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Will President Bush choose a woman or a minority to fill out the Roberts Court?

Aired September 29, 2005 - 16:02   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 4 p.m. here in Washington and you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Where news and information from around the world arrive in one place simultaneously.
Happening now, a new chief justice for the United States, and the Supreme Court showdown that is likely to be ahead.

Will the president choose a woman or a minority to fill out the Roberts court? We'll name names and find out what Americans want.

Also this hour, Mr. Bush's second chance. Did his response to Hurricane Rita make up for Katrina mistakes? Just released poll numbers we're about to show you tell us where the president stands with the public at least right now.

And the GOP agenda. DeLay-ed. With "The Hammer" under indictment, find out - and out as the House majority leader, are Republicans right now in some sort of crisis?

I'm Wolf Blitzer; you're in the SITUATION ROOM.

All that coming up, but first I want to show you some live pictures that we're getting in from Southern California right now. Take a look at this.

These are pictures in Los Angeles County - they're trying to put out these spreading wildfires, which have caused considerable damage, destruction already. Scorching at some 17,000 acres, threatening dozens of homes.

These are million-dollar homes. Firefighters working feverishly to try to contain this fire.

More than 3,000 firefighters from the Angeles National Forest, Los Angeles City, County, Ventura County - they're working to try to contain these blazes but only about five percent of the fire, so far, has been contained as the Santa Ana winds continue to push the flames southwest toward the ocean.

This is a very, very dangerous situation as you can see from these live pictures. Let's bring in Zev Yaroslavsky, a county supervisor in Los Angeles.

He's helping us better understand what's going on. Zev, I don't know if you can see CNN where you are right now, but these flames getting increasingly close to these beautiful homes along these hillsides.

VOICE OF ZEV YAROSLAVSKY, L.A. COUNTY SUPERVISOR: Yeah, the winds are picked up, Wolf, but it looks like it's a wind coming from the ocean, which is in part good news.

The bad news is that its making it more windy and it also sends the fire back in the direction from which it came, which - where there are some communities, so it makes it - it's a dicey situation and its going to require the best firefighting we have, and we have the best.

But it - I'm actually just south of the fire and I'm watching the plumes of smoke shift in direction. It is generally a better thing to have the ocean breeze to come in than to have the dry Santa Anas come in from the desert. It will help the firefighters as the humidity increases and - but they need the wind to die down.

So we're guardedly optimistic, but we have a long way to go before we're out of the woods.

BLITZER: Well, you've unfortunately had to endure many of these fires over the years in Southern California, Zev; how unusual is this one?

YAROSLAVSKY: It's unusual in one respect in that the Santa Ana winds were not violent last night. They were in the 20-mile, 25-mile an hour range generally.

And we can get Santa Anas that are much as 50-60 miles an hour and when that happens and they last for two or three days at a time, not for 14 or 16 hours they can - its impossible to control the fire under those circumstances, so we were fortunate that the velocity of the winds were not as high as they normally are; we're fortunate that they didn't last that long and they were able to contain it north of the U.S. 101 Freeway which is - which was their goal.

This is the beginning of our fire season here in Southern California; when everybody else in the country east of the Rockies is getting their cold weather, we're just getting into our hot and dry season so September, October, November - even December.

A couple of years ago we had a major brush fire in the first week of January.

This is our dry season and it's high risk for those who live and work in the hillside brush areas of Southern California.

BLITZER: Zev, we're going to get back to you soon. Zev Yaroslavsky, a county supervisor in Los Angeles, helping us deal with this situation, a bad situation outside of Los Angeles, these spreading wildfires.

Thank you very much.

We'll move on to another huge story right here in the nation's capitol. John Roberts has a lifetime ahead of him as the top judge on the highest court in the land. Just an hour ago you saw it here live in the SITUATION ROOM, Roberts was sworn in as the 17th chief justice of the United States, succeeding the late William Rehnquist.

Earlier, the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination by a vote of 78 to 22. Democrats were divided over Roberts, but the president's choice prevailed and the new chief justice says that's proof that judging is different from politics.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All Americans can be confident that the 17th chief justice of the United States will be prudent in exercising judicial power, firm in defending judicial independence, and above all, a faithful guardian of the Constitution.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE: I will try to ensure in the discharge of my responsibilities that with the help of my colleagues I can pass on to my children's generation a charter of self-government as strong and as vibrant as the one that Chief Justice Rehnquist passed on to us.


BLITZER: Our congressional correspondent Joe Johns covered the Roberts nomination from start to finish. He's joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

What's the fall-out from this vote today? What are you hearing behind the scenes, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you talk to senators, they will tell you, many of them will, that this is a very personal vote, perhaps the most important vote they will take, besides a vote to go to war.

But if you look closely at the numbers from today's vote, you also see a bit of political self-interest, if not survival, shining through. And that's particularly true with senators coming from red states who are up for re-election in 2006.

We have a list: Jeff Bingaman of New York, a Democrat in that situation, voted yes. So did Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Kent Conrad, Bill Nelson of Florida, yes - Ben Nelson of Nebraska, also yes.

But if you look at Democrats who could run for president next time around, it's a completely different story on the way many of them voted.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton voting no.

John Kerry, no.

Joe Biden of Delaware, no. Evan Bayh of Indiana, no.

Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, on the other hand, voting yes.

One senator who is not running for anything any time soon who is also very interested in the future is Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He, of course, is concerned about when the president will send the next nominee for the other open Supreme Court seat.

He talked a little bit about that today.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R) JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: It is my hope that the president will now send us a nominee for Justice O'Connor's spot in the mold of Judge Roberts.

And we will proceed expeditiously with the next hearing, take the time necessary to do a thorough job.


JOHNS: Now Chief Justice John Roberts of course sworn in. It's all been made official. No word, of course, when we will get that next nomination.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe, thank you very much.

Let's get some more now on the building suspense over President Bush's next Supreme Court nominee. His choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is expected in the coming days, perhaps as early as tomorrow, maybe Monday.

Some Democrats already are spoiling for a fight, but some Republicans also are ready to come out swinging.


BLITZER (voice-over): John Roberts won't soon play second fiddle to anyone, but during Senate floor debate this week over his nomination for chief justice, he's become merely a side show to the next high court vacancy.

SEN. TIM JOHNSON (D) SOUTH DAKOTA: I encourage President Bush to nominate someone for Justice O'Connor's seat who will further unite the citizens of our great nation rather than drive a political wedge between them.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Some left-wing special interest groups seem to be urging a no vote on this highly qualified nominee in large part to somehow send a message to President Bush as he deliberates on how to fill the remaining vacancy on the Supreme Court. BLITZER: Justice O'Connor is viewed as a moderate conservative and a key swing vote on the nine-member court.

Democrats and even some Republicans have been pressing the president to name a like-minded justice, thus preserving the delicate 5-4 conservative majority that has resulted in many unpredictable rulings on hot-button issues in recent years.

Whom will Mr. Bush pick? Some analysts frame the question not so much as who Mr. Bush wants; rather who he needs at this point as he juggles low approval ratings over Iraq, high gas prices, and the Hurricane Katrina response.

The White House feels the pressure to seek consensus and a broader slate of candidates.

BUSH: I have interviewed people from - in the past and thought about people from all walks of life.

I am mindful that, you know, diversity is one of the strengths of the country.

BLITZER: Translation: no white males.

EDWARD LAZARUS, SUPREME COURT LEGAL ANALYST: It seems much more likely that he would want to make a historic statement by naming the court's first Hispanic, whether that would be Alberto Gonzales or someone else, or to name a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. I think from a political point - perspective, that would probably play a little bit better.

BLITZER: Sources close to the selection process tell CNN several candidates are being considered.

Among women, federal judges Karen Williams, Priscilla Owen, and Alice Batchelder.

Court sources say Federal Judges Edith Jones and Edith Clement; leading contenders for the seat that went to Roberts are no longer at the top of the list.

Among Hispanics, Federal Judges Emilio Garza and Edward Prado and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Federal Judge Consuelo Callahan, a female Latino, would offer Mr. Bush a political "twofer." Prominent African-Americans include former Justice Department official Larry Thompson and Robert Young, also of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Court sources say conservative federal Judges Harvie Wilkinson and Michael Luttig, both white males, still remain in serious contention.

BLITZER (on camera): And we're told the president is likely to announce his choice perhaps as early as tomorrow, maybe he'll wait until next week. We'll find out soon enough. GOP Senate leaders say they're hopeful the nominee could be confirmed and on the bench by Thanksgiving.

More evidence that the battle over replacing Justice O'Connor is already underway. A conservative advocacy group today launched a new ad urging Democrats who voted for Roberts to give the president's next nominee the same, quote, fair-minded treatment.

The Progress for America voter fund is spending $275,000 to air the ad for a week on national cable TV including right here on CNN.

President Bush may weigh ideology and diversity when choosing his next Supreme Court nominee but are those important considerations for the public?

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has been going over our brand-new poll numbers. Bill, what do Americans want in their next Supreme Court justice?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, when we asked in June, before President Bush named John Roberts, a plurality, 41 percent, said they wanted a justice who would move the Court in a more conservative direction.

Now, people are split. That number is down to 33 percent want a justice who would make the Court more conservative; 30 percent more liberal, 29 percent want no change at all in the Court.

So naming Roberts appears to have lowered public pressure to make the Court more conservative.

BLITZER: Bill, when it comes to filling Justice O'Connor's seat, do Americans say that diversity matters?

SCHNEIDER: Actually, Wolf, no they don't. Fifty-five percent say it doesn't matter whether the president names a woman. A Hispanic justice, 69 percent doesn't matter.

An African-American 71 percent makes no difference. I'd say four things do matter. Someone with strong professional qualifications like Roberts.

Someone acceptable to the president's conservative base like Roberts. Someone who is not a judicial activist likely to provoke a filibuster like Roberts.

And, someone who is not another white male, unlike Roberts. While the public doesn't seem to care about diversity, President Bush, we just heard, said he recognizes diversity as an important consideration.

BLITZER: All right. In this brand new CNN poll, after these two hurricanes and the way the president dealt with the hurricanes, what are the people saying about the way the president's standing is right now? SCHNEIDER: He's standing about where he stood before the hurricanes. The president's latest job approval rating in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll? Forty-five percent.

Now the public sees a big difference between the way the president handled the two storms. President Bush's rating for handling Hurricane Katrina is 54 percent negative.

His rating on handling Hurricane Rita is 71 percent positive. The president was far more engaged with Rita. And of course Rita was also less destructive.

BLITZER: All right Bill Schneider with the new numbers from our new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Thank you very much.

Let's check back with CNN's Jack Cafferty. He's watching all of the big stories. What are you watching now, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well I got your odd couple right there in the big screen in the SITUATION ROOM.

Now that's John McCain. Talk about the two ladies who were up there a minute ago. Senator Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice got together last night at an AIDS fundraiser there in Washington, D.C.

And Rice is not the first Republican that Mrs. Clinton has been seen about town with these days. See, she and Senator John McCain have practically become travel buddies.

In August, these two went to Alaska - no, no - John McCain. Went to Alaska to study global warming. Before that, Mrs. Clinton and John McCain made trips to Iraq and Afghanistan together.

If we don't have - there we go. And last spring, Clinton worked with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. That's John McCain.

There's Newt Gingrich. They worked together on health care legislation. This would be the same Newt Gingrich that spearheaded the effort to impeach Hillary's husband, President Clinton.

So here's the question. Why is Hillary Clinton hanging out with so many Republicans? CAFFERTYFILE@CNN.COM

BLITZER: All right, I'll be interested to hear what our viewers think. Thanks, Jack very much.

Coming up, Louisiana picking up the pieces. One month after Katrina are officials here in Washington helping or getting in the way? Congressman Bobby Jindal has been saying a lot; he has plenty to say about hurricane relief and partisan finger pointing. He'll join us here in the SITUATION ROOM.

Also ahead, the DeLay factor. Can Republicans handle the ex- majority leader's indictment? We're gauging the fall out now and on the next Election Day and we're standing by to speak live with Tom DeLay. He'll be here in the SITUATION ROOM. Plus, those California wildfires, the flames, unfortunately, are spreading and the danger is growing. We'll go back live to the hot zone in L.A. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're keeping an eye on those fires that have erupted in Southern California. They've been burning now for 24 hours there, spreading about 17,000 acres.

Three thousand firefighters on the scene, million dollar homes at stake. We're watching those fires; we'll go back live there shortly. But we'll move on to other important news we're following.

When Hurricane Katrina hit one month ago today, and the New Orleans area suffered the first of many devastating blows, Congressman Bobby Jindal was one of the many evacuees shocked and horrified by what happened in his beautiful city.

The Louisiana Republican is joining us now a second hurricane later and after a great deal of political wrangling over the government's response. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

Before we get to specifics, how is New Orleans doing right now?

REPUBLICAN. BOBBY JINDAL (R) LOUISIANA: You know, people are beginning to come back to the dry parts of the city, people are back in Algiers, I know that in the central business district, in uptown, areas that were dry they've got some power, they've got drinkable water in Algiers.

So we're beginning that very long path to recovery. Every day it's getting a little better than it was before. I couldn't say that the first week and a half after Katrina. Now I can honestly say every day it's getting just a little bit better.

BLITZER: Is the mayor right when he says let's repopulate this city? Bring the people back?

JINDAL: I'll defer to him on the nuanced details, but I absolutely think its overall right to have a staged recovery.

Areas like Algiers on the west bank are largely intact. There was quite a bit of damage but they've got drinkable water, they've got electricity, there are other areas on the east bank where you don't have hospital service's you don't have normal police services, you don't have schools.

People shouldn't go back thinking it was the New Orleans they left before Katrina. They need to go back understanding there's a lot of damage; it's not life as normal yet but I'll defer to him on the details.

The idea of staging a recovery does makes sense to me.

BLITZER: A lot of us were pretty surprised when the police superintendent in New Orleans, Eddie Compass, announced that he was leaving, retiring, just a couple of days ago.

Are you satisfied in your mind that you have the real inside story of what happened there?

JINDAL: You know there is - in today's New Orleans media there's a lot of speculation on whether it was voluntary, whether it was not and you know there will be a time for all that later.

He's been under a lot stress. I think the important thing now is to move forward. I think they've got four Congressional investigations - I'm sorry, two Congressional investigations, two state investigations, an executive branch investigation. There are plenty of people trying to figure out what happened, what didn't work.

Our focus has to be on the future now.

BLITZER: The former FEMA director, Michael Brown who resigned under pressure testified before Congress the other day and didn't have some very nice things to say about your state. Listen to what he said:


MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Our biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional.


BLITZER: Do you agree with him?

JINDAL: I absolutely think the state response as well as the federal response was dysfunctional. I've said all along you know you hear the state saying the feds didn't come in quickly enough.

You hear the feds saying the state didn't ask early enough. To the people on the ground they don't care. They say look, figure this out. We need to be rescued.

The real heroes were the local responders, the military. That's when things started to really improve.

BLITZER: Your Senate colleagues, one Republican, one Democrat, Senator Vitter, Senator Landrieu they're asking for a $250 billion package to rebuild New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana and that resulted in this editorial yesterday in "The Washington Post."

"Like looters who seized six televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly spend usefully."

That was on Tuesday actually that editorial. What do you say to that?

JINDAL: Couple of things. One, I'm glad the senators are working together in a bipartisan way. Now the House, we're following a different approach, we're doing individual bills under normal process.

We've already passed several bills that have gotten to the president's desk to help needy students stay in college to help people with their needs immediately.

In terms of going forward, in terms of comprehensive solution, I don't trust - I don't want to send billions of dollars through the same bureaucracies that didn't respond well immediately after the hurricane.

I think we have to be very, very cautious in using taxpayer's dollars. We need to be accountable because the first story of $600 toilet seats or $400 hammers I fear the nation is going to lose patience with the long-term efforts to rebuild that area.

BLITZER: Good luck to you Congressman Bobby Jindal. Good luck to everybody in Louisiana. Thanks for joining us.

JINDAL: Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

BLITZER: Thank you. And coming up, Tom DeLay in our spotlight. What's the political fall-out from his indictment? That's coming up next.

And at the top of the hour, he'll be my guest here in the SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, raging wildfires in California. We'll go back live to the frontlines in the battle against those blazes.


BLITZER: Congressman Tom DeLay now has a court date to face the charge that he conspired to funnel corporate cash to Texas political campaigns.

A state judge today ordered DeLay to appear in court in Austin, Texas on October 21st. Back here in Washington, DeLay began moving out of his leadership office suite on Capitol Hill and Republicans began facing a future without DeLay as House majority leader.

And this reminder, Tom DeLay will join us here in the SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. She's joining us now live.

Candy; is the DeLay effect a serious setback for getting the White House agenda, at least what's left of it, passed in this Congress?

CANDY CROWLEY, SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn't help. They obviously were having problems with Social Security, any number of things before this because the president has faced other problems - falling poll numbers on Iraq, rising gasoline prices, the general feeling that the economy is not doing well. And then comes Tom DeLay - Tom DeLay was a very good enforcer. He was able to get Republicans together, the reluctant ones, so it's a blow for President Bush, but I think the blow is even greater closer to the ground and that is in the Republican caucus in the House where conservatives are now looking at the amount of spending that's going on and are aghast at that.

And this puts them at odds with their president and at odds with other Republicans in the caucus. You saw some of that in the bid yesterday for the caucus to get together and figure out who would lead them now that DeLay is gone.

You begin to see some of those fractures and I think that's the closest sort of ground zero meaning of DeLay's departure.

BLITZER: A year from now we'll be getting ready for those mid- term Congressional elections. Are you getting any sense how this could impact those House and Senate races in November 2006?

CROWLEY: First of all, it's 14 months away, and you and I both know that things can turn in a week, much less in 14 months.

But it certainly fits in and what Democrats hope will happen is that it fits into what their umbrella has been and that is building a case for change and as built upon their theme that this is - that Republicans have become corrupt.

Certainly this is another verse in that whole song that the Democrats want to be singing into next year.

You have other things coming on, Sen. Frist has his problems, a Republican lobbyist - there's an investigation going on there.

So there are a number of things of which DeLay is one of them that are verses to an overall theme of the Democrats, which is time for a change because the Republicans in power have become corrupt.

BLITZER: What about the - the sense that at least some people are talking about - this may be wishful thinking on the part of Democrats, which is certainly possible that 2006 for them could be what the Republicans achieved in 1994 when they took control?

CROWLEY: Certainly what they wish for. It's - it's tough to know right now because there is so much time, Wolf, as you know most of the time people tend to be very loyal to their own congressman. They can hate Congress but if you ask them they love their congressmen.

That's why we have so many incumbents that are returned to office. Long time and so many things - you look at the economy gas prices and Iraq - those are three things that have been very volatile. They could go well just as easily as they have gone bad.

So it's a long time between now and then but that's exactly what Democrats are looking for.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

From Candy let's head over to the CNN Center in Atlanta. Our Zain Verjee is checking some of the other stories making news right now. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. There's a surge of violence in Iraq. A coordinated series of three car bombs went off in the town of Balad today. Now, that's north of Baghdad. At least 62 people are dead and more than 70 people have been injured. The explosions happened ten minutes apart. Two were in the same location, and the second blast killing many who gathered after the first blast.

Also, the U.S. military says five American soldiers were killed by a homemade bomb. It happened yesterday in the city of Ramadi during a combat operation. The victims were all assigned to the second division of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force. Their deaths bring to 1,936 the number of American service members killed in Iraq.

Meanwhile, military leaders are saying that the next 75 days will be critical in determining whether U.S. forces in Iraq can begin downsizing next year. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, told the Senate committee this, that the military will have a better idea following this month's constitutional referendum. It's scheduled for actually for mid-October, October 15th, as well as the December elections after that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Zain, thank you very much. Zain Verjee, we'll get back to you.

I want to go back to those fires outside of Los Angeles. They've been continuing now for some 24 hours. These are live pictures you're seeing courtesy of our affiliate KCAL in Los Angeles. Seventeen thousand acres already have been scorched. Only five percent of the fire, according to local authorities, has been contained. The Santa Ana winds are pushing the blames southwest toward the ocean.

Look at these pictures coming in from our affiliate KABC in Los Angeles. These are multimillion dollar homes along beautiful hillsides in the area in Los Angeles county. Right now these flames getting incredibly close to these homes.

Some 3,000 firefighters have been brought in on the ground to try to contain these flames. They've already saved about 2,000 or 3,000 homes, we're told, 2,000 structures. But these flames getting incredibly close to these beautiful homes, given the weather situation, strong winds, low humidity. That's really fueling these southern California wildfires, which are causing such a serious, serious problem.

You see those flames getting very, very close. You see the swimming pool on the side of that house. We're told, by the way, there are firefighters there outside that home. They're trying to prevent those flames from literally engulfing these homes and destroying these homes. You see a firefighter walking toward the center of your screen right now. He has got a fire truck there. And they're working feverishly to try to make sure that these flames don't destroy these homes.

They're also working from the air. That's why you're seeing those helicopters flying overhead. They're coming in and dumping water and other fluids on these flames to try to stop them from continuing to move up that hillside.

The smoke, we're told, is very, very, very intense. This from others who have been in the area. And we were speaking with the Los Angeles County supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky just a few moments ago. He says that the firefighters are doing an incredibly great job right now.

But as you can see, this is an incredibly difficult, difficult situation for those firefighters. Some of those helicopters, by the way, that were -- are being deployed right now in Los Angeles, we saw similar helicopters deployed in New Orleans in recent weeks dealing with fires there.

This is a very, very different situation, these fires coming very close to these homes. We'll continue to monitor this situation, but we can check the situation and make sure that we're getting all the latest information. There you see the intensity of those flames, the intensity of the smoke coming in.

Literally, hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate their beautiful homes in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. We'll continue to watch this story for you as these flames continue to be very, very, very serious.

Just to want update our viewers that the winds are not necessarily in a very good situation right now to contain the fire. Started about 24 hours ago. If you were watching THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, you saw a very small area that was beginning to see these fires erupt, but then it spread and spread and spread.

The fire doubled from about 7,000 acres to now almost 17,000 acres and highly valuable geography. Dan Simon, our reporter on the scene is joining us now on the phone. Dan, what are you picking up?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm watching the images like you in our satellite truck, and I'm amazed that only one house thus far has caught fire. And that just goes to show you how talented the men and women are of the various fire departments who are out here. They have just done an outstanding job.

And you have seen so many helicopters, so many helicopters dropping water on these flames. And we just saw -- actually where I am, in Thousand Oaks, we saw a hot shot crew come up and they're building a fire line. And I imagine those are -- that's happening in many communities this afternoon.

And you see the smoke there; it's just continuing to rise, and the fire is spreading. Where I am in particular, the winds don't seem to be too bad, and that is good news, because if the winds pick up, then you're talking about embers flying, and you could have some homes really going up in flames.

We know that several hundred people have been evacuated, several area shelters are up and operating right now. About 500 people have gone to those shelters. And, you know, we know that more evacuations are going to be taking place throughout the day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're told, Dan, that warnings have been issued for four of these residential areas, large chunks of these two counties, Los Angeles County, Venture County. An evacuation shelter, as you pointed out, has been opened, along a shelter for animals. Already 500 residents, as you say, have taken refuge in these shelters.

It's a very, very serious situation. And Zev Yaroslavsky, the Los Angeles County supervisor, told us moments ago, it's getting very close to U.S. 101. Explain to on you viewers who aren't familiar with Southern California, why this is so significant, Dan.

SIMON: Because if it jumps the 101, you have Malibu. And in 1993 you had some serious fires there in Malibu. And basically, the fire could just go until it hits the ocean. So you're talking about thousands and thousands of homes that could potentially be in harm's way.

So the key is to keep it, you know, really keep -- make sure it doesn't hop over the 101. And as long as the winds continue, you know, basically the way they are, as long as they don't continue to pick up, there's really no threat at this point.

BLITZER: Stand by, Dan. Our viewers probably suspect you can track some of these fires online. Nowadays you can almost track anything online. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is doing exactly that. She is joining us now live. Jacki, what are you picking up?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we wanted to show you some of the photos that are starting to come in online now, some incredible photos. These from Jeff Koga (ph), who's a writer and photographer, an L.A. native, a resident of the area.

This he says is the Santa Susana Mountains in Chatsworth. These are some night photos that we haven't seen yet in THE SITUATION ROOM. This the view out of his front door. Another one -- these incredible photographs of this fire as it spreads.

Another woman online, Julie, who is in Simi Valley, look how scary and close it is she says. This is out her front door as well. She's taking photographs of the smoke as it comes closer to her. Look at the incredible plume to the east. This she said just popped out, out of nowhere.

Another one of the photographs, she says it's an "ominous orange- ness" that is coming over her neighborhood, again, in Simi Valley. Again, there another photograph from her saying that it's getting closer.

You can follow Julie online at her blog, She says now the sound of sirens has become nonstop. There's planes overhead dropping water. Very scary stuff, but you can follow it online.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki. Thank you very much. I know you'll be doing that. And we'll check back with you and we'll make sure we continue to monitor this very, very serious fire in Southern California.

Right now we're also monitoring other news. One of the top Republicans in the Congress under indictment, as you know. So how does Tom DeLay fight the charges? I'll talk to DeLay in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But, first, we'll get some expert opinion from two women, Donna Brazile, Torie Clarke. They'll be here in our Strategy Session.

Plus, do you think gas prices will go higher or come down? We're gauging what you think. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Representative Tom DeLay's indictment, to his suporters, unsavory charges that are hard to swallow. To his detractors, it's a delicious chunk of political red meat. I'll talk to Tom DeLay in the next hour.

Right now I'll talk to two CNN contributors, former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke and Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile. Thanks very much for joining us. Charlie Rangel said something interesting. You know Charlie Rangel. He's a Democratic Congressman who represents Harlem. He said this -- let me read it to you.

He said, "we have to be careful how we handle this politically. It could be seen as an indictment of Congress rather than Republicans. This is a delicate issue." He's got a lot of experience, Charlie. He's a smart guy.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Look, I think the Congressman made the right statement. While the Republicans right now are nervous about how this will impact them, I think Democrats have to be careful in how we talk about this.

I like what Democrats are saying now, that it's time to reform the culture of corruption and to end cronyism and end the pay to place game, but overall, look, this is an indictment on the entire Congress when they see a leader, of course, being indicted like this.

BLITZER: And it's a leader in the -- a Republican leader, the majority leader, in the House of Representatives. The majority leader in the Senate is now under investigation, supposedly for insider stock deals and that sort of fuels this impression that there's a problem, specifically for Republicans. TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: It sure doesn't help. And I seldom agree with Congressman Rangel on much, but I agree with him on this though. Now my relatives in Pittsburgh get up in morning, they're aren't thinking Republicans versus Democrats. They're thinking oh, you know, a tax (ph) on all their houses.

I think a bigger concern for the Republicans next year in the elections is going to be this perception, including among some Republicans, wow, they've been in power for awhile, this spending is out of control. They don't seem to be representing the kinds of principles we thought they represented. I think that's a deeper, more significant challenge for them next year.

BLITZER: It's been 11 years the Republicans took control in '94, as you well remember, Donna, and so at some point if the public isn't happy with the way things are going -- the Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the executive branch of the government -- the Democrats could score some opportunities, which they failed to do so far.

BRAZILE: Well, look, back in 1992 and 1994, the Republicans ran on a platform of cleaning the house. They talked about a call to corruption. So I'm not surprised that Democrats will go back out there and use the same words, the exact same words, that the Republicans used almost 11 years ago in taking over the House to score points against Republicans.

CLARKE: I hope, and I think, people and voters are a little smarter these days and a little more discerning and they won't say change just for change sake. You know, those who are saying there's problems in the Republican leadership better have some pretty good plans on the table, because they won't throw people out just for the sake of throwing them out most of the time. They want to see what do you have to offer as well.

BLITZER: Twenty-two Democrats today voted to confirm John Roberts. Twenty-two Democrats voted not to confirm John Roberts. One independent voted to confirm, Jim Jeffords of Vermont. What does this say, A, about Democrats, and, B, about potentially the next Supreme Court nominee.

BRAZILE: Well, Democrats were divided over this nominee. Even some Democrats who opposed him said that, you know, they couldn't score against him because he came across as intelligent, level-headed. Everyone knew that he was a real, serious conservative.

What they're saying now is that the administration is reaching out, they're consulting, but they have no idea if the president will nominate someone in the O'Connor model, someone who's mainstream, moderate Republican as opposed to another conservative Republican like Mr. Roberts.

BLITZER: What do you think, do you think the president has to name, for example, a woman?

CLARKE: He doesn't have to do anything. He has to do what he thinks is best. I'd be willing to bet -- I think it would be great if it was a woman or a minority. He does think about history in these regards, but I think he'll go back to the fundamentals.

I want somebody who interprets the Constitution strictly, those sorts of things that he looked at when he was picking Roberts. I think more interesting, where the stakes are really high, and Bill Schneider talked about, those Democratic senators in red states who are up next year that voted with Roberts. What do they do with the next nominee? The stakes are very high for them in this as well.

BLITZER: We'll see if there is a filibuster, and if this thing gets really crazy, but we'll watch. We've got plenty of time.

BRAZILE: If he nominates Owens or Brown, they will filibuster, I'm sure.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see. Donna, thank you very much. Torie, thanks to you as well.

And we were just talking to you a moment ago, we've been talking about this several moments, in fact, a lot over the past 24 hours about Tom DeLay. Don't forget he'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. That's coming up.

Also, we're checking out other news that we're following. Other news that we're following including this, Cindy Sheehan spent the month of August camped outside the president's Texas ranch, but will such protests be a thing of the past? You'll find out here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.


BLITZER: On our political radar this Thursday, our new poll shows a majority of Americans say higher gas prices are causing them a severe or moderate hardship. More than a third say they're not feeling pain at the pump.

When asked if gas prices will be up even more a year from now, the public is divided. According to the CNN/USA Today Gallup poll, 19 percent say prices will be much higher, 32 percent say somewhat higher, 25 percent think gas prices will stay about the same, 18 percent think they'll go down.

In Texas, new fallout from Cindy Sheehan's anti-war protest near the president's ranch. The local county commission has passed a law banning camping along area roads, including those near Mr. Bush's home. Protests are still allowed, but not the kind of camp-out that Sheehan and her supporters had throughout August.

And a lingering question after today's vote to confirm John Roberts as chief justice. Why did senator John Kerry arrive late? CNN has uncovered the answer. His spokesman says Kerry was delayed by a group of star-struck girl scouts on the Senate subway who wanted their picture taken with the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.

He's one of the most powerful men in Congress, but now he's under indictment. How will Tom DeLay fight the charges against him? I'll ask him that question. He's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, why is Hillary Rodham Clinton hanging out with so many top Republicans? That's the question on the mind of Jack Cafferty. He's been going through your e-mail and he'll be joining us. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Our Jack Cafferty is back now with "The Cafferty File," appropriately named, and he has got your responses to his question of the hour -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. Senator Hillary Clinton was out on the town at an AIDS fund-raiser there in Washington, D.C., last night, and he was with Secretary of State Condoleeaza Rice. She's also been seen recently with John McCain and Newt Gingrich. So the question is this, why is Hillary hanging out with so many Republicans?

Brendan (ph) in Atlanta writes, "my question would be why are so many Republicans hanging out with Hillary Clinton."

Pat in Columbus, Mississippi -- "She is two-faced. She wants to be president. She will do whatever it takes. I do hope a woman runs for president, or for vice president, but if she, Hillary, is on the ticket 00 any ticket -- I will vote against her."

Elizabeth in Vancouver, British Columbia -- "I doubt she is hanging out with the Republicans for the free NRA membership. She wants to appear bipartisan, 2008 is coming."

Peter in Island Heights, New Jersey -- "Hillary is most likely sizing herself up against possible 2008 opponents. She wants to know what it will take to succeed where John Kerry failed."

And Joe from in Amherst, New York writes, "she obviously has a missionary zeal to reach out to the ignorant people of the land, starting with those who are more receptive like McCain and Gingrich and Rice. She will eventually move on to the harder nuts, like Frist and Bush. And finally, she will cause great excitement in the land, when she reaches out and converts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. Then will come the end of the world.

BLITZER: Joe from Amherst, New York. Amherst, New York, outside of Buffalo, New York, my hometown, upstate New York -- that's the state that Hillary Rodham Clinton represents.

CAFFERTY: Do the people in Buffalo know what happened to you?

BLITZER: They know. They're very well aware. They've been watching.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: They're big viewers of THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks, Jack. CAFFERTY: Well, there's nothing else to do there.

BLITZER: That's not true.

CAFFERTY: What's next for one of the most powerful men in Congress? I'll ask Tom DeLay. He's joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM in only a few minutes. And up next, what are they saying about him on the blogs? We'll get the situation online.

Plus, raging wildfires on the edge of Los Angeles. We'll go live to the front lines in the fight against the fires. Much more of our coverage, right after this.


BLITZER: You're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome back. Many bloggers actually live for some dramatic stories like this one, Representative Tom DeLay's indictment. What are conservative and liberal bloggers saying? Our Internet reporters Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton are joining us now. They've got the situation online -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's still the big political story out there today on the left and the right. I'm going to start on the left. I'm actually starting on a Web site, not a blog, the Web site of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

They must be feeling pretty vindicated right now. They have had this easy, interactive tool on their Web site since April. It's a point and click, put your mouse over it, Tom DeLay in the middle, the DCCC trying to show you in their eyes how Tom DeLay is linked to all kinds of questionable practices out there. That's at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Web site.

Onto the blogs, another long-standing one out there. The has been tracking the former House majority leader since October of 2004. All kinds of stories about him. This morning they started there reading and just said, "where to begin?" There's certainly a wealth of information and commentary out there.

Another one I wanted to show you that caught my eye. At "The Huffington Post," this is the group blog run by Arianna Huffington. Many different angles there, but this one was great. An e-dite -- not an e-vite, invited you to a part online, but an e-dite that says you're indicted. The details, join these official proceedings, Tom DeLay, media circus to follow.

SCHECHNER: I can't top the e-dite, but I have some themes we're seeing emerge on day two after the indictment. One of the things is that there's not much meat to it. There was a "Washington Post" lead editorial a lot of bloggers are talking about, but there's not much in the indictment. That over at Houston's Clear Thinkers as well.

His is a Houston attorney weighing in, and he says that "Earle is going to have to come up with something a little more substantial to make these charges stick." Another theme we're seeing is that whole culture of corruption from the Dems in '94 coming back around now to the Republicans in '06 and '08. And what they're saying is that is not a good strategy, this from the conservative, ankle-biting pundits. If they want to run on the message that well, they're as corrupt now as we were in '94 so put us back in office, not a smart strategy.

Another site we thought was really interesting from "Rightwing Nuthouse," they're talking about hunting Republicans and the fact that it's sort of like an Elmer Fudd rabbit hunt that he possibly -- Earle could possibly get his wabbit, but he's not going to be able to make his stew -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Very funny. Thank you very much for that. It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive in one place simultaneously.


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