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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Bush Speaks Out; Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Virtually Washed Away by Rushing Waters; Sri Lankan Born American Collects Donations; Will Iraqi Elections Go Smoothly?

Aired December 29, 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: Lost beyond comprehension. The death toll skyrockets in the tsunami disaster. So much heartache. And still so much hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My plans are to find my son. And I'm going to find him.

ANNOUNCER: Survivor scars. They escaped the rushing waters, but can they get the help they need to carry on?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt like it was important to talk about what is going to be one of the, you know, major national -- natural disasters in world history.

ANNOUNCER: The president personally promises continued aid to southern Asia. But should he have spoken out earlier?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

We have another very busy hour ahead, bringing you the latest information about the tsunami disaster. So let's get right to it.

And that crisis in southeast Asia is proving to be more deadly, more massive than any tragedy most of us have lived or will live to see. More than 80,000 people are dead and officials fear that number could eventually top 100,000 as more bodies are pulled from the rubble.

Nearly half were killed in Indonesia. The U.N. says a quarter of the population was wiped out in parts of Indonesia's hard-hit Aceh Province.

Hospitals and refugee centers across the disaster zone are packed as survivors cope with shortages of food, water and medicine. International aid can't come fast enough. An Air Force transport plane carrying mostly medical supplies from the United States was due to arrive in Sri Lanka in the past hour. The United Nations reports some $220 million in cash donations from around the world have been received or pledged for the relief effort so far.

President Bush, meantime, says U.S. assistance in southern Asia is, "just beginning." Mr. Bush went before cameras in Crawford, Texas, today, amid questions about why he hadn't spoken publicly about the disaster until now. Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is with the president in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the death toll climbing towards 100,000, the vacationing president spoke for the first time from his Texas ranch about the tsunamis that swept Asia four days earlier.

BUSH: This has been a terrible disaster. I mean, it's just beyond our comprehension to think about how many lives have been lost.

BASH: Mr. Bush, eager to show American leadership, announced the U.S. is helping form an international coalition to coordinate relief efforts in Asia, talked of military manpower being deployed, and said he called leaders from ravaged Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and Thailand with promises to help assess and address their overwhelming long-term needs.

BUSH: I assured those leaders this is just only the beginning of our help.

BASH: He did not announce additional financial assistance beyond the $35 million already pledged, but the president was prepared and eager to dismiss a U.N. official who initially called the U.S. and other wealthy nations generally stingy with aid to countries in need.

BUSH: The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed. Take, for example, in the year 2004. Our government provided $2.4 billion in food and cash and humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year.

BASH: It makes sense, the president said, for the world community to develop a global warning system for tsunamis. But quipped he's "no geologist" and admitted he doesn't know when asked if the U.S. Pacific Coast is protected.

BUSH: Well, I can't answer your question specifically, do we have enough of a warning system for the West Coast? I am going to -- I am now asking that to our -- our agencies in government to let -- let us know.

BASH: A spokesman later said the president has directed the secretaries of Commerce and Interior to look into whether U.S. early warning systems are sufficient.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And Mr. Bush did have advice for Americans eager to help in Asia. He said don't send blanket or clothes, send cash. He said that will help organizations more easily coordinate what is given and what is needed on the ground -- Kelly.

WALLACE: Dana, very quickly, what are White House officials saying about criticism that the president should have come out sooner and not waited until today to speak out?

BASH: You know, it was just yesterday that you and I were talking on this program about the fact that there were questions about why Mr. Bush didn't come out. And the White House was saying, look, they are speaking for him. He is definitely working on U.S. efforts, doing it behind the scenes.

What they say is that he decided to speak out once he essentially had something to say in terms of what the U.S. is doing. They called the announcement about this international group to coordinate efforts something that he had been working on through his national security adviser and his secretary of state.

Beyond that, they say that the president sort of waited until he felt it was time to speak out. And that's why he did it today -- Kelly.

WALLACE: All right, Dana. Thanks so much. Dana Bash, White House correspondent, reporting from Crawford, Texas. Thanks again.

People all over the world, as you know, are stunned and appalled by the pictures of destruction in southern Asia. Even then we can't really imagine what it is like to see it all firsthand. Well, CNN's Mike Chinoy has. He's on the ground in Banda Aceh Indonesia, which was virtually washed away by rushing waters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what was once the bustling port area of Banda Aceh. In a few moments on Sunday morning it became a disaster area, and it remains so today.

You can see a few meters behind me on the other side of this bridge about 40 bodies. They must have been collected and brought there after the tidal wave. They're covered in blue plastic, but they've been laying there, decomposing in the tropical sun, for at least a few days.

No one has come to collect them. And that's hardly a unique sight around here. There are bodies all over the place. And it's a real public health hazard.

The force of the tsunami is more even than the power of the earthquake, is what people here talk about. And you get a sense of just how powerful those waves were.

These boats were thrown against this bridge, smashed up against this bridge. And another boat on the far side thrown on top of houses on the far shore.

All around the ground is littered with the bits and pieces of daily life: I.D. cards, pieces of clothing, a fan, a photograph, testament to an entire community that was completely devastated. And you can see over here just how extensive that devastation was.

Every building has been leveled. It's clear that this big piece of concrete was brought down by the force of the quake. But the smaller pieces were -- the corrugated tin roofs of what were homes and shops completely leveled. And there's no question that there would be bodies decomposing in there.

In fact, the whole issue of bodies is a real problem. You can see over here more bodies that have been lying in the middle of this bridge. The authorities are very concerned about public health implications of this, possible spread of epidemics, the contamination of drinking water.

For the citizens of Banda Aceh, they're walking around this area in a kind of daze. Many of them with kerchiefs to cover their noses because the stench of the decomposing bodies is so unbearable.

People just moving around. There's no aid coming in yet. Too shocked to figure out what to do, not certain where help will come from.

And this is the situation in the center of the capital of a province. God only knows how much worse it must be in the outlying areas, where the fate of hundreds of thousands of other Indonesians remains unknown.

Mike Chinoy, CNN, Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And moving now to another scene of devastation, Thailand, where government officials report almost 2,000 deaths. And they estimate that two tourists were killed for every one local resident. Peter Lloyd has the latest now from Thailand, where coastal resorts turned into killing fields.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER LLOYD, REPORTER (voice-over): They are everywhere, Europeans who died not in the hundreds but thousands. The stench is overwhelming.

There are almost no buildings left in this, the worst-hit area. So a Buddhist temple has become a makeshift mortuary.

They lost count at 600 bodies here. And there are three other receiving centers nearby that are just as full. Remains just keep on coming by the truckload.

Thailand's top forensic scientist has a team racing against time to photograph victims and collect DNA samples for what is shaping as a monumental identification process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really, really awful area. Everything is very awful. And we're sorry for the families and for everything that we don't know what happened. LLOYD: We arrived to find pickup trucks loaded with dead and scenes of bewilder and destruction. They are finding human remains all through splintered buildings and strewn debris. It is a health crisis in the making.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are worried about that. So we try to finish the job as soon as possible. Hopefully in few days.

LLOYD: This pretty stretch of coastline was a playground for foreign holiday-makers. They were staying in beachfront resorts when huge waves rolled in, bringing hell on high water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Then the door exploded, literally exploded, and the water came into the bedroom. In eight seconds the room was full up. I dived to get to the other side. I don't know how I managed to get out. I really don't know.

LLOYD: This toddler from Sweden was found on a roadside covered in mosquito bites but otherwise unscathed. His father is alive but his mother is among the missing. After relatives found his picture on the Internet, an emotional reunion. But in the ruins of Khao Lak, there are precious few stories of survival. (on camera): On the ground it's easy to see how so many hundreds of people could have died. These are scenes of utter devastation up and down Khao Lak. It is hard to believe that this was once one of Thailand's most sought after and luxurious resorts.

(voice-over): Scores of locals died, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He said, "But, I lost my wife." And everything lose (ph) in seven minutes.

LLOYD: We road with a crew towing bodies recovered from the village. A tireless volunteer force who have gone without sleep for days. En route they were called on to pick up more. Army recruits had found a handful of Europeans hundreds of meters inland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm rather pleased to be able to help people, no matter Thai or foreigners. I think this is an opportunity to give. And I'm proud of what I'm doing.

LLOYD: It is a country that prides itself on hospitality at the best and now worst of times.

(on camera): A team of Australian police forensic experts have arrived to begin helping in the disaster identification process. They will be using skills honed in the Bali investigation, but at Khao Lak they will be confronted by not hundreds, but thousands of dead people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: That was Peter Lloyd reporting there from Thailand.

Be sure to stay with CNN in prime time for complete coverage of the tsunami disaster. Tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, another special two-hour edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360," bringing you an in-depth look at relief, rescue and recovery efforts, survival stories, the risk for disease and information about how you can help.

And we have much more here on INSIDE POLITICS about the tsunami tragedy just ahead. Up next, did President Bush wait too long to speak out about the disaster? We'll hear from a foreign relations expert who says yes.

Also ahead, still another deadly attack in Iraq one month before election day. What is at stake for the Bush administration?

And finally, is if you are looking for a ticket to Mr. Bush's second inauguration, you just may be seeing red.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: And welcome back.

In a region of devastation, Indonesia has taken perhaps the most brutal hit from the tsunamis that crashed the coast of south Asia. And here in Washington, the Indonesian embassy has opened its doors to people who want to express their sorrow for what the country is going through.

CNN's Bruce Morton has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Indonesian embassy is in a busy Washington neighborhood. And all day people have been waiting in line to sign a condolence book, to write how they feel about the tragedy that has struck that country.

They wait quietly and then they write. Some cry as they write. We asked some of them why they had come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all are on this Earth and striving to do the best we can. And to see the loss of people just hits home.

MORTON: The schoolteacher arranging a tour for her pupils.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in the global theater. We are all in this together. And, you know, what happens to you happens to us. We all pitch in one way or the other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not as divided as we think we are. Life is life and death is death. And it made me realize just how close we all are, no matter what our skin color, or our nationality or where we live.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just makes me want to hug my children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world is getting much smaller now, and it is a true tragedy.

MORTON: So they wait and write. The tragedy is thousands of miles from here, but the grief and pain it caused have traveled all around the world.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: Bruce Morton on how Washingtonians are reacting to the tragedy half a world away.

Coming up next, did President Bush wait too long to speak out publicly about the disaster? Our next guest says yes.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Laura and I and the American people are shocked, and we are saddened by the terrible loss of life from the recent earthquake and tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. Our prayers go out to the people who have lost so much to this series of disasters. Our hearts are also with the Americans who have lost loved ones in this tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: That was President Bush this morning, promising that the U.S. will stand with those nations now reeling from those deadly tsunamis. But some have questioned why the president didn't speak out sooner.

With me now from New York is Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Les Gelb, thanks for being here today. You said that the president needed to speak out to show he cares. You heard that heartfelt comment from the president in Crawford, Texas, today. Didn't he show that he cares by those comments today?

LESLIE GELB, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I like what President Bush said today. He said the right things and he is now doing the right thing. But I believe he will pay a price. I believe our country will pay a price for the three-day delay in his showing that he really cared about this situation.

WALLACE: A Republican congressman, Frank Wolf, though, who is sometimes, you know, a little critical when it comes to wanting to see more U.S. humanitarian assistance, he said that, "I think the world knows we're a generous people, even whether the president goes before the cameras or not." What's your reaction to that?

GELB: I agree with Congressman Wolf. We are a generous people.

When you look at everything we do in the world, our government, humanitarian and disaster aid, about $2 billion last year, more than double that amount in private and business giving, we give far more than any other country. On a proportional basis we don't, and we get criticized for that. But the total effort is enormous. And we give in lots of other ways, too.

Our military provides security for a good deal of the world. And they will provide logistical services for the disaster relief here as well.

So I think the congressman is right. When it comes to our overall effort, we've got nothing to be ashamed about. The problem was establishing a moral leadership at a time when the world was looking to us to see if we really cared.

WALLACE: But Les Gelb, let me jump in. White House aides will say that the president wanted to first be fully briefed on the situation. That you had U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell going out there, that you had international or U.S. aid going in the tune of $35 million pledged. That all that was happening and that the president wanted to wait until he was briefed and until he had something to say, but that other things were going on to show what the U.S. was doing.

GELB: I know that's what they say. But all he had to was stop shoveling the sage brush and go before the cameras and say what he said at the end of his statement today, that the United States will be there for disasters, that we care about the human race. And he would say we're now assessing what we can do and what needs to be done.

He could have said that right out of the barrel. He didn't. And because he didn't, it looked like we were pulling teeth. That the whole world was just -- had to apply pressure on him.

Well, they criticized the amount of aid. So the next day Secretary Powell got up to say we are giving enough aid. It all looked like pulling teeth, rather than the natural and normal assertion of American leadership in a moral crisis.

WALLACE: All right. Les Gelb, I wish we had more time, but we're out of it today. Thanks for being with us. President emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

GELB: You're welcome.

WALLACE: And for a different perspective on the president's response, we will speak with House Majority Whip Roy Blunt. That's tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS.

And, of course, be sure to stay with CNN for the latest developments on the tsunami disaster. We will have much more at the top of the hour, including a report from some of the islands hardest hit.

But next, we turn to politics. The second inaugural for President Bush is D.C.'s hottest ticket. We'll tell you why some Republicans are turning to their Democratic colleagues for help.

That's all ahead. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Time now to check the midweek edition of "Political Bytes."

Montana is one of the reddest of the so-called red states. Voters there gave President Bush 59 percent of the vote in November, but they also elected a Democrat as their new governor. Well, now there is word that the state supreme court has issued a ruling that will lead to Democrat control of the state House of Representatives. That means that the state that went so heavily for Mr. Bush will now have a democratically-controlled legislature and a Democrat governor for the first time in almost 30 years.

In Washington State, the secretary of state is poised to certify the results tomorrow of the second recount in the governor's race. Democrat Christine Gregoire is expected to be certified the winner by 129 votes over Republican Dino Rossi out of almost three million ballots cast. The new governor will be sworn in on January 12. But Republicans will have until January 20 to contest the election results.

And Republicans eager to see President Bush sworn in for a second term are making next month's inauguration one of the toughest tickets in town. Members of the House and Senate report demand far exceeds their allotment, and some Democratic lawmakers are handing over extra tickets to their red state colleagues. The tickets are free, but at least one Web site is selling inaugural tickets online.

Well, time to check in with Bob Novak, who joins us from the "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University with some "Inside Buzz."

Bob, great to see you. First, what are you hearing about some reports that the president might be moving a bit more slowly on tax reform?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Yes, there were published reports, as you know, Kelly, that he was going to go and wait until next year, that is in 2006, on tax reform, Social Security reform first. But the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Thomas, wants -- is conferring with members of his committee to do both of them at the same time in 2005.

And, you know, what Bill Thomas wants he usually gets. When Thomas indicated that for the first time on CNN on "THE CAPITAL GANG" a couple weeks ago, that was the first that the administration had heard of it, the White House had heard of it. So Bill Thomas, as usual, is moving to his own drummer.

WALLACE: Bob, topic number two, we know President Bush a few years ago indicated he was not supportive of the Kyoto treaty, curbing greenhouse gas emissions. But I understand you're picking up that some pressure is coming from British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the president to support it now.

NOVAK: Absolutely. And he -- President Bush owes Tony Blair an awful lot, Kelly, because of Iraq.

Tony Blair is also telling the president that if he comes around on the Kyoto Treaty, there might be more support for the United States in the Iraq policy with maybe some troops sent over there. But there are many people in the administration who are opposed to any give on the Kyoto Treaty, led by none other, I believe, than Vice President Cheney.

WALLACE: And topic number three, this one is outraging Republicans, even some Democrats. Franklin Raines out as the head of Fannie Mae, but leaving with a very generous, you could say, compensation package?

NOVAK: $1.3 million a year for life.

WALLACE: That's generous. That's generous, yes.

NOVAK: For life. That is very generous.

The Republicans didn't like Frank Raines very much when he was the budget director under President Clinton. They thought he was a little arrogant. And they don't want him to get this because they feel his accounting errors is what led to his high salary.

Now, they -- he claims he resigned to get this pension. They say he was forced out. There's a fight brewing on whether he will get that pension.

WALLACE: And finally, the former head of the Republican National Committee might be making some big-time money pretty soon himself. A new lobbying firm for Ed Gillespie?

NOVAK: Well, it's the old lobbying firm, Kelly. Ed Gillespie -- it's Gillespie and Quinn.

He left that to become RNC, Republican National Committee, chairman. He goes back there the middle of January. But already I am told big-time clients are leaving long-time relationships with traditional Republican lobbying firms to go with Ed Gillespie.

I mean, Ed Gillespie? Think of the contacts he has in the White House, on Capitol Hill. It's the hottest lobbying firm in town, Kelly. If you want to do some lobbying go to Gillespie and Quinn.

WALLACE: I guess he's got some pretty good sources, you can say. Bob Novak, great to see you. Thanks so much. And, of course, viewers will see you on "CROSSFIRE" just 30 minutes from now.

NOVAK: Thank you, Kelly.

WALLACE: Thanks, Bob.

Coming up here on INSIDE POLITICS, we will look at what Americans are doing to help those people devastated by the tsunami disaster.

And later, Iraqi police are targeted by terrorists. Will such attacks scare Iraqis and keep them from voting in national elections next month? We'll mix that around with our reporter roundtable.

We're back after this.

(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 happened with the markets today?

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Kelly.

Well, the end of the year rally hit a bump in the road. Trading volume very light, and sharply higher oil prices were the problem there. Crude oil gained nearly $2. It climbed back near $44 a barrel.

Now as the final trades being counted, the Dow Industrials losing about 22 points, the NASDAQ virtually unchanged.

Shares of Boeing fell more than a dollar, on reports that China will not approve any additional airplane purchases in 2005. United Technologies, which makes many of the engines for Boeing planes, also fell on that news.

Big corporations like Johnson & Johnson and General Electric are joining the relief effort to help tsunami victims. They're matching employee contributions and pledging additional funds to the Red Cross and UNICEF.

Coca-Cola's local units are helping relief workers bring bottled water and basic food items and survival kits to the disaster area, and FedEx is offering free shipping for Direct Relief International, which provides medical supplies to disaster-stricken areas.

Remember the mess at the airports last weekend? Well, U.S. Airways is looking for nonunion workers to volunteer this weekend to work without pay at Philadelphia's airport. Now regularly scheduled employees will get paid for their time, as usual.

The carrier wants to avoid a repeat performance from Christmas weekend, when it was forced to cancel nearly 400 flights after an unusually high number of flight attendants and baggage handlers in Philadelphia called in sick.

U.S. Airways is already in bankruptcy, and some analysts say it's teetering on the brink of going out of business.

And Time Warner Cable is in talks with Sprint to offer cell phone service on a trial basis. If this deal goes through, Time Warner, which is the parent network -- parent company of this network, will be the only major cable company to offer cell phone service.

And the thinking here is that Time Warner could then offer television and high-speed Internet access along with both wired and wireless phone service. Analysts say that bundling a bunch of services all in one monthly Bill could help create greater customer loyalty. Coming up on CNN, 6 p.m. Eastern, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," survivors. We'll have a firsthand account from a couple who survived the tsunami by staying under water in Sri Lanka.

Also our "Face Off", a debate on the generosity in the United States in the massive relief effort throughout the Indian Ocean basin.

And a conversation with Cassandra Nelson, who's head of Mercy Corps, about the effort to deliver aid to Sri Lanka, which is one of the hardest hit areas.

All that tonight at 6. Kelly, back to you.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: This morning I spoke with the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia.

ANNOUNCER: After staying quiet for three days, President Bush goes before cameras.

BUSH: We're committed to helping the affected countries in the difficult weeks and months that lie ahead.

ANNOUNCER: Did the president wait too long before speaking out on the tsunami disaster?

This man says he lost more than 30 family members when the waves hit. Now he's turning his personal tragedy into a drive to help those in desperate need.

RIZWAN MOWLANA, AIDING RELIEF EFFORTS: It doesn't matter if you are Jewish or Christians or Hindus or Buddhist. Times of calamity you've got to be out there. Otherwise, you know, you are less than a human being.

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

WALLACE: Welcome back. I'm Kelly Wallace. Judy is off this week.

We are continuing with our coverage of the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia, and here's the latest information we have for you.

The State Department says it is receiving about 400 calls an hour from Americans desperate to find loved ones missing in Southeast Asia. Four days after an earthquake unleashed monster waves in the region, more than 80,000 people are confirmed dead, and that number is expected to go even higher.

President Bush emerged from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, today to offer his first public comments about the disaster. He shared his shock and sadness about what happened, and he promised the United States will support the affected countries in the days and weeks ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're grateful to the American and international organizations that are working courageously to save lives and provide assistance, and I assured those leaders this is just only the beginning of our help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Today, the United States has pledged $35 million in aid. Among other nations offering help, Japan has promised $30 million. The United Kingdom, $29 million. Australia has upped its contribution to $27 million. Saudi Arabia is pledging $10 million, and Germany plans to contribute almost $3 million.

Rescue and recovery teams are only just beginning to reach some of the most remote areas hit by the tsunamis. And that includes India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, where Martin Geissler reports the devastation is even worse than many had anticipated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN GEISSLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Set aside from the outside world by geography and choice, the Andaman and Nicobar islanders have resisted change for centuries. Now life here will never be the same again. Whole communities have been washed away.

This is Kar Nicobar. It's almost impossible for foreigners to get her. Islands like this are so remote it's been difficult to fully assess the damage until now. But today, the governor of this territory told me just how serious the situation is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kar Nicobar, total people is 20,000. Half of them are missing.

GEISSLER (on camera): These islands are so close to the earthquake's epicenter, that even if there had been an early warning system it would have made no difference. The waves hit here within minutes.

The islands themselves are scattered over 1,000 kilometers, and that geography is proving a real problem to the relief effort. Several islands remain completely cut off. No contact has been made with them, and officials here concede they have no idea what's become of the thousands of people who live on them.

(voice-over) For those who have been rescued, a refugee center has been set up in Port Blair, the tiny capital of these islands. Fifteen hundred were there when we visited, with more arriving all the time. Relatives search desperately for the name of a loved one on the admissions board.

It's safer for them to camp outside here. Significant tremors are still being felt every day.

The people cling to what little they have left. Many have nothing.

(on camera) What has happened to the island?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The island is totally destroyed. Washed.

GEISSLER: They don't know what to do now; everything is gone. This refuge may only be open for a few more days, but most have no homes to go back to, and these are the lucky ones.

Martin Geissler, ITV News, in Port Blair, on the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And as many people around the world watch these pictures and hear their stories, they're wondering what they can do to help tsunami victims. Coming up, we'll look at some grassroots relief efforts and consider whether the president is doing enough and saying enough to help. Don't go away.

And, of course, be sure to stay with CNN in prime time when Anderson Cooper anchors a two-hour special on the tsunami disaster, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. And at 10, "NEWSNIGHT," focusing on the tsunami tragedy and how the world is trying to help.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Many Americans have been moved by the images comings out of Southeast Asia, and some are reaching for their pocketbooks.

CNN's Bob Franken looks at a disaster relief effort that hits very close to home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's just a trickle of relief so far.

MOWLANA: Thank you very much.

FRANKEN: Rizwan Mowlana says he has lost more than 30 members of his family after the tsunami slammed into his native Sri Lanka. But now, he's trying to turn his personal grief into help from afar.

MOWLANA: I'm in a place, in a position better position than most people, and I think it's my -- it's incumbent on me to do something. Otherwise I'm not civil to God.

FRANKEN: As word of Mowlana's effort has spread, strangers are gathering what they can and bringing it here to his home, hoping to fill a container that will be shipped to Sri Lanka and fill their need to be involved.

JOSE CARMEIRO, NEIGHBOR: It was one of the ways that I thought that we could assist in this horrendous disaster.

VERONICA MCFADDEN, NEIGHBOR: Everyone is tested at some time in their life, and I think it's part of -- part of your life to affect others and give what you can.

FRANKEN: Mowlana works for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, but this relief effort, he says, reaches beyond any one group.

MOWLANA: It doesn't matter if you are Jewish or Christians or Hindus or Buddhist. Times of calamity you've got to be out there. Otherwise, you know, you are less than human being.

FRANKEN (on camera): There are obvious questions about these individual efforts, particularly with established credible organizations sending relief. Massive relief.

(voice-over) But Mowlana explains this is his personal way to provide assistance from this country to help the devastated one he left.

Bob Franken, CNN, Gaithersburg, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And if you want to help and donate to the relief effort, here are some organizations you can contact online or by phone. Watch the screen for the e-mail addresses, and I'll give you the phone numbers.

First, you can reach AmeriCares at 1-800-486-HELP. The number for Doctors Without Borders is 1-888-392-0392.

You can phone the Red Cross at 1-800-HELP-NOW or CARE at 1-800- 521-CARE.

Other global relief organizations include Oxfam at 1-800-776-9326 and Worldvision at 888-56-CHILD.

CNN has received hundreds of e-mails from people seeking news of friends and relatives in areas affected by the tsunamis. If you are looking for a loved one in that area, send e-mails to tsunami@CNN.com.

Ahead here on INSIDE POLITICS, the U.S. response to the tsunami disaster. We assemble our "Reporter Roundtable" to consider the criticism of the White House and suggestions that the president should have spoken out sooner. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: These past few days have brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension.

The United States will continue to stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims. We will stand with them as they start to rebuild their communities. And together, the world will cope with their loss. We prevail over this destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: President Bush earlier today in Crawford, Texas. His first public comments on the tsunami disaster.

Welcome back, time now to discuss the crisis in Southeast Asia and the U.S. response with three Washington journalists. I'm joined here by Jill Zuckman of the "Chicago Tribune", and Jay Carney of "TIME" magazine. And John Harris of the "Washington Post" joining us from the "Post" newsroom.

Thanks to all three of you for being here. We appreciate it.

John, begin with you. You have the A-1 story in the "Washington Post" about criticism of the president for not speaking out publicly.

What are you picking up from your sources, because the line from White House aides yesterday was the president doesn't have to go in front of the cameras to show he's concerned. Why the turnaround?

JOHN HARRIS, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I do think they -- this president and this whole White House does feel very strongly that they don't govern by CNN, if you will, that they don't let the president's schedule get kicked around by events in the news. Don't feel the need to comment on everything.

There were two questions here. One was substantive: What is the United States doing in terms of actual disaster relief. The other was symbolic: Should the president come out and make a statement of concern and condolence to the world?

They initially did feel strongly that that wasn't necessary, and they said they weren't going to come out. Then late yesterday, there did seem to be a kind of a drumbeat of criticism, a number of questions they were getting from reporters. And they seemed to think it was probably the better idea to have the president make the statement that he did today.

WALLACE: What are you picking up, Jill, from your sources?

JILL ZUCKMAN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": You know, like it or not, Kelly, the president occupies a bully pulpit. And it's not just for the United States. It's for the whole world.

And over the past few years, the president has come under such intense criticism around the world. Here was the perfect opportunity for him to show the compassionate side that he has.

WALLACE: But Jay, you covered this president. You also covered President Clinton. And you know, Bush aides have often said that this president doesn't believe that he has to be like former President Clinton, who some White House officials believe rushed in front of the cameras right away to say quote, "I feel your pain," that he has a different style.

JAY CARNEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, this is one area where their insistence on doing things the polar opposite way that Bill Clinton did it has hurt them.

I mean, this was -- this was a no-brainer in terms of using the bully pulpit, using the president's prestige to simply express sympathy and convey the sense of horror that all Americans and citizens around the world feel.

It was -- you know, their resistance to be Clintonesque can sometimes hurt them. And I think, you know, now President Bush looks like he's, you know, responding or reacting to criticism, as opposed to taking the initiative.

WALLACE: And take us behind the scenes, John, because you had a quote from a senior career official who said the fact that the president didn't respond yet was, quote, "kind of freaky."

So is there surprise even on the part on some career and administration officials that the magnitude of this disaster and the president had not come out just yet?

HARRIS: Well, there is a certain expectation about what presidents, not this president, but any president does in these kind of disasters. And I guess I would just second what Jay said that sometimes in their insistence on not being Clintonesque, they sometimes are -- are as not as alert to the public expectations.

And so, yes, we were picking up a fair bit of that criticism. They are very sensitive to this criticism, and they resent it and say what matters most is what the United States does substantively. And I would say that's obviously self-evidently true.

The political dimension of this is a rather minor part of the story, compared to the real life element of this: people suffering and what the rest of the world does in response.

WALLACE: Right. Picking up on that, Jill, politically, such a minor part when we look at the magnitude. So do White House officials think, you know, onward and upward here? The president came out. The message is out and that they can sort of continue with the opportunity to show that when the president feels there's the need?

ZUCKMAN: You know, in some way I think that this criticism, that they are so sensitive to it, it's going to serve to probably make them do a little more than they might have in the first place. Because now, they are really intent on showing what the United States is doing, what sort of leadership it's taking.

So while people are focused on what's going on with the victims and people trying to recover, I think that this -- this side of it is going to serve to cause more help to be provided.

WALLACE: And Jay, how much are you picking up. White House officials kind of ticked off at comments coming from the one U.N. official, who said he was misinterpreted, who said he was talking in general about rich nations. He thought they could do more.

The president saying today, "I felt like that person who made the statement was," quote, "very misguided and ill-informed".

CARNEY: Well, the problem with the president's response is that the -- while the statement was general from the U.N. official, there are other countries who could do more.

President Bush responded by saying we gave, you know, $2.5 billion in foreign aid last year. The problem with that is while, in sheer dollar amounts it's the highest and we are the biggest donor, in per capita terms we're the worst. We donate the least. We give the least amount of money, compared to highly industrialized countries.

And you know, this is a small amount of money, compared to, say, our Pentagon budget, that could be used not just to affect lives around the world after disasters but to enhance America's image around the world, an image which has been pretty severely compromised by all the opposition to the Iraq war.

So I think you may see some rethinking about how we use foreign aid and how much we spend.

ZUCKMAN: And I'm sure we'll see people comparing the amount of money we're providing for relief to the amount of money we're spending in Iraq.

WALLACE: I think I've started to see some of those comparisons.

And we're going to switch gears and turn to Iraq after this break. We're going to continue our discussion, talking about the fight for Iraq.

An anonymous call leads to deadly results in Baghdad. We'll have details on the latest attack and new comments by President Bush. That's right after this short break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: Turning our attention now to Iraq. Iraqi police stormed a house late Tuesday after receiving an anonymous call that a gunmen was firing from inside the structure.

When police entered the house, however, it was leveled by booby- trapped explosives. Iraqi officials say 28 people died in the blast. It is unclear, though, how many of them were police officers. The U.S. military believes up to 1,800 pounds of explosives were inside the house.

Meantime in Texas, President Bush said today the scheduled elections in Iraq next month must go forward, regardless of the violence in Iraq or the recent threat said to be recorded by Osama bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: So the stakes are clear in this upcoming election. It's the difference between the ability for individuals to express themselves and the willingness of an individual to try to oppose his dark vision on the world, on the people of Iraq and elsewhere. And it's very important that these elections proceed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And for more on Iraq, we resume our "Reporter Roundtable." Here in our bureau, Jill Zuckman of the "Chicago Tribune" and Jay Carney of "TIME" magazine. And John Harris in the "Washington Post" newsroom.

John, let me begin with you. How worried are White House officials that security could in some way derail the elections scheduled for January 30?

HARRIS: Well, obviously they're worried. That's the major challenge, but they've made a judgment, strategic judgment that those elections have got to happen on time, and that it's based on a hope that the situation in Iraq does reach a turning point, once you have a government that's seen as legitimate there.

WALLACE: Well, you had, Jill, of course, the largest Sunni Muslim party saying at this point, it looks like it's not going to take part in the elections because of security. So in addition, how worried are White House officials that if so many Sunnis don't go to the polls, worldwide the elections might not be viewed as legitimate?

ZUCKMAN: Right, it's a huge problem. And look at how many people are getting hurt and killed every day in Iraq. And you've got to think that that election day is going to be a huge target for the people who want to derail democracy.

So, you know, if you are an average Iraqi, you know, I would be nervous about going to the polls, and I think the Bush White House is worried about it.

WALLACE: Jay, you know, you heard the president say he was on the phone today. They were talking about what they can do to improve security. What are you picking up from sources what the White House is going and do over the next several weeks to try to improve the security situation and get -- encourage people to go to the polls?

CARNEY: Well, you know, at this point they've already upped the troop levels. They've already, you know, established a plan how they're going to try to work with Iraqi forces to secure polling sites.

You know, they have to hope that it comes off, essentially better than expected, much as the Afghani elections came off so much better than it seemed they would. And that while some Sunnis may not participate, that the fact that this party is saying it won't participate may not come true. But that enough Sunnis participate that there's a sense of overall legitimacy to these elections.

We -- you know, one thing this administration seems not to understand is that while we can say that the people who are in this insurgency and who are killing election workers and doing -- you know, wreaking terrible havoc are terrorists and bad guys.

That doesn't mean that, you know, wanting the U.S. to succeed over there, and criticizing the way it's being executed is somehow unpatriotic around or un-American. You know, to say that the policy is poorly executed does not mean you don't want it to succeed.

ZUCKMAN: And maybe if they just compare it to the low voter participation in the United States, it won't seem so terrible at the end of the day.

WALLACE: By those standards.

John, what are you picking up in terms of you hear from Secretary of State Colin Powell, even President Bush wanting Sunni neighbors, neighboring countries with large population of Sunnis, to speak out and encourage Sunnis to get to the polls on January 30.

Is the White House getting any traction with this?

HARRIS: I don't really know, and I don't know that we're going to be able to assess that until election day, because I think, as Jill and Jay both pointed out, there's going to be a lot of people over there that are making a judgment whether or not they go to the polls, based on their assessment of, one, security, and B, the general sense of legitimacy that attaches to those -- those late January elections.

WALLACE: And Jill, you know, the president has an ambitious domestic agenda: Social Security reform, the budget. Clearly, White House officials have to believe so much is riding on the outcome of these elections in terms of what the president can do here in this country?

ZUCKMAN: That's right, because you know, Iraq has just dogged him. It's been such an overriding issue for the president. And it's tough to get the nation's attention to focus on Social Security, on the budget, on tax reform, when people are worried how many soldiers getting killed in Iraq every day.

WALLACE: And they're crafting his State of the Union address, probably, as we speak.

CARNEY: Well, exactly. I mean, he's got his inauguration speech, then the elections and then the State of the Union speech. And if the Iraqi elections are either a success or a failure, they will determine how much, you know, focus he can place on domestic issues when he gives his State of the Union address, and whether or not he's on the defensive or on the offensive when that happens. WALLACE: All right. Jay Carney of "TIME" magazine, Jill Zuckman of the "Chicago Tribune" and John Harris, cross town at the "Washington Post" newsroom, thanks to you all for being here.

HARRIS: You're welcome.

WALLACE: We appreciate it.

That will do it for us at INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Kelly Wallace. I'll see you tomorrow. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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