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Interview with Robin Hayes and Robert Menendez

Aired October 31, 2001 - 19:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think our system right now stinks. It is an old system. It is a system that has not been improved in the way it should be improved. But you can't do it by federalizing everybody, and saying that solves the problem.


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, would you feel safer if the workers who screened passengers and baggage at airports were federal employees?


Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE, and another over which that rosy glow of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill has fallen apart: Airport security. Both Republicans and Democrats agree on putting armed marshals on many flights, and on making cockpit doors more secure. The big sticking point is what to do about airport security guards. You know, those hot shots who screen your luggage?

Most Democrats say private contractors are doing such a lousy job, the responsibility should be given to federal employees. Most Republicans say that's just an excuse for building a bigger federal government. The Senate's already voted, 100 to zip, in favor of federal workers. The House votes tomorrow, but the debate starts right here tonight on CROSSFIRE, between two members of the Aviation Subcommittee: Republican Robin Hayes of North Carolina, and Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey -- Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Congressman Menendez, let me ask you a question that was stated in an editorial in the "Atlanta Constitution," not a conservative paper. Why on earth would we feel more comfortable at the prospect of government being in charge of the screening?

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ), AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE: The private sector has failed us. The system -- the status quo which Republicans want to continue to keep is, in essence, what gave us, in part, the consequences of September 11. And we just can't have that. This is more important to be able to get the national security of our air industry, in the minds of the people who have said in poll and poll again, we want it to federalized. PRESS: Congressman Hayes, I think my security is as important as your security. If I go over here to the Capitol building, you have federal employees protecting access to the building you work in. Why shouldn't I have federal employees protecting access to the planes I fly in?

ROBIN HAYES (R-NC), AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE: I want you to have the most security that you possibly can, Bill. The pilot flying the plane has a license from the federal government, but he is not a federal employee. That system works great. We want the most security the quickest we possibly can and we think there is a better way to do it than simply federalizing. The status quo kind of fits my friend Bob on the other side much more than it does me.

NOVAK: Robert Menendez, I think there is another reason for wanting the federal employees and it was stated on "Meet The Press" Sunday by the majority leader of the House, Dick Armey. Let's listen to him.


REP. RICHARD ARMEY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: What the Democrats are pushing for here is that Congress write a law that says everybody that is screening (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the airports must be a federal employee and thereby, a member of the union, a federal union, that happens also to be their most generous single contributor to their campaign. Thirty thousand new dues-paying members to that campaign finance instrument.


NOVAK: Isn't that what it is all about? That you fellows want to have the first big increase in federal government employees since Lyndon Johnson, members of AFSCME. Down the line Democratic voters, it is all politics, isn't it?

MENENDEZ: That's an absolute shame, from both the majority leader and even your question that in fact, we would say that our effort here just to get more union members. You know, the people who we hailed as heroes on September 11, firefighters, police officers, the pilots that flew those planes, the flight attendants. They are all unionized. Were they less heroes because they were unionized?

Many of the people who work around this capital who are federal employees, they are unionized. Do we seek to not go ahead and have those services? It's OK to have the Capitol police around the Capitol, a federal entity. It's OK to preserve our borders in this country with the Coast Guard and the border patrol, all federal entities. But when come to the safety of the skies in this country, we say, no, we can't do that.

is not even a legitimate issue and shame on those who would suggest that unionizing is what we seek to do, when we believe that is federal law enforcement that needs to be taking over the airport and the airline security.

NOVAK: That begs the question of whether you really do relish the idea of all those additional AFSCME members.

MENENDEZ: ... that those people right now could be unionized and many, who are all being privately contracted, are often unionized themselves, so what is the issue? That is a red herring. That is just simply the majority in the House and Republican leadership saying you know what, we want to preserve those private contractors so they can keep their contracts (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that have failed us.

NOVAK: Isn't it true that if you had everyone of the baggage screeners on September 11 who were government workers belonging to a federal union, not one of the 5,000 lives -- 6,000 lives would have been saved?

MENENDEZ: I wouldn't say that, Bob, because it is not just making them federal employees...

NOVAK: Who's life would have been saved?

MENENDEZ: We are talking about people who would be trained, people who would be qualified, people who would have the sharing, hopefully, of intelligence that would more likely be given to a federal entity providing for security at airports than some private security company. We don't need rent-a-cop at the airports.

NOVAK: What life would have been saved on September 11 because of that? Name one -- name one.

MENENDEZ: If we had the type of screening and the type of training...




MENENDEZ: ... those items getting on the plane in the first place. PRESS: Let me suggest what is really going on, Congressman Hayes, here, which is not that the Democrats are trying to unionize, but if you read "The Wall Street Journal" this morning and have listened to what minority leader Dick Gephardt says, you guys are just bending over for the big business lobbyists who are representing these private companies that are running airport security. Let's listen to Mr. Gephardt first.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: What is going on here is the companies that have these contracts, the lowest bidders, don't want to give up the contracts and so they hired expensive Washington lobbyists to come lobby the administration and the Congress so they can hang on to their contracts. Well they failed their contracts and it's time to put them out of the their contracts and get federal law enforcement to do this job!


PRESS: Isn't that it? Once again, you are doing what big business wants in return for big business bucks?

HAYES: The issue we need remember is security for the flying public. What we can do to get the most security as quickly as possible is what we are working very, very hard to do. There are many examples where the best security is provided by partnership between government and the private sector. It's not about low bidder. We all agree that the present system not only is flawed but it is broken.

The question then becomes, how do we fix it as quickly as possible and provide the security the American people deserve.

PRESS: All right. But as Congressman Menendez said, you are talking about national security. And at national security who do we have? We have the Coast Guard -- federal employees; the Marines -- federal employees --we have got the CIA, we have got the FBI, go down the list. You have the INS, you have the border patrol, you have customs.

They are all federal employees. Your fellow Republican, Senator John McCain says that law enforcement is a government function. Why make an exception for the airport screeners? It doesn't make any sense.

HAYES: Let me remind you that the terrorists that entered the country came in through the INS, federal employees. That is not guaranteed protection against terrorism. What we wants to do is make sure that the best possible system that we can create, carefully looking at the problem, filling in the loopholes and the Senate bill has some serious problems in it.

There have been a lot of negotiations, many hours Bob and I spent in the aviation subcommittee finding out where the problems are, identifying solutions. And my position very clearly says, take the best of both worlds, cooperate, work together, federalize the system as far as standards like the pilots, like mechanics. Use that standard, tough enforcement, high standards, clear standards...

MENENDEZ: We have standards for these private companies and they failed time and time again. Most recently one of the largest companies in the nation that does this ended up getting fined I think, over $1 million And guess what? They went back recently to violating the very standards that you suggest should be federalized.

So, my colleague, I think the problem here not just federalizing a standard but actually getting people with the quality necessary in order to produce the security we want. Your own station, CNN, had poll, 77 percent of Americans said that they wanted the federal government to run this system. And there isn't enough money -- you and I probably voted, I know I voted, I'm sure you voted, for the airline industry to get bailed out because it's so important in our commerce.

But the fact of the matter is, there isn't enough money in the federal Treasury if we can't get people flying on those airplanes. And we can't get do that unless they are convinced that their security is provided for and that is not going to happen unless there's federalization.

HAYES: What Mr. Young's bill does is again, take...

NOVAK: This is a Republican bill.

HAYES: There is a very serious flaw and the airlines should not be providing security because of the cost constraints. Everybody agrees that's a mistake. So the fix is, take the federal standards, use the enforcement. Take the privileges away if they don't perform, get away from the low-bid shootout as Secretary Mineta says and you fix the problem quicker and do a better job.

NOVAK: Let me raise an example of the standard that Mr. Hayes is talking about. In Europe, in the 1970s when you had the government doing the screening, all over Europe, had 31 hijackings. In the '90s when it was privatized and 85, 90 percent of Europe is privatized, you had four hijackings. It works in Europe, it works in Israel, when you have strong federal standards with private employees.

MENENDEZ: With Israel, Bob, as a matter of fact Israel, I think that is a poor example for your argument, Israel has the safest airline in the country...

NOVAK: Those are not government workers, those are privatized.

MENENDEZ: Yes, it is. It is government employees on El-Al. And that's and they are the safest airline...

NOVAK: Well, El-Al is a separate corporation.

MENENDEZ: But they are the safest airline in the nation and their airport security system is done not by private citizens, not by private citizens, not by private companies, but by government employees.

NOVAK: What do you say about the European example?

MENENDEZ: The European example is a poor example because fist of all, just look at the recent newspaper articles in October of this year, this month, in both England and in other places talking about lapses in their security. And not to mention that we have an incredible air -- aviation system that is not comparable to any individual company.

NOVAK: All right, we are going to take a break pretty soon. But I want one of your close friends, the House majority whip Tom Delay, to give you another argument.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: We asked the FAA five years ago to improve security rules for the airports in this country and they have taken five years to do nothing. Can you imagine what it is going to be to hire and train 28,000 federal employees when it takes three months to hire one employee? This transition could take forever.


NOVAK: What is your answer to that?

MENENDEZ: The fact of the matter is, is that my good friend, the majority whip, is a big proponent of more border patrol agents. Guess what, they are federal...

NOVAK: No -- I -- answer is -- not...


MENENDEZ: That is the answer. He is saying that because they are going to be federal employees they can't be trained with the rapidity necessary. That's absolutely false. I would make the same argument to him when he asked for more border patrol. Those are federal agents.

The FAA has also had some great failures here. But that is the same system that Republicans want to use to provide for us the security, that that are going to set the standards, but they...


NOVAK: Do you want to get in, quickly, Mr. Hayes.

HAYES: That is simply not true, Bob. The El-Al security people and the former chief was in our hearing. They had civilians and the point he made was you must be able to fire these people immediately when they make a mistake and...

MENENDEZ: And under the Senate bill it passed 100-0 with 49 Republicans voting for it. The attorney general can fire them just like that.

NOVAK: We have to take a break. And when we come back we will ask the Congressmen from the aviation subcommittee why we have such long lines. Are they necessary at the airports to protect Americans from hijackers?



REP. JAMES OBERSTAR (D), MINNESOTA: Ten days ago we had 60 Republican votes. But since then, arms have been twisted out their sockets to vote against it. And if those members had been allowed to vote their conscience and their constituents', we would win overwhelmingly.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. George W. Bush is the commander-in-chief, fighting the war against terrorism. But no president can ignore Congress forever. And this week, the president has been lobbying to get enough votes to pass his version of an airport security bill when it comes up in the House tomorrow.

We're talking to two members of the House Aviation Subcommittee: Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who wants government workers to screen airline baggage; and Republican Robin Hayes of North Carolina, who wants government-regulated private employees -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Congressman Hayes, secretary of transportation, Norm Mineta, is a good friend of mine, he is a good Democrat. I know he knows better, but since he is part of the administration, he has to support what the House Republicans are asking for. But yesterday he gave a speech in which he talked about some of the lapses in security that have happened since September 11, when these private security firms if they had any sense would be doing a better job. In Atlanta, and in New Orleans people got on board planes with guns in their possession, never caught.

There was, just right here at Dulles, there was a guy who got onboard a plane with a knife inside of his shoe, never caught. And then Secretary Mineta said what he did about that. You know what he did about it? He asked the FAA to send more federal agents to those airports to make sure they were doing a good job. Doesn't that prove that is the answer? If you want the job done you put the pros there that you know are going to do the job.

HAYES: Put the best people on the job that you can find in history, shows you that a combination of private sector and federalization works best. The example of the federal courthouse where U.S. marshals are deputized, working for private companies such as Wells Fargo. These are the people who deal with criminals, terrorists, and others as a routine matter of course. This is a system I think at its best that I envision for the American flying public, gives them the maximum security, it makes common sense, you do it quicker, you get the job done.

PRESS: A lot of those phony arguments were made in the United States Senate which voted, as we pointed out earlier, 100-0 for the bill that includes making airport security guards federal employees. The last time I checked, that means at least 49 Republicans voted for it. I would like you to listen to one of your Republican colleagues in the House, what a courageous Greg Ganske from Iowa had to say about that Senate vote. Please listen up.


REP. GREG GANSKE (R), IOWA: What do Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Paul Wellstone have in common? What do Jesse Helms and Ted Kennedy have in common? Along with every single one of their colleagues in the Senate, they agree that protecting the safety of safety of American citizens at airports and in the skies comes before partisanship. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: So, are you saying that Trent Lott and Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jesse Helms are -- have suddenly become liberals, or that they are just misinformed? Which is it?

HAYES: They are saying that we all agree the system is flawed and broken. In their haste to do something they created a bill that has some serious holes in it.

PRESS: So they didn't know what they were doing?

HAYES: If you use the Senate bill as an example, they looked at certain areas and moved quickly to provide some security. But with further time and consideration, you find a hole that under the Senate bill, the persons who crashed into the World Trade Center came through the Portland, Maine Airport. Under the Senate bill they would not have been federal employees.

PRESS: Are you accusing them of not doing their homework?

HAYES: I'm saying that they could have been more thorough. And some of the problems that were created by being too hasty will now be solved because the House will present a bill that will go into conference where the holes in the Senate bill can be fixed. And if there are problems with House bill, it will be blended together. And American security will be a result of this process.

MENENDEZ: It seems that we were thorough when we took three days to bail out the airplane industry. Seven weeks later, to suggest that we haven't been thorough, that the Senate wasn't thorough, I think the Senate was very thorough.

And I think, in fact, they have a good bill. And that's why it passed 100-0. That's the essence of bipartisanship: when you can get 100 members, almost evenly divided, to agree that this is the right course of events.

NOVAK: Congressman Menendez, there are things in this bill that everybody agrees on: door locks for the cockpits so you can't get in at the pilot; air marshals -- a lot of things. Why are the Democrats obsessing on 28,000 additional federal employees when you agree on so much? Why is Dick Gephardt talking like this is the end of the world if you don't get all these federal union members in there?

MENENDEZ: It has nothing to do with federal union members. It has everything to do, Bob, with looking in the eyes of the families of the victims on September 11 and being able to say to them that we are going to vote for a system that is going to ensure that the tragedy and the anguish that they went through will never happen again to any American.

We can't do that on the cheap. We can't do that with individuals who just wave a magic wand and take all those low-income employees, with no training, no law enforcement background, and federalize them. It hasn't been done to date. It's unlikely to be done. And just putting somebody there and saying, "We are going to oversee them," that's not going to improve the system. And it's not going to help us in the commerce of this country to get the airline industry up and running and get those seats filled.

NOVAK: All right, on that point, and getting away from the federal employee question for a moment, everybody says that we have to get the airline industry going for the efficiency of the country, for the economy. And you have to have the people who ride on airplanes want to go on them.

Now, I don't know how you get up to New Jersey back and forth. I don't know whether you take a car or a train. How do you get there?

MENENDEZ: Well, Since Washington National opened up again, I have been flying.

NOVAK: All right.

I don't know -- Washington National -- Reagan National is a -- is deserted. But I don't know -- at the other airports around this country, there are huge lines. It takes 40 minutes, an hour to get in. Do you really think that which discourages air travel is necessary to achieve security?

MENENDEZ: Well, I think we are going to continue to find ways to make sure that we have the utmost security with the greatest ease. But, look, we live in a new era since September 11. And there are going to be some things that Americans are going to find themselves living under very difficult and different circumstances than they were before September 11.

NOVAK: So -- but they're going to have to live with these long lines?

MENENDEZ: I think we can do much better. But to believe that you are just going to ease through the process that used to happen before is to ensure that, God forbid, we have another incident like we had September 11. No American wants that.

PRESS: I want to flip that question to you, Congressman Hayes. You have got, again, a Senate -- on this bill -- a Senate that voted 100-0. You have got 82 percent of the American people that support having airport security federalized.

You are the ones -- you Republicans are the ones that are holding it up because you are insisting that you leave this business in the hands of the private contractors who screwed it up so badly. Aren't you the ones who are putting party politics above public safety?

HAYES: Absolutely not. Status quo helps my friend Bob and the other side far better than it helps us.

PRESS: But it doesn't help the public. It doesn't help the public. Isn't that the point?

(CROSSTALK) HAYES: How do you help the public the best and the quickest? And you use a combination of federalization, which we all agree on. The federal government sets the standard. They make sure that the enforcement is there, just like the pilots, just like mechanics, who maintain the aircraft. This is a system that has shown, time and time again, the most efficient, the most effective and the quickest way to get job done.

We pay much more respect to the victims, for whom we all feel absolutely horrible for their families, by putting a bill out there that provides security in the future, not window dressing and not simply...

MENENDEZ: Federalization is more than just creating a standard, from our view. Federalization is by having a law enforcement work force that is going to guarantee the nation's airline security.


HAYES: Not true, Bob. You want to take the same people and put a federal uniform on them


MENENDEZ: No, I don't want to do that. That's not what I want to do at all. That's what you all want to do and you want to call it something else.

PRESS: Just quickly, I want to move to another point that I think is missing in your bill. And that is about what happens to luggage. Even after Pan Am 103 and that bomb that blew up on that plane inside of some luggage, I read today only 5 percent of the luggage in this country that is checked is screened for explosives before it goes on board planes. And your bill -- neither bill does anything at all about that.

Isn't that just an obvious weakness in both pieces of legislation? And why don't do you something?

HAYES: We are in agreement on that. And we are trying to work as quickly as we can. Norm Mineta again spoke this morning. You have to be able to detect nitrates to detect explosives. There is only one company at this point in time who can do that. We are moving quickly as we can to make sure, as he said, on his watch this would not happen again. We want to screen every single bag. We have to have the equipment. We have to have the place to get the job done.

NOVAK: One quick question before we leave: My fellow columnist, Bill Raspberry, told the other day that they made him throw away his cigar clipper to get on a plane. He called it a guillotine for a cockroach: a little tiny cigar clipper. Isn't that excessive? I know you say things have to be inconvenient for us travelers, but that is excessive, isn't it?

MENENDEZ: I don't think a cigar clipper is going to be used ultimately as a weapon. And, look, we are in a new day. We are finding our way through this. It is going to be refined. But, fundamentally, we have got to make sure that we have the confidence of the American people. And they have said overwhelmingly that they want that confidence in the air by federalization.

PRESS: OK, cigar clippers, nail clippers -- we'll get into that debate again.

Congressman Hayes, thank you very much for joining us. Congressman Menendez, great to have you here.

And Bob Novak and I, our final words -- and I will tell you, in fact, why Bob Novak is wrong in our closing comments -- coming up.


NOVAK: Bill, I consider myself a one-man truth squad operating with you every night, because the Senate did not vote 100-0 for federalization. It voted 100-0 for the final version of the bill in the spirit of bipartisanship and unity. There were many, many Republicans senators against federalization. So stop talking about 100-0. That's Democratic spin.

PRESS: Wait a minute. I will tell you one thing. They voted 100-0. I read the bill. It says federal employees.

And I want you to stop knocking the unions. Bob Menendez is right. Those firemen, those policemen, those pilots, those flight attendants were union members. They are heroes. And those guys at the airport doing security now are bozos.

NOVAK: I know you are an expert on spin, but stop spinning me, buddy.

PRESS: All right.

From the left, with the truth, as always, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: You wouldn't know the truth if it hit you.

From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.




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