Sen. Kennedy on Mine Safety, Bush in Iraq

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on President Bush's nominee to head up the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Alex Chadwick speaks with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) about the importance of the vote in light of recent deadly mining accidents, and also about President Bush's unnanounced visit to Iraq.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Washington, there's a vote scheduled in the Senate this afternoon that could end months of delay on one of President Bush's controversial appointments. This is the office that overseas safety in mines.

The man is Richard Stickler. The President nominated him to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration last fall. But West Virginia's Democratic senators are against Mr. Stickler.

Senator Byrd put a hold on the nomination. It will take 60 votes to remove that. That is the vote scheduled for later today.

Among the opposition to Mr. Stickler, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. He joins us by telephone. Senator, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Glad to be here.

CHADWICK: Just last week you passed legislation, both in the Senate and the House, to improve mine safety. Significant improvements, first time in a generation. Why isn't Mr. Stickler the right man to oversee that?

Senator KENNEDY: To have the effectiveness of that bill put in place, you have to have real leadership, and Richard Stickler has failed that test of real leadership. When he managed mines for the coal companies, injury at his mines were 2-3 times the national average.

When he was in charge of Pennsylvania's mine safety, the inspectors resigned because they felt that he was not fulfilling the responsibility in protecting the mineworkers. And when he testified in the Senate, soon after the tragic deaths in West Virginia, the best he could say to our recommendations was that he'd study and look at them. He didn't think there had to be any change in the existing underlying law. He's the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time.

CHADWICK: Well, one thing that he said when he testified before you was that both his father and his grandfather were coal miners, that he had been a coal miner himself. He'd work down in the mines. He led a rescue crew at one point. That just doesn't sound like someone who would be soft on safety.

Senator KENNEDY: I think what you have to do is look at the record of what he is doing. And the testimony in the Senate is so compelling. I attended the hearings. Most of all, listen to the families of the coal miners that died. They are the people that are on the scene, that listen to the hearings, that know this person and know the changes that we've made in the mine safety and virtually unanimous. Of all the families that attended these hearings and lost loved ones in the Sago mines and the other mines, say this man is just not the person to do it. They are looking for the future for the protecting of these miners.

CHADWICK: Senator, may I turn to another question. President Bush is in Iraq on a previously unannounced visit, but he is there. He's been conducting this review, notedly, over the last day. What are Democrats saying about Iraq these days?

Senator KENNEDY: What we need coming out of this is something more than window dressing or clich├ęs. We need, I would hope, a recognition that we have had troops in Iraq now longer than we fought the Korean War. And at the end of this year, we will have had the American military fighting in Iraq longer than World War II.

Now, my belief is the American military has done its job. It's a political resolution, a political decision now that American troops are part of the problem, not part of the solution, and that we ought to get the Americans out of there.

The President ought to call Dayton type of a summit for the powers in the region. They know we are serious about seeing a withdrawal of Americans troops. Their interests then will magnify and they'll have to become more involved in reaching a regional solution.

I think the military have done what they were tasked to do. And I think they're inflaming the insurgency rather than them resolving it.

CHADWICK: Well, it is a political problem for the President. Clearly his numbers are down on Iraq. But there he is in Baghdad. Maybe this is going to help him politically.

Senator KENNEDY: Well, I think what's important is not so much the politics, but the policy. We have had too many Americans that have been killed and wounded. We're spending $10 billion a month. But we are part of the problem, not the part of the solution. And hopefully the President will get that message when he's in Iraq.

CHADWICK: Should there be a deadline, Senator?

Senator KENNEDY: I had announced over in January 2005 that I thought it ought to be by the end of 2006. We are going to have interests in that region. But we have not brought these countries in from the region. They have great hostility towards us. The President ought to provide that kind of leadership and a clear statement that this is the year of transition in 2006.

CHADWICK: Is that a deadline that you would stick with, the end of this year? Does that still seem realistic?

Senator KENNEDY: If we could. Yes. If we could work that out. We're beginning to run out of time just now. It has to be done effectively and well. But my point is, whether it's December 31 or January 20, and we ought to have American troops out and to be able to do that in an orderly way.

CHADWICK: Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Senator, thank you very much for your time.

Senator KENNEDY: Thank you.

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