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Response to Katrina Examined; Senate Begins Roberts Confirmation Hearings

Aired September 13, 2005 - 21:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right I take responsibility.


BOB COSTAS, CNN GUEST HOST (voice-over): Tonight, could the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been prevented? We'll talk with mayors, relief workers and reporters inside the disaster zone.

Meanwhile, the president's nominee for chief justice John Roberts endures a marathon grilling by Senators at his confirmation hearings. We'll talk with two of them next on LARRY KING LIVE.


COSTAS: Good evening from New York, Bob Costas sitting in for Larry tonight. Larry is back, by the way, tomorrow night and among his guests will be the mayor and police chief of the city of New Orleans.

Joining us for the first couple of segments tonight in our New York studio is Bob Schieffer, the interim anchor of the "CBS Evening News," and anchor and moderator of CBS' "Face the Nation."

From Boston, David Gergen, White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, professor of public service at Harvard's JFK School of Government and director of its Center for Public Leadership, as well as being editor-at-large of "US News and World Report," and somehow he finds time amidst all that to be with us tonight.

And, from our D.C. bureau Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, member of the Judiciary Committee, among those who questioned Judge Roberts today; and Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee and also questioned Judge Roberts today.

Before we talk about the confirmation hearings, David Gergen, as a man who has offered his political expertise to a number of presidents, did President Bush make a good move today by forthrightly accepting, even if he did it belatedly, accepting responsibility for federal failures with regard to Katrina? DAVID GERGEN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Absolutely. If he's going to make a comeback, this was a part of it and a major part of it. We've learned in the past that when presidents step up and accept responsibility for big mistakes the whole country feels better about that and about them.

John Kennedy did that in 1961 after the Bay of Pigs. He accepted responsibility. Ronald Reagan stepped up and accepted personal responsibility when the Marines were blown up in their barracks in Lebanon in the early 1980s. In both cases, it was right for the country and I think President Bush did a good thing for the country today.

COSTAS: From where you sit prior to this has it been a flaw in President Bush's approach that he has been so unwilling to accept responsibility for mistakes in the past?

GERGEN: I think the administration unfortunately is characterized over a five-year period by an unwillingness to not only accept responsibility but even to acknowledge that mistakes have been made.

In this case, I think they have the -- they were smart enough and I think they did the right thing in changing the head of FEMA and now accepting responsibility. I think this was wise in both cases.

But they've certainly had a track record in which a lot of their opponents have been left flustered and even some of their friends by their unwillingness to acknowledge and they almost seen in denial sometimes. They're coming out of it this time and good for them.

COSTAS: Bob Schieffer, obviously Katrina is a very big news story but some stories have a galvanizing effect. They aren't just about that particular event. They change the point of view of a significant part of the populous. Is Katrina one of those stories?

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Well, I think it certainly could be and I must say I totally and 100 percent agree with what Dave Gergen has just said. This White House has been hemorrhaging politically aside from this terrible disaster that's happened in the country.

And what struck me was, you know, after 9/11 the president found just the right words to rally the nation, to bring comfort to the nation and to give us confidence and somehow until today this administration seemed unable to find anything to say that, number one, people believe because they were seeing this awful thing that was happening down in New Orleans.

I think that this was a signal to the country that the administration understands what's happened now and is ready to get down to business and get it taken care of. I think the president had no choice but to do what he did today and I thought it's the best thing he's done so far.

COSTAS: And we'll have much more on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina later in the broadcast. Shifting subjects to the confirmation hearings is this a bit of good news the way things are going, a bit of good news for the administration?

SCHIEFFER: Oh, I think this man is going to be confirmed. I don't think there's any question about it. I think the Democrats are going to make a record here but I think everybody on both sides of the aisle in the Senate knows that this man is going to be confirmed.

My guess is you're going to be seeing Democrats try to wrap this thing up and hold their fire whatever it's going to be for the next nomination, the replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor.

But, this judge, I mean he's the most articulate person I've seen in Washington for a long, long time and when he sits there and speaks extemporaneously like he even did in his opening statement, well many times the Senators have to, you know, weed over these long and ponderous statements to ask a question. He hasn't referred to a note at this point. He's been totally in control and I think he's done a remarkable job frankly.

COSTAS: Senator Charles Schumer, is Bob Schieffer correct that you among the loyal opposition would do best at this point to hold your fire until the next round which is coming up shortly?

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Well, I think it's -- no, I think that the idea of asking questions, of letting people understand how important these appointments are and, bottom line, finding out where these nominees actually stand makes a good deal of sense.

I think the questioning today was respectful. I think we learned some good things. I mean I was pleasantly surprised to find that John Roberts believes in the Fourteenth Amendment, due process substance privacy. He believes in the Griswold case.

I was disappointed that he didn't show a little more remorse over some stands in the early '80s in terms of civil rights so today was a mixed bag but overall the idea and the precedent of asking serious questions of a nominee is the right thing to do for the Constitution, for the American people and, frankly, for the Democrats.

COSTAS: Senator Schumer is it fair to say and obviously it is the job of each member of the Judiciary Committee to ask challenging questions but is it fair to say that this particular candidate has such impeccable credentials, he hasn't stubbed his toe in these confirmation hearings, there's little to indicate that there's any scandal in his background, even his opponents concede he has a brilliant legal mind and so the president has a right to appoint someone of this caliber to the bench and in this case to the position of chief justice and in the role of advise and consent you take a look and you pretty much have to say he's qualified?

SCHUMER: Well, Bob, he certainly has a great resume but a great resume isn't enough. You have to know someone's views. Someone could be brilliant but if they want to roll back the constitutional protections and guarantees that we've had in labor rights and environmental rights and civil rights and go back to the '30s, which for instance Justice Thomas does and the president has said he wants chief justice or justices on the court in the mode, those are his words, of Scalia and Thomas, the first question, the most important question is what are his judicial philosophy? What are his views?

Now today, you know, he came out, as I said, with a number of good things as well as some not such good things but it's our obligation to do that no matter how good his resume is, no matter how articulate he is because no matter how smart, no matter how accomplished, no matter how articulate if he uses those for bad ends, what good is it?

COSTAS: How concerned are you that from your perspective he might use those abilities for "bad ends"?

SCHUMER: Well, the bottom line is that we didn't know much about Judge Roberts before today. He doesn't have a long record. He's a great lawyer but he's always been representing other people, whether President Reagan or Bush in the White House or clients when he was at Hogan & Hartson.

So, today is the first day we got to see what his views are like and, as I said, it was sort of a mixed bag. Are we sure that he's A- OK, no, but are we sure that he's not, no, not at all. I think you need a couple more days of serious questioning and then we'll have a pretty good idea.

COSTAS: Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, your review of John Roberts' performance to this point.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Well, if nothing else, you have to give him credit for sitting there for over ten hours and not just answering all the questions but listening to a lot of talk from Senators as well.

But I do agree with Senator Schumer that the process is helpful. It's a good civics lesson but it's also important for us, who do have to give the advise and consent in the Senate, but for the whole country to get a little bit more information about the man himself.

We have the most extensive record, the most voluminous record of any prior nominee before us, the questionnaire, 80,000 pages of documents in his prior work, opinions and on and on and on.

But it is helpful to see the man himself and what I was struck by today is not just his great intellect and his ability without notes to field any question the Senators asked but his demeanor, which had to give you confidence that his judicial temperament is very, very good.

COSTAS: David Gergen, handicap this for us briefly before we go to a break. It seems fairly clear that John Roberts will be confirmed. Will he be confirmed overwhelmingly?

GERGEN: I would think he would get well over two-thirds of the Senate but Chuck Schumer would be a lot better judge of that than I would be. It's very clear that the Democrats, while they would be more comfortable with a different, more liberal candidate, more progressive nominee that this man has impressed everyone with his, not only his credentials but, as Senator Kyl said, his demeanor.

This is a far different atmosphere than say that that surrounded the Bork hearings where there was so much antagonism between the nominee and the Judiciary Committee or very different from the Clarence Thomas hearings.

I think that Judge Roberts as he discussed the Roe v. Wade and the question in the Casey opinion, you know, both of which are very important to the abortion rights, it was a judicious conversation in which I think lawyers around the country would say I may not necessarily agree with him but I like the way he reasons.

It's a nuanced reason. It's balanced. It's thoughtful. It's well rooted in the law and he showed great respect for not only the right of privacy but for precedent and said we should judge this in terms of subtle expectations and he did leave the door open.

He could still vote to overturn Roe v. Wade but certainly the tilt was toward respect for precedent and leaving subtle expectations alone unless they prove to be unworkable or unless the precedent itself is so eroded and that's not true in Roe v. Wade.

COSTAS: We'll continue the discussion of the confirmation hearings with David Gergen, Bob Schieffer and Senators Jon Kyl and Charles Schumer when we come back after this break.

Still ahead on this program, Anderson Cooper, among others, will join us from New Orleans.

Tomorrow night Larry is back with the mayor and police chief of the city of New Orleans.

And, we continue after this.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Do you believe today that the right of privacy does exist in the Constitution?

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: Senator, I do. The right to privacy is protected under the Constitution in various ways.



COSTAS: Continuing with Bob Schieffer of CBS News; David Gergen, White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton; and, Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona and Charles Schumer of New York in the aftermath of today's John Roberts' hearings on Capitol Hill.

Senator Kyl, as we went to the last break, David Gergen was making the point that particular philosophical differences aside that Judge Roberts has made a very favorable impression as a person. There wasn't the contentiousness that marked the Bork hearings, certainly that marked the Clarence Thomas hearings. He seems to be a genial man in addition to everything else. Is this less about particular issues, as important as those issues might be, and more about a general impression?

KYL: Well, it's really about both but get to one of the key points that he's been making, which is that his role as a judge means that his opinions are really not important. His role as a judge, as he said, is to call the balls and strikes as he sees them.

And so, in a sense, his views on things are not really relevant. His view toward judging is important, how he approaches a case and here he's been answering question after question after question talking about the role of precedent and a whole variety of other things that help us understand how he will approach the cases to decide them.

But, of course, it would be wrong for us to give us a hint as to a specific case and exactly how he might come out on it. But I think we've learned a lot about how he will approach these cases.

COSTAS: Senator Kyl, I'm certainly no legal expert but if the whole idea of stare decisis, Latin for let precedent stand, if that's really what we're talking about here, should conservatives be cautious in their optimism since Judge Roberts might be inclined to let established law stand rather than work toward an outcome that he, based on his personal beliefs, would like to see?

KYL: It seems clear to me that, somewhat like Chief Justice Rehnquist, he is a conservative in a very traditional sense that he does give precedent a very high value. And he said that in the hearing that excepting extraordinary circumstances you don't overrule precedent, not that it doesn't happen but that it would be extraordinary, and, that is a conservative approach to the law. There are other conservatives who seek to make law and are more activists and I don't think you'll see Judge Roberts be that kind of a judge.

COSTAS: Bob Schieffer, very often nominees to the Supreme Court turn out to be less reliably liberal or conservative than was originally thought. Do you think it's possible that Judge Roberts might surprise us?

SCHIEFFER: You know if I had one thought that came to me today as I watched these hearings today was it would be that that this may be a man that you will not be able to predict how he's going to rule in some of these cases.

I mean I thought it was fascinating, this answer he gave on abortion, you know, when he said we have -- you know it's subtle precedent but he never really said what that meant but it seemed a sort of -- well maybe it satisfied some and didn't satisfy others but I thought it was -- I thought it was very interesting the way he put it.

You know, I've watched a lot of these confirmation hearings, the Thomas hearings for example. We didn't find out very much about Clarence Thomas. We probably didn't find very much about Judge Roberts today that people who have followed all this didn't already know but he gave his answers in an interesting way. We got a fuller picture of what kind of person he is it seems to me and in that way I thought he was very successful today.

COSTAS: And even though the Supreme Court does its deliberating behind closed doors, out of the reach of television cameras, at least in this part of the process we have to accept that we're in a modern world and the impression one makes on television can't be discounted.

SCHIEFFER: I think that's exactly right, just like I think that this hurricane coming as it has is going to make an impression on who the president nominates next. I think all bets are off now on who the president nominates next because there's going to be a question here. Has the president been hurt so badly politically by the public reaction to this hurricane?

Let's say he decided he wanted to pick his friend Alberto Gonzales to be the next nominee. He might have been in a lot stronger position to do that because if he does he's going to have to take on the right wing of his own party, who think that Gonzales is not conservative enough. He may not be as likely to do that now as perhaps he would have been before this hurricane.

COSTAS: Senator Schumer, for the lay person what's the practical role of the chief justice? How does he shape consensus on the court? How does he influence the other justices?

SCHUMER: Well, he does a lot of things. First there are certain special judicial panels that deal with assigning cases or FISA. This is about terrorism. He appoints all of them.

Inside the court he is the leader. He determines who's going to write what opinion or another and he often tries, I mean the famous situation where Earl Warren worked long and hard until it was 9-0 on Brown v. Board and got a few of the justices who were holding out.

So, it doesn't really change the balance on the court but it could in subtle ways change the direction and I agree with Bob and Jon, we're not 100 percent sure where John Roberts will come out.

The one other point I'd like to make about this in terms of the person I thought he was a very, you know, a very smart person, respectful. The one thing I saw today I thought there was a little bit of, well you think of the word. I asked him if he regretted in one of his memos using the word "illegal amigos" which, you know, would hurt people and he wouldn't take that back.

I asked him if on civil rights issues since he's about double in age what he was when he wrote those initial memos that we have, does he have any regrets or policy changes and he wouldn't do that.

So that was the one place in his person that gave me concern but overall I would say as a person he came off very well and, as you said Bob, sometimes that's the impression that matters to the general public. To many of us that's less important than his views and that's why we're going to continue asking questions for a few more days.

COSTAS: Senator Kyl, as a supporter of Judge Roberts, would you concede that some people have concerns about what appeared to be a cavalier attitude, regardless of what his recent positions might have been, if he talks about his amigos in one decision? He talked at one point about perceived problems of gender or a purported gender gap. You could recognize why that would raise the hackles of a lot of people.

KYL: Superficially, yes, but I thought his explanations were quite satisfactory in each of those areas. He went back 25 years and tried to explain the context in which those words were used when he was not expressing his own views necessarily but those of the people for whom he worked and I thought his answers in that regard were quite satisfactory.

Clearly, some people didn't like the positions that were being taken at the time. They argued with the Reagan administration but, as I said, if you want to have those debates I'm happy to have those policy debates but that's not something that appropriate for Judge Roberts to be involved in at this point.

COSTAS: David Gergen, last thing for this segment very quickly, is President Bush in a position where he might be able to checkmate his opponents here? It appears that Judge Roberts will sail through and then Sandra Day O'Connor will have to be replaced. If he should nominate a young female judge who has good credentials, might it not be difficult for political reasons to oppose her and now he's kind of solidified the court for a good long time?

GERGEN: I think if she's one of the female candidates who is controversial, such as Priscilla Owen, the appellate judge in Texas, who was controversial at the time she went through the Senate, I think he'll have a fight on his hands. I don't think because she's a female people are going to let that stand in the way.

I really don't believe he will checkmate people. I think it's going to have a lot more to do with the judicial philosophy of the next nominee than it will the gender. And, in this case, I think what he has done -- the big difference briefly is that Scalia and Thomas are seen as people who have something of a (INAUDIBLE). They're crusaders in effect. People are very unhappy with the direction of the law.

And here Judge Roberts is showing that he's more a person who respects the traditions of the law. If he were to become another Scalia, I think a lot of people would feel after these hearings that there was sort of a bait and switch. I don't think that's the direction he's going in.

He's certainly giving signals that he is -- he's much more, you know, respect tradition, respect the mainstream. Yes, I may side with Scalia and Thomas on some cases but don't think that I'm going to be the kind of crusader that they are. I think those are the signals all of us are picking up.

COSTAS: David Gergen, Bob Schieffer, Senators Kyl and Schumer, thank you all very much.

And we continue with reports from the scene of Hurricane Katrina right after this on LARRY KING LIVE.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...nothing but the truth so help you God?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. You may be seated.


COSTAS: CNN's Jeff Koinange is in New Orleans where he has been for several days. Today, Jeff, what were you most struck by as things continue to develop?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bob, you can just imagine the lawsuits are going to be pouring in thick and fast. The first ones have already begun.

Remember, St. Rita's Nursing Home? That's the one in St. Bernard's Parish, about 20 minutes from where I'm standing right now. Well, the owner and co-owner have both been charged by the Louisiana attorney general with 34 counts of negligent homicide this after 34 bodies were recovered this past Sunday by a team over there. They had been left there during the floods. This is the first, Bob, you can imagine of very many.

Another development today Mayor Ray Nagin saying that he is waiting for an EPA report. As soon as he gets that he wants parts of the city to be reopened for business. We're talking about Canal Street, the CBD, the French Quarter. He's very optimistic that those areas will be open for business in the coming days.

But let's not forget, Bob, this city has no water, no electricity, no sanitation to speak of. Those services have to be restored before any kind of business can start operating and, of course, the water has to be drained from the city. About 40 percent of New Orleans is still under water. That still has to be drained out just to avoid an outbreak of any kind of diseases -- Bob.

COSTAS: Jeff, back to the nursing home story. We don't have all the particulars on it yet. Is it possible that the people who operated the nursing home will contend that they got as many people out as they possibly could before they were overwhelmed and any who were left behind already had expired or they were just those they couldn't save despite heroic efforts to save those they could?

KOINANGE: That's not very fair to say that, Bob. How can you leave a life, let alone 34? And rescuers, recovery folks pulled out 34 bodies. That's going to be a very tough case to pull off. We'll see in the coming days how they're able to defend themselves against that kind of a charge but 34 bodies, Bob, it's a little too many to start saying you did your best. COSTAS: Is there any defense at all and is there any indication that upon leaving for whatever reasons that they notified authorities and said "We're out of there but there are dozens of people left behind?"

KOINANGE: If they had done that, Bob, there would be a record of it and maybe a team may have -- if it had been done a team would have gone to see for themselves the extent, how many people can be rescued? How far is it? How high is the water? Again, it's going to be a tough case to defend. We'll see what those owners have to say for themselves -- Bob.

COSTAS: In the aftermath of something as horrific as this it's difficult to strike any tone of optimism but now we begin to hear that the death toll, terrible as it is, is much less than was first feared and it looks like, although it's a long -- go ahead, you were about to say something, Jeff, go ahead.

KOINANGE: I was about to say something, a lot lowered than feared, Bob, but look it's jumped from 279 to 423 in one day alone. Why is that? Well, search and rescue has now primarily turned to search and recovery. Rescue teams literally going door-to-door.

Now they're recovering corpses in attics, in nursing homes, in schools, in hospitals, all over the city, Bob. That count may be a lot less than the 10,000 that Mayor Nagin was talking about but it's still at the end of the day, Bob, as horrible as it sounds, still going to be high.

COSTAS: All right, we're going to continue in just a moment.

And, Anderson Cooper will join us later in the broadcast but first, this break.

Larry's back tomorrow night, by the way, with Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could hear the screams of people still being trapped in the attics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're in dire straits here. There is no electricity. The sewage is backing up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No food, no water, helicopters flying over our heads.

BUSH: To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right I take responsibility.



COSTAS: Joining us now from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden, the mayor of Baton Rouge. From Houston where many of the evacuees have gone in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is Mayor Bill White. And the former mayor of New Orleans is Sydney Barthelemy, he joins us from Atlanta, Georgia.

Former Mayor Barthelemy, let me start with you. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, you sounded a warning that this would be much more serious than some people thought it would be. What led you to that feeling, which turned out to be correct?

SIDNEY BARTHELEMY, FORMER NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: Well, I saw it was going to be at least a Category 4 hurricane, and I was listening to the national weather channel talking about the water surge, and I believe that that was going to cause a serious problem to New Orleans, and if the levees should break, then the only people who could deal with that would be the Corps of Engineers. And they needed the authority from the president to deal with the situation.

COSTAS: You, like present mayor, Ray Nagin, are a Democrat, maybe an awkward position to put you in, but critique his performance.

BARTHELEMY: Well, I think that we want to -- it was a tremendous obstacle of dealing with this situation. It was overwhelming for the local government. And they really needed the support and the efforts of the federal government to solve all of the problems that happened there. And I hope that we can get the federal government to step in and help rebuild the city and let the local people participate.

COSTAS: Certainly, they needed the support of the federal government, but at some level, the city and the state have to be held responsible as well, true?

BARTHELEMY: True, true.

COSTAS: Where did you find them lacking? What could they have done -- in retrospect, what could they have done, even without federal involvement or before FEMA was fully engaged, and that obviously took much longer than it should have. What could the mayor and governor have done differently?

BARTHELEMY: Well, one thing was the evacuation of the city could have been done a little differently. The National Guard, it seems to me, could have been much more involved in that effort, as well as utilizing all vehicles that were available to transport people out of the city.

COSTAS: Mayor White of Houston, how is your city handling this large influx of people affected by Hurricane Katrina, and how long can you sustain basic services for them?

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TEXAS: Well, I think we're handling it with compassion and with efficiency. We have over 150,000 people here. There's practically 20,000 new school students, over 50,000 still in hotel rooms, even more within the individual houses, but we know we're on the front line of America, along with northern Louisiana, of taking in these Americans that have no home right now. And we're getting about the business of putting thousands and thousands in apartments, finding jobs, and we're making this our mission.

COSTAS: Do you believe then that a sizable number of those who now find themselves in Houston will wind up being permanent Houston residents?

WHITE: Well, we want to give people the opportunity to rebuild and get back home. That's their choice. I know a lot of the victims, that's what they want to do. They want to get home as soon as they can. Some might be established, you know, with kids in school, but it's not our role to try to recruit or to push people out, but to try to lift up and make sure they have choices for their own future, and a lot of them want to return home.

COSTAS: Former first lady Barbara Bush, a resident of your city, went on the air a few days ago and said many of these people were underprivileged to begin with, so this situation, their being housed in the Astrodome is actually working out very well for them. Your reaction to those comments?

WHITE: Well, I don't know. I respect the former first lady, but our strategy is to allow people to live with independence and dignity, regardless of how they were in New Orleans, and that doesn't mean living in mass shelters. That's why we've been able to bring our shelter population down dramatically. We've put thousands and thousands of people in apartments already. We filled up probably about 2,000 apartment units that weren't even furnished a week ago. And so it's a 24-7 operation to get these Americans out on the mainstream, back on their feet, seeking employment. And if they have some special needs, such as some of our seniors, some of the disabled, to make sure they're in an appropriate setting.

COSTAS: Mayor Holden in Baton Rouge, there have been reports from so many different areas, just to clarify, how badly affected was your city, and what sort of position are you in to help those in New Orleans, and other areas who were more dramatically affected by the hurricane?

MAYOR MELVIN "KIP" HOLDEN, BATON ROUGE, LA.: When you look at New Orleans and the other areas, there's no comparison. We have minimal damage in terms of tree limbs being down, power lines down, lights out, and those things. But, really, we are opening up our hearts and our arms to our friends in New Orleans, because they are our family. And primarily what we're doing is trying to make them as comfortable as possible in the shelters. Today we started a new effort whereby we are employing a number of people through a state grant that will pay them about $9 an hour or so, at least they can get some economic viability.

We also started today naming four sites whereby FEMA is working in conjunction with us, so we are in conjunction with them, where we will begin to transition people out into travel trailers and those trailers will allow families the privacy that they don't have now.

Additionally to that, we will have transportation, we'll have food, and we will continue to seek jobs for those who are here in Baton Rouge. COSTAS: We'll continue with the three mayors and Anderson Cooper, we hope, will join us from New Orleans right after this break.


COSTAS: Anderson Cooper joins us now from New Orleans, where he's been putting in yeoman's duty.

Anderson, earlier tonight, Mayor Ray Nagin was supposed to be with you. At the last minute he backed out. I know you can't read his mind, but what do you make of that?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know what to make of it. I mean, they said his schedule got pushed back. He was busy. It was a few moments before we were supposed to go on air. It's obviously disappointing. We'd love to have him on any time. I know he's supposed to be on LARRY KING tomorrow night.

You know, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. And we've been trying to get answers from local officials, from state officials, from federal officials. You know, you were just talking to the former mayors, there are so many questions that need to be answered and two weeks into this thing we still don't have answers.

COSTAS: What's your reaction to Governor Blanco's comments earlier today, criticizing FEMA for a lack of urgency and lack of respect when it came to recovering the bodies, and then several hours later, she seemed to be OK with everything, after conferring again with FEMA officials.

COOPER: Yes, you know, I didn't hear the comments directly, because I've been out, actually, in a helicopter and going around all day. But I mean, it's a little bit of a sign of sort of the confusing nature of communications down here, the complications of getting information. People say one thing and then all of a sudden they kind of say something else down the road.

It's very hard pinning people down on exactly what they that think is going on and how they feel about it. It is something, though, that has certainly been frustrating to a lot of the people here, that two weeks into this, there are still bodies that are visible, there are bodies in homes that have yet to be found.

And, you know, certainly in the media we're sensitive. We've been tracking the story, for two weeks now we've been down here. We all want to see those people. And, you know, to call them bodies seems wrong. These are people, these are our neighbors, our countrymen. We all want to see them collected, we all want to see them restored with dignity.

But there's very little dignity to be had in the streets of New Orleans for the people who have died here.

COSTAS: Again, not in any way minimizing the scope of this tragedy, and it's ongoing, but it appears, as we noted earlier, that the death toll, terrible as it is, is less, much less than originally anticipated. The water is beginning to recede. It looks like the city might be functional in some sense sooner than was originally predicted. Is there reason for some sort of cautious optimism here?

COOPER: You know, there's always -- I'm pretty optimistic. There's always reason for optimism, I think most people would tell you. Look, there are lights on in some buildings. I'm at a Hyatt where the mayor has sort of been holed up for the last two weeks with his officials. They seem to have limited lighting.

We just got a couple of hotel rooms, so there's electricity in the downtown part. Most of the hotels have been taken over by Homeland Security, by FEMA, by first responders, justifiably so, to give them at least a good night's rest in a place that has some sort of electricity, some sort of lighting.

So there is cause for optimism. But, you know, it's hard to see when you're down on the ground and you're not looking at the big picture. Sometimes the big picture is kind of hard to see when it's hot and it's miserable and you know that there are still people in their homes who are waiting to have -- you know, be returned to their families, and be laid in the ground and laid to rest with some dignity.

COSTAS: Anderson, we've got about a minute here before we have to let you go. Fill us in on the Gretna Bridge story and what you know about it as of now.

COOPER: That's, again, one of those frustrating things. You know, you talked to people but so many people are dispersed who were actually on that bridge, across the country. It's hard to find out. We've talked to four people who were on that bridge. They said they were told by New Orleans police, police looked them in the eye, said, you go across that bridge, you can't go to the Superdome, you can't go to the convention center, go across that bridge, there are buses waiting for you, you'll get to safety.

These people -- hundreds of people made that march. They were stopped by Gretna police, they were stopped by sheriffs from the Jefferson Parish. There are reports from the people who were there that the officers shot guns over their heads, opened fire over their heads, forcing them back, even later on, a day later, took water and food from them.

We're trying to confirm it. We've had it from four different people now on the bridge. The police say they haven't been able to investigate because they haven't been able to talk to their officers yet. But it's been two weeks and you wonder when are they going to start asking the questions of their officers?

COSTAS: Anderson, on your program tomorrow night, what can we expect? Got about 10 seconds.

COOPER: Hopeful Mayor Nagin will be there. If not, he will be on Larry King, and, you know, be putting the hard questions to officials, trying to get answers.

COSTAS: Anderson, thanks.

Mayor Nagin will, in fact, be with Larry King tomorrow night. Friday of this week, former President Clinton for the full hour on LARRY KING LIVE.

And we'll continue from New York and various other parts around the United States in just a moment.


COSTAS: Joining us now from Washington, D.C., Marty Evans, the president and CEO of the American Red Cross. And from the Houston Astrodome, Jana Zehner (ph), who is the Texas Red Cross spokesperson and has been working with the evacuees at the Astrodome.

First of all, Marty, I know that you are calling for some 40,000 volunteers to help in the effort, how is that going?

MARTY EVANS, PRES. & CEO, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Well, Bob, we have 85,000 volunteers already working on this effort, literally in every state of the union, not only in shelters, but in Red Cross chapters that are helping.

And we need more. We need more volunteers, not only right now, but in the coming weeks and months, and those 40,000, some of them, we will ask to go into the affected areas, and serve for between 10 days and three weeks.

So it's a great opportunity for people to lend a hand and make a difference.

COSTAS: Jana, at the Astrodome where so many of the evacuees find themselves, what is your greatest problem and your greatest need right now?

JANA ZEHNER, SPOKESPERSON, TEXAS RED CROSS: Well, I think the greatest need...

EVANS: Right now the focus -- I'm sorry.

ZEHNER: ... is to get people moving on and moving into their homes and to more permanent facilities. And it's really working. People are moving forward quickly and the facilities are starting to empty out. And we're looking at reducing the footprint of this facility as people are moving forward.

COSTAS: Marty Evans, I don't mean this question flippantly. We hope in the future local, state, and federal officials will do a better job. But what would you advise someone if they find themselves in the midst of a natural disaster, they've got no car, they've got no cash, they have no immediate place to go. They've got to fend for themselves until help comes, and as we just saw, help didn't come that quickly for a lot of people. What should they do?

EVANS: Well, we encourage -- strongly encourage people to have a disaster plan and a disaster kit. I know it took several days for help to come. People who had layered in stocks of water, basic supplies, nonperishable foods, those were helpful during those long days of waiting for help to come.

So it is really, really important. It doesn't take a huge financial investment to build that basic disaster supply kit, and to make up a plan.

COSTAS: Jana, how about psychological services? These people are dealing with not only immediate physical needs but all sorts of emotional difficulties. What sort of counseling is available?

ZEHNER: We've worked with our partners here in the local community, as well as American Psychological Association, to make sure that we have trained mental health workers. We train throughout the year so these people are prepared to work with the Red Cross, and they've gone into action in the Reliant Arena to take care of the needs of both mentally ill people who have come to this area as well as the people who have been traumatized by this event and need help right now to get their minds back in order so they can move their families forward.

COSTAS: Jana Zehner and Marty Evans, we apologize that our time is so short but we thank both of you for being with us tonight.

And we'll back to conclude after this break.


COSTAS: Our thanks to all of our guests tonight, including Senators Jon Kyl and Charles Schumer, David Gergen, Bob Schieffer, and CNN's Anderson Cooper. "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN" is coming up next.

Tomorrow night, Larry is back with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. And on Friday night of this week a full hour with Larry and former President Bill Clinton.

We leave you tonight with a song from country superstar Alan Jackson, it's from his weekend benefit concert at the Tweeter Center in Philadelphia. The show was presented by radio station WXTU. The three-time Country Music Association entertainer of the year will be doing another hurricane benefit concert at Reliant Stadium in Houston on October 1st.

Now Alan Jackson singing "Rainy Day in June."

Good night, everybody.



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