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CNN BREAKING NEWS

John Roberts Confirmed as Chief Justice of the U.S.

Aired September 29, 2005 - 11:00   ET

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


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And let's go ahead and take a look on what is happening "Now in the News."
Nature is not helping at all in southern California. Firefighters there are battling a 7,000-acre blaze in southern California. High winds and low humidity today are expected to fuel a massive fire. It doubled in size overnight and threatens dozens of homes at this hour. A live report from the scene is just ahead.

Military leaders are on Capitol Hill this morning trying to ease concerns over the war in Iraq. The top commanders are testifying before the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Today's hearings are part of the Bush administration's effort to bolster declining support for the war.

Eleven people are being treated for minor injuries following an Amtrak derailment in eastern Missouri. Authorities say the train apparently struck a rockslide, causing it to derail last night. Amtrak says there were 90 passengers and 13 crew members on board the train. It was headed from Chicago to San Antonio, Texas.

An air traffic controller is on paid leave after a close call at the airport in Las Vegas. Authorities say a plane was waiting to take off, another attempting to land, and they came within 100 feet of each other. The incident happened last week at McCarran International Airport. Officials are calling it a human error.

Good morning. And welcome to CNN LIVE TODAY. Let's check the time around the world.

Just after 8:00 a.m. in Chatsworth, California. Just after 11:00 here in Atlanta. And 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad, where from CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Daryn Kagan.

Coming up live, we are watching a bunch of stories unfold this hour. The Senate taking a vote this hour on John Roberts. There's the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid.

At the young age of 50, John Roberts could influence American law and lives for the next three, perhaps four decades, depending on how long he stays on the high court. His confirmation as the 17th chief justice, and as far as we can tell, the first to drive a minivan, has all but assured the White House is confidently preparing a swearing in ceremony this afternoon. That would put Roberts on the bench Monday, when the Supreme Court opens its new term.

The Roberts vote is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, and I will be bringing in our veteran Washington hands, including Wolf Blitzer and Joe Johns. They'll be helping us with CNN's live coverage, along as with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

But let's start our hour in southern California, where walls of fire are looking at homes in the canyons just north of L.A County. Gusting winds and thick brush are fueling the fast-moving fire. It exploded overnight, doubling in size to 7,000 acres.

We have our correspondent Dan Simon on the scene this morning in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles.

Dan, good morning.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, good morning.

We're told this fire just keeps continuing to grow. You can see the smoke behind me. And if you take a live look, you can see all that smoke and you can see some of the flames there.

At this point, only one house has been destroyed. That is very good news. Firefighters are doing an excellent job protecting those homes, but several hundred homes, we are told, are threatened.

One business has also gone up in flames. We're told it was actually a vacant warehouse. And right here we have Francine Cantero (ph).

You tell me your house is actually pretty close to here, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's right up at the top of Wallsee Canyon (ph).

SIMON: And I'm told that you were -- you told me you were actually coming up here last night and you couldn't get to your home. Tell me exactly what happened.

OK. I left work early because I heard about the fires out here. And as I was driving on the freeway, I could see the flames and smoke and everything. So I tried to come in, but even at 4:00 yesterday afternoon, they weren't letting anybody in.

So I came back a bunch of times last night, seeing if they had let us go in, if they were letting people in, because I have my two cats are up there and my papers. And all of my family photos for like three generations are up at my house. So those are the only things I really need to get out, and I've asked them a bunch of times to go up there, but, you know, they need us to be out so that the fire trucks can go.

SIMON: And just a little perspective. You're telling me that your home is actually just over that ridge there. You can see the smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see right there. Yes, just over that ridge. That's a road. That ridge is a road.

SIMON: And so you told me you have some belongings and you weren't able to get them. You have a cat there, too, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two cats. Two cats. And, you know, the things are things, and I'm not worried about them.

I want to get my animals. I want to get my papers. And like I said, I want to get a huge box of family photos that was just entrusted to me to put them together into scrapbooks for the family.

SIMON: You're just continuing to stay here, you're with the media so you can get the most up-to-date information. What's the plan for the rest of the day?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I already told my boss I wasn't coming to work, even though he tried to talk me into it. And I'm just going to stay here until they let us go up so I can get them out.

SIMON: OK. Francine (ph), best of luck to you.

Daryn, at this point, about 500 people have gone to the area shelters. Those numbers will likely increase. At this point, just five percent of this fire is contained. A thousand firefighters battling this blaze. We'll have the very latest a bit later on.

Back to you.

KAGAN: All right. Dan Simon, live from southern California.

Nothing's going to help more than better weather conditions. Bonnie Schneider in our weather center with a look at that -- Bonnie.

(WEATHER REPORT)

KAGAN: All right, Bonnie. Thank you.

And now to the fight for Iraq. Scattered attacks around Baghdad killed at least eight people and wounded 11 others today. Two high- ranking police officials were gunned down in a drive-by shooting in western Baghdad. Gunmen also opened fire on police patrol and a bakery, killing two people in each of those incidents.

And an attack on a minibus in southeastern Baghdad left two more people dead.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have stepped up the battle against insurgents in the western Anbar province. More than a thousand insurgents are believed to be operating in that area. Our Jennifer Eccelston is embedded with U.S. Marines near the Syrian border, and she joins us now by videophone.

And Jennifer, let's start with the topic of President Bush, who spoke yesterday about the war on terror, and talked about exactly where you are, the Anbar province, talking about it as crucial. Give us an idea of what you're seeing on the ground.

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Daryn. Well, those local commanders here, the marine commanders, clearly giving advice to the commander here in Iraq who is passing it on to the president that this fight to rid this area, the western Al Anbar province, which butts up to Syria, despite it's the most crucial -- is a crucial, if not the most crucial aspect in stemming the violence, stemming the insurgency in the major population centers throughout...

KAGAN: Jennifer, let me just go ahead and jump in here, because we do need to go live to New Orleans. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen giving a news conference, the latest on relief in that area.

VICE ADM. THAD ALLEN, DIRECTOR, HURRICANE RELIEF OPERATIONS: And trash hauling may not sound that exciting, but after an event like this, and the city's inundated with all kinds of debris and trash, it's very, very important that we have a debris management plan that gets the city on the road to recovery and restructuring. I'm going to talk generally about debris management, a couple other issues, and then General Crear is here, available to speak to you on the details regarding the Corps' plans in and around New Orleans.

In general, throughout the Gulf Region associated with both Katrina and Rita, the Corps of Engineers has in place national contracts where they can immediately come in and remove debris. There are some constraints associated with that that have to be worked with the state and local governments.

First of all, the Corps of Engineer contractors can't come in and remove debris from public property. To enter on private residents requires a policy, determination by the state, that it's in the best interest of the state, and a right of entry agreement from the local parish so that we can go on people's personal property and remove that debris.

We are in the process right now. We have worked through those policy issues with the state, and we're in the process of negotiating those types of agreements with the individual parishes so that in the absence of homeowners or residents, we can go on and remove the debris from the property. We have such an agreement in place with Orleans Parish, and we can get into a little bit more detail about that if you like.

Generally, under the debris management plan that's managed by the Corps of Engineers, debris is removed and segregated. And to the extent that they can aggregate vegetative debris -- that would be tree limbs and things like that -- that can be reduced down through chipping and ultimately through incineration.

Other things that are segregated are things like refrigerators and washing machines. Then the rest of the general debris is also segregated and taken to intermediate sites. So they said that testing is done and it needs to be separately. It is. And then there's a management plan for how the debris is ultimately disposed of, whether or not it goes to a landfill or to incineration.

But generally, the contracts that are awarded by the Corps of Engineers are debris management plans for the lifecycle of the debris. In other words, from the time that it's located until it goes into a landfill, or is incinerated and the residue is put into a landfill, it is managed under these contracts.

I'll let General Crear cover the details about that in a minute.

A couple of other comments I'd like to make.

We are coming up on one month since the event of Katrina occurred. We've made significant progress in and around Orleans Parish and the parishes surrounding New Orleans, as we have statewide. We're up near close to two billion people that -- excuse me, two million people that have requested assistance, well over $1 billion in assistance provided to the public.

The administration has announced a housing transition program. That is being subscribed to. The goal right now is to move people out of evacuation shelters into transition or temporary housing and get them into permanent homes.

We're in the process of doing that. We're in the process of supporting the mayor's plan for re-entry. As you know, he has announced that the business zone can be re-entered and the west bank can be re-entered today. And there's a plan to allow residents in those zip codes that have been identified by the mayor to re-enter and look at their houses and their residents and start dealing with that.

The rest of the city is being provided for under a security plan that's been developed by the city. And we have worked with them on the planning associated with that. And we'll continue to work with the mayor as he repopulates the city.

We have also taken care of the victims of Hurricane Rita. I have forward deployed an extension of my principal federal official office down to Lake Charles so we can provide better assistance for the folks in Calcasieu Parish and down to Cameron Parish.

I've personally overflown that portion of Louisiana coastline. I can tell you the devastation down there is pretty extreme and evokes memories of Waveland, Mississippi, where these coastal towns have basically pretty much been wiped off the map.

We're moving assistance down there and working very closely with DOD forces under General Honore. The 82nd Airborne has performed magnificently, and so has the Marine Corps, and so has the Corps of Engineers.

And with that, I'd like to turn the microphone over to General Crear for any comments he might want to make. And we'd be glad to answer questions.

KAGAN: We've been listening in to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. He, of course, is the man who took over after former FEMA head Michael Brown was let go, or sent back to Washington D.C.

Talking about a lot of work still to be done in that area. Interesting thing, debris management. It sounds dry, but how do you clear out debris, especially in front of some of the homes when the homeowners aren't there? Looking to be able to do that even without the homeowners present. Just one of the many things that they need to get to in New Orleans.

Much more ahead from that region.

Also, back to business. Some business owners are being allowed to go back to parts of New Orleans today, but can they get back to work in the city? A live report coming up.

Plus, the Senate vote on John Roberts getting set to happen at this hour. A live picture from the Senate floor. Senator Patrick Leahy, one of 18 Democrats that have pledged to vote for senator -- to vote for Judge Roberts.

When the vote happens you'll see it live here. You are live on CNN LIVE TODAY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: It is one month after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The region struggling along the road to recovery.

The death toll from Katrina and its aftermath has reached 1,130. Almost 900 of those deaths were in Louisiana. Governors from the three coast states ravaged by Katrina are asking Congress for economic and tax incentives to help the regions recover.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has renewed his push to get people back into the city. Under his latest plan, residents of eight zip codes will be allowed to return to their homes tomorrow. Business owners in those areas can return today.

Our JJ Ramburg has details. She is live in New Orleans.

Good morning, JJ.

JJ RAMBURG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Daryn.

Well, Mayor Nagin's plan has been controversial. Some people agreeing with it, some people not. And you can understand from being here on the ground, because though progress has definitely been made as far as services, they're not quite or even close to being perfect yet.

For example, there's power in the city, but not everywhere. You can use the water to wash, but you still can't drink it. And though the streets are clear, there's still debris everywhere around here.

So it's been a very daunting process. But gradually, the city's coming back to life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAMBURG (voice over): New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin offering an invitation to most of his city's residents and business owners to come home.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: Starting Friday, we are allowing people to come in, residents, for a look and stay. So come in, inspect your property. If you want to stay, you're free to stay.

RAMBURG: The mayor blasted state officials, who he says are still giving an impression the city's not safe. Nagin resumed his plan to let people return, a plan put on hold because of Hurricane Rita. By next week he hopes to open the entire city, except fort hardest-hit Lower 9th Ward.

But many don't have much to come home to. Water and wind damage have made thousands of homes uninhabitable. In St. Bernard's Parish, next to New Orleans, residents returned Wednesday to gutted kitchens, broken appliances, and ceilings with holes this them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The guys were saying, "Don't cry mom. Don't make yourself sick." You know, and I got dehydrated, I -- my pulse rate went down, I lost my vision.

RAMBURG: In Mississippi, Governor Haley Barbour says that as the state rebuilds, he wants to make sure the federal government does not take over.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: They have been a good partner, but we in Mississippi, we know better how to take care of our ourselves. We're familiar with what's going on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMBURG: In New Orleans, Mayor Nagin also expressed that he does not want Washington to be in charge of the redevelopment effort of this city -- Daryn.

KAGAN: JJ Ramburg, live in New Orleans.

I think the mayor has made that quite clear about what he thinks about working with the federal government.

Let's go ahead and look at what's happening live this hour. The vote on chief justice nominee John Roberts, when it happens, we will bring it to you live.

CNN LIVE TODAY back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: And we are looking at a live picture. We have the floor of the U.S. Senate, where there will be a very important vote within the next few minutes, if not the next hour. The confirmation vote on John Roberts to be the next chief justice of the United States, you'll see that vote live here on CNN.

And while we wait for them to get started at the U.S. Senate, let's check in again on New Orleans, where today investigators are trying to pinpoint the cause of the levee failures. It's kind of a lot like a crime scene investigation.

More on that now from our Chief National Correspondent John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Urgent activity everywhere. Patches to the levee, installing new pumps, draining the seemingly endless pool of water.

For most, progress. But to investigators, contaminating the crime scene, moving, burying, and in some cases perhaps destroying the clues to how and why this happened.

LARRY ROTH, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: There's been repairs to the breaches. And, of course, Hurricane Rita did some additional damage. So we're concerned that maybe some of the key evidence has been covered up.

COL. DUANE GAPINSKI, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: That may be true. I mean, certainly doing the repairs affects things. But, you know, the first priority is to save life and property.

KING: Brigadier General Robert Crear commands the Army Corps of Engineers in this region and is keeping a constant eye on the work.

BRIG. GEN. ROBERT CREAR, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: I know people will continue to look for simple answers, but I don't think you'll have a simple here. I don't think you'll get a quick answer.

KING: The lead investigators from the American Society of Civil Engineers have just arrived and hope to get their first major look at the scene Thursday. These breaks will be one major focus to determine whether the levee was built to specification and properly maintained. This ditch could be another clue, according to a levee expert from just south of New Orleans.

WINDELL CUROLE, LAFOURCHE PARISH LEVEE DIST.: Water can come in, destabilize the soil that supports the sheet pile, then the pressure of the water can finally cause it to collapse.

KING: The investigators are already examining the levee plans and maintenance records and photographs taken just after Katrina hit.

ROTH: There were at least three breaches, and it's possible that each breach was a different cause.

KING: General Crear knows there's a lot of anger here. One immediate goal? Discount as many theories as you can, including conspiracy theories, like the rumors that the overwhelmingly black Lower 9th Ward was deliberately flooded to save the French Quarter and downtown.

CREAR: Well, that's absolutely not true. I mean, we would never do something like that. So that's just not true.

KING: Some who escaped this neighborhood blamed this loose barge, believing it crashed through the levee. The early clues suggest otherwise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's only a theory, and there are things that say maybe that didn't happen.

KING: In police terms, the failure of these 70-year-old pumps was an accomplice. It was not the old technology. They just weren't built high enough or otherwise protected when Katrina's surge overwhelmed the levee walls.

CREAR: You don't have to look far to see the power of this storm. I've never seen levees beaten that bad.

KING (on camera): While there are clear corps deadlines for the levee repairs, General Crear tells us investigators can take all the time they need. And he says the Corps deliberately went outside to the Society of Civil Engineers because he knows here in devastated New Orleans, many simply would not trust the military or a government investigation.

John King, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: And now developing news. For the first time since the Reagan era, the Senate is voting to confirm or reject a chief justice of the United States. By all head counts, John Roberts will get the Senate approval in just a few minutes, ahead.

I want to bring in my colleagues, Wolf Blitzer and Joe Johns. They're in Washington D.C. Also in New York, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Wolf, let's have you take it from here.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Daryn.

The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, is now speaking. He's the last speaker before the vote. He's on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Joe Johns, our congressional correspondent, has been watching all of this.

This is by no means going to be a surprise to anyone, Joe, that John Roberts will become the 17th chief justice of the United States. The only question will be, how many Democrats will wind up voting for confirmation?

What do you hear?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's very true, Wolf. It seems -- listening to this debate throughout the morning, and throughout the week, in fact, it's been a debate about what type of justice John Roberts will be, what type of chief justice he'll be. The latest we've been told, at least by a count from the Democrats, is that about 77 members of the United States Senate are likely to vote for John Roberts, perhaps slightly more. That would be a little bit better, in fact, than William Rehnquist did when he was confirmed for chief justice of the Supreme Court.

There was a question about Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. We've been told through sources he's leaning toward voting for John Roberts. However, that's not official, we're told. He sees it as a very personal vote.

So the drama, if any, is how many people are going to vote for John Roberts for the Supreme Court chief justice. Right now we're hearing about 77, perhaps more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Which would be very impressive, given the nature of the partisan political debate that's been unfolding in the U.S. Senate in recent years.

Let's listen in briefly to Senator Frist, the majority leader, see what he says.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: ... don't make the rules, they apply them. They make sure everybody plays by the rules, but it is a limited role.

Judge Roberts will be a great umpire on the high court. He will be fair and open-minded. He will stand on principle and lead by example.

He will be respectful of the judicial colleagues and litigants who come before the court. And above all, he will be a faithful steward of the Constitution.

This is what we know about John Roberts. In the last few weeks, he has provided us information and answered our questions. John Roberts has fulfilled his obligation to the Senate. And now it's time to fulfill our obligations to the American people.

It's time for each of us to answer, is John Roberts the right person for the job of chief justice of the United States? It's my belief that the answer is yes. It's my belief that the chapter we write should begin with his name. And it's my hope that today, you'll join me in writing the words, that you'll join me in voting yes, for John Roberts' nomination as our nation's 17th chief justice.

Mr. President, I ask for the yays and nays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a sufficient second? There is a sufficient second. The question is, will the Senate advise and consent to the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. of Maryland, to be the chief justice of the United States? The yays and nays have been ordered. The clerk will call the role, under Resolution 480. That is the standing order of the Senate that during the yay and nay votes of the Senate, each senator shall vote from the assigned desk of the senator. The clerk will call the role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Akaka? Mr. Akaka, no.

Mr. Alexander? Mr. Alexander, aye.

Mr. Allard? Mr. Allard, aye.

Mr. Allen? Mr. Allen, aye.

Mr. Baucus? Mr. Baucus, aye.

Mr. Bayeh.

Mr. Bennett? Mr. Bennett, aye.

Mr. Biden? Mr. Biden, no.

Mr. Bingaman. Mr. Bingaman, aye.

Mr. Bond? Mr. Bond, aye.

Mrs. Boxer? Mrs. Boxer, no.

Mr. Brownback? Mr. Brownback, aye.

Mr. Bunning? Mr. Bunning, aye.

Mr. Burns? Mr. Burns, aye.

Mr. Burr? Mr. Burr, aye.

Mr. Byrd? Mr. Byrd aye.

Ms. Cantwell? Ms. Cantwell, no.

Mr. Carper? Mr. Carper, aye.

Mr. Chaffee? Mr. Chaffee, aye.

Mr. Chambliss? Mr. Chambliss, aye.

Mrs. Clinton? Mrs. Clinton, no.

Mr. Coburn? Mr. Coburn, aye.

Mr. Cochran. Mr. Cochran, aye.

Mr. Coleman? Mr. Coleman, aye.

Ms. Collins? Ms. Collins, aye.

Mr. Conrad? Mr. Conrad, aye.

Mr. Cornyn? Mr. Cornyn, aye.

Mr. Corzine? Mr. Corzine, no.

Mr. Craig? Mr. Craig, aye.

Mr. Crapo? Mr. Crapo, aye.

BLITZER: We're listening to the role call, 100 senators. There are 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, one independent. He will be overwhelmingly confirmed, John Roberts. The only question, how many votes will he wind up getting? Let's listen in to the role call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Dodd, aye.

Mrs. Dole? Mrs. Dole, aye.

Mr. Domenici? Mr. Domenici, Aye.

Mr. Dorgan? Mr. Dorgan, aye.

Mr. Durbin? Mr. Durbin, no.

Mr. Ensign? Mr. Ensign, aye.

Mr. Enzi? Mr. Enzi, aye.

Mr. Feingold? Mr. Feingold, aye.

Mrs. Feinstein? Mrs. Feinstein, no.

Mr. Frist? Mr. Frist, aye.

Mr. Graham? Mr. Graham, aye.

Mr. Grassley? Mr. Grassley, aye.

Mr. Gregg? Mr. Gregg, aye.

Mr. Hagel? Mr. Hagel, aye.

Mr. Harkin? Mr. Harkin, no.

Mr. Hatch? Mr. Hatch, aye.

Mrs. Hutchison, aye. Mrs. Hutchison, Aye.

Mr. Inhofe? Mr. Inhofe, aye.

Mr. Inouwe? Mr. Inouwe, no.

Mr. Isakson. Mr. Isakon, aye.

Mr. Jeffords? Mr. Jeffords, aye.

Mr. Johnson? Mr. Johnson, aye.

Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy, no.

Mr. Kerry?

Mr. Kohl? Mr. Kohl, aye.

Mr. Kyl? Mr. Kyl, aye.

Ms. Landrieu? Ms. Landrieu, aye.

Mr. Lautenberg? Mr. Lautenberg, no.

Mr. Leahy? Mr. Leahy, aye.

Mr. Levin? Mr. Levin, aye.

Mr. Lieberman? Mr. Lieberman, aye.

Mrs. Lincoln? Mrs. Lincoln, aye.

Mr. Lott? Mr. Lott, aye.

Mr. Lugar? Mr. Lugar, aye.

Mr. Martinez? Mr. Martinez, aye.

Mr. Mccain? Mr. Mccain, aye.

BLITZER: So there it is, the United States now has a new chief justice, 51 votes plus, more than enough, will be available for John Roberts to become the 17th chief justice. He will get presumably more than 70 votes. We'll wait and see how many Democrats, how many of those 44 Democrats, one independent, go ahead and vote to confirm John Roberts. All 55 Republicans expected to do so.

Jeff Toobin, when William Rehnquist was confirmed as chief justice in 1986, the vote for confirmation was 65-33. John Roberts will do better than that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Obama, no.

Mr. Pryor? Mr. Pryor, no.

TOOBIN: Sixty-two to 48 vote. Three members of the court, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, got in unanimously. There's no difference when once you're on the court. You're either on or you're not. John Roberts will be there, and he'll be there a long time.

BLITZER: Let me bring back very briefly Joe Johns, our Congressional correspondent, watching this. There had been speculation earlier that Dick Cheney, the president of the Senate, the vice president of the United States, might be in the chair, but that did not happen. What, if anything, did you hear about that?

JOHNS: Interesting. We were trying to call around and find out about that. Of course this is a very highly ceremonial moment in the United States Senate. Only 16 chief justices have been confirmed, and if you look at the senators sitting at their seats, standing up to vote, that's also very traditional, not often done in the United States Senate, in fact. It was done notably during the impeachment vote to convict on President Clinton back when he was in office. They don't do this very often, so it was clear that they wanted to make this very ceremonial. A lot of senators see this, Wolf, as the second-most important vote a member of the United States Senate can take. The first being a vote to go to war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a moment in American history, a powerful moment. But Jeff Toobin, even as this moment comes and goes, and he is sworn in, presumably in the next few hours, as the chief justice, the speculation will be very intense and the political battle will already begin over the next vacancy. That vacancy being for Sandra Day O'Connor. The president expected very, very soon, perhaps in the coming days, to nominate a new candidate for that.

TOOBIN: You know, Wolf, the parallel to 1986 and 1987 is really pretty close. In 1986, you had Chief Justice Rehnquist elevated to -- from associate justice to chief justice, and it was relatively uncontroversial.

Just a few months later was the fight over Roberts Bork, who was ultimately defeated. This was, in many respects, the warmup in the way that the Rehnquist fight and the Bork fight was the warmup all of those years ago. Big difference, though, the Senate was in Democratic hands in 1986 and '87. Today, it's all in Republican hands.

BLITZER: All right, they're almost done with the roll call, 100 senators. We'll see how many showed up. They went through the role call once, alphabetical order, beginning with Senator Akaka of Hawaii, always beginning with Senator Akaka of Hawaii. Now they're waiting for some of the stragglers to come in and cast their votes, and then it will be formally announced, the finally tally, the confirmation of John Glover Roberts Jr., 50 years old, to be the chief justice of the United States. We'll listen in. We'll wait for the remaining senators to show up, cast their votes and go forward.

Joe Johns, this was an extremely difficult vote for a lot of Democrats. And you saw some traditionally liberal Democrats, like the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy, vote aye, together with the chairman, Arlen Spector, in favor of confirmation. But other Democrats, especially the liberals, voted nay. This was a split decision for the Democratic party in the Senate.

JOHNS: Democrats were certainly urged by outside groups, particularly those liberal groups, to put in a strong no vote against John Roberts, if only to send a message to the White House about the next nominee. That, of course, is the big issue in the room right now. When will the president name that next person to take the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor? Will that person be a moderate, as Democrats are urging? They wanted a no vote to tell the president, you're going to have real trouble up here if you send anybody but a moderate.

Now, to underscore that, Wolf, the groups are already sparring. We've already gotten a statement from People for the American Way, saying they're very disappointed with John Roberts becoming the next chief justice. We've also, just minutes ago, gotten an e-mail from the conservative group, Progress for America, announcing a $275,000 ad buy, also looking forward to the president's next nominee, and urging the senators to be fair -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Joe, stand by. Jeff Toobin, as we wait the next nominee to replace Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the pressure enormous on the president, including some pressure from the first lady to nominate a woman. That would be a significant development in this battle.

TOOBIN: It certainly would, Wolf. You know, I -- just before we came on the air, I was sort of doing a survey of all the press coverage of the vacancy that now exists, and who the candidates are. And what's remarkable is, every news outlet has a different short list. You know, there is no consensus on who this is going to be.

The latest possibility that's been trumpeted in some quarters is Hariet Miers, the White House counsel, the former personal attorney to President Bush, who has no judicial experience at all. Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, has long been mentioned as a possibility. You know, I think that this is a lot like Supreme Court retirements. You know, those who know don't tell, those who tell don't know.

BLITZER: And if we remember, John Roberts' name sort of came out late as well, relatively late, and he got the slot to originally replace Sandra Day O'Connor. That was changed for the chief justice when William Rehnquist passed away. The voting is now over with, we're done. We're waiting for the official announcement.

Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 78, the nays are 22. The nominee of John G. Roberts, Jr., of Maryland to be chief justice of Maryland of the United States is confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) consider?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I ask that the president be immediately notified of the Senate action. The Senate resume legislative session.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suggest that to the foreman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The clerk will call the role.

BLITZER: All there it is, 78 in favor, 22 oppose. Twenty-two, all Democrats, voting nay, 78 voting yea. That's an impressive vote, Joe Johns, a very impressive vote for John Roberts, underscoring the job that he did during those days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He impressed not only the Republicans, but a lot of the Democrats, as well. JOHNS: He certainly did. And you really got a real feeling that Democrats were throwing their hardest of the hardball questions and were just unable to lay a glove on him. And many came away with a sense that he would be a fair chief justice, that he was very well- schooled, that he understood the law, he understood not to be an activist judge or so they think.

But the fact of the matter is, Wolf, a lot of people try to predict how a chief justice or how an associate justice on the Supreme Court will vote whenever they get on the court, based on their prior record. And it's frankly, very difficult to do so. You just have to do so. You just have to watch and wait. Because, after all, it is a lifetime appointment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe, thanks very much. Daryn, as I throw it back to you, it's interesting that there was a rare demonstration in this highly partisan atmosphere of Washington D.C. right now, an impressive bipartisan vote for John Roberts to be the chief justice.

KAGAN: Indeed. And we'll be watching what the next chapter is, Wolf, as we wait for that next nomination to come from the White House. I have a question for Jeff Toobin before we wrap this up. And Jeff, concerning John Roberts, the page in history that really begins today, this is one of the youngest men ever to take over this role of chief justice of the United States. This is a man we expect to be watching for some decades to come.

TOOBIN: He's the third youngest in history, and the other two who were younger were literally centuries ago. You know, this -- he's young to be any kind of justice on the Supreme Court, but he's especially young to be a chief justice. And as we keep saying, it's a lifetime appointment, so we can expect 30 years of John Roberts presiding. And, you know, we can't even predict what the issues will be 30 years from now, much less how he'll vote on them.

KAGAN: A couple things we do know, he expect him be sworn in later in this afternoon at the White House, and for him to really get to work as the court opens its session next week. My thanks to my colleagues, Jeff Toobin, Joe Johns and Wolf Blitzer. Thank you, gentlemen.

And the news continues here on CNN. We'll get to a lot more, including business and weather, and what's happening in southern California with the wildfires. That's all ahead after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Welcome back. Top Pentagon officials are trying to ease concerns among lawmakers about the war in Iraq. They're testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, including General George Casey, who was before the committee, testifying before them, as well, and had this exchange with Senator John McCain. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GEN. GEORGE CASEY: I mentioned in my opening testimony that what we were focused on is putting Iraqis in the lead as soon as they are capable. We fully recognize that Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time, because they don't have the institutional base to support them. And so, level one, as you'll recall from the slide, that's what that one battalion.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Used to be three. We've gone from three-to-one.

CASEY: Pardon me?

MCCAIN: It was three before. The previous report was you had three battalions. Now we're down to one battalion.

CASEY: Right, and things change in the battalions. We're making assessments on personnel, on leadership, on training. There are a lot of variables involved here, senator.

MCCAIN: And your response to Senator Levin was that you are not planning on troop withdrawals because you want to see what happens in the next 75 days. Is that -- was that a correct...

CASEY: Senator, that's not how I'd characterize my response. I said that we're -- conditioned-base reductions of coalition forces remains an integral part of our overall strategy, and I believe I did say to the senator that that still remains possible in 2006.

MCCAIN: Are you planning on troop withdrawals for next year?

CASEY: I just said that, senator, yes.

MCCAIN: Yes or no?

CASEY: Yes, senator. I do believe that the possibility for troop -- for condition-based reduction of coalition forces still exists in 2006.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: So a lot going on in the senator today.

Also the confirmation of now soon-to-be Chief Justice John Roberts. Here is the Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist talking to reporters.

FRIST: We achieved everything that we set out to achieve. We said that this chief justice would be seated by October 3rd, and with the vote we just completed five minutes ago, that will happen.

Arlen, I congratulate you, and to the entire Judiciary Committee, on behalf of the leadership in the United States Senate. We appreciate your hard work, your discipline, your focus and the product you have completed with today.

Arlen, congratulations. SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you, sir.

I thank leader Frist, and I thank the Republican leadership, and I thank my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, Republicans assembled here, and we had invited Democrats to join us. I importuned Senator Leahy. He thought it better for our future activities that he not be here, and invited Senator Cole and we invited Senator Feingold. But I believe that there is a very decisive bipartisan flavor to this vote.

Judge Roberts, soon-to-be Chief Justice Roberts, got half of the Democrats, and Senator Jeffords, to come away with 78 votes. Considering where the senator was in such contentious grates earlier this year, I think is really remarkable.

Chief Justice Roberts has great potential for the future to bring a consensus to the court, to have a better recognition of congressional authority, and as he put it, to understand the constitution, responding to the changes in the ages, and responding to societal conditions.

It is my hope...

KAGAN: So there are some comments there from the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, as the vote is in. And not overwhelming, but a strong endorsement of who is soon to be the new chief justice of the United States, John Roberts. We expect that swearing in to happen at the White House this afternoon.

Let's go to our White House correspondent for today, Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Daryn.

And we don't have a time yet, but as you mentioned, that is expected to happen this afternoon.

But I can tell you that An administration official says Judge Roberts actually watched that action unfold at the White House, specifically at the Roosevelt Room, inside joined by staffers involving his confirmation process, people like Ed Gillespie, former Senator Fred Thompson, members of the White House Counsel's Office, all of them who have helped really guide the judge and prepare him for his confirmation hearings.

Now today, of course, represents the culmination of their efforts, but even as that vote got under way, at the same time, of course, attention was already focusing on that second vacancy, that second nomination, what exactly President Bush would do, and how he will move forward to fill that vacancy left by the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Now White House officials are keeping things very close to the vest. They are not talking at all about names being floated out there, neither waiving us off of or pointing us two certain names. But at the same time, what they do say that this will be, obviously, a very expansive search. The president himself said earlier this week that he understood diversity is one of the strengths of the country, and the White House also signaling in terms of the process that they've already gone and consulted with some 70 senators. Also saying that the members of the Judiciary Committee have all been consulted as well, so indicating that they are perhaps closer to making some kind of decision, but no official word.

What we can tell you is that in terms of the attacks that have already been put forward, we heard Joe Johns mention a short time ago the White House is saying that they will largely use the same team that was in place for Judge Roberts to defend against those kinds of attacks. The White House obviously feels it's very important to respond to those criticisms head-on, so they have a team in place, gearing up to do just that -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Elaine Quijano at the White House. Elaine, thank you for that.

We're going to be checking in on business news, and the markets have kind of been all over the place in recent days. Also weather, especially important in Southern California, where they are battling wildfires. That's coming up after a break.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

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