This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from July 26, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Next on SPECIAL REPORT, the worst bridge collapse in decades leaves an untold number dead Minneapolis as divers struggle against debris and currents to locate bodies still in that river. Should you be worried about the bridges you use every day? We'll try to find out.
Plus, the Senate passes its own ethics bill, with both Republican votes and complaints that it is too weak.
And the drama continues over whether Congress will fix what is now being call the intelligence gap before Congress recesses. All that right here, right now.
Welcome to Washington. I'm Brit Hume. All of the vehicles that fell off a Minneapolis bridge into the Mississippi Wednesday night are still there tonight. Recovery workers say the water is flowing too quickly right now past the girders and chunks of road way for any substantial efforts to clear the river. Four people are known dead, but many more bodies are thought to be trapped in the wreckage. Correspondent Caroline Shively begins our coverage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At first, I didn't know what was happening. Dust just started coming up everywhere. And then I realized that the bridge is going down and it — it just fell all the way down. I'm just lucky I wasn't over the water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One second it was there and then in the blink of an eye it was gone. And yes, it was just unbelievable, ridiculous.
CAROLINE SHIVELY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took just seconds for the Interstate 35 West Bridge to crash into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis Wednesday night, but it could take days before the final death count is known, as recovery workers struggle to track bodies trapped in dozens of vehicles left in the water.
TIM DOLAN, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE CHIEF: People that were pinned, people that were partly crushed, that told emergency workers to say hello, say goodbye. So it was an amazing, amazing scene. And it is going to be a very dangerous scene for some time.
SHIVELY: The cause of collapse still unknown. State transportation officials had started their annual inspection of the bridge in May, but had stopped because of construction work. They were set to pick up again after construction was completed with a report out in September. In 2005, inspectors classified the bridge as structurally deficient because of corrosion on the bearings and joints. It rated 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability.
MARY PETERS, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: What that rating of 50 means is that the bridge should be repaired, should perhaps be considered for replacement at some point in the future. It was by no means an indication that this bridge was not safe.
SHIVELY: One hundred million dollars in federal funding has been freed up for rebuilding and recovery. It will take more than a year to put up a new span, and likely that long for the federal investigation into the cause.
SEN AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: A bridge in America just shouldn't fall down. And that is why we have called for this investigation.
SHIVELY: The National Transportation Safety Board has the job of trying to figure out what caused the bridge to collapse. They will probably spend the next five to ten days here and then they will take some of the more critical pieces of the bridge off site and, in their words, try to piece them back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Brit?
HUME: Caroline, the NTSB, as you just mentioned, is talking about some study by a university student they were given? What is that?
SHIVELY: Yes, Brit, it's a computer simulations done as a thesis project for a doctoral student. It studied this very bridge about what places it might collapse under different stresses. They plan on taking that study, lining it up with some surveillance video. The chairman of the NTSB says finding these two, putting them together, will save them months of work.
HUME: Wow, OK Caroline. Thank you very much. President Bush said today that he and members of his administration are praying for the victims of the bridge collapse and he promised federal support in the days ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We in the federal government must respond and respond robustly to help the people there, not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity, that bridge gets rebuilt as quickly as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: But even after that bridge is rebuilt, how will we know that any of the bridges we travel across are structurally safe? Correspondent Molly Henneberg has been looking into that question.
MOLLY HENNEBERG, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Americans travel over the nation's bridges, nearly 600,000 of them, every day. And for the most part, experts say, our national highway system, including bridges, is pretty safe, although starting to age a bit. Thirty one percent of the nation's bridges under 24 years old; but 40 percent between 25 and 49 years old; and 20 percent between 50 an 74 years. Infrastructure analysts say it is a concern.
PROF. JOSEPH SCHWIETERMAN, DEPAUL UNIVERSITY: We know that when the Interstate Highway System was built and some of the major public works projects in the 1960's that these pieces had about a 50 to 60 year useful life. And those are now approaching this rapidly, and we simply don't have the resources to do them all at once.
HENNEBERG: Most bridges in America are inspected every two years. And it's a thorough review.
RUSS KOLMUS, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: They may sound the concrete. They may run different type tests on different areas of the bridge. But they actually go out and look at the structural condition of the bridge and look for deterioration of various areas of the bridge.
HENNEBERG: But sometimes things do go wrong, tragically wrong, but not always because of the bridge itself. In 1967, the Silver Bridge in West Virginia collapsed, killing 46 people. The cause, material failure and corrosion. In 1980, during a storm, a ship hit the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in St. Petersburg, Florida and 35 people were killed.
In 1987, the Throughway Bridge in Amsterdam, New York collapsed because of flooding, erosion and poor maintenance and ten people were killed. And in 2002, part of the I-40 bridge over the Arkansas River in Oklahoma collapsed when a barge hit it; 14 people died.
As of 2006, the government said 154,000 bridges were considered deficient, as the Minnesota bridge was. That is showing deterioration, damage or just not able to handle the traffic flow. But the Transportation Department says just because a bridge is called deficient that, quote, does not immediately imply that is likely to collapse or that it is unsafe.
A deficient bridge, quote, typically requires significant maintenance and repair to remain in service, and eventual rehabilitation or replacement to address deficiencies. One former transportation secretary says it may be time to update the way we assess bridge safety.
NORMAN MINETA, HILL AND KNOWLTON: Are we doing them in a way that is expensive and that will bring to our attention what is wrong in a given structure?
HENNEBERG: Questions that for now may not have easy answers.
In Washington, Molly Henneberg, Fox News.
HUME: Later on SPECIAL REPORT, John Edwards wants fellow candidates to give certain campaign money back. But what about the money he got? And next we will tell you what is in the Senate ethics bill that just passed today and just as significantly perhaps what is not.
HUME: The Senate today passed an ethics and lobbying reform bill and, as in the House earlier this week, Republicans voted for it, even though they said it did not go far enough. While Democrats hailed it as a promise kept. Congressional correspondent Major Garrett reports.
MAJOR GARRETT, FOX NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Senate approved and sent to the White House an ethics bill banning lawmakers from accepting meals and trips from lobbyists, and cut rate travel on corporate jets. It also forces lawmakers to disclose when lobbyist collect more than 15,000 dollars in campaign contributions. Democrats called it a campaign promise fulfill.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The bottom line is that we have kept our word that this bill, with real reform, will make a difference in the way we do business.
GARRETT: But the bill's approach to disclosing earmarks, specific projects often secretly inserted into spending bills, drew the withering ire of a handful of Republicans.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Instead of draining the swamp, this bill gives the alligator new rights.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is an unethical ethics bill because it pretends that we do something that we are not.
GARRETT: The Senate ignored these protests, passing the bill on a lopsided vote of 83 to 14. The bill will, for the first time, require disclosure of all earmarks at least 48 hours before a Congressional vote.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Disclosure, transparency is what the earmark reform is all about. No more — no more dark of night additions to bills.
GARRETT: But the bill gives Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic committee chairmen unchecked power to decide if the earmark disclosure requirements have been met. Critics say this put earmark disclosure in partisan hands, undermining reform.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This will continue the earmarking and pork barrel projects. And we are passing up a great opportunity and again the American people will have been deceived.
GARRETT: Reid called the accusation fiction worthy of the "Twilight Zone."
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: How can you describe ridiculous. That's what it is. Those talking about earmarks in the way that they did, my Republican friends, are either ignorant of what is already happening, or living in a parallel universe.
GARRETT: Trading earmarks for cash and gifts led to former California Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham's conviction on bribery and corruption charges. Two Republicans in Congress, John Doolittle and Jerry Lewis of California, and one Democrat, Allen Molloham (ph) of West Virginia, are under federal investigation for suspected earmark corruption. So is Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens. None have been charged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the biggest problems that we face on the all the ethical lapses in Congress? It's earmarks.
GARRETT: The White House apparently shares these concerns about earmarks because it hasn't yet committed to signing the bill, even though it passed the House and today the Senate by overwhelming margins. The White House is also concerned about a provision that apparently requires the reimbursement rate of 400,000 dollars per hour for any Republican candidates who flies aboard Air Force One with the president to a fund raiser for next year's reelection. Brit?
HUME: Major, thank you. The name of Judge Leslie Southwick is headed to the full Senate for an up or down vote on his nomination to the fifth circuit court of appeals. California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein today joined nine Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to move the nomination to the floor. Groups including the NAACP, people for the American Way and the AFL-CIO have opposed Southwick over some controversial civil and gay rights cases while he was a district judge.
House lawmakers today were wrestling with the issue of how to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The director of national intelligence has told them it's a matter of national emergency, but at least one Democrat isn't so sure. Chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle has the story.
JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): House Democrats this morning blocked attempts by Republicans to make changes in a Democratic plan to write new rules for eavesdropping on foreign terrorists. And one Democrat denied there is any urgency, even as Republicans said legal roadblocks are slowing the effort to listen in on terrorists.
REP. HEATHER WILSON (R), NEW MEXICO: Speed matters. It matters in a war on terrorism where terrorists are using our communications networks in order to try to kill us. It is vital, absolutely vital, that we fix the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before the House adjourns.
REP. ALCEE HASTINGS (D), FLORIDA: She's persuasive enough to make it appear that there is something that is happening that is dreadful in — and America is about to be attacked because — no, I will not yield —
ANGLE: Hastings refused to be interrupted as he argued there is no urgent need to do anything.
HASTINGS: But to give the general impression that there is this necessity that it be done yesterday is not what the reality is.
ANGLE: The director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, has warned that U.S. intelligence is facing obstacles and urged Congress to act without delay. Some other Democrats seem convinced.
REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D), NEW YORK: I again want to assure my colleagues that FISA is on the calendar before we go home, which may be the middle of next week. We are not going to leave here without getting that fixed.
ANGLE: Aside from the question of urgency, Hastings and Wilson reflect one of the chief dividing lines in the debate. Many Democrats want special judges to administers FISA, the law governing surveillance of Americans, to be consulted before the National Security Agency can eavesdrop on any foreign terrorists calling the U.S.
HASTINGS: Civil liberties are paramount when it comes to our consideration of gathering information. We don't want to troll and catch some American citizens and have their information poorly used.
ANGLE: Under the law, warrants must be obtained under FISA when someone in the U.S. is targeted for surveillance. But the law has never required warrants to eavesdrop on foreigners, even those who call the U.S.
WILSON: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was never intended to put a U.S. judge in charge of deciding whether we can listen to foreigners in foreign countries. That is why we spy and what we do. We don't need judges to be considering those kinds of things.
ANGLE: Democrats have now sent yet another counter-proposal back to the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, at least the sixth version so far, as Congress works to get something done on this before leaving town. And Republicans are threatening to block any move to adjourn unless and until some action is taken. Brit?
HUME: Jim, thank you. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is demanding that his Democratic rivals return any campaign contributions they may have received from employees of News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. Quote, the time has come, said Edwards, for Democrats to stop pretending to be friends with the very people who demonize the Democratic party.
It seemed to be a jab at Senator Hillary Clinton, who has received more than 20,000 dollars in contributions from Fox News corporation officials — from News Corporation officials. But it seems that no candidate has received as much money from the company as Edwards himself. News Corporation said tonight that Edwards got a 500,000 dollar advance, plus 300,000 dollars in expenses for his coffee table book called "Home," which was published just last fall by News Corp subsidiary Harper Collins.
The Edwards camp said tonight that all the profits that the senator received from the book went to charity.
Coming up later on SPECIAL REPORT, a live news conference on the very latest in that recovery process in Minneapolis. But first, we will tell you how far the Senate Judiciary Committee got today in its probe into the firings of federal prosecutors.
HUME: Once again today, the Senate Judiciary Committee was trying to pry answers from an obviously uncomfortable White House aide about the firings of more than a half dozen federal prosecutors last year. But as with former White House political director Sarah Taylor last month, the lawmakers were thwarted once again by the aide's instructions from President Bush. Correspondent James Rosen reports.
JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): White House aide Scott Jennings came armed with a personal attorney and a White House council. But committee Democrats, who passed the 29-year-old as part of a nefarious White House scheme to systematically fire disobedient U.S. attorneys, and who knew in advance he would follow a directive from President Bush and invoke executive privilege in response to most of their questions, still proved generous with their own legal advice. Charles Schumer offered a novel view of witness rights before Congressional panels.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: You can't just answer the ones you want to answer and not answer the ones you don't want to answer.
ROSEN: And an equally novel claim about Jennings' ability to testify concerning the very matters covered by the president's claim and too in a memo the committee had obtained.
SCHUMER: If the memo was privileged then you can't confirm it. It the memo was not privileged then you can. Chairman Pat Leahy conceded a bit more latitude to the witness in what he could or should say.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Seem to have a selective use of a privilege, but that is a determination that you have to make.
ROSEN: And when Jennings did make that decision, it sounded on almost two dozen occasions like this.
SCOTT JENNINGS, WHITE HOUSE DEP DIR POL AFFAIRS: I must respectfully decline to answer your questions at this time.
ROSEN: Among the Republicans, only Orrin Hatch defended the firing of the prosecutors.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: The president doesn't have to state reasons. They can be for any reasons, including political reasons.
ROSEN: Jennings did admit he hosted for breakfast at the White House mess two Republicans lawyers from New Mexico, a state where a U.S. attorney was replaced, shortly before a memo was sent to Monica Goodling, a former White House official and key figure in the purging of the prosecutors, urging her to meet with one of the same lawyers.
JENNINGS: As I recall it was a social breakfast.
ROSEN: Jennings also admitted he occasionally used a blackberry issued by the Republican National Committee for official business, but only because it was, quote, convenient.
JENNINGS: Because I had access to it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unlike my other e-mail account.
ROSEN (on camera): What the Democrats failed to do was get Jennings to admit any wrongdoing or get his superior, Karl Rove, to appear with documents pursuant to a committee subpoena. Rove asserted the same privilege and the Democrats, as throughout this controversy, made allusions to Watergate.
In Washington, James Rosen, Fox News.
HUME: President Bush today tried to put the squeeze on the Democrat- led Congress to move and move soon on federal spending bills for the fiscal year that begins in October. The president said it is wrong for the Congress to take its August break with such an important responsibility unfulfilled. Chief White House correspondent Bret Baier reports.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After meeting with his cabinet secretary, President Bush called Democratic leaders irresponsible for sending Congress into a summer recess this weekend before sending him a single appropriations bill, the dozen spending measures needed to fund federal operations after the current fiscal year ends September 30th.
BUSH: They need to pass each of these spending bills individually, on time, and in a fiscally responsible way.
BAIER: The president's push comes just one day after a White House meeting where Democratic leaders expressed confidence that budget differences with the administration could be worked out.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Negotiated a very small difference between Democrats and Republicans on these appropriations bills, less than one percent. In fact, .7 percent difference of a two trillion dollar budget.
BAIER: While not mentioning Speaker Pelosi by name, the president jumped on that statement.
BUSH: Only in Washington can 22 billion dollars be called a very small difference.
BAIER: And, he said, the difference will continue to skyrocket. White House officials released a graphic showing what they called the difference in non-defense spending between the president's budget proposal in blue and Congress' in red. As projected, Congress would spend a total of 205 billion dollars more over the five years.
BUSH: Put another way, that's about 1,300 dollars in higher spending every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every year for the next five years. That's a lot of money, even for career politicians in Washington.
BAIER: As the president continued to emphasize the difference, Democrats tried to downplay its significance.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We are talking about a 2.7 trillion dollar budget. The numbers that we are speaking of — so the difference is less than one percent difference. To be more accurate about .7 percent.
BAIER: Meantime, the man the president wants as his next budget director, former Congressman Jim Nussle, still has not been confirmed. At the White House today, there is a growing sense that Nussle's nomination is being held hostage.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: You hope that somebody would not use this as a cheesy bargaining chip at a time when, in fact, you have got the necessity of getting a budget director confirmed and a budget director whose personal qualifications and also his personal maturity is not in doubt.
BAIER: While the Senate Budget Committee voted 22-1 to approve the nomination today, the one, Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, vowed to block the nomination on the Senate floor. Other top Democrats have signaled they may hold up Nussle's nomination as well. Tonight senior White House officials said, we hope not, but we will see. Brit?
HUME: Thank you, Bret. Gates says U.S. officials underestimated how difficult it would be for the Iraqi government to pass political reform. Gates was returning from a four-day Middle East trip. He told reporters the depth of mistrust, as he called it, among Iraqi factions is greater than anticipated. He spoke after six Sunni cabinet ministers from the Iraqi Accordance Front, as it is called, resigned. They had complained that Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki failed to respond to political demands.
President Bush has ordered a freeze on U.S. assets belonging to people or organizations accused of undermining the Lebanese government. The president wrote a letter to Congress that the executive order targets anyone fomenting instability in Lebanon, or contributing to what he called Syrian interference in the country. He did not identify those affected by the order. It follows a ban on travel to the U.S. of Lebanese or Syrian officials suspected of trying to destabilize Lebanon.
Got to take a break here to pay our bills and update the other headlines. When we come back, wait until you hear how Senator Patrick Leahy defines an activist Supreme Court. That is coming up next on the Grapevine.
HUME: Well, one of the goals of the United Nations is fighting terrorism, but a FOX News investigation has found that one U.N. committee has been dealing with a controversial Saudi charity, whose offices have been linked to the financing of terrorists.
Correspondent Eric Shawn reports.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAWN: The United Nations embracing a group accused to ties to al- Queda? A FOX News investigation of NGOs, the nongovernmental organizations that are accredited by the U.N., has prompted a review of one of them, a charity based in Saudi Arabia.
The IIRO, the International Islamic Relief Organization, spends millions on humanitarian issues. But the U.S. Treasury Department has placed two of its braches on its terrorism sanction list for "facilitating fundraising for al-Queda and affiliated terrorist groups."
The U.S. even says a top IIRO official help bankroll al-Queda, and that the head of the IIRO's office in the Philippines was Usama bin-Laden's brother-in-law.
REP ZACH WAMP, (R) TENNESSEE: This is a direct security threat to our country.
SHAWN: Tennessee Congressman Zach Wamp, along with Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, both Republicans, have introduced a bill aim at reducing U.S. funding for the U.N. if an NGO is designated as a terrorist supporter.
WAMP: I think if any average American knew that any of these 4,000 NGOs were in a contrary of consultative service officially connected to the United Nations, yet they have got al-Queda connections, and they are receiving indirectly our U.S. tax dollars, they wouldn't stand for it.
SHAWN: Even the U.N.'s only committee on al-Queda had cited the IIRO's two branches as belonging to or associated with the terrorist group.
STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT: I think it will be very fair to say that IIRO has American blood on its hands. There is no doubt that IIRO was directly connected to carrying out acts of terrorism on behalf of al-Queda.
SHAWN: Stuart Levy, the top treasury official in charge of combating terrorism financing wants the Saudis to crack down on their charities, as his office with the IIRO in other countries.
STUART LEVEY, TREASURY DEPT: They were using these branches of this charity, ostensibly a humanitarian charity, to divert money to, in that case, in the Philippines, to the Aba-Suyaf(ph) Group, which is a terrorist organization affiliated with al-Queda, and in Indonesia to Mas-Lamia(ph), which is another very deadly terrorist organization.
SHAWN: The current Chairman of the U.N. NGO Committee says he will now review the charity's status.
PEDRO ROA ARBOLEDA, UN NGO COMMITTEE CHMN: Most of the application went right to the NGO Committee. They have been already previously analyzed in each section, and they make sure that the basic requirements are already fulfilled.
SHAWN: The IIRO has not responded to our request for information. While the U.N. insists all the NGOs must abide by the principles of the world body, the proposed legislation may now help enforce that.
At the United Nations, I'm Eric Shawn, Fox News.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: On the heels of his tough speech on terrorism yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said today he would not use nuclear weapons in the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Meantime in Pakistan, there was angry reaction to Obama's speech, warning Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that the U.S. under Obama's leadership would take unilateral action if Musharraf cannot reign in al- Queda and tribal leaders who support it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TASNEEM ASLAM, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTRY: There are serious matters here. We are talking about international law, a country's sovereignty, and these matters cannot be and must not be used for point scoring. And we expect political commentators and candidates to exercise responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: A judge in Virginia has declared the state's new abusive driver fees unconstitutional. The unpopular fees apply only to Virginia residents, and can total more than $1,000 in some cases. The charges have prompted a storm of protest and petitions to the state legislature.
Today's ruling is binding only Reico County down around Richmond where it is made, but is being appealed to the circuit court and could eventually reach the Virginia Supreme Court.
Coming up next, the FOX all-stars weigh in on yesterday's bridge collapse in Minnesota. How could this happen, how safe are we? All that coming up next.
(PORTION OF NEWS CONFERENCE WITH HENNEPIN COUNTY SHERIFF RICH STANEK)
HUME: You get a sense from this of what Sheriff Stanek and all of those working with him on the recovery operations out there in Minnesota are up against. It's very difficult for them to operate in those waters, partly because of currents and partly because, as you heard him describe, there's still debris that's falling from the wrecked bridges into the water. And they have to be very mindful of the divers' safety.
As you could see, he had very little to add to the sum of our knowledge about the number of people who may have died in this incident as a result. The death count, as of earlier, stood at four. They expect it to go higher, but they really can't get a bead on that. As you heard him say, they found one vehicle, no one in it. So they've got lots of work left to do, and it's taking them some time to figure out how to do it.
This issue, of course, is reverberated with all the news coverage across the country. It certainly found its way into the White House briefing room today, where Tony Snow's briefing was consumed, in part at least, with questions about this issue. Let's look at a sample of what he was up against today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, we're not pointing the — no, we're not pointing the finger at anybody, April.
JOURNALIST: You're basically saying that they're supposed to investigate, and they're supposed to investigate, and they're supposed to - - so are you...
SNOW: No, April, this is the classic mistake at a time like this. This is not a time for finger-pointing at all. This is a time for dealing with those in grief and also working to assist the state in getting that artery put together as quickly as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Some thoughts on all this now from Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the "Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of "Roll Call," FOX News contributors all.
Well, what can we draw from what we know, what we've seen, and the way this is sort of being handled, not least by the news media, Mort?
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "ROLL CALL": Well, hooray for Tony. I mean, there's a culture of blame that goes on all the time. I mean, something horrible happens, and this was horrible, and immediately everybody wants to find somebody to put in the jailhouse or something, when we don't even know what caused it, we don't know if it was a structural flaw, we know whether it was river currents, or what it was.
I mean, I think what we do know, I mean, what it does focus everybody on is that we have lots of infrastructure problems in this country, and we need to spend a lot more money than we're spending on it on everything, not only bridges, but highways, to deal with congestion, with airports that are delayed, with all that stuff, water. I mean, there was a steam pipe that blew in New York City just the other day. I mean, all that stuff, it's going to be very expensive.
Now, to play my little bit of blame myself, I mean, in 2003 — wait, in 2003 — it has nothing to do with this specifically — but in 2003, Congress wanted to spend $350-some billion on infrastructure, and the Bush administration insisted on, oh, no, only $287 billion, obviously, to help protect their tax cuts.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, look, what I think the American people expect from Washington at a time like this is some partisan restraint. And, you know, that's hard to do.
HUME: No, no, no, it's not so hard for the politicians to do. What it seems so hard to do, it's hard for the news media to be restrained.
LIASSON: Well, yes, but, also, look, you know, we've already heard, you know, the president kind of taking this as an opportunity to say, hey, the Congress hasn't sent me the spending bills, including the Department of Transportation bill, which wouldn't necessarily provide money for bridges to specifically aid this situation. Then you've got Democrats saying, "This shows that the Bush administration hasn't spent enough money on infrastructure."
There's going to be an investigation of why this happened. If the Congress does pass the transportation spending bill tonight, it might include a waiver so that Minnesota can get more money than it otherwise could. But beyond that, there's nothing that Congress is talking about doing right this minute that would solve this problem.
HUME: We're going to take a break right here to let our sponsors have a word. But, Fred, I want to get your thoughts and any further thoughts from the panel on this issue and perhaps others, when we come back. Stay tuned.
(MORE OF NEWS CONFERENCE WITH SHERIFF STANEK)
HUME: That is Sheriff Stanek still continuing to field reporters question. He doesn't really have much to tell them, as you can tell from the answer you were getting, which was, essentially, something he had said earlier about there are going to try to get back in and dive, and so on.
He did say one thing interesting. He said the number of people said to be missing, he said, had dropped from about 20—we were hearing as many as 30 earlier—to something like 8 now. So it's just possible, I suppose, that the death count out of this will be less than we had all feared, and that would be, obviously. very encouraging news indeed.
Back with our panel, and we were discussing the reactions to all of this before we cut away. Fred Barnes, you had not had a say, I would like to hear your thoughts on this.
FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, WEEKLY STANDARD: Look, I will say that if it's only a dozen deaths or so with this collapse at rush hour on a major interstate in an urban area, that would be quite amazing, to have so few fatalities. I hope that turns out to be correct.
Mort said there's a culture of blame that the press indulges in. I think that's right, and then they turn it into an orgy of blame. They did that in Katrina to a great extent.
The press pictures can be really extraordinary, though. But I think sometimes you need to—if you are watching a story like this, you need to do it like I do with sports. You have the TV on but the sound off. And you can be better off doing that.
But, look, one thing is absolutely true. You don't know whether it affects this bridge or not. We won't know for month what's the cause was. But we have in America one of the great wonders of the world, the Interstate Highway System, and it is crumbling everywhere.
And the amount of money, even though it's in the billions of dollars, that have been spent on repairing it are nowhere near enough.
HUME: It sounds like a lot of money. Mort said $350 billion reduced to $287 billion, that sounds like a awful lot of money.
BARNES: It is an awful lot of money. But here's system that was laid out in the middle 1950's. We need new interstates, and the ones that are crumbling—think of the traffic jams that everybody experiences everyday—
HUME: Everywhere, it seems.
BARNES: Everywhere on interstate highways.
BARNES: There aren't enough lanes. They aren't in the right repair, and it's great national treasure that's deteriorating.
HUME: And Mort, who will be the proponents and who will be the opponents if a truly ambitious major spending plan comes forward to modernize the national structure?
MORT KONDRAKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I actually think you could have a bipartisan agreement. This idea in 2003 of spending, it was $375 billion, was a bipartisan idea. It was Democrats, and Don Young was the chairman of the Infrastructure Committee in the House, he was a Republican.
It was President Bush who didn't want to spend all that money, and ultimately they made a deal
HUME: But everybody at this desk seems to be saying it wasn't that much money anyway.
KONDRAKE: Well, there needs to be a lot more, and there should be a bipartisan agreement to do it.
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It would be bizarre to think that it would take about a trillion dollars to correct what needs to be corrected in the Interstate Highway System. You can't have tax cuts and do that. And if the Democrats want to stick to their pay as you go system, they're going to have to cut spending somewhere to pay for it.
HUME: That's it for the panel. But stay tuned to find out why some people think CNN was unfair to Dick Cheney in that interview the other night. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: We are located in the Vice Presidential Ceremonial Office. It is in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, with the Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're winning in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: And that's Special Report for this time. Please tune us in next time. In the meantime, more news is on the way. Fair, balanced, and unafraid.
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