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GOP Convention Opens Today in New York City; Interview With Dennis Hastert; Drama at MTV Video Music Awards

Aired August 30, 2004 - 9:02   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: It is showtime for the Republicans in the city that knows just about everything about putting on a show. The Republican convention starts in 60 minutes.
President Bush keeping his focus on the swing states. A new poll this morning looks at whether or not he's making progress.

And a defining moment for the White House after the attacks of 9/11. What about the other guy and that now famous photo?


BOB BECKWITH, FIREFIGHTER: I thought he was, you know, just kidding around that I -- that I made him -- he's the president of the United States.


HEMMER: This hour, we catch up with the firefighter, Bob Beckwith on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: This is AMERICAN MORNING. From the Republican National Convention in New York, here's Bill Hemmer.

HEMMER: All right. Good morning, everyone. Nine o'clock here in New York City.

And for Republicans across the country, this is the place to be today, Madison Square Garden, right smack dab in the middle of Manhattan. A herd of elephants on the way here now as the convention starts in one hour, 10:00 a.m. local time here in New York.

Welcome to our special coverage of this week's Republican National Convention. I'll be here throughout the week inside the Garden. But our team on AMERICAN MORNING, we have canvassed the town. And today's theme is courage. And the speakers have been chosen to highlight the president's response to terrorism since 9/11.

They will include Senator John McCain; the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani; the former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik. We'll be talking to Commissioner Kerik in a few moments here, as well as the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, who is here in New York City. We'll talk about the message throughout the week, starting today, and some of the issues also coming up with this election just about 60 days away and counting now. Also today, the president back on the campaign trail, campaigning in New Hampshire and in Michigan, both considered swing states. And we'll have much more on the campaign, what's happening outside of New York City, as we move throughout the hour.

Also, to my colleague, Heidi Collins, across town.

Good morning there, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning once again, Bill. A lot of convention news, of course. And a lot of other news to tell you about as well.

We're going to hear from CNN pop culture correspondent Toure in just a few moments. He was at the MTV Video Music Awards last night in Miami, where John Kerry's daughters were actually booed on stage. So we'll tell you all about that.

Also, a look back on the Olympics, having just ended in Athens.

But right now, we're going to go over to Jack Cafferty, who's across the street from Madison Square Garden at the CNN Diner.

Hello once again, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing? Are the Olympics over?

COLLINS: Yes. They ended last night. A beautiful closing ceremony.

CAFFERTY: Sorry to see them end. Aren't you?

COLLINS: I actually really am.

CAFFERTY: Just four more years until they come around.

All right. Here's the deal: probably the country is more divided right now than it's been for any election in recent memory, maybe going all the way back to like the Vietnam War. What we're asking this morning is, what can the Republicans in the four days that they have for this convention here in New York, what can they do to sway the undecided voter?

It's a small number of people who will probably decide who next president of the United States is. So the Republicans have an opportunity here. What do they have to say to get the undecideds to vote for President Bush, Heidi? We'll talk to you about some of the letters and responses we've gotten in a few minutes.

COLLINS: All right. I know that number was at seven percent for quite a while, but obviously it is a small number. Jack, thanks so much.

We' re going to check on the stories "Now in the News" this morning. French officials are reiterating their decision to push ahead with a controversial law banning Islamic head scarves in school. This morning's announcement comes despite demands from a militant Islamic group holding two French journalists hostage in Iraq. A French official met with Arab leaders in the Middle East, pleading for their release, but says there is no word yet on their fate.

More than $3 billion in aid to Iraq could be diverted from services to security if the new U.S. ambassador gets his way. John Negroponte has reportedly asked that money earmarked for water, electricity and sewage projects in Iraq instead go to security, creating local jobs and boosting local output. That's according to "The Wall Street Journal."

Army officer Lynndie England is now back in court for a hearing in connection with the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. In less than 10 minutes, details about what's expected during today's hearing at Fort Bragg in North Carolina from national correspondent Susan Candiotti.

And within two hours, lawyers start private questioning of potential jurors in Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case. About 100 people will be individually questioned in Eagle, Colorado. Attorneys and the judge in the case are working to seat a jury. That pool of potential jurors could soon be expanded as well.

We'll throw things back over to Bill Hemmer once again.

Hey, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Heidi. Back inside now at Madison Square Garden. The convention set to open up at 10:00 Eastern Time, a little less than 60 minutes from now. Bob Franken back inside now here in the Garden.

Bob, good morning.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) never sleeps. But these delegates are from out of town and they do sleep. So they're just starting to trickle in now, hoping that the spotlight goes from outside to inside the hall.


FRANKEN (voice-over): By the tens of thousands, the demonstrators marched through the heat, airing their heated anti-Bush convictions.





FRANKEN: But now the pro-Bush Republican convention.



FRANKEN: Beyond all the countless barricades, the floor of Madison Square Garden, and the re-nomination of the Bush-Cheney ticket. The Cheney part is already here.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us are gathering this week for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to make certain that George W. Bush is president for the next four years.

FRANKEN: The vice president is scheduled to speak Wednesday night. On opening night, it's former New York mayor and resident icon, Rudy Giuliani. Another first-nighter is John McCain, who has certainly not always been on the president's team.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have our differences. Have we had our differences on policy issues? Absolutely. But I believe that you -- if you looked at my voting record, you'd find that I am more -- I'm supportive in more issues than in disagreement.

FRANKEN: Former President Bill Clinton was preaching a different sermon on Sunday, making sure that the Democrats got their bite of the big apple.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The other party about to convene here, putting on its "once every four years" compassionate face.

FRANKEN: But the applause in the Garden this week will be for the current president, who was in West Virginia Sunday, heading this way.



FRANKEN: And the delegates will be hunting for things to do. They're coming into the hall. They have some business this morning, Bill.

They're going to have to pass their platform. They're going to be in the process of nominating Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Momentous formalities. But for the Democrats and the Republicans, it's after the convention that the hard work really begins -- Bill.

HEMMER: Bob, thanks for that.

And the race in three battleground states that went to Al Gore four years ago very close yet again today, with the Republicans starting off their convention this morning. The latest CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll shows President Bush and John Kerry tied among likely voters in the state of Pennsylvania. The president holds a slim lead in Wisconsin. Senator Kerry has the advantage in the state of Iowa.

To House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is the convention chairman. He arrived in New York City two days ago. He'll be here throughout the week. And this morning he is my guest now here, right near the floor in Madison Square Garden.

Welcome to New York City.

DENNIS HASTERT (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Thank you. Great to be here.

HEMMER: There are two giant banners that drape the exterior here, or the interior of the top area of Madison Square Garden: "A safer world," and "A more hopeful America." What is that message beginning today?

HASTERT: Well, the safer world is that we've done extraordinary things since the vicious attack on New York and Washington on September 11. We've brought back the economy, we've brought back security for people who ride in their planes, who have to go to work in places like this, along with a great resiliency in a place like New York and the Pentagon. These people who live here and work here have been great.

But what we want to do is make sure that what we can hand off to our children and our grandchildren is a safer America. And we've worked hard to do that. And hope is hope, hope for security, hope for better health care, hope for a better economy in the future.

HEMMER: And Democrats may come back and say, but Iraq is a much worse picture today than it was a year ago. Democrats would come back and say, all the recommendations for the 9/11 Commission have not been implemented just yet. In fact, there were no hearings -- well, there were hearings, but Congress is in recess during the month of August. To that, you say what?

HASTERT: Well, first of all, talking about Iraq, you know, four years ago, Iraq was under a dictator. He was killing his own people. He was perpetrating terrorism. He was doing anything.

He had invaded Kuwait. He had invaded Iran. That guy is ineffable anymore. And the world is safer because of it. We'll get Iraq back to normal eventually.

With the other issues that they talk about, the 9/11 Commission, we've had nine -- eight committees there. We've had 15 hearings. And, of course, a big piece of legislation like that, you just don't want to knee-jerk. You've got to get it right.

We want to go through regular order. The Senate's got a proposal, the House has got a proposal, the White House has a proposal. We want to do the right thing for America, and you just can't knee-jerk and make that right.

HEMMER: Let me go back to your original answer. Your book is out now, appropriately named "Speaker." And in it you talked about, in your words, "an unseemly scramble by lawmakers here in New York City after 9/11, trying to get federal funds in this city." Do you stand by that comment?

HASTERT: Well, if you read the whole article, it wasn't just lawmakers. It was also lobbyists. And all of a sudden, when this tragedy happened, and we looked like we we're going to have to spend $5 or $10 or $15 or $20, or we didn't know how many billions of dollars, everybody came out of the woodwork and had a good program.

And what we wanted to do -- and I worked with Governor Pataki, Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg to make sure that the infrastructure -- and we had the dollars to do the job. And, you know, we focused to do it. It took us nine weeks to get it done, but we got it done.

HEMMER: Here's what the mayor said about that a month ago. "To say it's a disgrace is being too charitable. The fact of the matter is, when you catch a terrorist with a map in their pocket, the map is of New York City. Many people say the state of Wyoming gets $38 a person. The city of New York gets $5 a person."

Is that fair?

HASTERT: Well, you know, what you're looking at is an amount of money, not necessarily per person, but the amount of money that goes into an area. And there's $8 billion in the pipeline.

New York has already got $21 billion. And I think they're going to get more.

On this new transportation bill that we're working on, hoped to pass, you know, New York gets a great share out of that, again, to help restructure its communications lines, its transportation lines. New York comes out a winner.

HEMMER: Bottom line with you here in the city, any concerns? Do you feel safe? Do you feel secure?

HASTERT: Listen, I've been to a lot of conventions. I feel safe.

You know, if you cower back in a corner just because somebody threatens, you know, then you can't get your work done. I'm threatened every day in Washington, D.C., same thing. But we have great work to do in this country. And we have great work to do in this city.

This city, I was here a couple of weeks ago, when the first terrorist threat went out. And, you know, they had blocked some streets in the financial institutions. And you know what? New Yorkers went to work every day. They knew what they had to do.

They've faced this horror before. And they're going to get the job done. It's a resilient city. It's a great city. And we're pleased to be here.

HEMMER: Speaker Dennis Hastert, thank you for your time.

HASTERT: My pleasure. Thank you.

HEMMER: Good luck this week.


HEMMER: To our viewers, later tonight front row seat right here at CNN. Beginning at 7:00 Eastern, Anderson kicks it off then. We'll take you to Wolf after that. Larry after that. Aaron, then I guess Larry comes back again at midnight. So a double shot of Larry King as we go throughout the week.

Back to Heidi now with more -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. That's when we're sleeping. All right, Bill. Thanks so much for that.

Some drama last night on the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards involving the daughters of presidential candidate John Kerry. Our pop culture correspondent, Toure, is joining me now live from Miami with more on all of this.

Toure, good morning. Beautiful shot behind you there.


COLLINS: I'm great. Listen, I want to get straight to the sound of this. A little bit unexpected event last night, when Vanessa and Alexandra about halfway through the show or so took to the microphones. Let's go ahead and listen for a minute.


VANESSA KERRY, JOHN KERRY'S DAUGHTER: It's good to be here with you all tonight in Florida and to get this chance...


KERRY: And get this chance...


COLLINS: So, Toure, I understand you had a chance to talk with Vanessa. We want to go ahead and listen to what she said about that incident.


KERRY: I was scared out of my mind. I mean, I grabbed my sister, and I thought, what is happening? And -- but it doesn't matter, because we're fighting for something that I believe in so strongly. I will go up there and hear the whole arena boo if it means connecting with one person.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: So Toure, did she connect?

TOURE: She did connect. I mean, most people cheered. But there were a lot of boos. And you could hear that.

And it was kind of a difficult moment for her. And, as she said, she was really scared by that. But, you know, they're really focused on helping their dad.

And MTV made it a nonpartisan moment by bringing in the Bush twins by videotape. So it was kind of a together moment. I mean, the whole night, there was a political subtext just saying, like, vote, everybody get out and be part of the system.

COLLINS: But, Toure, you know, we just did a series last week on sort of the lines being blurred between politics and entertainment. I'm just wondering, do you think the crowd was like, hey, this isn't why I'm here. I don't want to hear about politics. Do you think that could have been part of it?

TOURE: I think maybe part of it. I mean, you know, this is -- this is such a battleground state, it's such a passionate election. And I think people who really believe in the president were like boo to you. But why would you boo somebody's daughter?

The guy's from JET, the rock band said, you know, it's like if James Hetfield's daughter or son was walking down the street, James Hetfield from Metallica, and they would boo like the son, like "We don't like your dad's band, boo." Like, you know, they're just kids trying to help their parents.

COLLINS: All right. Well, we would be remiss if we did not talk about the music. So -- and I don't even really know if this is the music part.

But we know what we saw last year, right? And that was the moment between Britney and Madonna. And Christina Aguilera was involved, too. Was there any sort of little incident that happened last night?

TOURE: No. I mean, it was a really tame, sort of spectacle list show. There was no host.

And just, we were all expecting like, what is MTV going to do? Do they wanted to be the wild child of television? Are they going to do something else like that? Or are they going to pull it back?

And, you know, like P. Diddy came out and talked about voting and Citizen Change and his Vote or Die thing. But, I mean, you know, there really wasn't that spectacle moment that you want to talk about.

I mean, you know, Outkast was great. They had a great sort of, you know, moment at the end of the show, which was all about voting.

And, you know, Andre 3000 was TV with no shirt on. So maybe that's what we're looking for. COLLINS: Right. That might have done it. All right.


COLLINS: Toure, so nice to see you. Thanks for wrapping that up force us. Appreciate it.

TOURE: Thank you.

COLLINS: Want to go ahead and check on the weather now. More trouble -- storm trouble, that is -- brewing. Chad Myers has all of that for us.

Hi, Chad.


HEMMER: No question about that, yes. And on guard now, especially after what we witnessed two weeks ago. Thank you, Chad.

It's a huge week for Republicans. So what do they expect to get out of the next four days? We're on the floor again with our reporter roundtable live in New York City.

Also in a moment, we'll pay a visit to a man who became part of history in the days after 9/11, Bob Beckwith. How has his life changed?

And the moment of truth arriving for the police in New York. Can they keep the convention safe? The Yankees are in town, the Mets are in town, the U.S. Open tennis tournament starts today, all in New York City. The former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, our guest straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Back here in New York City. That's the perspective from the Brooklyn side, looking back into lower Manhattan. To the right of that tallest building is where the towers stood before they were taken down on that Tuesday morning almost three years ago to the day.

Incidentally, already the reconstruction begins down there at Ground Zero. If you remember from 9/11, 7 World Trade, which was a 48-story building, came down hours later on 9/11. Already today there's a massive structure in place, 52 stories tall, in the same area where 7 World Trade once stood. The reconstruction project down there already under way outside of that specific area that's known as the 16 Acres, which is what is still being debated as to where -- what will be built and what comes out of it.

In the meantime, though, all over New York City, a massive police, FBI and Secret Service presence in New York. Thousands patrolling the streets here and in the sky, too. We talked about security earlier today with the former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik. He is also one of tonight's speakers.


HEMMER: The theme tonight is courage of a nation. What does that mean?

BERNARD KERIK, SR. VP, GIULIANI PARTNERS: I think what we've gone through over the last three years, since the attacks on the country on September 11, the response, the recovery. And then going to war to combat the terror, combat the people that did this. Go into the countries that -- where they live, where they're harbored and supported. And then also begin fighting that war at home with the creation of homeland security, the merging of the 22 agencies, the creation of clearinghouses for intelligence information.

It's taken an enormous amount of courage, dedication, compassion by the people of this country. Most importantly, by the -- by the president in his leadership.

HEMMER: A "New York Times" survey done with the families of the victims who were killed in the towers almost three years ago, they found 50 percent of those asked thought the Republicans should go elsewhere. Twenty-five percent said they're just trying to capitalize on 9/11. Your response to that is what?

KERIK: I don't think they're trying to capitalize. I think, you know, coming to New York City, if the Republicans didn't come to New York City, the Democrats wanted to.

I think New York City is a -- is a prominent city. It's one of the greatest cities in this country. I may be biased, naturally, but I think it was an excellent place for the convention. And, you know, everybody has a right to their own opinion.

HEMMER: Over the weekend, the story broke here in New York City about the D train right around Herald Square, which everyone knows is Macy's department store. A bomb plot was busted up.

KERIK: Right.

HEMMER: How serious or how significant, or perhaps even how far along the planning process had the two men now arrested gotten on that?

KERIK: I don't think too far. And I think people have to realize they weren't a part of al Qaeda. It wasn't this -- this isn't something that -- that I think we should really be concerned with.

These were two people that had, you know, some criminal intent. But I think it's a little premature to say exactly what they were doing or what they were up to, if they were really going to accomplish anything. The investigation is still ongoing.

HEMMER: You don't seem to think that this was too serious, do you?

KERIK: No, I don't. HEMMER: Here is another question here throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The Republican convention now, for the next four days, the Yankees are in town, the Mets are in town, the U.S. Open starts today out in Flushing. Does New York City have enough police and security to take care of all these events?

KERIK: Well, the benefit to New York City and being in New York City is the fact that we have 35,000 police. In working in this atmosphere with a convention, you have the oversight of the Secret Service, you have every federal enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security involved.

So we have an enormous contingent of people out there working. And, you know, when I think back to my days right after September 11, we had the Ground Zero activity going on, we had a World Series, we had a marathon. And everything worked. And everything continued to work. I think the New York City Police Department will do just fine.


HEMMER: Bernard Kerik from earlier today. He'll speak later tonight here at Madison Square Garden.

Back to the diner and Jack Cafferty.

Good morning, Jack.


Best police department in the world. You're in good hands with the NYPD.

We are starting with the scorecard today. Number of days since the 9/11 Commission made recommendations for protecting this country against terrorism, 39 now. Number of recommendations adopted by Congress, zero. Congress is still on vacation.

Today, we're doing something a little bit out of the ordinary. It's called the voice of the voter.

We went to Times Square. Actually, my illustrious producer, Casey Fisher (ph), went to Times Squire yesterday, where she talked to some New Yorkers and people from out of town about what they thought about the convention activity around the city and whether terrorism was on their minds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what a lot of the world has to live with on a daily basis. We are very insulated, we're very protected. And yet we're not. And so we're a fool to think otherwise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never been here before. This is absolutely a fabulous place to visit. I mean, there's everything here to do. And we just got started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were just over at Penn Station and there are cops on every corner. So it feels like we're pretty safe here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not frightened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not worried about it, you know. We can't just let people dictate to us how we live our lives. We've got to carry on and live our lives. You know, that's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just feel like it's -- they're just asking for something to happen by having the Republican convention here in New York. You might as well paint a bull's eye on New York.



CAFFERTY: All right. Right behind me, that's Casey Fisher (ph) right there. She produces all of the stuff that goes in "The Cafferty File," and does a damn fine job of it, I might add, as well.

The "Question of the Day" is, people around the rest of the country, what can the Republicans do during the four days of this convention to tip the undecided vote in their favor? A very small group of people who haven't made up their mind could, in fact, decide the next election.

Our email address is We'll read a few of the responses in a few minutes.

And now we go back to Heidi uptown.

COLLINS: All right, Jack. Say hi to Casey (ph) for me. Thanks a lot.

Still to come, the much talked about convention bounce. Can the president succeed where the Kerry campaign may have failed? We'll go on the floor with our reporter roundtable in just a moment on AMERICAN MORNING.



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