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How Safe is America?

Aired September 11, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: America two years later.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, our nation remembers the sad and terrible day, September the 11th, 2001.

ANNOUNCER: A day to remember the loss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thomas F. McGuinness Jr..

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wolfgang Peter Menzel.



ANNOUNCER: But also a day of looking to the future and asking, how safe are we?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: There is no way to plug every hole and prevent every suicidal lunatic from coming into your borders. But let's do everything we possibly can.

ANNOUNCER: America rebuilds.

CHORUS (singing): From sea to shining sea.




ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


It will be a long time before any September 11 is a day for politics as usual, but it isn't necessarily a day without politics, at least here in Washington. Discussion of the issues, including disagreements, is the essence of democracy, or so we hope. So we'll discuss homeland security with a pair of congressmen, one from New York, one from the Washington area.

But first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

We begin with breaking news from the world of politics. Former General Wesley Clark has not yet made up his mind. Strictly speaking, of course, this is not news. General Clark has been toying with the idea of running for president or something for months now, emerging every few moments to tape coy statements on cable talk shows.

Yet it wasn't until the other day that he even declared himself a Democrat. It's a fairly slow pace. Now a new wrinkle. According to ""The Washington Post," Clark has met with Howard Dean, M.D., on four separate occasions. The two have discussed the possibility of General Clark entering the race as Mr. Dean's running mate. When asked by CNN this afternoon, Clark did not confirm or deny this or say much of anything at all.

He did, however, tell "The Washington Post" this about his conversation with Howard Dean -- quote -- "It was a complete tour of the horizon." Get it? Maybe you have to live in Vermont to get it.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: These are bright guys. They're talking about the issues. He's probably had more than four conversations with you, Tucker, on this very program.


CARLSON: What does that mean? That like the sound of one hand clapping. I'm totally confused.

BEGALA: Here's a guy, for 33 years, served our country in uniform. And he's only been a Democrat for a week. And, already, the far right is attacking him.


BEGALA: This stands in stark contrast to Democrats, who never have attacked Colin Powell, another equally honorable general who happened to join the Republican Party.

CARLSON: First of all, as representative of the far right, I am not attacking him at all.

BEGALA: Sure you are.


CARLSON: I'm merely saying, make a decision, buddy, or stop going on TV, because it's wasting all of our time.

BEGALA: Come back on CROSSFIRE any time you want, General Clark. I'm honored you're in my party. Well, with former President George H.W. Bush and current Vice President Dick Cheney in attendance, a bust of former Vice president Dan Quayle was unveiled at the United States Capitol. Of course, as president of the Senate, every vice president is honored in this fashion. Current events obviously came up in the discussion after the ceremony.

When asked about President Bush's disastrous occupation of Iraq, Mr. Quayle defended his former boss' son, saying that the U.S. has no experience with nation-building. Citizens of Germany and Japan, whose modern nations were built by Harry Truman's successful nation-building policies, were surprised to hear that.


BEGALA: Another controversy arose when Attorney General John Ashcroft threw a blue curtain over the sculpture of Mr. Quayle. Ashcroft, of course, cannot stand to see statues of boobs.


BEGALA: Unfortunate...

CARLSON: I haven't thought about Dan Quayle in a while, but it makes me sort of sad. He was not a deep intellectual, but he was far from the dumbest member of the Senate, far from it. And to think that, I don't know, Patrick Kennedy is literally still in the House of Representatives.

BEGALA: What's wrong with Patrick Kennedy?

CARLSON: Well, he's a marvelous guy. He's a marvelous guy.

BEGALA: George W. Bush is president of the United States, which proves that anybody with the right Supreme Court can become the president of the United States. At least Dan Quayle won the election.


CARLSON: If you don't like the Constitution and the Electoral College provisions in it, then you ought to try and change it.


BEGALA: Should I get my daddy to appoint a new Supreme Court to interpret it the way I want?


CARLSON: ... attack the Constitution just because you don't like the election results.

BEGALA: No, I'm just attacking those bandits and rogues who stole the election.

CARLSON: Let's give up on election 2000, shall we? From the throbbing bleeding heart of old-fashioned liberalism, New York City itself, comes some advice to this year's Democratic presidential candidates: Stop the savage personal attacks on George W. Bush. They're dead wrong. They don't work. And they weaken America in its fight against terrorism. That's almost a quote.

Who dared utter such a heresy from within the very walls of Manhattan? Was it Ann Coulter? Nope. It was none other than former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a lifelong partisan Democrat. Koch is still a liberal. But now that he left has office, he no longer has to read the talking points.

Incidentally, his take on Howard Dean, M.D., his party's presumptive nominee, as Koch put it -- quote -- "McGovern II, the worst."


BEGALA: Well, first of all, this is the same Ed Koch who, in the last presidential election advised Al Gore -- and I'm quoting him directly here -- he needs -- quote -- "slashing attacks to galvanize his base."

So Ed Koch, who built a career on the politics of ad hominem, is hardly well-positioned. And, by the way, the right now, this is their new thing, to say, oh, you can't criticize Bush because it helps the terrorists. These are people on the far right who called the president of the United States a murderer, a rapist, a scumbag, a jerk.


CARLSON: Get over the Clinton years, please, just for a moment.

BEGALA: No, all we're talking is Bush's policies, which have been a miserable failure, as Dick Gephardt says.



CARLSON: I wish you would address what Mayor Koch said. I think it's sort of interesting.

BEGALA: By the way,, tomorrow, Dick Gephardt will have a Web site on that spot,


BEGALA: I can't wait to take a look at it tomorrow.

Well, today -- turning to more somber things -- of course, is September 11. Two years ago today, terrorists murdered 3,016 innocent people in New York, at the Pentagon an, in a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Across America and around the world, those murdered are missed and remembered. And the quest to bring their killers to justice continues.

Here at CROSSFIRE, we especially remember Barbara Olson, conservative activist and author, frequent guest on this broadcast. She was on the plane that hit the Pentagon, bravely phoning in information to her husband, America's solicitor general, Ted Olson, all the way to the end.

On that same plane was my friend and colleague Leslie Whittington. Leslie was associate professor of economics at Georgetown's Public Policy Institute, where I teach. She perished, along with her husband, Charlie Falkenberg, and both their little girls, Zoe, who was 8, and Dana, who was 3.

Now, in the ensuing two years, we have returned to healthy and vigorous debates here in Washington and on CROSSFIRE. But today, we stand united from the left and the right in memory of the heartbreak and heroism of September 11.



BEGALA: Hard day.

CARLSON: I can't add to that, except to say that I hope we find every single person responsible for that and I hope we kill them slowly, because they deserve it.


BEGALA: Well, in just a minute, we will debate a homeland security issue and safety in a more subdued way than usual with a couple of congressmen who were both intimately touched by the aftermath and the attacks of September 11.

Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: The largest class of firefighters in New York City's history graduated from the academy on August 12, 2003. The 346 probationary firefighters are part of a surge in public service interest since the department lost 343 lives on September 11.

Until recently, the FDNY trained an average of 300 firefighters per year. This is the first class to graduate from the new $45 million training facility on Randall's Island.




CARLSON: September 11 is Patriot Day, declared a national holiday on December 18, 2001, to honor the 3,400 people killed or seriously injured in terrorist attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In the past two years, much has been done to rebuild America and prevent another such tragedy. But what more should we do?

Joining us this afternoon from ground zero, which is in his congressional district, is New York Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler. And at the Pentagon is Northern Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis.



BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us on a sad day.


BEGALA: Congressman Davis, with good reason, most of the attention, of course, because so many more casualties were there, at the World Trade Center, but I want to ask you about the special challenges in your district of Northern Virginia, across the river, Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

Our national capital area is, of course, a prime target for terrorists. And yet there's three jurisdictions. What have you all, as our leaders, been doing to improve the coordination of homeland defense and first-responders in your area?

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: Well, we have a new Department of Homeland Security Cabinet-level position. They have a regional coordinator here that has basically gotten the local jurisdictions together on everything from evacuation plans to preventative measures to intelligence gathering.

You take a look at most of the federal buildings that would be likely targets, like the Capitol and the White House, heavy security. Flights out of National have much more restrictions than they did before. So they've taken a number of steps. But we're obviously still a prime target for any terrorist activity.

CARLSON: Congressman Nadler, if you ask Americans if they believe there will be another terrorist attack on U.S. soil soon, overwhelmingly they say they believe there will be. But if you ask them how they feel about that, are they worried about it, here's what they say.

According to the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll we did last month, only 11 percent of Americans are very worried about being the victim of a terrorist attack. Do you think people are letting their guard down in this country?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Do I think people what?

CARLSON: Are letting their guard down in the war against terrorism? NADLER: No, I don't think the -- I think the country is, but I don't people in general are, because people in general aren't fatalistic.

There is not a heck of a lot that individual people can do. Yes, they believe that the odds are that we are fighting a longtime war. It may go on for many years. And the enemy is going to hit us again at some point. People believe that.

But, on the other hand, you have to live your life, go on with business, and conduct the business of your own family and the country. I do believe that the country is not prepared. For instance, the thing that worries the most is that al Qaeda will get -- or some other lunatic group like that may get ahold of a nuclear weapon and bring it into this country to some port in a container ship. We only inspect about 2 percent of the containers that come to our country.

And we ought to take the position that no container gets put on a ship in a foreign port if that ship is bound for the United States until it is inspected in that foreign port by an American team and certified and sealed. And if you don't want to do -- we ought to take that position. But we haven't done that. We're inspecting 2 percent of the containers.


BEGALA: I'm sorry to cut you off, Mr. Nadler. I'm sorry that -- the difference in our transmission here.

But I'm going to bring Congressman Davis back into this and ask you to respond to that. Why is it that, two years after we were attacked, still only 2 percent of the containers coming into our country are checked by security?

DAVIS: I don't know the specific answer on that. Obviously, this will be a very expensive undertaking.

We've, I think, maximized airport security now, looking at bags and in those areas. Port security is way up. They are profiled. Ships are profiled that are coming in. And we're inspecting a lot more than we did prior to this. Inspecting every container would take a mammoth amount of manpower, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But it's something we can improve on.

CARLSON: Congressman Nadler...

NADLER: Can I -- let me just add to that.

CARLSON: Please.


We have doubled what we are inspecting from 1 percent to 2 percent. But the fact is, it would probably cost in the neighborhood to $7 billion to $8 billion a year to inspect every container. But let one nuclear bomb explode in an American port and we'll think that that was a very small price to pay to prevent it.

CARLSON: Mr. Nadler, I want to get your comment on some remarks by former New York City Mayor and liberal Democrat Ed Koch. He told CNN today -- he was talking about people who have criticized the U.S. Patriot Act, laws tightening up internal security, essentially, in this country. And he described critics of those laws as -- quote -- "nuts. Their lives are in danger, too, but they don't care."

Again, do you think the critics of the Patriot Act take seriously the possibility that America could be attacked at any time?

NADLER: Oh, absolutely. I voted against the Patriot Act. I take very seriously the idea that we could be attacked.

I'm a member of the Judiciary Committee. We crafted a very, very carefully crafted and balanced Patriot Act bill. It was reported out of committee 36-0. Barney Frank and Henry Hyde and I and Bob Barr all voted for it. But then they took that bill, they threw it in the garbage. The Republican leadership of the House -- or -- I shouldn't say the Republican leadership of the House.

The Justice Department drafted a bill behind closed doors overnight. And we voted on a 200-page bill without having had an opportunity to read it. And that bill is imbalanced. There are a lot of provisions in that bill that make sense, but there are quite a few don't. And the bill was not properly considered. And you have to balance security and liberty. But you can't just say anything in the name of security, because that betrays the ideals of this country.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, we can see right behind you the Pentagon. And less than a mile from you is National Airport, where planes are taking off and landing every minute, just as they did before the attacks. Is it safe to have a major national airport operating one mile from the Pentagon and only a few miles from the Capitol and the White House?

DAVIS: Absolutely.

First of all, if you took an airplane off, you would have to go way up in the air before you could turn around and hit the White House or the Capitol or anything else. These flights are heavily screened. Passengers aren't allowed to get up or leave their seats within a half-hour of arrival or departure. So I think it's very safe. General aviation is basically closed down here.

But let me take issue with what Jerry said about the Patriot Act. You do have to have a balance between civil liberties and protecting the public at large. And I think we have done that with this act. Many of the provisions of this updated -- we had no laws against e- mail, file-sharing, those issues. Patriot Act did some of that.

We had areas where you could go to administrative ways to be able to get subpoenas. You could do it for Medicare fraud, but you couldn't do it to go against terrorists. And we are just applying what we have learned against drug dealers to terrorists. These are provisions that are badly needed. And it's ended up putting 132 terrorists behind bars in this country, including the shoe bomber, and over $130 million in terrorist assets frozen.


BEGALA: Congressman Nadler, hold your response for just a moment. We're going to have a quick break. But, Congressman Davis and Congressman Nadler, please stay where you are. And just hold that thought for just a minute. We will come back to you.

And when we do, we'll ask our guests to share some of their more personal reminiscences about September 11.

But first, we want to let our audience take part in our debate. Take out the little voting devices we gave you when you arrived, gang. Tell us this: Do you feel safe from a terrorist attack? Press one if the answer is, yes, you feel safe at home going about your business. Press two for, no, you don't feel safe from another terrorist attack. We will have the answer for you in just a little bit.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Welcome back to a more somber than usual edition of CROSSFIRE. This September 11, we are marking the anniversary of the terrorist attacks with New York Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler. He's in his district at the site of the World Trade Center bombing. And in Virginia, Northern Virginia, Coming Tom Davis is at the Pentagon.

Gentlemen, thanks.

CARLSON: Representative Nadler, we don't usually ask warm personal questions of this kind of CROSSFIRE, but it is September 11. So tell us, what do you remember most vividly from that day two years ago?

NADLER: From that day, I remember two things.

I was in Washington and saw it on television. It was just 9:00 in the morning. I decided I immediately had to come back to the district. I came by train, because I knew the planes wouldn't be flying. And, normally, when I come back by train, I look out the window to see how far away I can see the World Trade Center, the first thing you can see from New York. And, instead, you saw those two plumes, those horrible plumes, of smoke. And it felt like it was tearing your heart out that my city, the one I grew up in, had been invaded.

The second thing I remember is, when I got out of Penn Station -- it took from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. to get to New York. It should have taken three hours. Walked out at 6:00 on the evening on a weekday evening to 8th Avenue and 33rd Street, nothing moving, no people, no vehicles, no cars, nothing, like a scene from the movie "On the Beach." And it was an incredible sight. BEGALA: Congressman Davis, let me ask you the same thing. What did your neighbors at the Pentagon go through on September 11?

DAVIS: Well, it will be a day that I think will forever be remembered here.

I remember the anger I felt coming to the Pentagon and seeing the building just ripped to shreds, with this plane coming up the middle, but, more importantly, how helpless I felt, in terms of what I could do as a member of Congress. The interesting thing was, the fire and rescue personnel, everybody else just stepped in and did their job and the system worked after the episode.

But it was the -- the anger that I felt and my neighbors felt. I went and got my kids out of school and we just stayed together that day.


Congressman Tom Davis, Northern Virginia, thank you. Congressman Jerry Nadler from Lower Manhattan, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

BEGALA: Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

NADLER: Thank you.

CARLSON: In just a moment, we'll have the answer to our audience question: Do you feel safe from another terrorist attack? We'll also let some of our viewers fire back their thoughts about September 11.

We'll be right back.



CARLSON: Welcome back to our September 11 edition of CROSSFIRE. We're going to get to "Fireback" in a moment.

First, the results of our audience poll, in which we asked, do you feel safe from terrorism? And the response: 52 percent of our audience feels safe; 48 does not, split almost right in half.

BEGALA: Right down the middle. I don't know which is better for people. You don't want people to be panicked, but you don't want them to be complacent either.

CARLSON: I would rather feel safe than not.

BEGALA: Well, Michael Russell, in our e-mail bag, leads us off today: "On this second anniversary of the day that changed everything, I am reminded that, despite political parties, rhetoric, and different approaches to dealing with the challenges we face, we are all Americans and we all love this country very deeply. Let this always be a day when our common bond is shown to be stronger than our differences," he writes from New York.

Thank you, Michael.


And next up is Nick Matthews of Salt Lake City, who writes: "The terrorists may have taken 3,000 bodies, but the spirits of those we lost continue to strengthen our nation, our ideals, and our resolve to overcome any force that threatens us."


BEGALA: Yes, ma'am, question or comment?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Jacqueline (ph). I'm from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

BEGALA: Nice place.


Since the objective of most terrorists is to really keep people on edge and keep them continually worried about when the next threat is going to come, and it being an objective to ultimately change the lives of those that they're trying to terrorize, do you believe that the security measures and limitations and changes that we have made on American lives forever -- our lives are changed forever -- do you believe that, in some way, the terrorists have achieved their objective?

CARLSON: Americans are hard to rattle, pretty ingenuous, pretty laid-back people. I haven't seen the nature of Americans change at all.

BEGALA: I agree. We look at our friends in Ireland, in England, in Israel, free countries that are dealing with terrorism every day without giving up their freedoms. I don't think Americans are going to give up theirs either.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow, Friday, for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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