Except when they are on the Senate floor during a vote or a big debate, it's rare that all Democratic female senators are together in public. They grouped on Wednesday morning at the house in Washington that sered as headquarters for the movement that led the fight to get women the vote to announce their agenda ``checklist for change.'' Last night, they massed at CNN's Capitol Hill studio for the Larry King Live show.
The Dem Sen Fems dine together about once a month.
And all 14 Democratic and Republican female senators have dinner together regularly.
In the entire history of the U.S., only 33 women have served in the Senate.
And they are -- Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, and Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
from the dem fem sen release....
DEMOCRATIC WOMEN SENATORS ANNOUNCE CHECKLIST FOR CHANGE
Washington, DC—The nine Democratic women of the Senate today joined together to launch Democratic Women for Change, an initiative that calls for a new direction for America, and for a change in tone and a change in agenda in the United States Senate. Meeting at the historic Sewall-Belmont House, Senators Barbara Mikulski, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Debbie Stabenow, Maria Cantwell, and Hillary Rodham Clinton unveiled their “Checklist for Change,��? a list of nine issues Congress can immediately address to better the lives of the American people.
Across the country, Americans are struggling with difficult issues in their lives. Whether it’s paying for healthcare or sending their kids to college, threats to homeland security or Social Security, job outsourcing or global warming, they face real problems that are not solved with partisan political divisions in Washington, D.C. Sadly, the American people see little attention to what really matters in their lives in the Republican Senate. They want a new direction.
“We, the Democratic women of the Senate, are writing to challenge you to change direction, change the tone, and change the agenda to match the priorities of the American people,��? wrote the Senators in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. “There are approximately 50 days left in this legislative session--still plenty of time to change direction and focus instead on meeting the challenges that affect the American people in their daily lives.��?
“The Checklist for Change��? lists nine priorities for the American public that the Senate should address right now:
SAFEGUARD AMERICA'S PENSIONS: Americans deserve to retire with dignity and financial security. We will continue to oppose any plan to privatize social security, because seniors deserve a guarantee rather than a gamble. Recent corporate corruption and mismanagement has shown us that we must also protect employee pension plans. The Republican Congress has stalled these efforts. For the good of all American workers, we challenge them to pass a clean pension reform bill.
KEEP GOOD JOBS IN AMERICA: We need a jobs agenda that fights for American workers and businesses. The flight of American jobs overseas must be reversed. Currency manipulation and the free flow of counterfeit goods from countries like China have put American workers at an unfair disadvantage for too long. We challenge the Republican Congress to enact tax policies that stop the outsourcing of American jobs, to level the international playing field by enforcing our trade agreements, and to raise the minimum wage.
MAKE COLLEGE AFFORDABLE FOR ALL: The best guarantee of a good job is a quality education. In America, 170,000 college-ready students don't attend college each year because the cost is too high. Yet the Bush Administration has taken $12 billion from student aid programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. We challenge the Republican Congress to increase the maximum Pell Grant, make the college tuition tax credit permanent, and cut student loan interest rates.
PROTECT AMERICA AND OUR MILITARY FAMILIES: It is our duty to care for the brave men and women who defend our nation at home and abroad. Yet the Bush Administration consistently shortchanges healthcare and other benefits for veterans, leaving many soldiers waiting a year or more for treatment. We challenge the Republican Congress to provide benefits funding for veterans and to hold hearings on mental health care and transition assistance for those coming back from war abroad.
PREPARE FOR FUTURE DISASTERS: Nearly five years after September 11th and ten months after Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Government is still woefully unprepared to deal with potential future disasters. We challenge the Republican Congress to restore disaster preparedness to cabinet-level status; to implement the recommendations of the September 11th Commission; To develop safe evacuation plans; and to reform the Stafford Act to better manage large catastrophes.
MAKE AMERICA ENERGY INDEPENDENT: America's lack of a coherent energy policy is weakening national security, hurting our pocketbooks, violating our common values and threatening our children's future. The Strategic Energy Fund bill will cut our dependence on foreign oil in half by 2025, invest in efficient energy alternatives and create good American jobs. We challenge the Republican Congress to pass the Strategic Energy Fund bill.
MAKE SMALL BUSINESS HEALTHCARE AFFORDABLE: More than 46 million Americans are uninsured. Small businesses create two out of every three new jobs in America and account for nearly half of America's overall employment, yet just 26% of businesses with 50 or fewer employees provide health insurance. The Small Employers Health Benefits Program will create affordable, private health insurance for small businesses and give parents the comfort of knowing that their children are protected. We challenge the Republican Congress to pass this crucial legislation.
INVEST IN LIFE SAVING SCIENCE: Stem cell research provides real hope for cures to many of the world's deadliest diseases. Against the wishes of the American people, the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress have blocked efforts to expand stem cell research so that scientists and doctors have every tool at their disposal to keep us healthy and safe. As a result, America trails the rest of the world in research. We challenge the Republican Congress to pass stem cell legislation this summer.
PROTECT OUR AIR, LAND AND WATER: The Bush Administration has been negligent in protecting Americans from environmental hazards. They have ignored the consensus of the best scientists in the world when it comes to the threat of global warming, and they have recklessly reduced clean ups of toxic waste at Superfund sites. We challenge the Republican Congress to pass a comprehensive science-based bill to reduce greenhouse gases and to restore funding for Superfund cleanup.
The American people are ready for a change in Washington. They want a new tone and a new agenda in the Senate, and a new direction for the country. People can find more information, and can co-sign the Senators’ letter to Majority Leader Frist online at http://democrats.senate.gov/checklistforchange/.
CNN’s Larry King Live
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Interview with All Nine Democratic Women of the U.S. Senate
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, exclusive. All nine Democratic women of the United States Senate. Could one of them become the first female president? How do they think Bush is doing? And how would they do it differently? Together for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Thanks for joining us. Earlier today here in Washington, the nine Democratic women of the United States Senate issued a challenge to the Republican leadership. They unveiled what they call a checklist for change. Nine important issues they say the Senate can and should take specific action on right now.
All nine of these honorable gentlewomen are with us tonight. They are Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Senator Patty Murray of Washington, and Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
They're all with us. They issued this call today. And we'll get to al these issues in a while. But let's discuss first the most foremost issue, the two things going on in the Senate right now. We have the Kerry and the Levin battle over Iraq. Where are you on this, Senator Feinstein?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I'm a supporter and a co-sponsor of the Levin amendment. What the Levin amendment essentially does is say that we've been in Iraq for three years and three months, that the time has come for us to do what we said we were going to do last year, which was to begin a redeployment of forces and to ask the president by the end of the year to present a program with some timelines for the remainder of the operation.
KING: Senator Stabenow, you want dates certain?
SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: No, actually, I agree with Senator Feinstein. I think this needs to be the year of transition. We need to begin to redeploy. I was in Iraq over Memorial Day weekend, and listening to the Iraqis themselves, the new prime minister, al-Maliki, has said within 18 months that they believe they can take over their own security. It's time for us to send a message that we want them to step up so our brave men and women can step back.
KING: Senator Boxer, 54 percent polled today, a couple days ago, says we should get out. Totally against the war in the United States as opposed to 38 percent for. What does that tell you?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, it tells me that the Democrats are on the right track by all of us saying the status quo is not working. Now, we may differ in, you know, the exact strategy, but I think Dianne has laid it out, Debbie has followed forth.
I think if you ask each of us, we have our own views on exactly how, but I think we represent the American people, the Democrats do, and I think when you see the vote tomorrow, we don't know what it will be, I predict a very strong vote for both of these alternatives and I think it will send a message that we are saying to the Republican majority, it's time to change the status quo in Iraq.
KING: Senator Clinton, what about those pundits who are saying that you have a chance now, the Democrats, to be united in something and if you all stood together in something you'd have a better chance in November? Agreed?
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Larry, I think that the Democrats are doing the country a great service by having this debate.
It's the Republicans who are all blindly following the president and refusing to ask questions, even conducting the most minimal kind of congressional oversight.
I'm very proud that the Democratic Party is once again listening to the concerns of the people and listening to the concerns of our men and women in uniform. We need a plan and we need a plan that will lead us to victory, both for our own benefit and for the benefit of the Iraqis.
KING: Senator Mikulski, would it be better if you all were uniform on that plan?
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: Larry, we are united. We're united on the goal that this is a year of transition so that the Iraqis can stand up, so that we can stand down.
We believe that the Iraqi people have now chosen a government, they're going to now form a government, and it's time then for us to have a phased way of withdrawing. So what we're united on is the goal. We're debating two different methodologies. But at least we're presenting ideas.
Where are the ideas of the Republicans? They say stay the course.
There is no course. There is going to be a new strategy in Iraq. No, he goes and he has a stunt. Stunts and slogans are not a policy for bringing our troops back home and letting the Iraqis act like the sovereign people they want to be. So that's why we're the Democrats for change.
KING: Senator Murray?
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: I think what you hear Democrats doing on the floor of the United States Senate tonight is asking the questions that the American people are asking all of us.
When are we going to come home? What is the mission now? What is going to be the way we can declare success and bring it home? How are we going to find a winnable solution there? When is my husband or my wife or my son or my brother or my daughter finally going to come home and not get sent back again? We're asking those questions rather than the other side, which is merely saying, same thing that they did yesterday and two months ago and three years ago.
KING: And Senator Landrieu, that's better than united saying out now?
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Well, as we've expressed, the Democrats have a united plan for transition. But Larry, at home in Louisiana, where we're trying to rebuild the Gulf Coast, people are concerned about the cost of the war, now escalated to $4.5-to-7 billion a month. You know, people are saying how are we paying for it? What is the plan? And so you know, those are issues that are really...
KING: And aren't lives the most important?
LANDRIEU: Yes, lives are most important. You can't put a price tag on a life, but people are starting to say at home, where are our priorities in terms of domestic investments and supporting our troops in a real way, not in a war that has no course and no end?
KING: And where are you on all this, Senator Lincoln?
SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: I think these ladies have done it well in that we are united on a year of transition and that we can't just stay the course. The American people don't want us to just stay the course. They want some answers. They want some solid plans of what we're going to do and redeployment in moving forward.
KING: Senator Clinton?
MIKULSKI: I think the Iraqis don't want us to stay the course. The Iraqi foreign minister in the newspaper said we're ready for you to leave by 2008.
KING: Senator Clinton, were you shocked that you were booed the other day at some conclave by Democrats when you said...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... We all get booed, Larry.
KING: But these were your people, Senator Clinton, booing you.
CLINTON: Well, Larry, sometimes my mother boos me. We have a party that truly reflects the range of opinions in America. And I like that because it's real, it's authentic. And I know that people disagree with me on whether we should set a time certain, a deadline.
But I think the overwhelming majority of Americans and certainly of Democrats are saying, you know, our party is asking the hard questions, and that's what needs to happen. This is the first time that I can recall, just looking at our history, where we've had a Congress that has been absolutely supine.
They've not asked a question. They won't cross this president and vice president. They won't ask for answers. And it's very troubling to me because the Congress is supposed to be a check and balance on the executive. And boy, if there's ever been a president that needed a check and balance, it's this one. But it's not coming from the Republican majority.
KING: Where do you stand, Senator Cantwell?
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: I think it's very important given the amount of resources the United States and the loss of life and the impact on our military, that the United States play a larger role in saying where is the international community?
I've called for a U.S. envoy. You know, we've had former President Clinton and former President Bush go around the globe raising funds for tsunami relief, for Katrina relief. I'm fine -- send them to the Middle East and ask the countries to pledge support for the new Iraqi government so it can stand up and we can bring our troops home.
KING: And what response have you had to that request?
CANTWELL: Well, I'm hoping that they will be aggressive about the
$13.5 billion that's already been pledged to the Iraqi relief effort because reconstruction costs are the burden that the U.S. taxpayer is paying right now. We've had less oil, less water, less electricity than before the war. And it's time that we build international support with the ideas that the United States believes in and get the rest of the neighborhood in the Arab community to support the new Iraqi regime.
KING: We'll take a break. When we come back, we'll get to the checklist proposed today by these nine Democratic -- the nine Democratic women senators of the United States Senate. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We need steady, smart leadership. And the only way we can begin to get that is to elect a Democratic Congress that can hold this administration accountable and ask the hard questions and chart the new course that we need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEINSTEIN: It's time the Senate placed the health of Americans ahead of the views of a limited number of people who are far from mainstream America. So today we challenge the Republican Congress to pass the stem cell bill this summer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Before we move to the checklist proposed today, let's -- we have a few e-mails we're going to get to tonight, asked from our Web site.
We have an e-mail question from Marilyn of Naperville, Indiana. She asks, "Why aren't our representatives and senators screaming from the rooftops of the Capitol about the brutal and vicious killing of two brave, young soldiers in Iraq?" Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Well, we are. Let there be no doubt about it. This is hard to understand, how people act this way, how they torture, how they brutalize. And I think that's one more reason why we have to really take a look at where we're going and how we define victory, because what we're doing increasingly is putting our military in the middle of what is a vicious sectarian dispute where people go out, pick out if you're Sunni you get shot in the middle of the head. If you're Shia, you get knifed in the back.
And this is going on to the tune where 90,000 families have left their own country for fear of bloodshed. And my greatest worry is that the American men and women in our service get caught in the middle of what is an internecine civil war.
KING: Senator Mikulski, was it your idea to do the -- you're the dean of this group, right?
MIKULSKI: I'm Coach Barb here.
KING: Was it your idea about doing this checklist?
MIKULSKI: Actually, Larry, it was all of our ideas. We talk a great deal every day in the United States Senate about our constituents, about the concerns they've brought to us. And we were really frustrated. And what we were frustrated about, that we've been in session for only 70 days.
Here it is June 21st, and we've been in session only 70 days, and nothing's gotten done. So we decided to be like women. Women have a checklist in order to get things done to keep our families on track. So we wanted a checklist to get the Congress back on track.
KING: And each one of you took one thing?
MIKULSKI: Yes. Mine's pensions. Debbie Stabenow is about jobs.
Senator Feinstein is about stem cell research. And what we want to do is challenge the Republicans, first of all, to provide leadership, change the agenda. How about changing the tone, and then also changing the schedule? We've got 50 days left, and let's make colleges affordable, stabilize pensions. Let's get it done.
KING: Senator Stabenow, your bailiwick was keeping good jobs in America.
KING: Everyone says they want to do that. How?
STABENOW: Well, first of all, we want to export our products, not our jobs, in a global economy. And Larry, I think that we're really in a fight for a way of life in this country, and we've got two choices.
We can do what the Bush administration and the Republicans are saying, which is it's OK to be erased to the bottom with lower wages, more costs on healthcare and pensions, or we can do what we want to do, which is make it to the top.
And that means you enforce trade laws, you deal with healthcare and energy costs, and then you protect pensions and you race like crazy around education and innovation. People in Michigan know that. We know how to race to the top.
KING: Are you saying the opposition doesn't want that?
STABENOW: Well, you know, I sat through the president's latest State of the Union and didn't hear the word manufacturing once. Manufacturing built the middle class of this country. You can't have an economy without making things and growing things, which by the way, we do very well in Michigan.
And when you look at the fact that the middle class in this country are being squeezed on all sides and the choice they're being given is work for less, pay more for healthcare, pay more for gas, pay more -- you know, maybe lose your pension, that's not good enough, and we're here to say we're about making this a fight to the top.
KING: Senator Boxer, your area was protecting air, land, and water.
KING: Who's against that?
BOXER: Well, you'd be surprised. You know, I never thought I'd be nostalgic for Ronald Reagan, but he was far more of an environmentalist than we see with this administration. Let me be specific so it's not just vague.
Superfund -- you know what a Superfund site is? It's the most toxic waste sites, very dangerous chemicals. We have in our midst so many of these sites, dozens of these sites, all across our states, where the toxins are uncontrolled. Why? Because they haven't renewed the Superfund fee on the biggest polluters. They've forgotten about polluter pays. It's now on the backs of the taxpayers.
And they have slowed up cleanups to the point where under the Clinton administration -- yes, I'm extremely nostalgic for that -- they cleaned up 80 sites a year. They're cleaning up 40 sites a year, Larry, and they're leaving the most dangerous sites out of control, and it's harmful for our families.
KING: We'll move to all these checklists. The senators on this -- in this panel, at this -- looks like a hearing. Senators Cantwell, Clinton, Feinstein, and Stabenow are all up for re-election. Will you all support each other?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course.
KING: So you'll campaign for her? And you'll campaign for her?
MIKULSKI: And we're like NATO. An attack on one is an attack on everyone.
KING: And if Senator Clinton were to win and run for the presidency ...
CLINTON: Oh, let's get back to the checklist.
KING: This is just an if. Would you all support her?
CLINTON: Oh, come on, Larry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's terrific.
KING: Would you all support her?
CLINTON: Larry ...
LINCOLN: She wants us to take one step at a time and get it right.
CLINTON: That's right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to send her to New York first.
CLINTON: We want to focus on what we can get done in this Congress.
And then we need to focus on our elections in November because, as you say, we're running for re-election.
KING: Just wanted to see who's there for you. We'll be right back with more of the checklist. You're watching -- and more e-mails too.
You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LANDRIEU: We need a new direction to keep our nation and our neighborhoods safe. And so we challenged this Republican Congress to put national preparedness on the agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I like that. I think it plays. We have, before we move back to our checklist, an e-mail question, asked on our web site, from Cheryl in San Diego, who asks, ladies, who are your picks for strong presidential candidates that the Democrats and independents in the country can support? Do you have any favorites so far?
BOXER: I'd say this, any one of these women could be on the ticket.
President, vice president, I'm not kidding. They could.
KING: Any one of you?
BOXER: Any one of these women.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love New Hampshire. We think Iowa's great.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michigan's a swing state.
KING: How close are you, Senator Landrieu, I'm sorry, Senator Clinton, to a woman president?
LANDRIEU: I think very close, Larry. I think people are starting to see women the way we see ourselves, which is very strong and powerful leaders and able to lead in the public sector and the corporate sector.
We most certainly lead in our homes and our neighborhoods and our schools. It really is a breakthrough in democracy. This is the greatest democracy in the world. It's not perfect, and it's getting better every day. And when women get their rightful place, that helps the whole country be stronger in the world as well.
KING: Senator Lincoln, can the Democrats take the Senate?
LINCOLN: I think they can. It's going to be difficult. We've got an uphill climb there. We've got to certainly maintain the four women here and keep their seats. And I think we will. But we'll have to have some gains in order to be able to retake the Senate.
KING: Senator ...
STABENOW: If I could just say.
KING: You may.
STABENOW: We have two great women, Clara McCaskill and Amy Kobachar running in Minnesota and Missouri. And we'd sure love to make this 11 the next time on the show.
KING: How about the House, Senator Cantwell?
CANTWELL: Well, I think the House has got a lot of seats that are in play. And obviously, we're going to talk about this checklist because we think the priorities on here, making college education more affordable, the fact that this administration's budget for next year represents the largest cut to education in 26 years, when you talk to the students at home at Washington State University or University of Washington, they want affordable education. They want the doors open to education, not slammed shut.
KING: Senator Clinton, your area on the checklist was making America energy independent. Is that feasible?
CLINTON: Absolutely, it's feasible.
CLINTON: Yes, it is, Larry. There are so many examples around the world where other countries have made a commitment to a clean energy, independent future. And we haven't done that.
KING: But we're a guzzling nation.
CLINTON: Well, that's right. But, we also don't have a federal legal framework that encourages people to make the right decisions and to get more effective transportation, more effective electricity generation and distribution. What I proposed today was a strategic energy fund where we really try to treat it like we did with the Apollo project, sending somebody to the moon.
Make it a national priority. Make the investments to do the research.
It is absolutely feasible. But we don't hear that from our leadership in the White House or the Congress. And I think that's a great mistake because we need to be energy independent in order to enhance our national security and our, take care of our environment.
KING: Senator Murray, yours was protect America and our military families. Are you saying the administration is not doing that?
MURRAY: Look, I am telling you they are not. And I'm really concerned about this. Part of the cost of war is taking care of those men and women who go overseas in service and come home. I was in Iraq with Barbara Boxer a year ago. And boy, our troops looked us in the eye and said is our country going to be there when we get home? And now we're seeing the statistics.
We're seeing 2,000 people in waiting lines at the Seattle VA alone just to get in and get their first health care checkup. We're seeing unemployment for men and women who are 20 to 24, who have served in Iraq, three times the national average. We're seeing 18 months wait for benefits. What this is about is not putting the money and the resources into the VA, realistically, based on what we're asking our men and women to do. And that's just wrong and we want to change that.
KING: Are you saying the Republicans don't want to change that?
MURRAY: Time and time again our amendments have been voted down to put in place a realistic budget for the VA. In fact, we did put money in for the VA. It was stripped out in the middle of the night in a supplemental committee.
KING: What's the argument against it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They say they have enough. They say we've increased it.
LANDRIEU: I'd like to just follow with Patty. Every time Patty makes that argument, which is very powerful and accurate, they say but we're spending more this year than we did last year, with veterans. That's not the answer to the question. The question is are you spending enough based on the increased number of veterans coming back? We're having record numbers of veterans return. With record number of wounded, with mental health issues. So it's not just spending more money. It's spending it wisely and well. Using all the new technologies that we have.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's not right to then try to look at that increase and basically say, well, here's how we're going to solve it, we're going to increase the fees and payments by veterans into the health care system.
KING: Being in the minority, both in the Senate as a gender and as a party, do you feel frustrated?
FEINSTEIN: Oh, yes. That's an easy question. Oh, yes. You know, I mean, you spend your life in this particular pursuit, trying to help people, trying to be creative, and you come back here and you find virtually every program that helps individuals, that cleans up our environment, as Barbara says, that can make us more energy efficient, that can respond to the problems of the day, and make us a better-educated, competitive society, cut. And you see tax cut after tax cut after tax cut in the middle of a war, which means the only thing then you can cut are all of these programs. And that's where this administration is going.
And you know, we're faced with another potential tax cut at a time when you've got a war that's cost $370 billion between Afghanistan and Iraq, funded out of supplementals. You've got entitlement programs that have some problems in them. And rather than solve problems and protect vital programs, the administration says, well, we'll privatize Social Security. When 50 percent of Americans have no retirement or no pension with the exception of Social Security. That's the mentality.
KING: We'll be right back ...
MIKLULSKI: We're not frustrated because of our gender. That was kind of the way the question, you said you're a minority. We're frustrated not because of our gender, we're frustrated because the agenda.
KING: It's the agenda of the gender.
MIKULSKI: It's the agenda of the gender. That's why the checklist.
They want to spend their time giving us votes on radical judges, constitutional amendments that aren't going to take us anywhere, or promote democracy. We want votes. We want debate on real issues, helping our veterans, helping our kids go to school.
KING: I'll get a break in. We'll come right back, I'll introduce the whole panel, reintroduce the whole panel and more of the checklist issues, as we discuss them with the nine Democratic women members of the United States Senate, the other gender of the agenda. I feel like I'm back in Brooklyn. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKULSKI: Every generation paves the way. That's our obligation. To create more opportunities for families, to work together to build a safer, stronger America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I like that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you continue that?
KING: That could be it now. That could be the campaign theme.
Checklist proposed today. Let's meet the nine senators who combined to propose them. They are Senator Barbara Boxer, third-term Democrat of California; Senator Maria Cantwell, first-term Democrat of Washington, who's running for re-election.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, first-term Democrat of New York, also running for re-election. Senator Dianne Feinstein, third-term Democrat of California, also running for re-election. Senator Mary Landrieu,
second- term Democrat of Louisiana; Senator Blanche Lincoln, second term Democrat of Arkansas; Senator Barbara Mikulski, the dean, the fourth-term Democrat of Maryland. She is dean of the United States Senate Women.
Senator Patty Murray, third-term Democrat of Washington. And Senator Debbie Stabenow, the first-term Democrat of Michigan, who is also running for re-election.
Let's take Senator Cantwell's checklist. Make college affordable for all. How?
CANTWELL: Well, I went to school on a Pell Grant, Larry. And I have to tell you, I'm not sure I'd be in the United States Senate or have been a successful executive at a software company if I hadn't had access to affordable college education, made through help and support of somebody who needed financial assistance.
And right now, with the cuts in the Pell Grant program not keeping pace with the rate of inflation, the cost of education for families has gotten more expensive. So education's gone up 63 percent in costs.
Family income's only gone up a few percent.
So what we want is we want to pass legislation to increase Pell Grants, make the college tax deduction permanent, and make an investment, even give G.I.'s more opportunity in making the G.I. Bill permanent for life, so that they can continue their education opportunities as well.
KING: So you're saying it's not possible for anybody who wants to go to college to go to college?
CANTWELL: It's certainly -- I don't think the person that was in my situation today would have as many opportunities. And really this is a time period in our country where education is the meal ticket to this new economy. We want to empower individuals to have opportunities and empower our economy.
KING: Senator Landrieu, yours was prepare for future disasters.
Understanding how you got that.
LANDRIEU: Absolutely, Larry. I mean, we're struggling every day to stand up a city that was put under 15 to 20 feet of water because the federal levee system broke.
Now we had some obligations at the local level, but the federal system, because of underfunding over years and bad design, put a city underwater. We had two hurricanes -- Category 5 out in the Gulf hit us at three. But there's not a place in America with the cutbacks that the Republicans have put forward that's ready.
We've asked to stand up FEMA. It's a shell of what it once was. To put it at a cabinet-level, you know, department. But for the Republican Congress that doesn't really believe that federal government can be effective, they've left it anemic, dysfunctional, and people are suffering, 200,000 homes.
KING: Are you saying it's less ready?
LANDRIEU: We are less ready. The country is not ready based on the 9/11, which is five years ago. Katrina was 10 months ago. We're into the next hurricane season. What have we learned? There's not been one day of discussion on the Senate floor dedicated to getting our first responders, you know, stood up, getting a debate about FEMA. And so we've got America basically sitting ducks for some of these catastrophes that could hit. And we'd better get focused on home, on our cities and our suburban and rural areas to keep them safe.
KING: Why not, Senator Clinton? Why hasn't it been discussed?
CLINTON: Well, Larry, the Bush administration dismantled FEMA from what it was in the 1990s, when it really did work.
KING: Before Katrina?
CLINTON: Yes, yes. And it was a decision made, again, based on ideology as well as money. And we're paying a big price for it.
They've also not made a serious commitment to our ports, to our borders, to our mass transit system.
Every expert, from the 9/11 Commission on, has said the same thing. We are not prepared, we are not spending the money in the way that would maximize preparedness. And what Senator Landrieu said today, which was so right, is let's get FEMA back to the professional agency it once was, staffed with people who knew what to do in emergencies.
I still think we need an independent Katrina commission. We don't really know everything that went wrong, and we don't have a list of recommendations about how to fix it.
KING: Was FEMA better when you were first lady?
CLINTON: Oh, there's no doubt, there's no doubt. Everyone agrees with that.
BOXER: Dianne and I could tell you the difference. James Lee Witt became a father figure in California. Dianne, do you remember?
FEINSTEIN: I do.
BOXER: And we were so fortunate to have him. And we can -- when you see your husband, say thank you from us again because James Lee Witt was right there for us and people knew they could get help. Businesses could rebuild. We made history by rebuilding roads so quickly that they came in under budget and ahead of schedule, because of the federal government working with our state.
FEINSTEIN: You know, I think one of the biggest boondoggles was when they took 22 agencies and combined them into a super department.
KING: Sounded good.
FEINSTEIN: And FEMA lost its cabinet status. Now, Mary, you've got a huge disaster, the largest disaster, I think, in our nation's history.
And the very entity handling that disaster is removed from the White House and can't communicate directly with the White House.
KING: Senator Stabenow?
STABENOW: I was just going to add that in addition to FEMA, we saw the
9/11 Commission give failing grades for lack of preparedness for first responders, port security, chemical security, radios not working. When I went down to see New Orleans right after the disaster, I sat with somebody from the Michigan Coast Guard and the Michigan Army National Guard that was there helping.
I was very proud of them. I said do you have radios? Yes. Do they talk to each other? No. I said, well, how are you communicating when you're out in the boats? They said hand signals. 2006 in this country, in America we can do better than hand signals. I've offered an amendment three times to fully fund radio communications and the Republican majority has said no.
MURRAY: You know, this is why we're talking about we need change.
These are real critical issues. It could be an earthquake in my state.
It could be another terrorist attack. We want our country to be prepared, and we're not talking about that in the Senate today.
KING: Is this beyond liberal-conservative?
MURRAY: This is about a management issue of the United States Senate dealing with the issues that are critical to every American family that's not being done today.
KING: Let me get a break. We'll pick up on some of the other checklists and some of your e-mails as well. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOXER: We challenge the Republican Congress to put the environment back on the agenda, to move forward on a comprehensive science-based bill to stabilize and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANTWELL: It is wrong to look for the extra savings and deficit reductions in the pockets of the poorest students in America. It's time to invest in the future of America, the next generation of leaders, so that they can help themselves and our economy excel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Before we move back to the checklist, another e-mail question.
This from Mike in Houston, who asks, "Why aren't the Democrats challenging the King Kong deficit spending by Bush since he's been president and the Republicans have controlled Congress? Hasn't the national debt doubled in the last few years?" Who wants to grab that?
STABENOW: Well, as a member of the Budget Committee, I would just say when I came into the Budget Committee in 2001, we had the largest surpluses in the history of the country, and now we have the largest deficits.
We put forward at the very beginning with those surpluses a plan that said take a third of it for tax cuts, a third of it to pay down the debt, and a third of it to invest in our people in education, innovation and healthcare. If we had done that, we'd be in a very different situation than we are today.
BOXER: And Larry, you should tell your person that we did talk today about pay as you go spending because we think you want to spend money?
Find a place to find that money. Cut that other program or figure out a way to pay for it, and that is part of our leadership's goal, is pay as you go budgeting, go back to that.
LANDRIEU: But Republicans have voted it down.
BOXER: Exactly, right.
LANDRIEU: Let me be clear about this. They've voted that down. And it's simple to the American people. If you want something, pay for it.
KING: And what was their argument?
LANDRIEU: OK, if you want a tax cut, pay for it. If you want a program, pay for it.
MIKULSKI: Their argument was ...
LANDRIEU: They said they don't want to pay for their tax cuts, they want to borrow money to give tax cuts. We say we're for tax cuts but let's find a way to pay for them.
KING: We still have to get the checklists of Senators Mikulski, Lincoln, and Feinstein. And so we'll get Senator -- let's take Senator Lincoln's now. Your part was called make small business healthcare affordable.
LINCOLN: Right. Well, Larry, 46 million Americans are uninsured right now. And the majority of those are in small businesses. We have an incredible example. Over 40 years the federal government has figured out that if they take all eight million of their federal employees and they pool them, they can give them greater choice at a lower cost.
So we're the recipients of a very good healthcare program. There's no reason why we can't use that model that's been tested for 40 years and offer that same kind of choice at a lower price to small businesses.
KING: Is healthcare a right?
LINCOLN: Healthcare is essential. It's essential for the quality of life for Americans. It's essential to our economy. Workers do better when they're healthy. The fact is, is when you've got small businesses where their employees are uninsured, what happens when they become Medicare age? They're more costly to the government because they haven't been getting healthcare.
The key is, is to make sure that we're looking practically at how we can offer better choice at a lower cost to as many Americans as we possibly can. And through small businesses, we reach a tremendous amount. If we pool them together, we give them the same benefit we have and there's no reason they shouldn't get it.
KING: We'll get to two more items on the checklist and then some general questions when we come back.
And before we go to break, let's check in with Anderson Cooper in New York. We're in Washington tonight. And Anderson will host, of course, "A.C. 360" at the top of the hour. Cher tonight?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Cher -- yes, Cher is on the program tonight, Larry, talking about Iraq and trying to raise money for Marines' helmets.
We also have some breaking news at the top of the hour, that al Qaeda number two man Ayman al-Zawahiri has a new videotape posted online. Our teams are literally analyzing the video right now. We've confirmed that it is new, and that is just about all we know. It is a fast-moving story. As I said, we hope to tell you more about it at the top of the hour.
We'll also have Senator John Kerry on the program tonight talking about his proposal for Iraq and what he says about the critics who say that he is dragging down the Democratic Party, causing greater divisions and leaving an opening for Republicans to accuse the Democrats of wanting to cut and run in Iraq.
All that and more, Larry, at the top of the hour.
KING: Thanks. That's "A.C. 360" at the top of the hour, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. And we'll be right back. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LINCOLN: We believe that expanding coverage for small business will go a long way towards making sure that millions of Americans would have access to medical care. And we truly believe that providing that kind of security is worth fighting for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Before we move back to the checklist, Senator Clinton, Senator Kerry's going to be on the program "A.C. 360" following us. He's now describing Republican policy as lie and die, and a lot are saying that that's causing a rift in your party. Is it?
CLINTON: You know, Larry, we are debating one of the most important issues facing our country. And I'm really proud that the Democratic Party is having this debate. The Republicans are not saying anything.
KING: But is Kerry hurting it?
CLINTON: No. I think everybody has a strong opinion about what should be done, and that's more than can be said for the Republicans, who are blindly following the president.
KING: So you don't criticize Senator Kerry?
CLINTON: Absolutely not.
KING: Senator Boxer, we just learned from Anderson that a new video message from the number two figure in al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was posted on an Islamic Web site Wednesday evening. He claims to have recorded the message, which lasts three minutes and 44 seconds. We don't know what he says. What do you make of this? I wish we knew what he said.
BOXER: Well, it's going to be horrific, whatever he says. This is a group that has no respect for human life and no respect for people, for children, for families. It's -- they behead people. This is a group that's beyond the pale.
But this is the point. I think the reason so many of us feel strongly that we need to change what's going on in Iraq is, we need to free up some resources to get back to getting al Qaeda. You know, the other side keeps saying the war on terror is the war in Iraq. Not true. We all voted, every one of us, differently on the war in Iraq. Every one of us voted after 9/11 to go get Bin Laden. They haven't done it. They turned away. They did this other war. And a lot of us are saying, most of us are saying it's time to change and to begin redeploying and concentrating on getting this horrible man who is heading al Qaeda, second in line to bin Laden.
MURRAY: And it reminds us that we should be focused on the floor of the Senate on port security and rail security and getting our men and women who are protecting us what they need.
KING: Senator Mikulski, your checklist was safeguarding America's pensions. Are they in trouble?
MIKULSKI: They absolutely are. First of all, I think we can be proud of the women here that fought the privatization of Social Security.
This was one more of those presidential gimmicks that we were able to stop because, you know, you need a guaranteed benefit, not a guaranteed gamble. And when you're old, you need to be able to rely on Social Security. He wanted to send it to the stock market. We say nobody who's old should have to rely on the bull of political promises or a bear market.
Now they want to come back with this budget bill, and buried in the fine print is, once more, an attempt to privatize Social Security. And we're ready to stand sentry and be able to fight it. Then for our private sector pensions we have legislation that will protect the taxpayer from companies dumping pensions and making them pay for it and also helping good-guy companies know the rules. This has been pending 180 days after it passed the Senate and the house. This is why they squandered time they squander opportunity, and they squander money.
KING: When we come back, we'll ask Senator Feinstein the last one of the checklists, about investing in life-saving science like stem cell.
Just so you know, we did take a look at the Republicans a few weeks ago, and we plan on doing much more with both parties as we get more and more into this coming election season. And tomorrow night's special guest will be the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller. And we'll be right back with more. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Caring for our veterans is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It is an American issue. We call on this Congress to do the most patriotic thing we can do, fulfill our promise to care for America's veterans and military families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STABENOW: We need a new direction for American workers and American businesses. We challenge the Republican Congress to enact tax policies that stop the outsourcing of American jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: One more checklist to cover. Senator Feinstein, before we get another e-mail in, investing in life-saving science. You're talking about stem cell?
FEINSTEIN: Well, this is stem cell. And this is the heartbreak for me. Eight years ago I introduced one of the first stem cell bills.
Here we are eight years later with virtually no federally funded stem cell research. The president authorized 22 stem cell lines only. They are all contaminated with mouse feeder cells. The House has passed a bill which says that rejected embryos from IVF clinics can be used for stem cell research. You know Christopher Reeve. We all know Christopher Reeve.
No one in medicine has ever thought that a spinal cord, once severed, could be healed. Stem cell research offers that opportunity. Every one of us has had families with juvenile diabetics come in and plead for this. People with cancer, people with Alzheimer's, by the thousands.
And I don't understand it. Not to allow federal research to go ahead sets this nation so far back and hurts people.
KING: Even if you pass, it you're not going to override a veto, are you?
FEINSTEIN: Well, look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got to try.
FEINSTEIN: The point is you have to try in this. You know, we came here to fight for what we believe in, and one of the things we believe in is to use this great scientific medical know-how for human well-being and to see, you have Nancy Reagan, who writes and says please do this.
We have a bipartisan bill to do it in the Senate. You have a House bill. All we need do is pass it, and the votes are there in the Senate to pass it.
KING: Let me get in one more e-mail. This is from Carol in Vancouver, British Columbia. And she asks, which of the senators present have seen the Al Gore documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," and what's their response to it? Who's seen it? Hillary?
CLINTON: I thought it was terrific. And you know, Al for years has been sounding the alarm on global climate change. And no one can sit through that movie and not be convinced that time is running out for us to take the action we need to control the emissions of carbon dioxide into the air. And that goes right along with what we're trying to do in energy. It goes hand in hand. So I think he's done a great service, not just to our country, but the world.
KING: Would you like him to run again?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we go.
CLINTON: You're good, Larry.
KING: That's not going too far.
CLINTON: All roads lead to one question. I have a question for you.
When the FBI director is here tomorrow, ask him if he agrees with cutting the homeland security money to New York City. Just ask him.
KING: That's one of the top things on the list, you're ticked about that.
CLINTON: I am so ticked about that.
MIKULSKI: He's cutting it for Baltimore too.
KING: Were you shocked about it?
CLINTON: I was shocked. But that's what, we wake up every day trying to figure out what this administration is up to.
KING: What answer did they give you on New York?
CLINTON: Oh, they gave us such a run-around. And they cut some places in California. The point is it shows we need a risk-based, threat-based way to distribute money. And they have to keep trying to move the piece around because they won't put enough money in it to begin with.
KING: Do you think it's political?
CLINTON: I think part of it is political, absolutely. Part of it is their highest priority is tax cuts. And so it's more important to cut the taxes, you know, on billionaires than to make sure that we have sufficient resources to fend off a terrorist attack.
BOXER: Larry, getting back to global warming ...
KING: ... You've got 30 seconds.
BOXER: OK. President Bush tomorrow could say that all the new cars that the federal government buys have to be energy efficient. He doesn't have to see a law passed. He doesn't have to do anything but just do it, like our states are doing it, our cities are doing it. And we call on him to do it. It's easy, doesn't hurt anybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Leadership. Leadership.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time for a change.
STABENOW: We're making those flex-fuel vehicles and bio-diesel and hybrids.
KING: In Michigan, right?
STABENOW: In Michigan. And we would welcome that. If the president said even just a half or a third of the fleets, the federal fleets will be hybrids and flex fuels and we'll make them in Michigan.
KING: We're out of time. Thank you all. Thank you Senators Boxer, Cantwell, Clinton, Feinstein, Landrieu, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, and Stabenow.
And tomorrow night the FBI director, Robert Mueller, and I will ask him that.
CLINTON: Thank you.
KING: And Friday night, when we're back in California, Regis Philbin.
Right now as the clock turns toward 10:00 PM Eastern, I love to say that, and it's time for "AC 360" and Anderson Cooper.