of the royal government in Saudi Arabia, we'd have about the same kind of government we have in Iran right now?
FOWLER: Well, there's a danger of that. There's no question. And it's not just the United States and the Western states that worry about the instability and the kind of crowd that would come. Most of the people who study the region think that if you had a successor government to the regime in Saudi Arabia it would be more like the Taliban, than strong, pro-Western people, as the Saudis undoubtedly are.
O'BEIRNE: It is, Bob, of course, a repressive, undemocratic regime.
But even though it appears to me that the Saudis have been more than happy to channel the opposition they have -- the people in Saudi Arabia have towards them -- to channel that kind of hatred for the royal family to the U.S. and Israel, the attitude of our U.S. consular officials apparently is not that. A third of the hijackers on September 11 were on Saudi visas. And yet we have reports as recently as this week that no changes have been made with respect to issuing visas in Saudi Arabia to permit visits to the United States.
Shouldn't we at least be tightening up the visa procedures out of Saudi Arabia, demanding interviews in order to try to prevent the kind of Saudi visitors that we had on September 11?
FOWLER: Well, I don't -- I know that all of our immigration practices, and you've discussed that earlier, are certainly under serious review. But the truth of the matter is that most of the people that are alleged to have been part of this operation, whether they had stolen passports or whether they were, themselves -- were on terrorist lists or on watch lists by our government and somehow disappeared under the radar screen.
Now, if we can find a way to keep terrorists out from any country by tightening of our process, we are all for it. But I don't think that...
O'BEIRNE: Are you surprised that no changes have been made in Saudi Arabia?
FOWLER: No, because we just have not had, you know, the trouble from Saudi Arabia. I mean, as I said earlier, bin Laden and his people, I mean, gave the warning. They attacked the house of Al Saud, they attacked American forces, they bombed us there. Everything has been coordinated to try to root this question out.
But the visa process, mostly the way it goes -- though, we should always, I'm sure, review it -- I don't think is the problem. The problem is we are a democracy, we are a free country. It's very easy to come in here. You can cross from Canada, you can fly in from Mexico. You're just not going to catch them through the normal visa process.
HUNT: Wyche, I've only been to Saudi Arabia once in my life, don't have nearly the expertise you have as a former ambassador. But I'll tell you my impression is, as Sy Hersh said, a country that's rife with corruption. It's a country where the mosque and the schools spew anti-U.S. hatred; that encourages a breeding ground for the type of people of September 11. What do we do to stop that?
FOWLER: Well again, I mean, there is -- how -- that's just too much of a statement, Al. I mean, the evidence is simply not there. We cannot accept, first of all, in democratic countries like America, that there's such a thing as dissent in Arab countries, and...
SHIELDS: I'm sorry, we've run out of time; and this is too interest to end, but I have to end it because...
FOWLER: I'll give him the long answer afterwards.
SHIELDS: All right, thanks for being with us Wyche Fowler. Thank you very much.
And the GANG will be back with "The Outrage of the Week."
SHIELDS: And now for "The Outrage of the Week."
The world may very well have changed since that terrible Tuesday, September 11. But unchanged, sadly, is a shameless pursuit of the almighty buck by hucksters who greedily seek to sell cars, houses, travel and everything else under the sun by wrapping their products in old glory and the selfless heroism of others. Talk about getting back to normal.
NOVAK: Damned capitalists.
Even during supposed bipartisanship, count on Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York to push against private enterprise with intrusive government. The senator is getting air time demanding that the Bayer company lose patent rights for Cipro, the antibiotic used against anthrax. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said other generic drugs could be used, then yesterday bowed to Schumer and said he was negotiating with Bayer to let other companies produce Cipro. Not enough for Chuck Schumer, who wants Bayer's rights undermined.
His ideological politics never ends.
SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.
O'BEIRNE: Under the double cover of Afghanistan and anthrax, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is engaging in an unprecedented stall of a president's judicial nominees. Leahy's blockade has left 108 vacancies on the federal bench. Now last year, Majority Leader Daschle thought only 76 vacancies meant justice denied. Under Chairman Leahy, only eight of President Bush's 44 nominees have been sent to the Senate floor for approval.
It's an outrage that Leader Daschle isn't demanding an end to Leahy's wartime blockade.
SHIELDS: Al Hunt.
HUNT: Mark, the Ways and Means Committee, under the guise of economic stimulus, has drafted a tax cut that provides almost no stimulus, but lots of giveaways to fat-cat contributors and corporate interests. The worst features? It's tough, but near the top would be a 15-year retroactive repeal of a provision that seeks to make sure corporations don't evade taxes. This would have the taxpayers write checks for almost $3 billion to just three companies: IBM, General Motors and General Electric.
That's the sacrifice they're willing to make in the war on terrorism.
SHIELDS: Good for you, Al.
This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. If you missed any part of this program, you can catch the replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. And be sure to tune in tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for a special -- a very special Sunday edition of the CAPITAL GANG.
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