During a report on the House bill to implement the 9-11 Commission recommendations, CNN congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel pronounced the bill a product of “political calculation” after interviewing three Republican representatives who criticized the bill. In its rebroadcast of Koppel's report, CNN did not inform viewers that two of the three Republicans -- Reps. Peter King (NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) -- voted for the bill after blasting Democrats on CNN. Moreover, Koppel presented no substantive defense of the bill from Democrats, while Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer repeatedly suggested the bill was a “political stunt.”
Koppel called the bill “a pipe dream, according to the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee” before airing King's remarks. Koppel later said that “Republicans smelled politics” before showing Ros-Lehtinen. By contrast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was shown only ordering "[t]he clerk [to] report the title of the bill," not speaking in favor of the bill. Koppel did introduce a quote from the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), but it did not specifically address the bill's merits: “Here's a chance for Congress to stop dragging its feet, to become the 'Do-Something Congress.' ” The segment reported on three critics with explanations of their objections, but merely mentioned two supporters who were assumed to be in favor of the bill.
CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve's later segment on the bill featured only critics. Meserve noted that the administration “says it cannot support this bill” and that the bill “doesn't” enact all of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations. Meserve also showed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff criticizing the bill. The rest of the report featured criticism of the bill over what Meserve called “a key 9-11 Commission recommendation that Congress reform itself,” which Meserve said the “Democratic bill completely ignores.” During Meserve's segment, onscreen graphics read: “The problem or the cure?: Dems & 9/11 reforms.”
Koppel and Meserve only briefly touched on the substance of the debate: what the bill actually does. Koppel noted that it requires the “screening [of] all incoming cargo at large ports within the next three years.” Meserve added that the bill “mandat[es] 100 percent inspection of cargo on passenger planes within three years and requir[es] that within five years all cargo containers be screened for radiation before shipment to the U.S.”
Blitzer opened The Situation Room by asking whether the Democratic "100 Hours" legislative agenda was a “time frame for real action or simply a political stunt.” Blitzer later introduced Koppel's segment, noting that while Democrats had “homeland security” officially on their “agenda,” “some critics are accusing House leaders of having something else on their agenda -- partisanship and self-promotion.” Blitzer also told former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) that "[a] lot of critics are saying it's a pure publicity stunt." Even Watts, CNN's conservative voice in its “Strategy Session” debates, disagreed: “I don't think it's a publicity stunt. I think there is substantive policy in what they're talking about doing.”
From the January 9 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Plus, House members start the clock on their first 100 hours.
Is it a time frame for real action or simply a political stunt?
We'll get a reality check.
BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have started the clock ticking on what they're calling their first 100 hours.
On their agenda today, homeland security. But some critics are accusing House leaders of having something else on their agenda -- partisanship and self-promotion.
Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel. She's watching the House and the clock -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: What are you talking about, Larry?
BLITZER: I think we're having some --
KOPPEL: Wolf, almost three years after the 9-11 Commission issued its recommendation, a number of those have, as yet, to be implemented. Well, Democrats hope by the end of the day today that will change.
[begin video clip]
PELOSI: The clerk will report the title of the bill.
KOPPEL: And with that, the Democrats' ambitious “100 Hour” agenda was off and ticking. Six bills to be debated and voted on over six days, each focused on a different issue -- minimum wage, stem cell research, student loans, prescription drug prices, and cutting subsidies to Big Oil -- all popular campaign promises Democrats hope to make good on.
THOMPSON: Here's a chance for Congress to stop dragging its feet, to become the “Do-Something Congress.”
KOPPEL: First up, a bill to enact the remaining 9-11 Commission recommendations, including screening all incoming cargo at large ports within the next three years, a pipe dream, according to the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.
KING: There's 11 million containers that come in -- that come into the country. There is no technology right now that is guaranteed to work.
KOPPEL: Another problem? Paying for it.
REP. DON YOUNG (R-AK): What we're asking in this bill is the expenditure of huge dollars for, really, window dressing and not results.
KOPPEL: Blocked by Democrats from reviewing it in committee or offering amendments, Republicans smelled politics.
ROS-LEHTINEN: It's truly a shame that the new Democratic leadership has chosen to turn what was a bipartisan, carefully calibrated approach to safeguarding our nation's security in the aftermath of 9-11 into a partisan political tool.
KOPPEL: But the Democrats' majority leader, Steny Hoyer [MD], disputes that notion and says that it's all about the nation's security, which is why they wanted to get it done as quickly as they have.
But, clearly, Wolf, there is a political calculation involved in the timing of all of this. Congress watchers say it's a way for the Democrats to come out of the box as a united caucus, presenting that united front before, down the line, we see more contentious issues come up, where you have moderate and conservative Democrats, a growing number of whom are in this Congress right now, who are going to potentially face off with their leadership over issues like raising taxes and also abortion.
BLITZER: So is the “100 Hours” real action or just a political show?
BLITZER: You used to serve in the House of Representatives. Let's get to this first 100 hours on their legislative calendar. The Democrats are saying, you know what? These six items they want to pass, they're all important, including raising the federal minimum wage.
A lot of critics are saying it's a pure publicity stunt.
What do you think?
WATTS: Wolf, I don't think it's a publicity stunt. I think there is some substantive policy in what they're talking about doing.
I think they made -- if I would have been advising them -- and I said this a week ago -- I would have advised them to not shove it down the throat of Republicans, allow them to have a say in debating this, going through committees and all those things, simply because I think there is some substantive policy there that needs to be debated.
MESERVE: Wolf, the administration now says it cannot support this bill as written. It's a bill that House Democrats say will enact all of the 9-11 Commission recommendations. But it doesn't.
[begin video clip]
MESERVE: In some ways, the Democrats' legislation goes beyond what the 9-11 Commission recommended, mandating 100 percent inspection of cargo on passenger planes within three years and requiring that within five years all cargo containers be screened for radiation before shipment to the U.S.
Some say those deadlines can't be met either because the technology doesn't exist or the costs are too great.
CHERTOFF: You know, at some point, rhetoric has to meet reality. And that usually happens in my department. We've got to make sure that we've met reality.
MESERVE: And what's more, the Democratic bill completely ignores a key 9-11 Commission recommendation that Congress reform itself. Right now, the organizational chart shows a jumble of 86 committees and subcommittees claiming some jurisdiction over homeland security.
MARY FATCHET (9-11 family member): When I first received this, my 15-year-old at the time said, “How do they know who's in charge?”
MESERVE: The overload of oversight meant DHS officials had to attend 206 hearings last year and provided more than 2,000 briefings. By one estimate, it can eat up a quarter of an official's time.
MICHAEL GREENBERGER (director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland and a law school professor): I don't for a minute underestimate the amount of time that's taken away from the real job of the executive branch, which is to protect the country, by having to respond to duplicative hearings.
MESERVE: Tom Ridge, the first secretary of homeland security, says another problem is the quality of oversight.
RIDGE: You can't do it when you have got disparate jurisdictions looking at discrete pieces of the pie rather than somebody taking a look at the whole picture.
[end video clip]
MESERVE: The House Democrats say down the road they will try to streamline oversight of homeland security, but outside experts are skeptical they'll succeed because money, power, and turf are at stake -- Wolf.
KOPPEL: Wolf, enacting those remaining 9-11 recommendations was one of the pledges the Democrats made out on the campaign trail. We have just learned that the House vote has completed and that this measure has passed by a vote of 299-128.
[begin video clip]
PELOSI: The clerk will report the title of the bill.
KOPPEL: The Democratic majority leader, Steny Hoyer, disputes that notion and says, in fact, the effort to push through these 9-11 recommendations so quickly within the first 100 hours is proof that the Democrats place an incredibly high priority on beefing up the nation's security. But, Wolf, clearly there is a political calculation in the timing. The Democrats want to come out of the gate presenting a united front. Again, the measure just passed moments ago by a vote of 299 to 128 -- Wolf.