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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Tsunami Disaster; U.S. Pledges Additional $20 Million in Aid; Where Are Bush's Priorities for New Year?; Bush, Hillary Clinton Top Most Admired Polls

Aired December 28, 2004 - 15:29   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Out of the ruins of the tsunami disaster. More loss, more anguish...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seth, please call your mom and dad. We really need to hear from you.

ANNOUNCER: ... and more relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thank god that my family's alive.

ANNOUNCER: Desperate times. What do tsunami survivors need most so they can pick up the pieces and stay alive?

Help is on the way. The world response to the nightmare in southern Asia. But is the United States doing enough?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States is not stingy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Kelly Wallace. Judy is off this week.

We have another jam-packed hour ahead. So let's get right to it.

And we are beginning with that crisis in southeast Asia. With each passing day, we are getting a clear, more gut-wrenching picture of life and loss in the tsunami disaster zone.

The confirmed death toll has climbed above 33,000 people as workers across southern Asia use shovels and even their bare hands to search the wreckage for survivors and more often bodies. Officials believe at least one-third of the dead are children, thousands more people are injured or missing.

Meantime, international relief workers are fanning out across the region devastated by the one-two punch of an earthquake and massive waves. The United States today is pledging an additional $20 million in aid. That is on top of $15 million announced yesterday. The U.S. is also planning to send up to 700 troops to the region, along with ships, helicopters and supplies.

More than half of those confirmed dead were killed in Sri Lanka. Indonesia also facing more than its share of suffering. But as one official in the region put it, disaster does not discriminate. Correspondent Dan Rivers is in Indonesia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RIVERS, ITV NEWS REPORTER (voice-over): About 100 miles from the epicenter of this cataclysmic earthquake we flew over a landscape of staggering disruption. Mile after mile consumed by the sea. Homes, villages, towns ripped apart.

But up close there is grotesque horror. The city of Banda Aceh resembles an open-air mortuary. The clawing stench of death hangs over pile of corpses. The survivors hysterical.

This woman, like many, has lost her entire family. But there were also incredible escapes. These people scrambling to safety from the swirling waters. The Indonesian president has visited one devastated town, but hundreds of others remain completely cut off three days after the earthquake.

SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO, INDONESIAN PRESIDENT: The last three days have been the most difficult days of my presidency and a trying moment for my nation.

RIVERS: Banda Aceh was the capital of this troubled province. Now parts are in ruins.

Tonight there are still dozens, maybe hundreds of towns and villages which haven't been heard from. If there are survivors in these outlying areas, the conditions three days on must be horrific.

Dan Rivers, ITV News, Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And as we have been learning over the past 48 hours, some of the hardest hit areas in southern Asia were popular vacation spots. Now they are washed out heaps of rubble, and officials fear hundreds of tourists may have died. More now from John Irvine in Thailand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN IRVINE, ITV NEWS REPORTER (voice-over): For many holiday- makers who go looking for a piece of heaven on earth, the search is here on Ko Phi Phi. But just look at the island today. The developed part has been obliterated, the view is one of destruction and the smell is one of death.

The hotels, bars and shops are on a narrow strip of sand a mile long but only 100 yards wide. The sea is on both sides. This became neat in a sandwich. (on camera): This island and in particular this part of the island was absolutely crammed with holiday-makers. There were so many, some were actually sleeping on the beach.

You can imagine they would have partied pretty late into the night. And on the morning of Boxing Day, when the tsunami smacked in from both sides, much of Phi Phi was still asleep.

(voice-over): Most of the tourists who survived have now been taken off the island by the Thai authorities who are here in force at last. Their primary task is to retrieve the bodies of the perished. How many died here they simply don't know yet. They've recovered 400 bodies already, but in our brief tour of the island, we found several more of the unlucky ones.

In recent years, Ko Phi Phi has been a magnet for pleasure seekers. Where Mother Nature has bestowed so much bounty, she turned violent for just an instant. What a terrible thing has happened to this beautiful and gentle place.

John Irvine, ITV News, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And now to the massive relief effort under way and a bit of a controversy. Yesterday we told you about how the coordinator of the United Nations Emergency Relief Program, Jan Egeland, accused rich nations of being, "stingy" when it came to their initial responses to the disaster. Well, today Egeland spoke out and said he was misinterpreted. He says the international response to the tsunami disaster has been "very generous."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN EGELAND, COORDINATOR, UNITED NATIONS EMERGENCY RELIEF: I have been misinterpreted when I yesterday said that my belief that rich countries in general can be more generous. It has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency. We're in early days, and the response has so far been overwhelmingly positive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Still, the Bush administration appears to be taking pains to show it is not being stingy. Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is with the president in Crawford, Texas.

And Dana, is this part of the reason we saw Secretary of State Colin Powell making the rounds on the morning television programs earlier today?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Kelly, the administration through Colin Powell wants to be out there as much as possible to try to explain just exactly what the U.S. is doing. And I can tell you that I talked to a U.S. official who said that Egeland's office reached him last night, pretty late last night to try to explain that his comments were misinterpreted and to say essentially what we just heard from him, that this is a general comment that he tends to make.

Nevertheless, the White House spokesman Trent Duffy, was careful to say early on in his briefing today that the U.S. is single largest contributor to international relief organizations. But as you mentioned, Colin Powell did make the rounds on the morning television shows, and he was a little bit more blunt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: The United States is not stingy. We are the greatest contributor to international relief efforts in the world. We do more to help people who are suffering from lack of food or who are in poverty or suffering from HIV-AIDS. And this administration has a particularly good record in increasing the amount of assistance that we give to the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, on that assistance, the U.S. -- the State Department announced today that the USAID is adding $20 million to the $15 million announced yesterday that they are going to give to these countries that were struck by this devastating earthquake and tsunamis. A spokesman described the $20 million as kind of a line of credit being made available to these countries.

Also, USAID has organized two flights with relief materials from some pre-positioned stops in Dubai and Indonesia. Plastic sheeting for protection for about 10,000 people, also for some body bags needed to bury the thousands who were killed.

Also, the Pentagon is helping out. Nine patrol planes from the pacific command are on there way. Also, about a dozen C-130s are carrying supplies. In the words of Trent Duffy, again, the White House spokesman, "You name it, it's on its way. Relief supplies will continue to flow."

And, Kelly, I should also -- should tell you that the State Department announced that at this point there are 12 official confirmed U.S. deaths and still hundreds missing.

WALLACE: Dana, we know stylistically President Bush is not one to sort of jump in front of the television cameras after a disaster. But he has come out. Certainly he came out after September 11. He came out when it comes to the hurricane in Florida.

I know this is a subject that came up today. Why haven't we seen the president in any way coming out publicly to express his condolences to the people of southeast Asia?

BASH: Kelly, I think you touched on it a little bit, that stylistically with these kinds of things, generally it's not his thing. That he likes to first of all go through his spokesman. He has his secretary of state out there.

But also, this is a time he generally tends to be down. He tends to be out of sight, out of public view, this week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. We generally tend to see him around there.

And the White House essentially saying we don't expect to see him any time in the near future. That his efforts to try to make sure that the U.S. is sending money and relief is much more important than hearing from him personally at this point.

WALLACE: OK. Dana, thanks so much. Dana Bash, White House correspondent reporting from Crawford, Texas, today. We appreciate it.

So, are Americans, speaking of President Bush, looking up to him as this year ends? That story ahead.

Up next, though, an update on the tsunami relief effort under way in the United States and how you can help.

And later, what people should know about tsunamis. How do they develop and could you be in danger?

That's all ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. And, of course, be sure to stay with CNN in primetime tonight for the latest on the tsunami disaster. Anderson Cooper will anchor a two-hour special at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Then at 9:00, Larry King will bring you amazing survival stories. And at 10:00 p.m., "NEWSNIGHT" will focus on international aid and the health risks in the disaster zone.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: And welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

Here in the United States, emergency relief efforts are under way to assist people living in those areas hit very hard by those deadly tsunamis. One of the agencies preparing aid shipment is AmeriCares.

CNN's Allan Chernoff is standing by for us at the group's headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.

And Allan, I know one of the big things this group is working on is protecting the drinking water in these areas that have been hit hard. What is the group doing?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's most definitely the case, Kelly. There's a product from Procter & Gamble that AmeriCares does receive, and this is just an easy little powder packet. People can just put this right into water, stir the water up, and it will separate the contaminates from the water. And then people can actually drink that water.

This is so critical because experts warn that diarrhea is a deadly threat and could kill thousands of people. So that's one of the very important products that AmeriCares will be shipping.

Now, behind me you can see many other products, most of which have been donated. AmeriCares has a similar facility in Amsterdam. And they are going to be airlifting tomorrow out of Amsterdam. These products right here will be shipped within the next couple of weeks. Right behind me these happen to be T-shirts. They're Harley- Davidson T-shirts.

This over here, we have IV kits. Johnson & Johnson has donated sponges. And over here Western Medical has donated ace (ph) bandages. That's for people who have broken arms, broken legs. The bandages can be quickly applied and act as a cast to help the healing process.

Now, AmeriCares does solicit donations from corporations. They've responded, the organization says, very quickly to this latest plea. Keep in mind AmeriCares has been doing this sort of thing for more than two decades. And during that period they have delivered more than $4 billion worth of basic supplies to people in dire need of them.

They are also asking, of course, the public to give donations. And they are asking for cash, because the money that goes to AmeriCares goes straight for transportation, transportation of these donated goods. And that is really the only donation that the organization is looking for.

Of course, so many people, communities think, well, let's get some blankets together, some food. But at least for AmeriCares, they're saying it is really cash donations. That they do need. The goods are transported to nongovernmental organizations that directly get the goods to the hospitals, to the doctors who can help those people in desperate need -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Allan, that's the message we're getting, for Americans who want to contribute to contribute money and get it to groups like AmeriCares. We appreciate you joining us. Allan Chernoff joining us from AmeriCares' headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.

Thanks so much.

Turning now to the United Nations, in its role in helping those in need, we are joined now from U.N. headquarters by Alfred Ironside. And he is a spokesman for UNICEF.

Mr. Ironside, thanks for being with us today. We appreciate it.

ALFRED IRONSIDE, UNICEF: My pleasure.

WALLACE: One of your other colleagues I had read said that you all are preparing for "a second wave of destruction" brought about by concerns for countries' water and food supplies. What is the biggest concern for you all right now?

IRONSIDE: Well, just in the last few minutes you heard about it. Water is the main problem. And that's ironic, because obviously water caused the problems.

But what happens is the sea water gets into the fresh water delivery system and swamps it. You've got sea water, you've got sewage water, you've got debris, all kinds of mud inside the clean water system. So there's no way to pump clean water to people. And without clean water people simply can't live. And what do they do? Naturally they turn to whatever water is on hand.

And chances are it's polluted in some way or unclean. And that's how you get the spread of disease like dysentery, cholera and, of course, diarrhea, which is a big killer of children. So those -- those oral re-hydration salts and those tablets that purify water are very, very important.

WALLACE: How big is the concern right now? We know an expert with the World Health Organization saying as many people that die by the tsunamis could die from disease. Is that possible?

IRONSIDE: Well, I wouldn't want to try and put a figure like that on it. What we do know is that we have a population of so many millions of people.

You have to remember we're looking at such a massive land area that's been affected, thousands of miles of coastline. It's something equivalent to both the coast of the United States all combined. Just imagine there were massive floods on both coasts of the U.S.

And all along that long coastal area we have people who are now in need of relief, whether it's water, shelter, medical supplies. And getting that kind of relief to all those communities, whether they are easily reached or harder to reach, is -- all at once is a big logistical challenge. And so chances are we won't reach everyone that needs to be reached right away. And so we may see -- in fact, certainly we will see some people dying of disease.

WALLACE: Certainly something else that is hitting people very hard. You yourself quoted as saying at least one-third of those dead children. Why so many children dying in this crisis?

IRONSIDE: Well, a couple of reasons. Of course, if you look at the demographics of this region, at least one-third of the population as a whole is children. Children under the age of 18 make up at least 30, 35, in some cases up to 50 percent of the population of these countries.

When you look at coastal areas, more rural communities, and poorer fishing villages, where people tend to have more children, then the percentages will be higher. So that's one factor.

The second factor, though, is that children are more vulnerable to the kind of terror that spread through these towns and villages. These raging flood waters, we saw pictures of people clinging to trees and to sign posts.

Children weren't able to hang on and may have been swept away, where as adults may have been able to survive or swim for their lives, even run for their lives. Children would have had a disadvantage. And so we're afraid that children were disproportionately affected.

WALLACE: So troubling to hear that, of course. You know there's been a little bit of controversy over the past 24 hours about whether the richest nations are really paying enough and contributing enough right now to this disaster. What is your sense? Are the wealthiest countries doing enough to help?

IRONSIDE: I believe they are. And frankly, I think we have to keep our eye on the ball here.

In all the recent natural disasters, the international community has definitely stepped forward and will do again. We at UNICEF have no doubt about that. Already a number of western governments, including Japan and several European governments, and the United States, have stepped up, said they will make contributions, and have in fact delivered some number of millions of dollars already. And so money is in the pipeline.

But I think more importantly, we know because of the scale of this disaster and the TV images we're all seeing and all touched by, there's no chance that nations won't step forward with what is needed. And I know for sure that the general public will do so. And certainly we at UNICEF count on them for that.

WALLACE: OK. Alfred Ironside, spokesman for UNICEF. We have to leave it there. We'll certainly be talking to you in the days ahead. Thanks for your time today.

IRONSIDE: Thank you very much.

WALLACE: We appreciate it.

WALLACE: And for people here in the United States who are trying to find missing family or friends in areas hit hard by tsunamis, the State Department has set up a 24-hour hotline. Here's that number for you. It is 1-888-407-4747.

And then for those interested in ways to help all those people who are suffering, we have two places you can contact. The Red Cross International Response Fund is at redcross.org or 1-800-HELP-NOW. You can also contact CARE at careusa.org or 1-800-521-CARE. Also, please check out CNN's Web site, CNN.com, for any other information.

Up next, the science of tsunamis. What experts say about the risk for tsunamis here in the United States and why an effective warning system could have saved thousands of lives.

Don't go away. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: And welcome back.

Scientists say it is possible a tsunami could one day crash into the U.S. coastline. So, is the U.S. prepared for the worst? With us now to talk about this is Harry Yeh. He is an engineering professor on staff at the Wave Research Lab at Oregon State University.

Professor Yeh, thank you for joining us today.

PROF. HARRY YEH, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY: Thank you.

WALLACE: Well, the first question, how likely or how possible is it that a tsunami disaster that we're seeing of the kind in southeast Asia could take place here in the United States?

YEH: Well, this is really a rare event. We only have three such large tsunamis in last perhaps 60, 70 years. So if you think about how often this kind of tsunamis happen, I think this is a rare occasion.

But on the other hand, we do have a similar kind of fault system off British Columbia and the Washington and Oregon and northern California coast. So there's some threat in the West Coast of the United States.

WALLACE: So there is -- that's what we've talked about a bit over the past 24 hours. There is a warning network in place for the Pacific Ocean that is not in place right now for the Indian Ocean, is that correct?

YEH: That is correct.

WALLACE: So if...

YEH: Interestingly -- go ahead.

WALLACE: Go ahead. Go ahead, professor.

YEH: That's OK. Go ahead.

WALLACE: If -- I guess the question, though, still becomes, if an earthquake took place somewhere along -- somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, isn't it still somewhat difficult to really quantify the magnitude or the risk factor of tsunamis? Isn't that still somewhat of an inexact science?

YEH: Yes, that was the case before. But we have a much better condition now.

It's about 10 years ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA invest so much -- investment is made. And now we have five or six deep water tsunami sensors placed in the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. So prior to that, whenever we have a large earthquake, we simply issued a warning just based upon the magnitude.

Nowadays, we actually measure the wave in the middle of the ocean so we can make much more accurate predictions and so that we can make much more reliable warning -- warning -- warning systems to the people in the West Coast and Canada and the Alaska and Hawaii. So we are in a much better shape now, although it may not be perfect.

WALLACE: Right. The president, as you know, professor, of Sri Lanka is saying now after this crisis they are hoping to move in place and put in some type of disaster network so that they will have a warning network in place for the Indian Ocean. But I want to ask you, because some warnings, though, did go out, did they not, after the earthquake in the Indian Ocean and concerns about tsunamis? Weren't some people warned?

YEH: Well, once a big earthquake like this kind of stuff has happened I know people all around the world knew there is a tsunami threat. I'm quite sure that the seismologists in India, Sri Lanka, sort of knew there's a big event immediately after that.

The problem is there is no network system to transmit those kind of -- you know, the threat to the local authorities and then to the general public. That is a real problem. So we just need to have some kind of -- we simply have no preparedness for this sort of event for the Indian Ocean. That was a problem.

WALLACE: And it's something that is likely potentially to change. Harry Yeh, professor on staff at the Wave Research Lab at Oregon State University. We have to leave it there, but thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate your time today.

YEH: Yes, my pleasure.

WALLACE: Thank you.

Coming up next on INSIDE POLITICS, a dire warning. World health officials say disease could kill as many tsunami survivors as those killed by the powerful waves. We will talk with the Red Cross when our coverage continues.

And later, it was a holiday nightmare. Thousands were stranded when two airlines suffered breakdowns this past weekend. What can the government do to fix the problem?

That's all ahead. Stay with us. INSIDE POLITICS is back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: As the markets close on Wall Street, we are joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with the "Dobbs Report."

Kitty, what are the markets looking like today?

KITTY PILGRIM, GUEST HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, Kelly, stocks rallied. It was following a strong reading on consumer confidence. So the Dow Industrials are adding about 80 points. The NASDAQ is gaining close to one percent.

So let's talk about consumer confidence. It jumped sharply in December. And that's after four straight months of declines. Now, the thinking is the job market showed improvement. And that, along with the recently lower energy prices, might help boost consumer confidence to its highest level since July.

In other news, with the death toll so high, cost is not the first thing on anyone's mind, but now experts are saying that the economic damage from the deadly tsunami in Asia will run in the billions.

One insurance giant, Munich Reese (ph), says the total of about $13 billion. Other estimates go even higher. But in the region, many properties don't have insurance, so the payout will be much smaller than other disasters. And that's because the areas that were hit are relatively poor, and the major economic centers in the area like Singapore were spared.

Most of the damage in dollar terms is likely to be related to the tourism industry, such as hotels and resort closings. Tourism in the region still recovering from the SARS outbreak and the political violence in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Now, this year is likely to be the costliest ever for the insurance industry. Even before the tsunami, the insurance industry was dealing with an estimated $105 billion in economic damage this year. And that was mostly from the series of hurricanes in Florida and also that earthquake in Japan.

Major overhaul of the tax code might be pushed aside for another year, and that's according to the "Washington Post." And they say the Bush administration has its hands full with Social Security reform and a new budget plan.

The "Post" said the administration is not likely to deal with the tax issue until 2006. And then, only if Social Security and budget issues have been resolved.

The White House, however, denies that report. It says the tax reform is still a priority and the timetable has not changed.

Coming up on CNN, 6 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," we'll have complete coverage of the tsunami relief efforts. And David Nabarro of the World Health Organization joins us to discuss efforts to stop the spread of disease that threaten to worsen the crisis.

Also, former immigration agent Michael Cutler will be here to discuss President Bush's guest worker plan, part of our "Broken Borders" special report.

Plus, made in America, a look at the quintessential American product, the Wiffle Ball.

And we hope you join us for "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." But for now, back to Kelly.

WALLACE: Thanks, Kitty. We'll see you about two hours from now. Up next, though, the second half of INSIDE POLITICS continues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Incomprehensible suffering, both large scale...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The number of confirmed dead may be around 40,000, but it's still rising.

ANNOUNCER: ... and small scale. For desperate survivors, relief is needed now. What's America doing to help those clinging to life?

POWELL: We have got something like nine patrol planes on the way and 12 C-130s loaded with relief supplies on the way.

ANNOUNCER: Social Security, tax reform, medical liability, it's an ambitious domestic agenda. Can President Bush get it all done next year?

Who do you admire the most? Stick around and we'll tell you who comes out on top in our new poll.

Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And welcome back.

I am Kelly Wallace, filling in for Judy this week. As enormous as the tsunami disaster is now, officials fear the death toll could ultimately double, from more than 33,000 to more than 60,000.

In some places bodies are said to be piling up in the streets, forcing workers to bury them in mass graves.

Here are some of the latest numbers compiled by CNN. More than 18,000 dead in Sri Lanka, 9,500 in India, more than 4,700 in Indonesia and more than 1,000 in Thailand.

Officials in Sri Lanka say entire families have been wiped out by this disaster. And for many of those who survived, the pain and suffering are just beginning.

CNN's Hugh Riminton is in Sri Lanka.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid survival stories, a tale of no survivors. On Sri Lanka's west coast, south of the capital, Colombo, all 1,000 people on this eight-carriage train are now recorded as dead or missing.

It was the same series of waves that hit English tourist Peter Etheridge on a nearby beach.

PETER ETHERIDGE, TOURIST: I couldn't believe the power. It was just unbelievable.

RIMINTON: Taken to Colombo's main hospital, he cuts a lonely figure. The wave swept away Pat, his wife of 32 years.

ETHERIDGE: And then it came in again. I could hear my wife. I knew where she was. And I was hiding behind a roof. And I went around to get her. And then just all hell broke loose, and that was the last time I saw her.

RIMINTON (on camera): Despite the stories in these wards, doctors are being stripped out to the capitol, Colombo, to fill the overwhelming needs out in the district hospitals that are bearing the brunt of this medical emergency. (voice-over) One hundred and twenty-five doctors, many of them volunteers, have already been airlifted to front line clinics. The burnout rate, just 48 hours before most need to be relieved.

ANIL JASINSHE, COLOMBO CENTRAL HOSPITAL: The conditions, you know, you don't have electricity. You don't have water service. The buildings are shattered; the hospitals are shattered.

RIMINTON: The immediate needs: antibiotics and painkillers. The medical challenges: wound infection, respiratory problems among those who inhaled water. And bodies, so many they threaten to contaminate everything.

But tourist Bob Phillips credits such desperate medicine with saving his life.

BOB PHILLIPS, TOURIST: I don't know how many stitches I have. It's been stitched up twice already. The nurse, she just threw water on it and you could put your hand in there and she just pulled all the mud out. That was the big problem, is it getting infected, you see.

RIMINTON: Hugh Riminton, CNN, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And as we reported earlier, the United States has upped its promise of aid to southern Asia from $15 million to $35 million.

The Pentagon also is contributing to the relief effort. More on that now from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, good to see you. What is the U.S. military doing now?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're doing a constant assessment of what kind of aid they can provide.

Already, though, they're taking some action, sent some ships steaming in the direction of the region that's affected, including the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and its escort ships and also the amphibious assault ship, USS Bonham Richard, along with its escort ships, as well. A total of about 11 ships going to the region.

But it's not so much the ships that's important; it's what they carry. These assault ships in particular have a lot of helicopters and particularly these heavy lift helicopters, the CH-53 Super Stallions. They're very effective cargo carrying helicopters.

It's going to be a critical need, not just to get the supplies to the region but to then get them around and get people around in the affected regions.

Now in addition to the ships, these ships also have bulldozers. They have trucks. They have cranes. They have other earth moving equipment and medical supplies.

And supplies are being flown into a central location in Thailand. The government of Thailand has made available one of its naval bases at Utapao in Thailand. That's going to be a clearinghouse for relief operations around the area.

Already the U.S. is sending 11 C-130 aircraft into that base with critical supplies. That includes bottled water, meals ready to eat, the MREs that the troops use, and other critical supplies.

But again, one of the most important things that they're carrying is in are five assessment teams that are going to be fanning out around the region, trying to determine exactly the best use of U.S. military assets in trying to provide additional assistance.

And today at the State Department, they made clear that these steps are preliminary, based on what the assessment teams find. They know that this is a disaster of really immense proportions, and it's going to take a lot more than what we've outlined just now -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Well, Jamie, as you're saying they're constantly monitoring. So more troops, more supplies, more helicopters definitely likely to be sent on the way? Is that correct?

MCINTYRE: Well, there's a consideration of sending several hundred troops, as well, Marines from Okinawa. That's what the U.S. did when the Philippines had a disaster from typhoons and other storms earlier this month.

But again, you can't just send troops in without a plan. You have to have a place for them to land. You have to have something for them to do. You have to have supplies that they would deliver.

So all of that is on hold right now while they do these assessments and try to figure out the smartest way to get the most aid to the most people.

WALLACE: OK. Jamie, thanks so much. Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre, we appreciate it.

Right now, as we have been reporting, disease one of the greatest concerns in areas ravaged by the tsunami. Up next, we'll ask a Red Cross official about efforts to save lives after the initial disaster.

Also ahead, a holiday headache back in this country. With so many people getting stuck at the airport, should the feds investigate?

And later, Hillary Clinton makes the A list? That's right. We'll have the latest on INSIDE POLITICS right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: And as we've been telling you, relief agencies around the world are responding as more details emerge about the damage caused by Sunday's tsunamis.

The International committee of the Red Cross has appealed for about $44 million in assistance. That is up from an initial request of $6 million. With us now to talk more about Red Cross relief efforts is Matthew Parry. He is a regional associate with the group's international disaster response unit.

Thanks so much for being with us today. We appreciate it.

MATTHEW PARRY, REGIONAL ASSOCIATE: RED CROSS: Thank you.

WALLACE: I guess my first question, what is your biggest concern right now when it comes to the relief effort?

PARRY: Access -- access to populations we haven't identified as being in need. A lot of unknowns as far as the islands, smaller islands off the coast that we know have been affected but we haven't gotten to them yet. Also water and sanitation.

WALLACE: You're raising that point about, you know, we don't even know potentially the scope of the disaster. Was I right, there are areas you just have not even had any indication of how much damage there's been?

PARRY: Yes. There are islands such as the Nicobar Islands, Andaman Islands, and other islands closer to the coast of Sri Lanka, the Maldives, are not fully assessed. So we're not quite sure exactly how many deaths may have occurred or how many are injured and can't get medical assistance.

WALLACE: You have heard, of course, someone, an official with the World Health Organization saying there was a lot of concern that, potentially, disease could kill as many people as the tsunamis killed. Is that -- is that something you think is in the realm of possibility?

PARRY: Most definitely. It's the issue of cholera will be paramount on the medical personnel, dysentery, typhoid, perhaps, yellow fever from mosquitoes that will be appearing.

WALLACE: How quickly in the sense of do relief officials need to act to sort of stem the tide, really, to prevent it from happening? I mean, is there a clock? You are racing against the clock right now to prevent that outbreak of disease?

PARRY: I would say within the next three to five days are going to be the key period, is the key period for getting to the water sanitation system, looking for ways to purify water, treat the water that has been made available for use. Because right now they may have water that's available but may be infected with seawater or sewage. If they were pivot drains (ph), they overflowed with the water. They may have affected the water sources.

WALLACE: While we're talking, we want to put up again our toll- free number for the Red Cross, for anyone who wants to contribute. And we know we're hearing money, cash donations are what is needed. Can call 1-800-HELP-NOW.

Question for you, how big of a concern is the coordination, because you're talking about so many countries, so many relief organizations. Just coordinating this massive relief operation, how big of a concern is that?

PARRY: It's going to be a massive coordination effort. Now we know the United States is going to deploy troops to assist, as well, and the United Nations has agencies to go in there. They have multiple agencies that will go into all areas affected.

Plus, it's the number of countries affected. It's like 10 countries now that are affected, from Africa all of the way up to Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar.

So it's not just a number of organizations. It's a number of countries and then people outside of Red Cross movement. The private non-profit organizations, they go in there.

So getting information about who is working and where, what they're doing, how long they'll be in for. And that information is what is going to decide who works -- what we do in part and what others will do. But getting the information together is sometimes the hardest part of relief operations.

WALLACE: OK. We have to leave it there. We'll continue to let our viewers know how they can help. Matthew Parry, regional associate with American Red Cross, the international disaster response unit. We appreciate your time today.

PARRY: Thank you for having me.

WALLACE: We'll be talking to you in the days ahead, of course.

And CNN certainly the place for tsunami coverage day and night. There is much more tsunami coverage ahead at the top of the next hour.

Up next, though, here at INSIDE POLITICS, we'll turn our focus to politics. The president has a lot on his plate after the new year. What is his top priority? We will assemble our reporter round-table. That's coming up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Time now to check our "Political Bytes."

The Washington's governor's race is almost over, or is it? The state Republican Party has requested the list of all 900,000 voters in King County, along with the policies used to determine how questionable ballots are counted in that county.

Democrat Christine Gregoire won the second recount by 130 votes over Republican Dino Rossi, largely on the strength on her showing in King County.

In Ohio, the Associate Press reports unofficial results from the presidential recount show George W. Bush defeating John Kerry by 118,457 votes. The new number reduces President Bush's original margin of victory in Ohio by a few hundred votes.

And here in the nation's capital, a look at presidential priorities. A published report says President Bush has decided to put off his planned reform of the nation's tax code.

The president, of course, has made it clear that Social Security reform will be his top priority. And he has said since November that he planned to appoint a citizen panel to consider tax reforms, a move that would push the panel's report into the 2006 legislative year.

Well, with us now to talk more about the president and his priorities are three top Washington journalists: Vince Morris of the "New York Post", Elizabeth Bumiller of "The New York Times" and Jeff Zeleny of the "Chicago Tribune."

Great to see you all. Thanks for being here.

Elizabeth, let me begin with you. So we're talking about the president's goal of reforming the tax code. Reading anything in, that this is likely to move into 2006, as opposed to 2005?

ELIZABETH BUMILLER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think it was always supposed to be in 2006. The president and his advisers decided, you know, shortly after the campaign was over that they would push for Social Security this year, that that was a huge, huge political overhaul. It was a big -- it was a big job and that there was too much to do in one year.

And far be it from me to disagree with a published report, but it was -- I think they were never going to do the tax overhaul in 2006.

WALLACE: The sense we're getting from our own White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is that it was always going to be delayed.

But then the question, Jeff, becomes if it's delayed or, you know, if it's dealt with in 2006, it is an election year. Can we get anything really done in an election year?

JEFF ZELENY, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": It certainly is. And also, you know, the White House had planned to appoint this citizen committee, this panel by the end of the year and time is running out for that. I mean, that's this week.

So look for it in an announcement.

But any time you hear a panel being appointed, or a committee being appointed, you sort of wonder what's going to happen to this? Is it going to go on the shelf with all the other blue ribbon committees?

So I think they are still committed to this. But you're absolutely right: the election year will make it very difficult, because this president is very intent on -- on building his legacy. And perhaps it's good for that something to bring up in an election year. But it will be a challenge.

WALLACE: Vince, what are you picking up behind the scenes? I mean, is it Social Security reform, that is the key and sort of the other stuff is, if possible? VINCE MORRIS, "NEW YORK POST": No. I think the taxes -- I think changes in the tax code, although they're probably going to be minor, it is important. But I think the plan has always been to use it as a political issue.

It's so popular to make changes in the tax code, especially when it looks like you're giving money back to people.

I think the Bush administration and the White House always thought it's a good calculation for mid-term elections to go in with this kind of issue high on people's consciousness. That helps -- that helps with the -- with their overall goal of keeping the solid majorities in the both the Senate and the House.

WALLACE: Well, you guys know, one thing that gets people very upset, problems at the airports. And there were many problems this weekend, with Comair, also with U.S. Airways.

Now Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, he has the inspector general launching an investigation.

Jeff, let me begin with you. What-- what's at work here and how seriously is the Transportation Department looking into problems?

ZELENY: They absolutely are looking into it. I talked to an aviation lawyer this afternoon who said they are looking into it and some airlines are concerned.

But I think, you know, what's rally going on here is a public relations problem. A lot of people were flying over the holidays. They had Christmas presents, and they simply -- and did not get home. And there probably were some members of the House or perhaps even senators who were flying, or certainly their families or staff.

And any time you have that type of an issue or any time you mess with their airport, you have a problem. So I think we'll be hearing about this for some weeks to come.

BUMILLER: And...

WALLACE: Go ahead, Elizabeth.

BUMILLER: I think on the transportation investigation, I think that the Transportation Department has fined -- has fined airlines in the past for not being -- you know, treating people in wheelchairs properly. They have never fined any airline for incompetence.

And I think -- so it's unclear to me what exactly they can do here. But I think Jeff is right, there's a public relations aspect to this.

WALLACE: Also looking into delays, that delays have increased since 2000, and that's something the feds are looking into as well. Right, Vince?

MORRIS: Yes. Although I think -- this weekend, I think the two big issues was there was a computer crash for Comair. And I think for U.S. Airways it was about 200 people who called in sick.

I don't know what you can do in a situation like that, in terms of fining the airways or disciplining these employees. I mean, there's a sick policy. It probably was abused by those workers, whose morale is very low.

But I don't know what you go -- I don't know how you take it a step forward for the government to investigate. I think the government just wants to say they're doing something about it.

WALLACE: Right, because doesn't this, whoever wants to jump in, doesn't this sort of step in in terms of government stepping into business? I mean, isn't that crossing the lines?

BUMILLER: The airlines are deregulated. There's nothing -- there's not a whole lot the Transportation Department can do here.

ZELENY: Which some people say that's the problem in the first place. But I think this very much is a headline for, you know, the Transportation Department to have. I mean, you don't often have a secretary of the Transportation Department, you know, able to make news like this.

I think it's a good -- it sounds good that the government is looking into this. But at the end of the day, Vince and Elizabeth are right. I mean, there's probably not much they can do, but it's good to talk about it.

WALLACE: Final word, Vince?

MORRIS: Yes. I would just say it's like when the FCC says, "Oh, we'll investigate that." You know, it sounds great but there's really not much you can do at the end of the day. Maybe there's a fine involved.

In this case, I don't think there's anything that will be accomplished other than U.S. Airways, which is already operating in bankruptcy, will probably have an even harder time pulling itself out of it.

WALLACE: It makes for a good headline, right, in the "New York Post"?

All right. An abbreviated "Reporter Round Table," but we're bringing you back another day this week, I hope.

Elizabeth Bumiller...

BUMILLER: Thank you.

WALLACE: ... Jeff Zeleny, Vince Morris. Great to see you all. Thanks for being here today.

MORRIS: Thanks, Kelly.

WALLACE: While some people tend to gripe, yes, they might gripe about politicians, many Americans say they are impressed by top office holders. So who makes this year's list most admired list? Find out when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Nearly two months after President Bush's election victory, he is coming out on top again. This in a contest pitting him against some other famous political figures.

Our national correspondent Bruce Morton looks at our new poll on the most admired people in America.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush is the most admired man in America. Twenty-three percent picked him, far ahead of Bill Clinton, in second place with six percent, Colin Powell with five, and former president Jimmy Carter with four percent.

Bush got the highest mark ever in December 2001 just after 9/11, with the country clearly wanting to rally around its leader. He's come down since, but presidents usually do win.

Bill Clinton won all his eight years in office, even when being impeached. When presidents don't win, they're in trouble.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: When Johnson's approval ratings were very, very low at the end of his term of office, we found other people being the most admired man. And in the middle of Watergate, it wasn't Richard Nixon. It was Henry Kissinger.

MORTON: One reason presidents usually win is simply name recognition. It's a name you know.

HOLLAND: We're not giving them a list. We're asking them to come up with a name, and that means that people that are better known are obviously going to do better. It's often the case that they won't think of someone, in fact, many years the most admired man is, "I don't know."

MORTON: Most admired woman? That would be Hillary Clinton at 13 percent, followed by Oprah Winfrey, Laura Bush and Condoleezza Rice.

First ladies often finish second or third. Mrs. Bush won only once, her husband's first year in office. Ex-first ladies do better for some reason. Hillary Clinton's won three of the last four years, and Eleanor Roosevelt won 10 times after her husband's death.

The most admireds are almost always American, though Pope John Paul II won in 1980, the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir won several times, as did Mother Teresa and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

It's not a poll that really tells you very much, but it swell for starting an argument. They picked who? How could they! And so on.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And Bruce giving us a perfect segue, because to start an argument, our friends at "CROSSFIRE" coming up next. More on this new poll, the most admired people in America.

For now, though, for all of us at INSIDE POLITICS, thanks for watching. All the time we have today. I'm Kelly Wallace from Washington. Enjoy the rest of your day.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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