WASHINGTON - 11.01.01 |
Gephardt Press Availability on Airline Security
Mr. Gephardt. Good morning.
I think we now know that Halloween yesterday wasn't just for the kids. The special
interest lobbyists last night filled their bags with treats. In the manager's amendment
that is apparently going to be brought on this airline security bill today, there are a
number of personal interest provisions that got added. I just mention two. One is that
they have put in the bill, in the manager's amendment, a limitation or exclusion of
liability on the firms that have performed so poorly doing x-ray scanning and security
checking in the airports. That is hardly what I think we ought to be doing in this bill.
In addition to getting rid of their failure, we surely shouldn't be exempting them from
liability for what they may have done in the past. That -- certainly we shouldn't be
rewarding the mistakes and failures that these companies have committed.
You have got to remember,
these are companies that have been fined in some cases over a million dollars for their
errors and omissions. These are companies that were indicted after September the 11th,
again for their failure. So instead of trying to hold them accountable for what they have
done wrong, it seems that some in the Republican leadership want to exempt them from any
accountability in the legal system for what they have done wrong.
Secondly, they exempted
some high-paid airline executives from the effects of the bill, capping the liability of
the airlines that we passed 4 or 5 weeks ago. As you know, in that bill, we limited the
increase in salary and benefits for airline executives. So in the first chance they have,
even before we have done one thing for airline employees to take care of the unemployment
compensation, to help them with health insurance, on the next bill we are coming back and
taking away the effect of the limitation on increase in compensation for highly paid
airline executives through deferred compensation. It is breathtaking that the-- some in
the Republican leadership would use this bill.
I just mentioned two. There
are a number of other special interest provisions that have been put on this bill, I guess
in order to get some more votes on their side in order to pass the bill.
Now this, rather than it
being a grab bag and a goodie bag for personal interests, this should be a day for
bipartisanship. We have a bill that we can pass today that was passed in the Senate 100 to
nothing. That was a bipartisan bill. And if we can pass that bill with the help of some of
our colleagues on the Republican side today, we can get this bill to the President
The process of increasing
safety in our airlines and airports could begin tonight. We don't have to go through a
long conference. We don't have to adjudicate a whole bunch of extraneous issues. We can
get right to the point, get it to the President and start buying those machines to check
every bag, start reinforcing the airline doors, the airline pilot doors. We can start
putting on more marshals. We can start increasing the competence of the security of the
So I hope that by 8 o'clock
or so tonight, we have taken a real step toward bipartisanship, nonpartisanship, and
finally done what is good for the American people. This should not be a time of politics
as usual. This should be a time to do what is simply right for the American people, for
the airline system. And I hope and pray that will be done.
Q Do you have the votes at
this point to pass your bill?
Mr. Gephardt. I think it is
close. I think we have a possibility of being able to win. But they are working hard. I am
told the President has called on some of the moderate Republicans today in one last effort
to try to turn votes. History is a guide; they have a pretty good record of holding onto
their people. But I am also hopeful that a lot of moderate Republicans will recognize this
as an opportunity for bipartisanship, and I am cautiously hopeful that we can put together
the votes to pass the Senate bill.
Q And what are you doing to
keep people on your side?
Mr. Gephardt. We talked to
every Democrat. I think our defections on the Democratic side will be minimal. You never
know until the vote is held, but I really feel that Democrats see this as an opportunity
to do what is right for the American people, and do it in a completely bipartisan way.
Again, this bill was passed 100 to nothing. There will not be one House Member who has a
Senator from their State, no matter what party they are in, who did not vote for this
Q Mr. Gephardt, did you
make any changes in the bill or is it identical to the Senate bill; or have you made any
changes to try to get some of your Members on board?
Mr. Gephardt. Our bill is
absolutely identical. Every comma, every period, every word is exactly like what passed
the Senate. So that if we pass that bill tonight, this bill can be on the President's desk
later tonight, without a conference, without further delay, without being stopped in any
Q Mr. Gephardt, you just --
you had a divisive vote on economic stimulus. Now you are clearly having a divisive vote
on this. How optimistic are you that Congress and the President can come together and
complete action on both of these items in a timely way before leaving for the year?
Mr. Gephardt. Well, again,
if we would just give in to bipartisanship for a change, we could get them both done
quickly. I think the President wants bipartisan solutions. I think many in the Republican
party want bipartisan solutions. I think, unanimously, the Senate wanted a bipartisan
solution. There is just a small group within the Republican leadership, frankly, that is
insisting on keeping things partisan and not allowing even the House to work its will on
issues where there is bipartisan agreement.
You have got to ask
yourself the question, why wasn't this bill that is up today up 3 weeks ago? What is new
here? We had a bill out of the Senate 100 to nothing, 3 weeks ago on October the 11th. We
could have taken this bill up on the 11th. It is because Tom DeLay and Dick Armey were
trying to please, I guess, the special interests who did not want to lose these contracts,
and so they kept the bill off the floor so they could work to defeat it.
Now, that is not
bipartisan. There were probably 60 Republicans. There were a number of Republicans who had
joined with Greg Ganske in presenting the Senate bill on the House. We could have gone for
a vote on October the 12th, passed it overwhelmingly. So the holdup here is not the
Democrats and it is not an effort at partisanship. What is holding things up is a small
group in the Republican leadership who cannot give in to bipartisanship.
We could have had an
economic bill that did the three things on which you have had for the whole time
bipartisan agreement. You could have had a rebate for the people who didn't get it. You
could have had faster depreciation for the corporate community to be able to buy things,
and done something more sensible on unemployment and health insurance. You could have had
a bill 5 weeks ago. We could have had the rebate out to the people who didn't get a rebate
before the holidays, which is when all the business people told us they need it. But it is
just -- you know, it is "my way or the highway" on everything.
Jim Oberstar tried on a
number of occasions to come up with a compromise with Don Young, with Tom DeLay, with
others on the Republican side. He was never able to do it. It is just there is no
willingness to collaborate, to compromise, to come to the middle, to get things done. It
is more of the same.
Q Given that that is --
Mr. Gephardt. The Speaker
has not been in that mode. He has been trying, I think mightily, to get things done for
the American people. He has communicated with us. He has worked with us, and we need to
build that spirit of collaboration in the days ahead to get these things done.
Q But given the fact of the
situation, what lies ahead, what are the prospects for reaching compromise if --
Mr. Gephardt. You are
asking the wrong person. You are asking the wrong person. There is nothing more that I
know to do. We stand ready to collaborate, to compromise, to negotiate, to work these
things out to get them done.
Look, in the last week, I
had a committee on our side on airline security. Jim Oberstar probably knows more about
this subject than anybody in America. He has been working on it for 15 years. He was on
the airline commission that we had 10 years ago. He came to me with a bill that he had
written with the other Democrats on the committee that he felt strongly about that had a
lot better provisions than the Senate bill we are going to vote on.
And I said, Jim, I
appreciate the great work. I have no -- I never had more respect for anybody in the
Congress than I do for Jim Oberstar on airline security. He is the world's expert. But I
said, Jim, if we go with your bill, we will not be able to get moderate Democrat votes,
moderate Republican votes. We have a bipartisan product that was produced in the Senate.
Let us put that on the floor, not change one comma in that bill, and we might have a
chance to get this thing done, because we need to get this done. We can't stand around any
longer, and obfuscate and quarrel and dither about this bill. In the meantime, pilots and
flight attendants and passengers are living in fear every day. We have got to move. We are
in a crisis. Let us go.
And so Jim said, of course,
and he did it. And so we had the Senate bill on the floor. Now, if we were partisan and,
you know, strong-headed about it, we would not have done that. We would have put up our
bill and continued this crazy disagreement over, frankly, technical and unimportant
Q Do you think the Speaker
is not really running things here? You said the Speaker is cooperating.
Mr. Gephardt. The Speaker
is running the House and he is doing a good job.
Q But then how is that
possible? You said he was cooperating, but you said others don't want to cooperate. So if
the Republicans are pushing a bill and are not cooperating --
Mr. Gephardt. The Speaker
is not a dictator. The Speaker doesn't tell everybody what to do. He is in charge of the
House. It is because of his good offices and his desire to get this done that the bill is
on the floor today.
I am sure that Tom DeLay
and others didn't want the bill on the floor today, because they may not have the votes to
pass it, but he overruled them and put the bill on the floor. I commend him for that, and
he is trying his best to get these things tone. I wish his spirit of collaboration and
communication were shared by more people in his party, and I am very happy for the support
that we might be able to get today from courageous Republicans who are going to stand for
what they believe in and what they think the American people want.
Q Did trade promotion
authority come up at your White House meeting this week, and what do you think about the
Republican push to bring that up as early as next week?
Mr. Gephardt. It did not
come up. My position on this is unchanging. I believe in trade promotion authority. I wish
that we could have it for the President. I do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past
and pass a trade promotion authority that is not crystal clear on what we expect in terms
of labor, human and environmental concerns. And I also want to establish a process where
the Congress can reenter the process periodically in order to ensure that the negotiation
is properly including these important issues, just like intellectual property and capital
issues are also important.
Q If the Republicans win
today, what do you think happens in the conference committee? Do you think it stays
similar to the House version, or do you think you can still somehow prevail in --
Mr. Gephardt. Well, my
greater fear is that if it goes into a conference, it never comes out. I think Mr. Delay
and others have for a long time said they don't want a bill. They would rather the
President do this by executive order. The President has made it very clear that he doesn't
want to do it by Executive order. So my concern is that if you go into a conference with
all these issues and differences, it will be very hard to get the bill out, and, by just
more delay, Mr. Delay will have his victory in not having a bill. So my hope is that we
can pass the Senate bill today and get it to the President.
Q The President is engaged
in lobbying on this issue. If he wins today, is this a setback for a wartime President or
just DeLay and Armey?
Mr. Gephardt. Forget all
the politics. This is about whether the American people are safe in the air. It is whether
pilots and flight attendants and airline passengers feel safe. I said yesterday in the
press conference every time I get on the plane since September the 11th, I get notes from
the pilots. I held one up yesterday in which they were asking me why we can't get more
airline security. One of the pilots said to me, you know, we now know that most of the
bags that are in the hold are not inspected and may contain bombs. He said, we also know
that the people who do this not only want to die, they are happy to die.
So he said, now we sit up
in the cockpit and worry the whole flight that the plane is going to blow up because we
are not looking for bombs. And he said, you have got pilots and flight attendants who live
in terror just trying to do their job. I mean, I don't know how you can't respond to that
kind of concern.
This is real stuff, and
people are doing this every day. We need to act. So if we can't get a bill done today,
forget the politics, who wins and loses. It is the people out there that are on these
airplanes that are going to lose. They are going to lose peace of mind and confidence that
we can do anything to make them feel more secure.
Q How do you reconcile the
fact that the Speaker issued a statement yesterday in favor of the Young version of the
airline security bill when you are saying he is cooperating and collaborating?
Mr. Gephardt. You can't
define collaboration and working together as having to agree on everything all the time.
That is not my definition of collaboration. My definition of collaboration is at least
trying to find common ground, and if you can't, not delaying bringing something up that
really needs to be accomplished. I am at a point where I care a lot less about how this
bill comes out than we get the bill done, than we get something done so that we can say to
people we are addressing their heartfelt concerns. And so I give the Speaker credit. I
think he deserves credit for being willing to finally put the bill on the floor so we can
act on it. If he can't get it up, you can't deal with it. So I give him credit for that. I
think if he had given in to the -- some in his leadership, it wouldn't be up today. And
the same with the President.
Look, I have no problem
with them disagreeing with us about some of the features in this bill. That is legitimate.
But let us try to overcome the disagreement, and in the end let us try to get legislation
on the floor so that the House can work its will and move the country in a time of crisis.
Q Does that mean that you
-- when you are saying that it is most important that the bill is done, if the Young bill
passes, would you support that as the final legislation, as a way of getting a bill done
quickly to the President's desk?
Mr. Gephardt. I want to get
a bill out of here today. I don't know how I would vote yet if we lose. I will figure that
out at the time. But I want to get a bill out of here. I do not want everything to fail
today. I want to get the bill to conference. If that is the choice of the House, I want to
solve this problem. And I will work as hard as I know how to get that to happen in a
conference, if that is what the House chooses to do.
Q Mr. Leader, at the outset
you said about the manager's amendment that they would seek to limit the liability of
security companies for all that they have done wrong. Given the fact that box cutters were
legal to bring on the airplane, what exactly have the security companies done wrong?
Mr. Gephardt. I don't know,
and that is not something that we ought to be deciding. We ought to leave that to the
legal system and to the courts of law and to the law of the land. But to come right out of
the box here, before anything has been even asserted much less decided, to relieve them of
liability is hardly the message I think we ought to be sending to the American people
right now. I mean, these are people that have been shown to fail time and time again. They
have been fined over a million dollars in some cases. They have just been reindicted.
So with that as the
background, to now come in and say well, we are going to hold you harmless against any
possible liability, is breathtaking as a step towards special interest. I mean, you know,
I have been asked a number of times, why are the Republicans working so hard to keep these
companies in business with these contracts. Well, I don't think you have to look very hard
to figure this out. This is a special interest legislation. They hired lobbyists. They had
an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. They hired well-placed lobbyists that
have spent a lot of money lobbying both the administration and the Congress to hold onto
$700 billion worth of contracts. They have every right in the world to do that. I am not
complaining about them asserting their interest.
But we are supposed to be
here for the people, not for a special interest. And it seems to me that everything that
some in the Republican Party have done has been in the name of special interests. Maybe
this is about campaign contributions. Maybe it is about, you know, collecting more money
for the next election. It shouldn't be about that. It ought to be about what is right for
Q To what extent do you see
these 11th-hour changes to the bill a threat to your efforts to pass the legislation?
Mr. Gephardt. I think
everything that has been put in here has been designed to pick up vote or votes. I mean,
why would you put these special interest provisions in at the 11th hour? I can't think of
any other reason. Maybe it is about campaign contributions, too. I don't know. But it has
got to be designed to either, you know, bring in more money for the political effort, or
it has got to be there because they are trying to pick up votes at the last minute.
Q Does it increase the
chances that some Democrats will be casting a vote that way?
Mr. Gephardt. It may. I
Q What do you mean to do
for the rest of the year?
Mr. Gephardt. Well, we need
an economic bill, and I am hopeful that we can get that going rapidly in the Senate and
get it into conference and try to get a result that again is collaborative and that can be
bipartisan and we can get a lot of votes for.
We have got to finish the
appropriations bills. I hope we can do a bioterrorism bill, because I think there is some
added funding over and above what we have agreed on in the budget that needs to be added
for vaccines and for other efforts to fight bioterrorism.
Finally, we will not ever
be satisfied in leaving this year until we deal with the problem of unemployed workers,
both eligibility for unemployment and for health insurance, help for COBRA for unemployed
people. It is ridiculous to me that we could be here 7 weeks after September the 11th; we
have done what we needed to do for the airline industry, we are going to do today what we
need to do for airline security, and we are still unable to address the needs of
unemployed workers. We can come in today with a manager's amendment and take care of the
top executives of airlines to undo something that they didn't want done in the airline
bailout bill, but we can't yet find it within ourselves to do one single solitary thing
for the thousands of people in the airline industry, much less the other industries that
have been put out of work because of September the 11th. It is breathtaking to me that we
can be this insensitive to the needs of the people of this country.
Q Mr. Gephardt, how much
difficulty will it be to get the Defense Department appropriations bill done, and how hard
will you or Democrats be fighting for the extra money, rather than maybe doing a
supplemental next year for additional --
Mr. Gephardt. We are going
to try to have meetings with the appropriators and the administration and the leadership
and try to figure out a way to come to a conclusion on the appropriation bills. Again, I
think there probably needs to be some additional funding that I think even the
administration might agree to on bioterrorism. We have got some real needs to step up
vaccines and other health careefforts. And when you talk about vaccines, you not only need
the vaccines produced quickly, you need a way to get them delivered and through the public
health infrastructure. So there are a lot of very important issues we need to look at. So
I hope we can work that out rapidly.
Q Can you talk a little bit
about the process today? The airline security is not going to come up till what time at
Mr. Gephardt. I am not
sure. I think there is an hour on the rule, an hour of general debate, an hour -- or maybe
less than that -- but an hour on our alternative. So my hope is that if we can win this,
we will be done in essentially 3 hours. So I think that is a reasonable process. I
appreciate again the Speaker bringing up, allowing us to bring up our bill without change.
He had to waive some rules in the budget or something to allow that to happen, and I
appreciate his carrying through with that idea.
Q But the debate is not
going to start until 7 or 8 this evening?
Mr. Gephardt. No, I think
it will start in the afternoon. I think we are hoping for a vote around 7:00 or 8:00.
Q Mr. Speaker, has it
helped you at all that the Speaker has been so silent on this particular issue, the
airline security issue? Has it helped?
Mr. Gephardt. He is been
clear that he is for the Young bill. That has never been unclear. But again, I just -- I
think he is trying to get things done that people want done, and he is collaborating and
working. He has got a tough job. He has got diverse points of view in his caucus, as well
as I do, but he is trying his level best, as far as I can see, to do the right thing, and
I admire that and appreciate it.
[Whereupon, at 11:05 a.m.,
the press conference was concluded.]