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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hurricane Katrina: The Aftermath. Interview With SNC Chairman Howard Dean.

Aired September 9, 2005 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Ali Velshi in New York.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information from the battered Gulf Coast are arriving all the time, including right now.

Happening now, a shake-up after the storm. The president's man at FEMA is being sent back to Washington and replaced in the disaster zone. This hour, will Mike Brown still have any power left? And will the uproar over his qualifications end?

The threat is still out there. It's 3:00 p.m. Central in New Orleans, where police say forced evacuations are an option, but not one they're using, at least not yet.

And stinging words about race and class and Katrina. This hour, the always outspoken Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, defends comments that the first lady is calling disgusting.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The mission is critical, and now a U.S. Coast Guard commander is taking charge. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced it about two hours ago. Vice Admiral Thad Allen is replacing embattled FEMA Director Mike Brown as the on-site head of relief operations along the Gulf Coast. Brown is being sent back to Washington to oversee FEMA's national headquarters.

In New Orleans, police say they still are not using force to evacuate holdouts from the city, but they say they will as a last resort. For now, they say they're using what they call persuasive negotiation.

About 100 Louisiana National Guardsmen are now back home after serving for almost a year in Iraq. They lost 35 of their own during the mission overseas. Now they'll see firsthand what Hurricane Katrina took from them.

The official Katrina death toll stands right now at 204 in Mississippi, 118 in Louisiana. Those numbers still expected to rise significantly, but a top official in New Orleans is saying right now that initial sweeps suggest fewer may have died than some of the most dire predictions of 10,000.

Some progress toward recovering, at least right now. Authorities say the New Orleans Airport will reopen to commercial flights on September 19. And the last of 121 babies evacuated from New Orleans to the Women's Hospital in Baton Rouge are now back with their mothers.

Mixed news on the federal disaster relief front, at least right now. Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco says radio equipment and portable generators she requested from the federal government a week ago have not yet arrived. But almost $52 billion in federal disaster assistance is now in the pipeline after President Bush signed the legislation rushed through Congress. He signed it last night.

More now on that shakeup at FEMA and the fallout. Our CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is standing by at the White House. Our CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry is up on Capitol Hill.

Bob, let's start with you. What's the latest?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Michael Brown had become a lightning rod for criticism, a lightning rod for charges that the people who ran FEMA, including him, were not really qualified to do so, and were responsible, at least in part, for the disastrous reaction to Hurricane Katrina. So Michael Chertoff, who is the secretary of Homeland Security, has announced that Brown will be returned to Washington to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency, replaced on the ground by Thad Allen. Whether that amounts to a withdrawal of Michael Brown and a stepping down of his is for interpretation. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Brown has had quite a change in his fates since he encountered President Bush just a week ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank you all for -- and Brown, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24 -

(APPLAUSE)

They're working 24 hours a day.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I have directed Mike Brown to return to administering FEMA nationally. And I have appointed Vice Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard as the principal federal official overseeing the Hurricane Katrina effort response and recovery effort in the field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: So, Wolf, Brown will get a chance to do a heck of a job in a much less visible way back here in Washington.

BLITZER: Bob, are you picking up anything on the president's thinking in this decision? What are you learning?

FRANKEN: Well we were hearing here at the White House that Brown had certainly become a distraction from the administration's efforts to regain or gain credibility in response to Katrina.

We're also told, reporting from CNN chief national correspondent John King and White House correspondent Dana Bash, that a key was Vice President Cheney. When he made his trip to asses the situation yesterday, he heard a litany of complaints about Brown. He talked to Chertoff. Chertoff also told him that there was a problem. In effect, Cheney said, handle it. And that's what Chertoff has done.

BLITZER: All right. Bob Franken over at the White House for us, today.

And Democrats who wanted Mike Brown to be flat out fired still feel that way, at least many Democrats do. Let's go up to Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry standing by with more.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid immediately said this is not good enough, that Michael Brown has to go. And even though the White House trotted out Secretary Chertoff to do the dirty work today, Senator Reid fired off a sharp letter to President Bush trying to draw the commander in chief directly into this saying that he wants the immediate removal of Mike Brown.

There's a practical reason for this take no prisoners attitude from the Democrats. They basically feel that if even the president is now acknowledging that Mike Brown was not up to the job on Hurricane Katrina, how could he handle another crisis?

But clearly, there's also a political reason for this approach by the Democrats. They feel like the president has taken a hit. They're not about to let up, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ed Henry reporting for us. Ed, thanks very much.

Helicopter pilot J.T. Alpaugh has now resumed flying over New Orleans together with his excellent crew. Let's listen in briefly, see what they're getting today.

J.T. ALPAUGH, POOL PHOTOGRAPHER: We came in to -- well we came in behind the storm. We flew in behind Katrina for about two hours. Two hours behind her and with her, two United States Coast Guard helicopters pulling people out.

So this is the 17th Street Canal levee which is doing quite well now. Because this levee has been shored up and sealed, the ability for them to start up those pumping stations and get that water down and into the lake has begun. Part of the problems, though here, is they have to get these levees shored, for one. Secondly, they need to get these powers to the pumping stations, electrical power, to get these waters out and back into the lake.

So we're going to work our way east here, towards the London Canal, where you see all of those sandbags and helicopters lifting and dropping, and see what the progress is so far this afternoon on the London Street Canal. A very large levee break in that area. Right now we're working our way east.

BLITZER: All right. While J.T. works his way over to that other location, we'll continue to show you the pictures he's bringing us from that helicopter, but we'll move to the streets of New Orleans right now. Police there are working to wrap up their hunt for holdouts who can be persuaded, at least they hope so, to leave the city voluntary. But what happens next could get ugly.

CNN's Jeff Koinange is in New Orleans for us with more on this part of the story. Jeff?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It could really get ugly. And we saw it first hand this morning. The power of persuasion doesn't seem to be working in some areas. We went to several neighborhoods, literally, sitting on their porches. When the law enforcement comes over, they try to talk to them. Many of them simply don't want to leave.

Why? Two reasons. One, a lot of them have pets. They don't want to leave their pets behind, because they don't know whenever they are sent, whether their pets will be allowed. Two, people have a lot of valuables in their home. They're not confident their homes will be secured once they leave, despite the fact there's about 19,000-plus military and police personnel on the ground.

Now, we spoke to the general in charge of the entire task force operation on the ground, Lieutenant General Russel Honore, and he compared this entire crisis to a football game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CMDR., TASK FORCE KATRINA: What is the coach going to do at the end of the first quarter? He's going to bring the quarterback in and disgrace him and the wide receiver? Or are you going to focus on the other team? Because they're the one that scored the 25 points.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOINANGE: That's right, Wolf. The other team has 25 points, meaning the team on the ground is down for now. But according to the general, there's still a lot of time left in this game, and he's confident he can win the game, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very briefly, Jeff, where are you now? We see a sign behind you. Maybe your photographer can go wide a little bit and show our viewers what's happening where you are.

KOINANGE: Very good. Emanuel, if you just pan out a little bit and I'll step out of the shot. This is the famous Harrah's Casino. This on any other day would have been probably one of the most popular landmarks right here in New Orleans, and that is a staging area for all the law enforcement in town.

What they do here, they come here. They grab a meal, grab a bottle of water, get a little rested, a little rest and then go back out into their search and rescue missions. This part here, Wolf, is operation central. A lot of logistical operations going on here before crews go out 24/7, a lot of them, Wolf, from as far away as New York to California. We've seen troops and armed forces from Tennessee, from all over this country -- 19,224 in all, working around the clock, Wolf, trying to bring a city back on its feet.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jeff. Thanks very much. We'll check back with you.

I want to check back with J.T. Alpaugh, the helicopter reporter. He has got some interesting live pictures he's bringing right now. This looks like a helicopter. I saw on the side of that helicopter what looked like a star.

Let's listen in and see what J.T. is saying.

ALPAUGH: ...quite often in the Los Angeles area. This is an H-3 helicopter that the sheriffs use quite often to go out and do a lot of medical rescues, special weapons and tactics training and deployment -- a lot of search and rescue, though. It's great to see them. Great to see them out in these areas. A multi-purpose helicopter the sheriffs use for a very wide area of Los Angeles County. Good to see them out here and doing what they do best, helping out with these relief efforts.

L.A. County Air Sheriff's Air Rescue 5, here, this H-3 helicopter working its way through the Orleans Parish, coming into the lakefront area.

Now he comes back down, and we're going to see what mission he may be on this afternoon. One of his crew members out the right side of the aircraft, and searching these areas. Captain D.G. Avona (ph) of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, heading up this unit, has a whole lot of personnel out here to help out with this disaster. It's good to see them.

You can see him scanning these areas as we work our way along the lakefront area. Going in tight here to show you the crew member. Not much. L.A. County Air Rescue 5 landing on a pad here.

BLITZER: All right, we'll continue to watch this California sheriff's helicopter on the scene. We'll see what it's up to. We'll check back with J.T. Alpaugh shortly.

But let's check in with CNN's Jack Cafferty right now. He's watching all of this. These are amazing shots we're getting from the helicopter, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, I'm just sitting here thinking, it's almost like watching a video game. Some of the most compelling pictures that you can imagine. Now the thing's sitting on the pad. But those low-flying shots where they're kind of skimming over the house tops and the tree tops with all that water underneath them -- that's great stuff. And this is the kind of stuff that you only get here on THE SITUATION ROOM, so keep that in mind when you go clicking around with that remote. Nobody else gets stuff like this.

Congress's approval, yesterday, of that emergency spending bill for Hurricane Katrina brings the total recovery costs so far to $62 billion. But that's not even a third of the estimated $200 billion that Katrina will eventually wind up costing all of us. Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday tax increases will not be needed to pay for these massive reconstruction costs. He said the 2003 tax cuts helped to spur economic activity.

In the meantime, the White House budget chief says much more money will be needed in the months ahead. And he said the current spending bill will result in a larger-than-expected deficit, which is a pretty good size already. Do the math.

Here's the question. Do we need a tax increase to pay for Hurricane Katrina? CaffertyFile - one word -- @CNN.com. And we'll read some of your thoughts on that in about a half hour.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jack. We're anxious to get our viewers' response to that question.

Coming up, the FEMA director's forced evacuation back to Washington. Is it a bold move for a president who usually stands by his team, or is it a copout? Our political analysts are on the case. We'll hear what they have to say.

Plus, the race question. Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean says Americans must face some ugly truths about the Bush administration's response to this disaster. My interview with Howard Dean. That's coming up this hour.

And bittersweet reunions. Louisiana National Guardsmen returning from Iraq to a home base that looks like a war zone.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Critics wanted FEMA Director Mike Brown to be fired. Instead, he's being replaced in the disaster zone. But he still gets to keep his job back here in Washington -- at least for now.

We're joined by our senior political analyst Bill Schneider and our political analyst Carlos Watson.

Bill, I'll start with you. And I want to tell our viewers they're seeing, on the left part of the screen over here, live pictures coming in from helicopter pilot J.T. Alpaugh and his crew. We'll continue to show our viewers these pictures.

But Bill, what do you make of the way the White House is handling the Mike Brown question? BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's a concession, really, by the president to his critics. He doesn't do that very often. What's he's conceding is, yes, things did not go well, and a lot of Americans say, well, duh. The polls are overwhelmingly in agreement that this has not gone well.

Whose fault it is, who should be blamed -- that's another question. But there is certainly agreement, this has not gone well. It's been tragically handled by government at all levels, and the president here has really made a concession to his critics.

BLITZER: Bill makes a good point, Carlos, that this is not typical of George W. Bush -- in the middle of a crisis to sort of cast one member aside. In the aftermath of some of the failures in the Iraq war -- no weapons of mass destruction -- I don't remember individuals being removed.

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Certainly not. In fact, when you compare this president to Bill Clinton, or you compare him to his father, President Bush, or even Ronald Reagan -- all of whom made fairly substantial changes in the midst of crises -- this president has been fairly steadfast, particularly to those he thought was loyal.

Although, it's worth remembering that maybe this underscores the fundamental rule of the Bush presidency, which is that neither the Democrats nor, frankly, the media are ultimately able to change George Bush's policies. Whenever you see him change policies in a major way, it's typically because of families, whether the 9/11 families, the families of Iraqi soldiers, or in this case, the families of those in New Orleans. Those are ultimately the only people who you see him fundamentally swerve in a major way. And that's certainly in part because he ultimately sees a lowering in his ratings, not in Republicans as much, but among Independents.

BLITZER: Bill, I'm going to be speaking shortly with the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. He's always outspoken, as both of you guys know, and so many of our viewers know as well. Do the Democrats have a risk, though, right now in overplaying their hand, going too far right now in the midst of the president's problems?

SCHNEIDER: Well there is a risk for Democrats. But look, the Democrats' position is they're outraged when Republicans say you're playing the blame game. What they say is this is not the blame game. What we're talking about is accountability. Government officials should be held accountable. The risks they're taking is one of timing.

First questions first. The first question the people want answered is what went wrong? After that, you get to another question. Whose fault is it? And then the third question, who should be fired? Democrats have to keep those questions in order.

BLITZER: Carlos, stand back for one moment, but keep that thought. I want to show our viewers -- tell our viewers what we're seeing. This is a part of New Orleans right now that was under water. It's drying up right now. First time we've seen those images. It's an encouraging sign to be sure. But, Carlos, what about that question about Democrats overplaying their hand?

WATSON: It's certainly possible. Remember, one of the significant factors, we played this out over six or 12 or 24 months, is that the president and the Congress are likely to spend $100 or $200 billion. And so while there's a lot of bad stories in the first wave and the first two waves, the president is going to have the stage and hopefully some moments that will be a lot better, where water is cleared, where electricity is restored, where some of the residents return and kids start going back to school. And if Democrats are only seen as complaining, that, certainly, could be a real risk.

The other thing, Wolf, by the way, that I would mention, is that while the president had the advantage today of, if you will, putting the blame on a member of his team, the mayor and the governor may not be so lucky, and may, in fact, need themselves, as this story continues to unfold, to look for someone also to speak to in terms of some of the troubles in coping with the issues.

BLITZER: Carlos and Bill, thank to both of you. Thank you very much. And we'll have more on the political fallout from Katrina.

Howard Dean speaking out about the president's hurricane performance. The Democratic Party chairman joins me here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That conversation coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Hanoi, members of the Vietnamese Red Cross donate money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In Slidell, Louisiana, a man carries what's left of his belongings.

In Houston, Danielle West (ph) and her daughter Justice (ph) wait for a ride to the airport. After living for a week in the Astrodome, they're traveling to their new home in New York.

And in the Algiers section of New Orleans, check this out. A man cooks pork ribs on an outdoor grill. Many residents have ignored officials and refused to evacuate the city.

Zain Verjee's joining us once again from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. The United States is saying thanks but no thanks to Cuba's offer of assistance in the Katrina relief effort. But some Cuban doctors are still hoping they'll be used. Today the group of 1,500 say they hope that politics wail be put aside. The doctors are taking English language classes just in case. Cuba's Fidel Castro has offered to fly the doctors to the U.S.

In Washington today, Iraq's President Jalal Talabani says he believes U.S. troops could be reduced in Iraq within two years. Mr. Talabani's comments came during a briefing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld responded by saying any talk of future U.S. military presence in Iraq should wait until the new Iraqi constitution's created and a new government's in place.

Also in Iraq, an American hostage rescued and freed on Wednesday is now heading home to the U.S. The U.S. military says Roy Hallums left Ballad Air Base in Northern Iraq on a military plane today. He had been a hostage for 10 months, before he was found in a farmhouse just south of Baghdad.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the U.S. government can keep Jose Padilla behind bars without charging him. Padilla, a U.S. citizen, is accused of plotting with al Qaeda to detonate a dirty bomb in the United States. He was declared an enemy combatant and he's been detained without charges since 2002.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. We'll check back with you shortly. From -- some tough talk coming up from Howard Dean directed at President Bush. My conversation with the Democratic Party chairman. That's coming up next.

But also, from the war zone to the disaster zone, Louisiana National Guard troops returning home to help friends and family deal with the devastation. We'll go live to Alexandria, Louisiana, for some bittersweet reunions.

Much more here in THE SITUATION ROOM, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Many Democrats have been quick to pounce on the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina, with some suggesting relief might have come more quickly if so many victims had not been black and poor.

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean jumped into that debate earlier this week, urging Americans to face what he called some ugly truth. I spoke with the former Vermont governor just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (on camera): Governor Dean, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get to some comments you said Wednesday night. I'm going to play a sound bite, an excerpt of what you said, then get your explanation. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: Survivors are being evacuated. And as the order is restored and the water recedes, as we sort through the rubble, we have to come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age, and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So what did you mean when you say skin color, age, and economics played a significant role?

DEAN: I meant the same thing that Colin Powell meant when he talked about this issue. I like to try to look for some good in every horrible tragedy. This gives us an opportunity to look at an issue that's been swept under the rug for the last 20 or 30 years, since the Civil Rights Movement. And that is, if you are poor, if you are black, if you are old, you disproportionately suffered in this disaster.

And that means we need to have a national discussion, which a lot of people have been talking about but nobody has really led us on, about poverty and race in America.

BLITZER: Do you believe the response from the federal government, the Bush administration specifically, the president of the United States, that there were racist or racial overtones in that response?

DEAN: No, I don't think so. What I do think, however, is the way our society has worked in the last 20 years -- actually, a lot longer than that, but in the last 20 years when nobody has been talking about it, is that, in fact, those below the top 20 percent in America -- white, black and brown -- have been significantly disadvantaged.

The average income in this country went down $1,700 since George Bush has been president for everybody under the top 20 percent. So, 80 percent of Americans saw their income drop. There's something the matter with a country that does not want to talk about what's good for 80 percent of the people and focuses on what's great for 20 percent of the people.

BLITZER: Some, as you know, critics of the president, Kanye West, the rap artist, for example, have accused him of being a racist.

I want you to listen to what the First Lady Laura Bush said last night. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I think all of those remarks were disgusting, to be perfectly frank, because, of course, President Bush cares about everyone in our country. And I know that. I mean, I am the person who lives with him. I know what he's like and I know what he thinks, and I know how he cares about people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with the first lady?

DEAN: No. I do not think that this president cares about everybody in America. It's one nice -- I'm sure the -- suspect (ph) he's a nice man on a personal level. His policies have been devastating to middle class and poor people in this country, white, black, and brown.

People who were affected in this disaster, the people who are holed up in the Astrodome, look at the kinds of things that have been said about them. Look what the Republican representative from the Louisiana said this morning in the "Wall Street Journal"; that finally God has gotten -- or has cleaned up the public housing in New Orleans.

It's not enough to be a nice guy. I'm not disputing the fact the president is a nice man, and maybe he's compassionate in his personal life. The truth is that Americans have suffered deeply under this presidency, 80 percent of Americans -- and that black people, Hispanic people, and poor people and old people have suffered disproportionately.

BLITZER: So, I just want to press you on this. You can't blame the president for what some Republican congressman says.

DEAN: I think there's an indifference in the Republican Party towards people who aren't at the very top of the income level. Their whole tax policy has shown that.

How about this? Bill Frist, the chairman -- the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, his first thing he wanted to do when he got back, after Hurricane Katrina struck, in the United States Senate, first thing he wanted to do is extend the estate tax exemption, $750 billion.

I think it's time for moral decision-making in America. Let's ask the American people if the Republicans believe there's $750 billion of extra change lying around, do you want that to go to 3,000 families who are going to benefit from an additional reduction in the estate tax or should we reinvest that in rebuilding, not just in New Orleans, but in rebuilding -- not just Mississippi -- school systems in Chicago, jobs for North Dakota and South Dakota. The life of middle class people has suffered enormously in the last five years because there were wrong moral decisions made by this government.

BLITZER: You made a very powerful, serious charge against the president of the United States, that he doesn't care about everyone in this country.

DEAN: I believe that's true. Because look at his policies. It does not matter what they say, it matters what they do. Americans have suffered under this presidency -- 80 percent of them, income has gone down on average of $1,700.

BLITZER: You blame the president, FEMA, the executive branch of the U.S. government, the Bush administration for doing a horrible job in the immediate aftermath of this disaster -- DEAN: I don't blame -- I don't think the president personally did a horrible job. The president didn't seem to be informed. I think he had incompetent people working for him. You know, Michael Brown has become a national joke.

BLITZER: What about --

DEAN: Not only did he -- apparently according to "Time" magazine now, this morning, he has falsified his credentials to get this job. The president still won't fire him. What is it about this president who has people like Karl Rove who gave away the identity of a CIA agent in a time of war? Who has people like Michael Brown working for him, that he won't fire them. These people ought not to be working for anybody, never mind the government of the United States of America.

BLITZER: What about the Democratic governor of Louisiana, and the Democratic mayor of New Orleans? How much responsibility should they have for what happened to those poor people who suffered in the immediate aftermath of those levees collapsing?

DEAN: As you know, Wolf, as you know, I was governor more almost 12 years. I think we had seven or eight nine emergencies during that time, states of emergency, under three presidents. And I can tell you that what you need when there's an emergency is the National Guard. The National Guard was in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well -- a third of the National Guard troops of Louisiana were, approximately, were in Iraq.

DEAN: And the equipment was in Iraq.

BLITZER: But there were 1,000 -- at least 1,000 school busses in New Orleans, and none of them were mobilized to get poor people, old people, people who didn't have cars, out of that city as that hurricane, Category 5, was building up steam along the -- in the Gulf of Mexico. Who should have ordered that those school busses, to get drivers and start driving people who don't have cars out of the city?

DEAN: That's an easy criticism to make, because beforehand you can blame everybody. You can blame the last four or five presidents --

BLITZER: Isn't that the responsibility of the mayor or the governor?

DEAN: Unless you tell people what the sequence is, I can't answer that question. I have to tell me that the sequence was that the hurricane was known to be, going to hit New Orleans directly, which it didn't. And that those buses weren't under water, and that the people who were supposed to be driving them didn't --

BLITZER: On Saturday and Sunday there was no water in New Orleans.

DEAN: Right.

BLITZER: And that was the -- the hurricane hit Monday morning. DEAN: You're holding the mayor --

BLITZER: On Friday they knew this could potentially hit New Orleans, and that it could be a Category 4 or 5.

DEAN: You're holding the mayor to a different standard. This is a Republican spin machine stuff. You're holding the mayor to a different standard than you are holding FEMA.

BLITZER: No. I think there's plenty of responsibility to go around. There were screw-ups and people's lives were lost as a result of it. I'm just pointing out that not only a Republican administration, but democratically elected, Democratic politicians also screwed up.

DEAN: Everybody screwed up in terms of getting the pre- positioning stuff. Nobody did that -- not the federal government, not the state government, not the local government.

The job of FEMA is to come in after the fact, immediately. When you have the head of FEMA talking on national television saying they had no idea people were in the Convention Center, after it had been broadcast on your station 24 hours earlier, that is a problem. When you have people in the emergency management business saying that people are getting two hot meals a day in the Superdome, that is a big problem, because those were lies.

BLITZER: But that was after the floods occurred.

DEAN: After the floods --

BLITZER: But in the days leading up to the hurricane, with hindsight, and all of us are obviously a lot smarter with hindsight, and you speak as a former governor, you know there are things a governor and mayor can do to get -- to take charge.

DEAN: What I'm saying is everybody could have done a better job ahead of time, including the last three or four presidents, who didn't put money into the levees. After the fact, however, it was very clear what everybody's job was, and there was one group of people who didn't do their job.

BLITZER: Let's talk about a comment you made. "In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina we have a clear, moral responsibility to do a better job of ensuring social and economic justice for every American, and there is still far too much that we don't know about John Roberts' record and beliefs on these critical issues."

You're making a connection between Katrina and the confirmation hearings of John Roberts, which begin on Monday. And I'm not exactly sure what the point is.

DEAN: My point is that John Roberts has a record. John Roberts appears to be a wonderful, decent, family person, but, again, we get back to the question about whether you really care and whether you have compassion. It's not enough to say you care. It's what you've done. John Roberts' legal career has been about taking away every protection for young girls and women who want to participate in sports, for African-Americans and Hispanics who want the equal same right to vote as everybody else, for taking away for women who believe they should determine what kind of health care they have, instead of having politicians do it.

His entire legal career appears to be about making sure those folks don't have the same rights everybody else does. That's probably not the right thing to do two weeks after a disaster, where certain members of society clearly did not have the same protections that everybody else did because of their circumstances. Americans are fair people and they want a sense of justice.

I know Judge Roberts loves the law. I'm not sure he loves the American people.

BLITZER: So should the Senate reject his confirmation?

DEAN: Based on what I know now, absolutely, yes.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

DEAN: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean speaking with me a little while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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