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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  August 18, 2010 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

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>> rose: welcome to our program, tonight admiral thad allen, the man in charge of the government's effort to contain the oil still the gulf of mexico gives his assessment on what has been done and what needs to be done. >> i don't think there ever is a mission accomplished with an oil spill. nothing ever good happens when you put oil on the water. we don't know the impact of some of these things for years. what you have you do is you have a mitigation plan, off response plan, you deal with it, you assess the damages and you keep working it and you keep working it. i'm not prepared to say mission will be complete any time soon on this, whether the well is capped or not. >> rose: we conclude this evening with an analysis of the united states senate. al hunt, bill cohen and george packer answer the question is
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about it t senate or is it about the senators? or is in the end is it about an institution or is it politics? >> when i started to cover the senate almost 40 years ago, charlie, the issues were, if anything, more divisive. they were still the remnants of the civil rights struggles, there was the vietnam war, watergate, impeachment. but there was the sense and there was some bitter fights back then, but there was the sense that when we can let's try to find consensus, let's work together on things. that sense as george captured in his piece does not exist today. >> the senate's always been designed to say a restraining influence. as i've said? the past, there's always been checks and balances. everyone's in check but no one niece charge. as a result of that, you get no action. and the only way to fix it is to really have a supermajority and the public would have to support that to say you're going to give one party a rather overwhelming support to move in a certain direction.
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otherwise you'll continue to have stalemate. >> to me it had the feel of a kind of decadent body that that had slipped into stagnation where a lot of the energy of the senators went into sort of manipulating precedents and rules in order to win short-term parliamentary battles rather than really deliberating, debating, thinking, and legislating. >> rose: the b.p. oil spill and the united states senate when we continue.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: admiral thad allen is here, he is in charge of coordinating the u.s. government's response to the oil spill in the gulf of mexico. plans were supposed toove forward mid-august to seal the damaged b.p. well for good by
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plugging it with mud and cement from below. admiral allen recently announced that this procedure will be put on hold. experts are concerned about the buildup of well pressure that could occur during this process. this effort is the latest attempt to contain the spills. last month, engineers finally stopped the oil leak by putting a temporary cap on the well. before that, oil had been gushing for 86 days. it wreaked havoc on the people and the environment of the gulf coast. al this add len is no stranger to disasters. he also helped turn around the government's response to hurricane katrina. i am pleased to have him here at this table for the first time. welcome. >> hi, charlie. >> rose: tell me what you were doing earlier today off the florida coast. >> the administrator of noaa and i went down to cedar key and were there for the first release of kemps-ridley turtles back into the environment. we had recovered them, they had been hb rehabilitate and it was the first release. it was an amazing event to take part in. >> rose: how we will measure the
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kind of damage that was done ecologically and to wildlife. >> well, there's a procedure under the oil pollution act from 1990 that was passed under the exxon "valdez" to do a natural resources assessment. b.p. will pay for that. >> rose: will it be a while before we will truly be able to assess what the impact of this has been? >> i think it will be a while before we know the full impact. i think we're going to have to monitor, going to have to study. as i said a couple times, it will be adding a crime to a crime not to learn as much as we can from this situation. >> rose: and so what do you fear and that could be a lasting consequence. >> rose: well, i don't think we know the long-term impact on the habitats in the ocean. this is the most oil that's ever been introduced into the waters around the united states. there's been a lot of discussion a lot of kosovo around these dispersants. we have oil up in the marshes around bare the area bay, the mississippi sound and we need to
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have a strict way to monitor hydrocarbons in the future and learn as much as we can because we don't ever, ever want to have this happen again. >> rose: spike lee, the filmmaker, was here. he made a documentary. you saw him as he was leaving. he wanted to ask you this question and he asked me to please ask it for him. i would have asked it otherwise regardless. but it is this. how much of the oil has disappeared in your judgment and how do you know that to be true? >> if i could i'd like to take you back to the beginning of of the spill. there was a lot of concern about flow rate, how much was coming out of the well. >> rose: early controversies. >> very low numbers, 1,000, 5 about five weeks into these events we established a separate government team called a flow rate technical group headed by marcia mcnutt, the head of the u.s. geological survey. i thought we needed the best information we could get by scientific experts independent of b.p. engaged with academia.
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we slowly started refining those numbers and came up with a number of plus or minus 10% of 50,000 barrels a day. once you have a flow rate number, the logical question is how much total oil was discharged and we have approximate number, 4.9 million barrels. that would legitimately lead to the question where is the oil? so what we tried do is take what we know, what we can accurately assess and find out what remains to be done out there. almost 2826,000 barrels were actually produced through the pipelines we set up and brought to the surface. we know how much we burned, we know how much was skimmed and we have an estimate for how much dispersed by the dispersants that were used. there are scientific baselines for evaporation and so forth and when you account for what man did that we know by removal of the oil, what we can estimate from skimming and burning and dispersant use and generally accepted rates for evaporation, if you take all that together it
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leaves you 26% that you don't know on shore somewhere. so this is not an absolute number. it's a way to have a conversation about what do we need to do moving forward. >> rose: so we know what happened to 75%, we don't know what happened to 26%. >> some of it we know to absolute certainty. we know what we took out of the water. but evaporation ratesthose have been established estimates for a long, long time. if you add that up out of every gallon that comes up and goes somewhere, there's going to be 26% that we can't explain where it went and it will either end up on shoreline or we have to deal with it somewhere. i wrishgs do we stand in terms of relief wells and what the fear is today about some kind of pressure building up and forcing out the oil in between? >> first of all, there's no pressure building up. there's going to be... it should be a concern for immediate discharge from that well. we did static kill a couple of weeks ago we actually put 5,000 feet of cement down into that well. what we didn't do was seal off
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the area outside the well casing between that and the wellbore it's just a circle, an open circle around the will. that was always intended to be closed by the relief well that comes in the from the bottom. now that we've got the well stable and we have the cap on it and there's no hydrocarbons going into the gulf, i want to be sure we know what's going to happen when we penetrate that and start pumping mud and cement in. we believe there's a little chance we could increase the pressure in the area outside the well pipe that could be forced up and go through seals that are at the top of the well and we don't know whether the current blowout preventer that was there when the event occurred can handle that pressure. so there's been a discussion going on between the scientific team led by secretary chu and the b.p. engineers as to what the right course ahead is and they boil down to two courses of action. either to do something to control the pressure and the current blowout preventer that's there with the capping stack or you bring a new blowout preventer in and remove that. >> rose: those are the two options you have? >> those are the two options.
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>> rose: and you'll make the choice? >> the teams are looking at it right now. we're going to do a couple things. first of all, we want to make sure there is no pressure emanating anywhere from inside that well. so right now we're starting to flush the blowout preventer and move all the form material by bringing it to the surface and capturing and filling the whole thing with sea water so we have the same time of liquid inside the blowout preventer that's outside it then do what we call an ambient pressure test. if there's any change in pressure we need to know where there's coming from. if that's good to, go stable, that will be one more indication we can proceed, we move the blowout preventer, put a new one on and proceed with the bottom kill. we've asked b.p. for plans how we would move along that palt and subject to the review of the science team i'm ready to move that way. >> rose: you better than anyone else can characterize and define b.p.'s cooperation, its attitude its judgment about cleanup after
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the spill occurs. >> i have two comments on b.p.'s performance and i've been very frank about this with tony hayward and bob dudley oshgs mar mckay and the other leaders there. b.p. is an oil wide oil exploration company. that is what they do and that's what they've been organized to do, that's how... their current culture is aimed at that. when you have an oil spill, we have to get right down to the personal transaction level, you have to be concerned with claims with shrimpers of lost income, so when i talk about b.p.'s performance i like to split it into two parts, one at the well head. they've done an extraordinary amount of engineering work and technology. they brought things into the gulf of mexico that did not exist to do what they've done and stop the well. and many... >> rose: this is after the spill? >> right. many of those technologies did not pre-exist before the spill, had to be brought, there engineered and put in place. you could discuss whether or not it should have been there beforehand but regarding their
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engineering effort to control the well i give them high marks. >> rose: and these are things that have been developed that will therefore add to the body of knowledge you have in terms of if another spill occurs? >> exactly. if i could delve into that a little further. the way oil is produced in the gulf of mexico as they moved into deeper water... actually, all the drilling and all the mechanical issues associated with drilling occur on the seabed floor. there's where the blowout preventer is at and that's where the drilling takes place. all the drilling is laid by pipelines across the gulf of mexico. what we've had to do is bring in shuttle tankers, come up with piping systems. because of that, they had to bring technology from the north sea and in some case off the coast of africa and combine those technologies to create the recovery system we have now. >> you're giving pretty good grades to b.p. in terms of what they tried to do after the spill
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occurred. >> rose: that's correct. that's correct. >> rose: didn't mislead you? didn't lie to you? didn't... didn't... did the best he could to understand the, comprehend and do something about... >> regarding the containment of the spill, yes, absolutely. >> rose: and with respect to before the spill occurred. >> well, let me go back one more time in addition to that. at the president's request working with secretary salazar we brought in secretary steven chu, secretary at the department of energy nobel prize winner, physicist. he's led a science team down there that have been like junkyard dogs looking over every procedure, pulling the metaphorical knot hole on all the things going on. in fact, they were down there meeting today and there's been a really, really watchful eye over all the calculations, all the assumptions and all the procedures that b.p. has pro proposed and that's been one way where we've assured ourselves that they ha created due diligence in how they've attacked the problems at the
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well hold. >> rose: there's the question about government. did government respond quick enough to this spill? and did they respond with wisdom and urgency? >> rose: i think you have to go... >> i think you have to go through the life cycle of the event. i was the commandant of the coast guard then. i got woken up before midnight, i was told there was an explosion. we were very concerned about loss of life and search and rescue. i mounted a significant search and rescue effort along with the offshore supply vessel, they did a miraculous job saving the people. we searched over 5,000 square miles with 35 sorttys of aircraft and cutters. and on the 22nd the rig sunk. but within a matter of hours i was in the oval office with secretary napolitano briefing the president. >> rose: in a matter of hours after the rig sunk? >> after the rig sunk. when the rig exploded and caught on fire on the 20th of april we immediately mobilized a salvage team to start taking a look at the stability issues associated with the rig, started mobilizing
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pollution response equipment. there were 700,000 gallons of diesel oil on the rig and at that point it seemed like a very large amount of oil to contend with regarding pollution but we started moving everything direction as if it were a catastrophic incident. so the reports of flow rate, none of that prohibited us from moving everything we had. >> rose: even though the flow rates were wrong it didn't change the calculations? >> didn't change our behavior at all. >> if they had been as large as they were you would have made the same decisions and responses you did? >> exactly. now, having said that, this event evolved into something larger than the response plans were made to deal with. >> rose: that's a critical problem right there. >> that's something to look at moving forward, exactly. >> rose: as you said in this conversation, you said it would be a crime not to learn the lessons of this oil spill. >> >> before i retired as commandant i testified before the senate and i noted three areas. the first is review our response
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plans. i think that has to be a joint review process between the department of interior, the department of homeland security and the coast guard. the people that are going to have to "fight the spill" are involved in viewing the response plans and i think there's very little argument we need to change that moving forward. the second thing, i think we need to look at the inspection resupreme for mobile drilling units. especially foreign flag mobile drilling units. to give you an example, for cruise ships in this country we do something called a control verification exam because the number of u.s. passengers carried on foreign flagships we want to make sure they can operate the lifeboat it is, fire systems work and so forth. i think we have to taken a extra step and borrow that paradigm from cruise ship inspections and take that to foreign flag drilling units operating in the country. finally, and i think this goes without saying, the drilling systems are going to have to come under a third party inspection regime. >> rose: do you think they need dramatic improvement, the drilling system wes use for offshore drilling? >> i'm not sure i'm prepared to
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comment on whether the drilling systems need improvement. they need to be certified and i believe inspected by an independent third party, whether that's the government or a classification society. >> rose: what's the number for all spills that have occurred coming from ships rather than from drilling wells? >> oh, significantly... order of magnitude larger. some of the problems we have had with wells were right after hurricane katrina. the aggregate amount of oil spilled during hurricane katrina was about 11 million gallons of oil. roughly the same amount as the exxon "valdez" but it was spread across hundreds of spills. the largest one was murphy oil in st. bernard parish where we had a tank come off its foundation. >> rose: why do you think the perception continues to exist that the response was inadequate that b.p. was not truthful, that more could have been done. a, do you question whether that perception exists? >> well, i'm sure it does. >> rose: and why do you think it linger there is when you... >> because i think truth is
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really ugly. this is a very bad thing that happened to us, happened to our environment, happened to the gulf coast, happened to the people of the united states. and when that happens, it's almost like going through a grieving process. people want answers and they're frustrated, they have passion about their lives, their way of life. and they want accountability. that's perfectly understandable. on the other hand, we have mounted the largest response to an oil spill until the history of this nation. at one point we had 45,000 people working a day, thousands of vernon wells out there and what we've done i think has been substantial after the fact as we look forward we're going to create new paradigms on how we deal not only with oil spills but incidents that affect the public n this manner, whether it's hurricane katrina, a tsunami or whatever. >> rose: do you think the demand for accountability will be fulfilld? >> well, there are a number of different activities going on right now. >> rose: feinberg is there and other things. >> there's a joint investigation
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going on with the department of interior and department of homeland security to understand exactly what happened during the explosion and with the systems that are out there much the same way as the national transportation safety board would take apart an event, this team is actually doing that. as you know, there's the potential for civil and criminal investigation and charges with the department of justice. there's been a commission established to look at the overall response. this is going to be looked at... >> rose: so the people who want accountability, in your judgment will have their day? >> they will. they will. >> rose: what questions to this day do you want answers and you don't know the answers? >> well, i think what we need to know and what will come out of the investigation itself is what happened in the well that night. i don't want to presuppose the outcome of these investigations, they're under way and need to run their course but we need to know the performance of the systems, the safety systems. we had a fail safe system that was supposed to work but didn't. >> rose: it didn't. and why do you think it didn't? >> well, i think we're not going to know until these investigations are done. but it's going to be critically
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important. that's the reason as we move to ta out the blowout preventer, that's almost a metaphorical black box at this point. the forensics will need to be done on that in addition to the statements taken and the other forensic evidence that has been gathered and the joint investigation team will be looking at that in consultation of the department of justice. >> rose: as you know, many people suspect that b.p. took cost-cutting measures that would have provided a better fail safe system. >> i'm not privy because i'm operating with the response. to the extent those issues come out, they're in the investigation. >> but beyond that, the other questions... clearly the question of what is the ongoing future damage to the ecosystem? nobody know it is answer to that because the future is not here. >> we're about ready to convene the largest natural resource damage assessment in the history of this country. yesterday i attended a meeting with cabinet officers and tomorrow secretary salazar will be hosting a meeting in new orleans with the local states to start talking about how do we assess the damage. how do we put a price tag on it,
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and how do we make whole the people of the gulf. it's going to be extraordinarily complex, process moving forward. but we need to do it because we have a responsibility to the american people and ultimately b.p. has a response to make the american people whole. >> rose: as you know, some people would like to say that b.p. is president obama's katrina. do you see any comparisons between the response to katrina and the response to the oil spill? >> well, i think there's some things that are similar and there's some things that are very, very different. hurricane katrina was just a... >> rose: the levies didn't hold. >> the levies didn't hold, but it had a beginning an an end. we knew within about 48, 72 hours what had happened. it was mind bonding, we were awe-struck. it's going too take years to recover from it. when this event started with went over 80 days with not knowing when it was going to end
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it was omni directional and the outcome was indeterminate and it made trying to create a response to this very, very difficult because you had to defend the entire gulf coast in terms of resources. it started to dwarf what was required by the original response plans. >> rose: but has it endd? >> the oil has ended right now. the spill has ended. there are no more hydrocarbons going into the gulf and there hasn't been since july 15. there is still oil out there. you can't tell somebody trying to make a living in bar taria bay there's not oil in those marshes. >> rose: is there anything in the value of 20/20 hindsight you would have done differently. ordered to be done differently? >> we had a hard time mobilizing resources to get to the scene due to some regulatory constraints we have in this country and in some cases some of our own responsetructure prohibited us. the administration produced an emergency rule in a matter of days that aloud us to take response equipment to actually
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bring it to the gulf. those are some of the precedent setting thing we had to do in this response. one of the things was key to the success of finally getting this thing stabilized was taking control of the airspace over the gulf. >> rose: that was a decision you made day one, as i remember. >> well, we had surveillance flights out there, but we had a point where there were spotter planes for the skimmers, there were logistics helicopters out, there surveillance helicopters out there. as we moved into mid-june, we had eight near-misses out there with aircraft. and i talked to the president on the 159 of june, we're on our way back from pensacola... >> rose: how long had you been in charge when you talked to the president? >> oh, i talked to him many times, but this specific conversation had to do with managing the aircraft not only for safety purposes but to be more effective and tell the vernon wells where to go to find the oil. after that conversation, i had a conversation with the chief of staff of the air force and the u.s. northern command and we put together a plan and we actually
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set up an air coordination command side by side with the command center that does the defense of north america for norad. and when we started doing that, that together was a vessel for opportunity that allowed us to create a system where we had vernon wells on the water where we knew where they were at. >> rose: are you saying you wish you'd done that earler. >> >> yes. >> rose:'s a clear thing, you should have taken control of the airspace earlier? what else? >> we didn't have a way too deal with the vessels of opportunity we ended up encountering. >> rose: a vessel of opportunity is somebody who wants to step? >> (laughs) it is. i'm sorry. we're getting into jargon we created just for this oil spill. a vessel of opportunity is a shrimp boat, a charter boat that is unemployed because the fisheries areas were closed and we were able to take vessels and have them deploy skimming equipment and so forth. b.p. started enrolling these vessels as a way to not only when the spill response but a way to offset income that was last.
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but we had never done this before to this scale in this country and we basically created this militia on the water, thousands of vessels, and we had to create a command and control structure. that was extremely challenging. if we learn one thing out of the spill it's to have a way to bring the public in, have them participate being able to organize them, being able to apply them the best interest of the spill response. >> rose: anything else that i should know that you wish you'd done earlier or better or different? >> i'm sure there will be a lot. >> rose: if you had the information you have today you would have done differently? >> i think early on there was a focus on getting boom out to protect everything. >> rose: right. >> when you put boom out to protect everything, the enemy is about ready to come over the trenches at you. some of the smaller skimming equipment we could put offshore away from the well head site as oil started moving in, the skimmer population, if we could have gotten there earlier i think we would have done better. >> rose: you report directly to the president? >> the way it's set up right now
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is i work for secretary napolitano and under the homeland security act and homeland security directive five she manages incidents of a non-military nature. but i also coordinate with carol browner and if i need access i have it. >> rose: what is it about you, there's a problem, somebody gets on the phone and says we needed a mirl allen. it happened in katrina, it happens in alaska earlier and it happened here. part of this comes with you are the commandant of the coast guard, but it seems to be more. i mean, is it somehow that you know something that we all ought to appreciate about leadership? about taking command? about dealing with crisis? >> i do believe there are certain things we need to understand about responding to nonmilitary incidents about n this country. we're eel never have a monolithic chain of command but we need to find a way to create unity of effort.
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that's hard to do when you have independent authorities, statutes that people are required to enforce, different capacities an capabilities in the different agencies and it's not easy to get all together and focus on one direction and create unity of effort. but that's a skill that we'll always need when we have an incident of national significance on the order of magnitude of katrina, this oil spill or anything else. i would like to think that growing up in the coast guard that i use this term all the time, i'm not trying to be glib, but i think we're bureaucratically multilingual. >> rose: (laughs) >> i lapsed into jargon earlier. >> rose: yeah. >> you have to work through that and find out what it is you're trying to do. >> rose: you have said that the gulf crisis, a, is unprecedented. we all know that. but you have also said it's closer to "apollo" 13 than the exxon "valdez". >> that's true. >> rose: explain that. >> well, the source of the oil has no human access. we're dealing with technologies that have never been used at 5
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feet. >> rose: below the ocean surface. >> all we know that's going on down there is what we see through remotely operated vehicles and remote sensing. so everything is a model of what's going on down there but what we've been able to capture in terms of data and video. nothing represents absolute reality you can touch. that's the reason the current discussion about the condition of that an us will and how pressure may build up it in, there's things we don't do know, things we won't know until the well is killed and we'll have to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. and that's never easy. i'll tell you what the most confusing term to the american public is right now, it's responsible party. >> exactly. >> it actually is laid out in law and regulation but having that discussion causes a lot of angst with folks because nobody can understand how you can have somebody that might have perpetrated this event actually be part of the response and be accountable. >> rose: how do you define responsible person? >> responsible party is defined in law. it says we will designate a
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responsible party for the spill which we have in writing, it's b.p. and transocean. >> rose: transocean built it. >> and they are responsible for all costs. the oil pollution act of 1990 mandates we create an entire private sector collection of contractors which are identified in these response plans which will be brought to the scene to respond to an oil spill which is what happened here. but if the responsible party is going to pay and somebody's writing the checks and moving everything there, you have to have them where you're at. so there's a model in the law premised than the federal government will be there, the state will be there and the responsible party will be there. that's not understood or well appreciated and in some cases we've had a social and political nullification of the term. >> rose: how would you define "mission accomplished" at this the age? >> i don't think there ever is a mission accomplished with an oil spill. nothing ever good happens when you put oil on the water. we don't know the impact of these things for years. you have a mitigation plan, off
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response plan, you deal with it, you assess the damages and you keep working it and keep working it. i'm not prepared to say mission will be complete at any time soon whether the well is capped or notment as i said the people in the chandelier islands, miss miss sound. barataria bay, there's oil there we have to deal with it. >> rose: how long will you be on the job? >> well, that's a good question. we've had a lot of conversations about that. the well needs to be killed, we need to have our arms around taking care of all the oil on the water, we need to have a good plan for dealing with oil in the marshes, there needs to be a transition plan on how we move to a smaller regional way to deal with this. most importantly i think two big things are that secretary mavis' report is issued. there's some kind of a notion of the following governance or construct by which we will move into long-term recovery and there's a face associated with that. >> rose: thank you for coming. pleasure to have you on the
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broadcast. >> thank you. >> rose: we'll be right back. stay with us. >> rose: the united states senate has been called the world's greatest deliberative body. it has produced some of the country's finest leaders and crafted the most important laws but the senate is increasingly being called ineffective. congress approval rating is currently below 20% despite the passage of health care and financial reform. it has been criticized for the lack of bipartisan cooperation and for the growing influence of lobbyists. joining me now, george packer, he is a staff writer for the "new yorker" magazine and the author of a recent piece on if senate called "the empty chamber." also here at the table, william cohen. he represented maine the house and then in the senate from 1978 until 1996. he also served as secretary of defense under bill clinton from 1997 to 2001. from washington al hunt, the executive editor of bloomberg news, he has covered congress for decades. i am pleased to have all of them here on this program so tell me about what you discovered and
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how you went about discovering the empty chamber. >> it was a sense of a kind of las tuesday as if there was no energy, nothing seemed to be happening for hours at a time, quorum calls that would go on for half an hour and then would be interrupted by another senator who was ready to give his speech. and this is the normal routine of the day to day life in the senate. set speechs for the c-span cameras by senators who don't listen to each other. who don't answer each other's arguments, who don't engage in debate, argument, kohl qi. then in the more active moments when there's a vote and i saw some of the key vote, the reconciliation bill which ended the health care reform vote and then many votes on the financial reform bill, big, big issues what i saw was a fair amount of posturing and a kind of
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basically a polarizeed body in which the center aisle might as well have been three miles wide given how little bipartisan... real cooperation or even engagement there was on these huge issues that were in front of the senate. so to me it had the feel of a kind of decadent body that had slipped into stagnation where a lot of the energy of the senators went into sort of manipulating precedents and rules in order to win short-term parliamentary battles rather than really deliberating, debating, thinking, and legislating. >> rose: al, is this the senate that you covered? not that i began to cover 40 years ago, charlie. i think george packer's piece brilliantly captures the dysfunction of the senate today or the frequent dysfunction. i'm not as bothered by the scene he describes on the senate floor.
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i think you could have seen similar scenes 40 years ago. but i think institution worked far differently. there's a plins on the economist who says the party polarization today worse than it's been since the civil war. when i started to cover the senate almost 40 years ago, charlie, the issues were if anything more divisive. there were still the remnants of the civil rights struggles, there was the vietnam war, watergate impeachment but there was the sense and there was some bitter fighting back then. but therwas a sense that when we can let's try to find consensus. let's work together on things. that sense as george captured in his piece does not exist today. one of the reasons is back then you had southern conservatives, some of them were dreadful men like jim east man of mississippi but there was really some, as they call them, whales, the sam irvin, richard rull succeeded by sam nunn and moderate republicans, case, hatfield,
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later bill cohen. and they really would work together on some issues. bill cohen and gary hart wrote books together when they were in the senate, republican and democrat. i think all that in today's senate is almost unimaginable. >> rose: is this why you left the senate >> it's one of the reasons i left the senate. when i was growing up, if you couldn't be president of the united states, the next best thing would be a united states senator. in the good old days you left the senate one of two ways, you either died in office or you were defeated. you rarely left voluntarily. but in 1996 there were 14 of us who retired that year. there were different reasons but there was a common core element as well and that was what one writer called the demosclerosis. the sclerotic dysfunctionalty of what was taking place. and it happened over a period of time, al and george are talking about the good old days and everybody thinks about the good old days but there were people
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like abe r ribicoff and scoop jackson, itself. and they fought pretty hard during the course ofty t day. what has changed in the atmosphere of the senate. it used to be much more intimate television has changed that. you mentioned how they give speeches not to each other or engage in debate but talk to the camera. every person, every senator knows his words are going to be recorded by a potential candidate two or four to six years ago that point of time. so there's no real engagement in terms of real debate. it's more canned speeches and staking out your ideological positions. george mitchell, my friend, whom i also wrote a book with, senator mitchell a great leader of the senate was very part ann? a positive sense. so was bob dole in a positive sense. they stood on different positions of different issues but when it came to working, making the senate work, they
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found a way to make it work. that's what's missing. >> rose: interesting example of that is the story you tell of senator corker from tennessee who helped write the financial regulatory reform legislation and then voted against it. >> yeah. he and mark warner of virginia were throughout much of the winter said to be the only senators who were actually talking to each other across party lines and they were engaged in these long sessions both one on one with staff, they would bring in outside experts, actually trying to figure out how to write this complicated part of a very complicated bill having to do with dissolving ailing financial entities. how do you avoid the bailouts. that's what they were tasked with by christopher dodd. and they did it. they finished their work and then began this period of dodd dancing with first one republican, richard shelby, the ranking member of the committee, then with corker who was a junior member of the committee
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and finally it almost seemed inevitable it would happen, it broke down, it kept breaking down. and corker, i was there in the chamber when he gave his final speech on financial reform. there was this wistfulness, this regret he was almost saying ""can't we try one more time? if we can't do it on this bill, this issue, when are we ever going to be able to work together? " in the end he voted no. he had his reasons for voting no but one thing that struck me while i was reporting this speech is how often senators seem to vote against their own wishes because their leadership told them "we need you on this one. you've got to be with us on this one." which suggests that the idea that they're actually independently making up their mind might be a little fantasy. >> there's always that pressure in every vote that comes up, they have their caucus meetings, the republicans and democrats meet on every tuesday or wednesday and that's when they try rally the troops saying
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you've got to be with us. they pet pressure on individual members saying don't leave us on this one. two from maine, olympia snowe and susan cohen... >> although not on health care. >> no, but there were legitimate reasons on that one. but generally speaking if you look at who are the republicans who they can go to, it will be olympia snowe and susan collins, maybe scott brown now from massachusetts. >> rose: >> let me pick up on george's point because i spent a fair amount of time, i interviewed senator corker and george describes it very aptly. bob corker got savaged by his own caucus. i'm not sure he fully appreciates that today. i like him a lot and admire him and they want hepted to do the right thing. but they hammered him. they had exrepublican senators telling him... his future would be dead if he went along with this. richard shelby's aide savaged him every chance they got. i don't think bob corker knew what hit him. and i think that... i think
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there's always been pressure in caucuses but this was the type that if you go this way on this, give up, you're dead. and i think he got rolled by his own people and let me give you the contrast. another great tennessee republican, howard baker, one of the greatest legislators i've ever known, 1978, an unpopular president, jimmy carter, proposed the panama canal treaty and howard baker who was eying the presidency and was going to run in a year or so later got it through the senate. without his support it never would have gotten through. i don't think that would happen today. >> rose: so how do you fix this? and how much of this is the way the framers wanted the senate to be, somehow to be a restraining influence against the populism of the house. >> the senate has always been designed to be a restraining influence. the problem now, there is... as i've said? the past it's checks and balances. everyone is in check but no one's in charge.
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>> rose: (laughs) yes. >> so as a result of that you get no action and the only way to fix it is to have a supermajority and and the public would have to say you're going to give one party overwhelming support. >> rose: supermajority is more than 60. what about the filibuster rule in some way so it's now not 60... >> the filibuster rule had been there for generations from the beginning. it's a good rule provided there is restraint, exercise, and it's up to the leadership to exercise that restraint and it's not being done. it's being used on a daily basis. you talk about cloture, that's to cut off the filibuster rule but i think it's overused and a disservice to the institution. it's a disservice to what that institution is supposed to represent in terms of thoughtful deliberation and decision making. >> rose: al, how would you fix it? >> i probably wouldn't change the filibuster rule. i agree with bill. it's terribly abused but i don't think i would change it. and if you're a democrat back
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when george bush was appointing judges you didn't want to change the filibuster rule. i would get away from some of the arcane things that george packer wrote about, the holds on nominations. but the main thing i would do is change the people and leaders. i would bring back george mitching and bob dole and howard baker and bill cohen and people like that and that's not possible. >> rose: speak to that. you say if everything changed or a lot changed i guess in 1970? '76, was it? >> i think in the late '70s and there's others who trace changes. when bill cohen came into the senate, you were almost the exception to the trend of what began in the late '70s which is extreme polarization. the southern conservative democrats began to die off, they were replaced by republicans. liberal republicans were replaced by more and more conservative remember republicans. jesse helms would be in center of the caucus compared to jim
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demant and tom coburn and maybe rand paul. so to be honest, we can talk about the responsibility of both parties in escalating the arms race of the filibuster, but what i see as the core ideological problem the the extremism of the republican party has pushed them to use these rules and these precedents in a way that simply blocks anything from happening. it does not improve legislation, it blocks legislation and too many moderates. you mentioned snowe and collins, and they have been brave on some issues, but they are a weak and dying little oasis inside the republican caucus and they do not... richard lugar, who's the senior member and a real statesman is just sort of pushed aside by the younger radicals in the republican caucus. >> rose: bob bennett lost his primary. >> rose: and mitch mcconnell i think is more and more playing to the more extreme faction of the caucus and toward the tea party movement.
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all that pressure inside the republican party is pushing the senate... >> rose: against something not because of the merit bus where it comes from. >> so i think it's our political culture. you could change rules, modify the fill buster with cloture vote, but we have such a poisoned political culture. the senate depends more than any of our other institutions on reasonableness because it's unanimous consent. what a crazy idea to have a body where one person can hold everything up. but that's the u.s. senate which means people have to be restrained and right now there's a lot of people incapable of restraint who don't believe enough in their institution to want to restrain themselves. >> rose: does this mean because of this... this is the extreme case. government cannot solve the problems that we would expect to do? >> look what is taking place. every time you come to a difficult issue you create a commission. the commission will then be bipartisan to make recommendations which are unlikely to be implemented but no one wants to such the third rail. every issue has become a third rail politically so they're
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ducking the issues so doing nothing is better than taking a strong position on a given issue be it social security, medicare or reforming defense spinding, etc. so there isn't enough courage to take on the issues for fear that you're going to be defeated immediately. secondly we haven't talked about the lobbyists. in terms of the money it takes to run a campaign now, i don't like the notion of the cameras being in the chamber although i voted for it at the behest of senator baker at that time. i'd like that see the camera stay outside the senate chamber where all of the lobbyists wait for the members to walk through. it's walking a gauntlet and it's obscene. i think if the american people saw what legislators go through and have to pass through everyday and see how they're pulled aside the last moment saying "you have to go with us on this issue, don't forget, we supported your campaign" i think the american public would finally turn against that and say will the let's have people who are elected to do the job. let's stop polarizing in the sense that every extreme position that can be taken by a commentator then members of congress respond to that and try
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to outdo the commentator so they'll get on his or cher show and reinforce their own extreme position. i think both on the lefttor right it's happening. it's not just republicans. it's happening on the left as well. but we need get back to a sense of moderation, of civility, of respecting each other's view points rather than seeing everybody as the enemy who's not part of your party. if we continue to do this we will have nothing take place and it's the big issues, whether china is leaping forward over the japan now economically, whether it replaces the united states as the economic power of the future, we're not dealing with those issues but we're dealing with our trivial issues and it's trivial pursuit. >> rose: you're telling the story of somebody presiding over the senate, i forgot which senator it was. >> michael bennett of colorado. >> who just won the democratic nomination. >> rose: continues as a nits senator and he says as he's listening to this and watching nothing happening, "i wonder
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what they're doing in china." >> that was a kind of haunting remark. it was as if he was saying what are we doing to create a more dynamic society, to create a competitive society, to create jobs. when, in fact what he came as an outsider, he never held elective office. they was superintendent of the denver school system appointed by president obama to replace ken salazar who became the interior secretary. so in a way michael bennett is sort of the citizen senator of one's ideal and he arrives and has the idea that he's going to work on the debt, climate change big issues. and he finds insaid that he's sitting in the chair learning how to preside and watching a lot of nothing. and he now has four years or six years if he wins in november to decide whether this is the place where he wants to spend his career. more and more of them are deciding it's not. >> rose: is it likely to change? is there a gathering storm of
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protest recognizing something has to be done? >> ultimately the american people are going to say this is not working. >> rose: how how does that happen. >> i think they're going to look at the the members engaging in the most incendiary and inflammatory type of language that tries to reduce other people to subhuman levels that they're not worthy of their respect. they that kind of language has got to stop and i think the american people are going to see if the issues are not being addressed they're going to want to elect people who are saying look, we sent you there, yes we want you to be political in the sents of being b consistent with our political values but forgod's sake try to make it work, try to reach across the aisle when it's important to do so and find a way that bob dole and george mitchell and tom foally and bob mike until the house and tip o'neill and ronald reagan, there were ways in which you can reach across without saying you're foregoing or forfeiting your integrity. compromise is the art of
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government and we don't have enough of it. >> rose: but some will argue that this is exactly what... one of the reasons that the country voted for barack obama in the most recent presidential election. they believed he would change the tone and the climate and add to bipartisanship. and it didn't happen. >> yeah. i think that obama promised more than he could deliver when he talked about post-partisanship and he himself has distanced himself from that phrase as if somehow it hadn't come from him. but a single leader can't come in and wave a wand and change the political culture that's been building really throughout my adult life. for the last let's say 30 years. this has been the trend. and barack obama wanted to do two things. he wanted to change the political culture of washington and he wanted to accomplish some big things like health care reform. turned out you could not do both of those. because by trying to pass an ambitious health care bill in
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today's congress you were going to create a firestorm of opposition and that's what he did. and some of the worst moments of the senate in the last year and a half came about during the health care debate. >> rose: speak to an assessment of this congress as we face midterm elections and heavy campaigning leading into the fall season. >> rose: charlie there's a great irony, conundrum. this has been one of the most productive congresses in memory. historic economic stimulus bill, health care overhaul ux rewriting the rules of wall street, pay equity. but the a rising tide lifts all boats then a tide going out sipg all politicians and the bad economy so dominates any of those achievement which is over the long run might look good but if you're a democrat faigs facing election this november, the long run in the words of lord gaines means we're all dead. because i think when we look back on this congress in ten or
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15 years we may well say, boy, that was productive one, but it sure doesn't appear that way to voters today. >> i'd like to come back to the issue of rhetoric in our political system because based on what al said the successes that have been achieved are not seen as being successful. i think we've got to call out anyone who uses or invokes the word hitler in referring to the president and that he's invading poland or the worst president since time'm memorial. we've got to call out. immemorial. that's the excess of rhetoric and incendiary language which has no place in the political system and when that takes root then you see people then attacking the president. and i have reason to disagree with him on a number of issues. i don't think he's done nearly enough in free trade agreements that need to be rat ratifyed. but we've got to step back from this incendiary rhetoric in which we accuse a president of united states being like hitler. what that means to the people of this country, the world, the notion that you would equate his
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positions with naziism, with hitler. >> while senator cohen and al hunt were talking i was thinking about f.d.r. and he came to mind for what both of you were saying. f.d.r. was also compared to hitler and mussolini and stalin who were his contemporaries by his worst critics like in the liberty league. f.r. passed major legislation in his first year. the economy remained terrible yet somehow back then, whether trust in government was higher, whether the media was less destructive, whether the public was more patient, i don't know all the reasons. somehow he was given a chance whereas barack obama has been under assault from both the opposition and the media, really almost from the beginning because he didn't wave a wand and solve all of our problems. i go back to the feeling that there is something deeper than the senate, deeper than its rules, deeper than is this this this or that individual that is
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rotten in our politics. and that's the sort of thing. it's very hard to know how to change it. it will change because things always do. but i don't think we can program the change. i think change will come in some way perhaps because the public decides that it wants to grow up and wants its politicians to grow up snoochlt up will it change in these midterm elections? what do you expect to see in these midterm elections? >> i think the republicans will likely to take control of the house and come within a couple votes of being the majority in the senate. >> rose: so why don't you say to mitch... why don't people say to mitch mcconnell, "congratulations, you had the right approach." >> well, it will be misconstrued charlie. it will be viewed as all right, this is rewarding some of those tactics that george talked about earlier. in fact, it's not that at all. it's a referendum on a party and a country in economic trouble right now today. i i happen to think republicans
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are short-term winners and long-term losers with their approaches in policies but i think on november we're going to wake up and say boy, these tactics worked. >> i think the short term you're going to see more of a movement to the right and i think republicans will be successful in november and win one or both houses. the question becomes if they continue to move to the right both with the policies and also the statements they're making i think the independents will start to swing back to the democrats whether it's 2012 or 2016 it remains to be seen. but if we continue to drift so far to the rights that the independents really will decide on the future as far as the votes are concerned they'll come back to the democrats. >> rose: it seems also that you raise an important point that east it's incumbent on everyone to stop and say wait is politics going too far in terms of the rhetoric that is inflaming the debate. thank you. al hunt, thank you my friend.
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