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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Bush Hits Record Low; Five-Point Recovery Plan; Too Little, Too Late?; NOLA Mayor's Race; Helping NOLA's Kids; Rosie's Special Mission; Gas Price Outrage; Strategy for November; School Shooting Plot?

Aired April 24, 2006 - 23:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, of course, Bolten wanted an answer early this week. We are expecting some sort of announcement perhaps within 24 to 48 hours -- Anderson.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What has this White House wanted out of this new spokesman, whether it's Tony Snow or someone else? I mean, there had been reports that they were hoping for somebody who had credibility in the journalism community, who knew the way the news cycled work. Is that what they've been look looking for?

MALVEAUX: Well, absolutely, Anderson, because people tell me that this is really a good win-win situation for the White House, that he's a great combination of someone, of course, who's very well liked in the media, that he knows the news cycles. He also was former speech writer to President Bush's father, so he knows the ways of the White House. Certainly, not a stranger to that. But this is someone, too, who's also expressed interest in trying to get more information and to open up, if you will, this White House to the media. The White House, too, not sure if that's exactly spin, but they're saying the same thing, that they want to have more of an open dialogue with reporters, perhaps raise the bar a little bit, and put out a good message.

COOPER How does that differ than the way it's been under Scott McClellan? I mean, I haven't been a White House reporter. I think a lot of people don't really get sort of how the whole White House press corps thing works. You know, we see the press conferences. There's a lot happening behind the scenes, I suppose.

MALVEAUX: There certainly are. And I have to say, within the White House press corps, there's a lot of grumblings, a lot of complaint that the gaggle and the briefings themselves, really aren't that useful anymore. You don't get a lot of information from either one of those. For the gaggle, it is off camera in the morning, both sides trying to feel each other out a little bit in terms of what is the interest from reporters. And then essentially, the White House goes back, huddles and tries to figure out a way to answer or not answer those questions. What you see, what many viewers see later in the day is simply the briefing. And sometimes that is a delicate dance which really doesn't get very far when it comes to getting the story, and particularly getting any deeper in the story. So that is something that many people have complained about and hopefully it is something that's going to be resolved. COOPER: And as far -- so, how far can you go in terms of reporting the story? I know you've been working your sources on this. Do we know for a fact he has accepted? You said -- I think the word was that "likely." Do you know for a fact he was offered the job?

MALVEAUX: We know he was offered the job. We know he was approached several weeks ago. And sources who are saying -- sources who are close not only to him but to the White House, and the deliberations that have been going on, saying that it's highly likely, highly expected, of course, that he is going to accept this post. If there's anything in the unforeseen future in the next 24 to 48 hours, of course we don't know, but it's matter of crossing the "Ts" and dotting the "Is" is what they're telling us.

COOPER: Suzanne Malveaux, breaking the story for us. Thanks very much, Suzanne.

So, President Bush woke up today with about 1,000 days in office. And the question is, will that be enough time to turn his second term around and to help his fellow republicans in the upcoming elections? His defense secretary is under attack, the war in Iraq is continuing, and fair or not, Mr. Bush also appears to be paying for a price for the pain Americans are feeling at gas pump.

The latest CNN poll, just out today, shows that his approval ratings have sunk to a record low for this president. CNN's Bill Schneider is crunching the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): How low can you go? The latest CNN poll, done over the weekend by the Opinion Research Corporation, shows President Bush with a 32 percent job rating -- the lowest yet for this president. In four polls taken over the last 10 days, Bush's numbers have dropped into the low 30s. Sounds like a simple story. Gas prices up, Bush numbers down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I'm going to go bankrupt, having to fill my gas tank to get to work.

SCHNEIDER: More than two-thirds of Americans say recent gas price increases have caused them financial hardship. Bush's approval numbers dropped below 30 percent among people who say gas prices are causing them severe hardship. What the public sees is greed, particularly when they hear about record oil company profits and breathtaking oil executive payouts. What do people expect the president to do about high gas prices? Democrats have an answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are asking citizens to join together with us and hopefully with citizens across the country to sign a petition to demand that the president of the United States cap excessive oil profits.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush's answer sounds -- well, to some ears -- a little too much like a Texas oil man's. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know gas prices are high. You know, there's no magic wand to wave. We'll make sure that the energy companies are pricing their product fairly.

SCHNEIDER: Gas prices are a part of the story, but not all of it. After all, President Bush's numbers have been dropping all year. And most of those who say they're not suffering any hardship, still disapprove of President Bush.

BUSH: I've told them, they didn't have to worry about me.

SCHNEIDER: Why? Lots of "Is," Iraq, illegal immigration, indictments. Most Americans no longer consider President Bush honest and trustworthy, or strong and decisive. The public is not even sure the president is competent at his job.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, as Bill just mentioned, the president's falling poll numbers are also a big problem for his party. Both the Senate and House are controlled by Republicans. But there's concern that could change in the November elections. Concern among Republicans, certainly, which is why the new White House chief of staff is wasting no time.

He, apparently, according to "TIME" magazine, has a plan to stem the bleeding.

CNN's Tom Foreman takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For months, the political wisdom has not changed. If Iraq improves, the president's poll numbers will, too. But the war is droning on, and so are critics, including hard-core conservatives who fear President Bush is setting up his own party for an election disaster this fall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he's going to win the election in November, I think what the president's going to have to do is turn this into a battle for the direction of the country, conservative versus liberal, Republican versus Democrat. He's got to go on the offensive and turn this into an us versus them election.

FOREMAN: Enter Josh Bolten, the president's new no-nonsense chief of staff. "TIME" magazine reports that Bolten has already announced a five-point plan to soothe disgruntled republicans and get them back in line.

Number one. Beef up the border. Give more agents more funds, more equipment to immigration patrols. Give up on immediate plans to bring more Latinos into the Republican ranks.

Two. Make Wall Street happy. With tax legislation favorable to investors.

Three. Brag more. Get the president saying more positive things about his accomplishments.

Four. Reclaim security credibility. Stand up loudly to antagonistic nations, especially Iran.

And five. Court the press for more favorable coverage that will appeal to conservatives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the president is getting down in the poll numbers he is, almost by definition, he's losing Republicans. And so the idea here is to get Republican strength back, and then you can maybe talk about courting the middle.

FOREMAN (on camera): The nation's fears and doubts about Iraq are still problems for this president, but political analysts say his party will not be able to help him with that in the future unless he helps his party right now.

(Voice-over): And right now what matters, along with Iraq, are soaring gas prices, immigration battles, security leaks, issues that Republicans will probably have to make progress on, or voters may send them packing this fall.

Tom Foreman, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, there are those who say the five-point plan is too little, too late. That time may have already run out for President Bush. Among those voices, well, Former Presidential Adviser David Gergen. I talked to him earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: In your op-ed over the weekend, you complimented -- it was in "The New York Times" -- you complimented Bolten, but you warn that the key to recovery for this president and any president is fundamental change. This five-point plan, does it seem like fundamental change?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Anderson, I have too much respect for Josh Bolten to believe that this is his plan. You know, somebody who really doesn't like him leaked this and attributed it to him, because this plan is cynical. It plays only to the base in a way that I think that most Americans will reject. And it just is not responsive to the real issues of the day. I mean, what's the heart of this plan? Scaring people about Iran. Putting a lot more troops on the borders with big badges, as they say, and a lot of guns. And tax breaks for investors. And then going out there and bragging a lot about their accomplishments and cozying up with the press. That's a plan for recovery? Come on. That's not a serious plan. It's cynical, it's not responsive to the problems of the country, and many regard it as irresponsible. I just don't believe that's their plan. I think they're going to use something more serious than this. I don't believe Josh Bolten would sign on to a plan like this.

COOPER: So you think this is something that was leaked to "TIME" magazine just to make him look bad?

GERGEN: Well, I have to tell you something. I just don't believe that he would sign off -- I just think -- I have a high regard for Josh Bolten, than to believe that he would put his name to something like this because it just doesn't fit the problems of the country. It doesn't deal with Iraq. It doesn't deal with the budget deficits. He, himself, was there at the budget office, you know, presiding over these, trying to wrestle with these. It doesn't really respond to gas prices. It just doesn't -- and it doesn't deal with global climate warming. I mean, it's none of the kind of changes you would normally expect.

Now, what we do know, we've had some report out of the press pool tonight that the president is apparently going to give a speech tomorrow about energy, which is not part of this five-point plan, in which he's going to ask for -- and this press pool traveling with the president, reporting that he's going to ask for some sort of investigation of gas price, if there's been manipulation. Now, that kind of approach has -- that, I think, has much more resonance and is need.

COOPER: The other thing you wrote about this weekend, is you looked back at the eight presidents who have sort of reshuffled their staffs. And the ones that -- the reshuffled men actually worked and the ones where it didn't. In the few that it actually worked and actually, you know, grew their poll numbers again, what made the difference?

GERGEN: Two things made the difference, Anderson. One is doing it early and quickly when trouble hits. And the other thing is that the president really wants change. He wants change in himself, and he wants change in his administration on policy and practices.

And in this case, and we saw that with Ronald Reagan in 1986, the storied recovery of Ronald Reagan after Iran-Contra. He did it quickly, as soon as Iran-Contra broke, and he did it in a way that he really wanted change.

Now, here, by contrast, the president's acted very late. We've talked about this before. In my judgment, he should have acted last fall, before attitudes against him started to harden as they are now, rapidly, and have really come set in stone among some people. And secondly, so what we've seen so far is mostly about better marketing and about better management, and now we know, and when "TIME" magazine says catering to the base in these small ways, rather than really fundamental change.

So based on past experience, most presidents have not recovered in this situation. Bill Schneider just underscored that with his report. Most presidents have not done that. Unless they've made fundamental change, unless they've acted in time. This president has not acted in time. But if still, if he engaged in fundamental change, he might have a shot at it. The change we're hearing from "TIME" magazine are not that shot.

COOPER: The lessons of history. David Gergen, thanks.

GERGEN: Okay.

COOPER: Good talking to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, this is the 64th month of President Bush's tenure. And at this point, his 32 percent approval rating looks weak when you compare it to other recent two-term presidents. Here's the raw data.

According to Gallup, in April 1998, the 64th month of President Clinton's tenure, Mr. Clinton had an approval rating of 65 percent.

In April of 1986, President Reagan had an approval rating of 62 percent.

Only president Nixon had lower numbers at this point in his presidency, 26 percent. And at the time, his White House was embroiled in the Watergate scandal.

But tonight there is a famous politician whose numbers beat some expectations. We're talking about New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He has survived the primary fight. Now faces a runoff. We will talk to Mayor Nagin and his opponent, Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu. Are either of these guys the fresh faces New Orleans' residents say they need? Well, we'll talk to both. You can judge for yourself.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LISA CASBORN, RESIDENT: I'm taking pictures and putting it in a journal and remembering this because it's like, anybody can ask how I was. I have a journal, right that is showing some.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Rosie O'Donnell brings us a special look at how children of Katrina are coping and how she is helping them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, the latest now on the race for New Orleans' mayor. In Saturday's 22-candidate primary -- there were 22 candidates -- preliminary results show that incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin took 38 percent of the votes, so he got first place. And then in second place was Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, who received 28 percent. So they're going to face off on may 20th. The question is, can Mayor Nagin hold onto that win, or will all the other candidates give their support to Lieutenant Governor Landrieu to oust Mayor Nagin?

Susan Roesgen takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water was probably a good -- probably a chin high downstairs. And it had started on the little stairway going up.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the flood after Katrina, Ronnie Vergess (ph) had to swim out of his house. He doesn't blame Mayor Nagin for that, but he's afraid the mayor's reputation now will hurt the city in the future.

RONNIE VERGESS (ph), NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I think that nationally, especially, that the perception of him is of some kind of buffoon or worse. You know what I'm saying? And I think when we go hat in hand to plead our case someplace, it's not going to be necessarily good to have him out front.

ROESGEN: Under different circumstances, reelection may have been easy for Mayor Nagin. No New Orleans mayor has lost a reelection in 60 years. But Mayor Nagin goes into the runoff, knowing that 62 percent of the people who voted on Saturday, voted for someone else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you do se a lot of anger toward Mayor Nagin. And this was a guy who, four years ago, was Mr. Likeable, was Mr. Happy-go-lucky, was Mr. Popular. Prior to Katrina, he was going to win reelection in a land landslide. And then since Katrina, the impressions of him have completely changed.

ROESGEN: Some voters have said that if Mayor Nagin is reelected, they'll leave the city, but not Erlene Bellany (ph). She's living in her flooded home, with a FEMA trailer sitting out front. The trailer hasn't been hooked up yet to the power line. And even if it were, she doesn't have the keys. She's furious at FEMA, but she'll vote for Ray Nagin.

ERLENE BELLANY (ph) NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I feel that he's a good mayor, even though I know a lot of stuff that went wrong. But I feel that he is a good mayor and I think he'll pull us out of the situation.

ROESGEN: The longer this situation lingers, the more critical New Orleans' choice for mayor will be.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, after Katrina, some believe Mayor Ray Nagin would be trounced in Saturday's primary. Today, the "Times-Picayune" called him Lazarus-like for his strong showing.

We spoke with Ray Nagin earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Mayor Nagin, you won with about 38 percent of the vote; however, 62 percent of the people there did vote against you. In terms of your strategy, who do you have to convince to vote for you now?

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS: Well, you know, I think I have to appeal more to all segments. But, you know, I was the top vote- getter, number one. And if anything, the other candidates have a much higher hurdle to jump.

COOPER: People down there will say in the papers, alleged experts at universities will say you received 6 percent of the white vote this time. Six years ago, you received 90 percent of the white vote. And they say that in order for you to win now, you have to either broaden the base of African-American voters or somehow convince some of those white, maybe business voters who voted for you last time, to come your way. Can you do that?

NAGIN: This is the perfect race for me as far as I'm concerned. You know, the first time I ran, I was able to coalesce with white voters much quicker. I still got a significant portion of the black vote. This time it's different. But at the end of the day, people are going to look at me from -- as they've voted for other candidates, and they're going to see my opponent has an 84 percent record of voting against business. I'm a business guy, I'm a reformer. They're going to come home.

COOPER: Are you concerned about the amount that race has already sort of entered into this race?

NAGIN: Well, it has been huge, but in some respects, the city of New Orleans probably needed to go through this. You know, when Katrina hit, it kind of exposed some problems that have been festering for a long time. Now we have a chance to have some tough dialogue, but honest dialogue. And hopefully it will move this city forward.

COOPER: I want to play you something that Mitch Landrieu said over the weekend about you. Let's play that.

LT. GOVERNOR MITCH LANDRIEU (D), NEW ORLEANS MAYORAL CANDIDATE: The one thing that separates me -- and I think there are others -- from Mayor Ray Nagin, is the ability actually to get the job done, to work with other people, to understand how the process works, to take an idea from nothing, to turn it into soup to nuts and actually make it happen, as opposed to just floating it out there, hoping somebody picks it up and then blaming people when it doesn't get done.

COOPER: He seems to be saying that you lack credibility both in the city and in Washington, elsewhere throughout the country.

NAGIN: Well, you know, I don't know about that. I mean, he has a right to his opinion. But prior to Katrina, I took nothing, which was a city government, and turned it into something. We had, you know, a website that was rated zero. We had an economy that was in shambles. We had it moving in a good direction. And then as far as Washington and working with people, I had to go up and clean up some stuff up there with this $250 billion, and we were able to bring forth levee money, and billions of dollars of incentives and housing money. So, I can do it all. You know, I think that issue that he's raising is one that he's going to have to answer. What has he really done? COOPER: People in New Orleans talk about wanting, you know, change, fresh leadership. Why should they give you a second chance?

NAGIN: Well, you know, I think people have seen me operate for a long time. You know, and I'm a very honest guy, very direct. I have got some things done in very difficult times. During Katrina, I stood in front of the worst natural disaster to ever hit the country. Now we have a plan to move forward. In addition to that, this is about experienced leadership. Hurricane season starts June 1st. I don't think people want to experiment right now in the middle of a crisis.

COOPER: Mayor Nagin, congratulations on the win so far, and we'll keep following it. Thank you.

NAGIN: Well, keep watching. We're not done yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're not done yet, he said.

Now, we don't take sides on 360. We like to look at all the angles. You've heard from Mayor Nagin. Now his opponent, Mitch Landrieu, also a Democrat, currently the lieutenant governor of Louisiana, also the brother of Louisiana's U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu. And his father was the last white mayor of New Orleans. We spoke earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: To win, Mayor Nagin really has to get more black voters to vote for him and/or has to get some of his former white business supporters to return to him. Can he really do either?

LANDRIEU: Well, I don't know. I think that remains to be seen. Generally speaking, it's a little bit rare for an incumbent mayor to have a challenge, much less in a challenge race far below 45 percent. And the other problem here -- and it's something that's been very positive for my campaign -- is that we have African-American votes and white votes of equal measure, which speaks volumes not only for being able to put a coalition together that will actually win the election, but also govern. Governing's going to be very difficult in the years to come in this city. And it's really instructive that African- Americans and whites are coming together to support this candidacy, I think because it represents the idea of trying to find higher common ground, staying focused on the things that really matter like housing, school, jobs, education, levees, evacuation plans, and not things that will typically pull you apart in difficult elections.

COOPER: After months of not admitting mistakes, Mayor Nagin finally came forward and said he did make mistakes. He said not doing mandatory evacuation was a mistake, not securing the buses, and relying too much on the federal government. You were the lieutenant governor. What mistakes did you or the governor make?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, Anderson, if you go back and look at some of the tapes very early on, everybody was trying to play the blame game. And I said, look, let Congress investigate that. I already know what happened because I was on the ground. And it was pretty clear that this was a failure on all levels of government, the state, local and the federal government. They generally fall in the three categories. We don't have a good command and control structure set up in times of crises like this. We didn't have a good communication, and we didn't have coordination. And that was fairly substantial on all different levels. So instead of getting into the blame game about who did what, all of us did stuff wrong, me included, but it basically falls into those three categories.

COOPER: I'm going to give you the same response which I gave Mayor Nagin when he wouldn't say what mistakes he personally made, which is that people call it the blame game, but a lot of people just want answers, and they want people who are standing up and saying, you know what, this is what I did wrong, I wish I did something differently. Is there something that you wish you did differently?

LANDRIEU: Yes, absolutely. I wish that we would have had a better communication and control structure and didn't get into a tug- of-war with the federal government right away about who was supposed to be doing what. I think that slowed us down. I think we all got off track on that, and I think that was a mistake in the early couple of days.

COOPER: Thank you. That was a good answer. I appreciate it. You know, there are a lot of people out there -- and I know you know -- who just want people to stand up and, you know, pinpoint one thing, and you did that, and I appreciate that.

LANDRIEU: Listen, I'll say that -- let me say this about that. I think people are forgiving for people that own up. All of us make mistakes. I'm going to make a lot of mistakes. And when I do so, I'm going to say, look, I messed that up. I want to try to do it again.

COOPER: Your critics will say about you the same thing that they say about Mayor Nagin, which is you will not go into specifics about whether or not all neighborhoods in New Orleans will be rebuilt or if some neighborhoods should not be rebuilt. They say Mayor Nagin has backed away from his own commission.

LANDRIEU: This is the way I'm going to approach it. I believe that you ought to give neighbors the information that they need. What do the FEMA flood maps say? What kind of insurance can you get? What's your mortgage payment going to be? This is what the danger is in your area, given where the corps of engineers, with the maps, and then let them decide, in partnership with the city, whether their neighborhoods can come back. Until you know the answers to those questions, you can't make what I would consider to be the very hard decisions.

Now, I would hasten to say that not every neighborhood in this city is going to be able to come back.

COOPER: Lieutenant Governor Landrieu, it's a pleasure to talk to you on the program. It's our first time. Hope to have you back on.

LANDRIEU: Great. I'd like to. Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, those are both candidates running for mayor of New Orleans. You be the judge.

Rosie O'Donnell goes to New Orleans and is stunned by what she saw. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSIE O'DONNELL: We need to set up permanent communities for these people that don't have just the basic essentials. No human can survive in a situation like this, never mind thrive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And she is putting her money where her heart is, helping the youngest victims of Katrina living in this camp. We'll show you how she's helping.

Also tonight, gas prices are up. You all know that. Motorists paying at the pump big time. Politicians paying at the polls as well. We'll look at gas stations' unorthodox responses, next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, we've all seen the physical scars left by Hurricane Katrina. They're still painfully evident. The psychological scars, however, may be less obvious, but they are no less real. Especially for the kids who have been living now in trailers for months. Former Talk Show Host Rosie O'Donnell is trying to help kids. She went to New Orleans for the first time this weekend. And in a moment, she'll tell you how stunned she was by what she's seen. But first, here's where she's focusing her aid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): More than 1,500 Katrina evacuees live in this trailer park just outside Baton Rouge. Among them, 600 or more are children. For them, this place is bleak. One child called it smothering. It's called Renaissance Village. Renaissance means revival or rebirth. For too many of these kids, it's a kind of cruel joke.

This weekend, however, something was different. Rosie O'Donnell and her For All Kids Foundation came to Renaissance Village and broke up the boredom.

The kids will tell you life in the trailer park is oppressive. Security teams patrol around the clock to keep out drugs and prostitution. To get in, you need an I.D. There's a 10:00 p.m. curfew, and the place is fenced in. This weekend, however, the kids got a break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys are photo photojournalists. You are making history today.

COOPER: Saturday, they took cameras and their deep scars back home to New Orleans. It's art therapy, provided by Rosie's foundation, a way to start to come to terms with the hurricane's destruction. Therapists say bringing the kids back to the scene of their loss and letting them document the experience helps them heal.

With each bus stop, the group moved further into devastated neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really appreciate what Rosie O'Donnell has done for us.

COOPER: Their cameras captured it all. The stories came pouring out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, where were you during the hurricane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the (inaudible) Street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Carrollton.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And was that was hit by the hurricane too?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little.

COOPER: For 15-year-old Lisa Casborn, the pictures were proof she is a survivor.

LISA CASBORN, RESIDENT: I'm taking pictures and putting it in a journal and remembering this because it's like, anybody can ask how I was. I have a journal, right that is showing some.

COOPER: On days like this, the kids of Renaissance Village will tell you, maybe there is a way out, or even better, a way back.

(ON CAMERA): This was your first trip back to New Orleans. What was it like for you?

ROSIE O'DONNELL, ROSIE'S ALL FOR KIDS FOUNDATION: It was overwhelming.

COOPER: In what way?

O'DONNELL: Without a doubt. Incomprehensive. You know, you can hear about it, but to actually go and see mile after mile, house after house, home after home, families, lives lost, gone, destroyed, you know. It was really like a war zone.

COOPER: Did you think more would have been done by now?

O'DONNELL: Without a doubt. You know, it's eight months later and it still looks as though it happened last week. And I realize the enormity of the situation, but one would hope that we would be a little bit further along than we are.

COOPER: What do you think has surprised you most about the response and what you've seen this past weekend?

O'DONNELL: I guess what surprised me most was the total devastation of an entire group of citizens. I mean, entire communities, an entire culture. The whole culture of New Orleans you know, has been decimated, and it's overwhelming. I mean, I don't know if I can articulate what it feels like. You know, you saw it on TV like I did. And everyone feels the empathy, and everybody wants to help. And how do we do it?

Well, the first thing we have to do is say to the federal government, please, let's extend the 18-month limitation on how long we can house these people because we're about to enter another hurricane season. We need an extension on the Stafford Act, number one. Number two, we need to set up permanent communities for these people that don't have just the basic essentials. No human can survive in a situation like this, never mind thrive.

I mean, I've been to prisons. And prison yards are better than what we have here. And I don't have a magic wand or an answer as to how to do it, but I know that it isn't over. And we're about to, you know, hit June again. And I, like the rest of the world, fear what's going to happen after this season.

COOPER: Yes, when you hear of people in Washington or elsewhere in the country, talk about Katrina fatigue and they don't want to see it on TV anymore, and we keep doing the story and people write to us and say, look, you know, enough already. You know, for people down there, the winds of Katrina are still blowing. And, you know, the only people...

O'DONNELL: Yes.

COOPER: The only people who have a right to have Katrina fatigue are the people living in that park and the people of New Orleans and the people of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. It's one of those frustrating things when you hear other people talk about Katrina fatigue.

O'DONNELL: Well, it's not over either, you know, and if somebody was in New York on 9/11, you know, we watched the entire city and the whole country sort of band together and clean that up in record time. You know, I just don't understand why there's still human corpses underneath rotting cars and wood and bodies and children's dolls. You know, I mean, entire lives left in the street to ruin. Block after block, mile after mile, it became overwhelming. I sort of had a shutdown, like you became so numb, you know.

And the children on the bus, we took about 40 kids, they kept saying, I lived there. That was my house. My aunt lived on that block. You know, I don't know what it would be like for them. It's like living in the middle of a war zone. On one house was spray- painted "Baghdad." And frankly, it's what we've seen of the images of Baghdad. That's what it looks like in the Ninth Ward. COOPER: You say you can't do much, but you're down there, and Kelly's down there, and you're doing great work. That's greatly appreciated. Thanks for being on the program.

O'DONNELL: Thank you, Anderson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: You can go to Rosie.com if you want more information about what she and her foundation are doing.

Nationwide, high gas prices. The question on both parties' minds is, how will that affect the midterm elections? Coming up, a look at that and other issues that are likely to make a difference come November.

And five teens in court on charges of plotting a school massacre. Tonight, new details of an alleged plot in yet another school. What is going on? Next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: Does anyone think it's fair to have consumers pay $100 a week to fill their fuel tanks, and the big energy bosses fill their bank tanks?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, speaking out on the Senate floor today against oil companies benefiting from the nation's surging gas prices. Already at $2.91, and forecast to go higher.

Today, at the White House, President Bush ordered an investigation into possible price gouging. Both Republicans and Democrats are calling for something to be done about the cost of a gallon of gas. But just what, is up for debate?

Meanwhile, others are taking the matter into their own hands in some unique ways.

Here's CNN Senior National Correspondent John Roberts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a revolution of sorts at the Rocket Express in Fallston, North Carolina. Unable to compete with chain distributors who pay less for gas, the owners shut down the pumps until prices drop. And guess what? Customers are behind them 100 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw it in the paper this morning, and I thought, well, I've got to stop and tell that fellow I support him. ROBERTS: The outrage factor has spread. In the San Diego area, at least three independent stations also closed in protest after they were quoted 40 cents a gallon more than their name brand competitors.

DAVE WHITLOW, SPIRIT AUTO: I've never been told I can't get gas. I've never been told, oh, I'm sorry, we don't have any gas available for you today. There's always gas available. I just have to pay 40 cents a gallon more for it than the guy down the street does.

ROBERTS: If high prices are taking such a toll on gas stations, what about consumers? A new CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation found gas prices are causing hardship for 69 percent of Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $3.09. What are we expecting tomorrow? $4 or $5, $4 something? You know. Where are we going? Where is all this going to? Who's getting all this money?

ROBERTS: The who, is an increasingly concentrated group of companies, the five largest of which made more than $111 billion in profits last year. Outgoing Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond became the poster child for big oil excess, with a retirement package worth $400 million.

Willie Sykes, who dumped his SUV for a scooter just can't get his head around that.

WILLIE SYKES: If he can get $400 million, can we get a break? It would be like 2 or 3 cents off this? I mean, shoot, it's crazy.

ROBERTS: What's more, President Bush's recent energy bill gives the oil companies another $23 billion in subsidies in tax breaks over the next decade. The money was supposed to help keep prices down by encouraging research and domestic exploration.

But why does an industry making record profits need a government handout? That's what Democrats facing reelection would like to know.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: We've got to stop the oil companies from having it all their way. In the energy bill passed last year, they have $1.5 billion tax giveaway purely for the oil companies' research purposes. That needs to be reversed, and I'm going to try to do that this week.

ROBERTS: Republicans aren't talking about rolling back fat subsidies, but they are trying to stay on the right side of the issue. In a letter, the Republican congressional leadership today urged President Bush to keep a close eye on price gouging, to be ready to pounce, and prosecute.

(On camera): In truth, there is very little Congress or the president can do to affect gas prices. And successive investigations have always cleared the oil companies of any wrongdoing. The one thing you can say for certain, this is going to be one powerful election year issue.

John Roberts, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, gas prices are one issue. The war in Iraq, another. But to get your vote, to actually get you mad enough or scared enough to come to the polls, candidates may rely on some wedge issues. We'll take a look at old standbys, Republicans and Democrats may suddenly start talking about.

Plus, details on alleged school shooting plots; one in Kansas, the other in Washington. Authorities suggest we were very close to another Columbine massacre. When 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Live picture of the Statue of Liberty there, on a beautiful night in New York.

We can be sure that lawmakers are thinking ahead to November when they address the gasoline issue. If they're on the wrong side, they could, of course, lose their jobs. But they must also keep in mind the other issues that voters care about. And today, more than six months before polls open, a lot of politicians are busy working out new strategies.

CNN's Candy Crowley investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president at a new low, and gas prices near a new high. Democrats could go on and on, and often do.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: Throughout Nevada, I was constantly asked about these skyrocketing gas prices, the intractable war in Iraq, taxes, immigration, education, health care, and, of course, Homeland Security.

CROWLEY: As a bumper sticker that's a trifle unwieldy, but as Democrats look at the most fertile election landscape they've seen in a decade, they've got it down to a single word.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: There's going to be one major issue. Do you want more of the same, or do you want real change?

CROWLEY: Change. Unlike presidential elections where the race is one person versus another, midterm elections are referendums on the in party. It is the status quo versus change.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Let's take any issue that -- where voters are feeling frustrated or disillusioned, dispirited, plug that into the greater theme.

CROWLEY: And national Democrats have been plugging away, throwing issues up against voters to see what sticks. Iraq, Katrina, the Dubai Ports deal, the legal troubles of Tom DeLay. You name it, they plug it in.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. DeLay's departure from Congress is just one piece of the change that is necessary to end the culture of corruption of this Republican Congress.

CROWLEY (on camera): Still, the midterm elections, with the battle for control of the House and the Senate, will not be fought out here in Washington or anywhere on the national scene, but state by state, district by district, where voters are more evenly divided.

(Voice-over): Looking to pick up seats in some suburban swing areas, the Democratic party has put up Internet ads in seven House races. Subject? Stem cell research.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They say there are two sides to every issue. And when it came to stem cell research, he had to pick a side.

CROWLEY: Stem cell research is a twofer for Democrats. It both gets people to the polls and divides the Republican vote. And just a couple thousand votes can make a difference in contested swing areas.

In the end, all factors right now suggest '06 will be a change election. The question is whether that changes between now and November.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, tragedy averted. Police foiled an alleged school massacre plot. That story's coming up.

But first, Sophia Choi from "HEADLINE NEWS," joins us with some of the business stories we're following -- Sophia.

SOPHIA CHOI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Anderson.

OPEC rode to the rescue of oil prices today. Oil prices fell below $75 a barrel, after promising to keep pumping at near capacity. Shares of Exxon Mobil dropped almost 1 percent on that news.

Testifying in court, Enron Founder Kenneth Lay said today he's innocent of fraud and conspiracy charges and he said the collapse of the company hurt him more than the death of a loved one. Lay says he accepts full responsibility for all that happened at Enron, but denies there was any conspiracy.

And the U.S. Mint says the rising price of copper and zinc means that it's costing more to manufacture a penny than its face value. The "New York Times" reports that the mint is paying almost a cent and a half for every penny it makes.

But, Anderson, for you and me, buddy, it's still just a penny earned when you save a penny.

COOPER: All right. Sophia, thanks. So police say it could have been another columbine massacre. Five students from one high school under arrest, accused of plotting the unthinkable. That is next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, a teenager is under arrest in Washington state for allegedly plotting to shoot 15 people at his high school. Police say they recovered rifles, handguns, a homemade bomb from the 16-year- old's home. Sadly, this is not the only violent school plot to surface.

Authorities in Kansas and Alaska say they almost had another Columbine High on their hands.

CNN's Keith Oppenheim reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The five teenagers charged with plotting to attack their high school walked into a Kansas courthouse today. Four of them were allowed to conceal their identities. They are between 15 and 17 years old, legally juveniles. The fifth, Coy Nu (ph), is 18, legally an adult. He had a separate hearing with a camera allowed in the courtroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are serious allegations and they scare me. You know, I was frightened as I read this. So I have to be mindful of the public's safety.

OPPENHEIM: He was not required to enter a plea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever been convicted of a crime before?

COY NU (ph): No, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ever been convicted of a juvenile offense before?

NU (ph): No, sir.

OPPENHEIM: All five students were charged with making a criminal threat and incitement to riot. The most serious charge has a maximum penalty of 23 months in prison.

ERIC RUCKER, KANSAS DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Other charges may be forthcoming. It depends upon what the investigation reveals.

OPPENHEIM: That investigation began last week when authorities were tipped about an ominous posting on myspace.com. The threatening message urged students to mark April 20th. The anniversary of the Columbine High School attack, and Adolf Hitler's birthday. It indicated the five teens were allegedly planning an attack with guns at their school, Riverton High.

Authorities found guns and ammunition at the home of one of the suspects. They believe the plan was more than just a fantasy.

RUCKER: The nature of the investigation has revealed probable cause to believe that these crimes have occurred.

OPPENHEIM: An attorney for one of the juveniles were asked how his client is doing.

EDDIE BATTITORI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He's just a scared 16-year- old kid. He's a boy.

OPPENHEIM: Over the weekend, another alleged plot surfaced. This time, the suspects were in the seventh grade at North Pole Middle School near Fairbanks, Alaska. The six students were arrested on suspicion they were going to bring guns and knives to kill fellow students and faculty. Police haven't said how they uncovered the plot. They do say it was all about revenge for being picked on.

But in Riverton, Kansas, the weekend was a first chance to try to return to normal life. The high school decided to hold the prom as scheduled.

GARRETT MEAD, SENIOR CLASS PRESIDENT: Well, you know, at first I was nervous. And then I was like -- because I thought, you know, prom would be a big target.

OPPENHEIM: People here are anxious to learn more.

(On camera): They want to better understand what was going on in the lives of these five young men. How did they become so fascinated with hatred, and was it all really going to translate into a violent attack?

Keith Oppenheim, CNN, Columbus, Kansas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, "On the Radar" tonight, we are getting plenty of feedback of the question of whether Osama bin Laden is still relevant or not.

Melinda from Woodlands, Texas, writes, "Of course he's relevant...he is the whole reason we went to war, remember?? Just imagine if we had found him back in 2001. We never would have had to go to war, so hell yeah, he is relevant."

Brant from Madison, Wisconsin, disagrees, saying, "If you quit talking about him then he'll go away. If you don't give him the stage he will become irrelevant very quickly."

Adam from Brooklyn, New York, thinks, "We can't live in fear of the man himself, but we should protect ourselves here (not in other countries) as much as we can against his disciples. He is not relevant."

More of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tomorrow morning, on "AMERICAN MORNING," Miles O'Brien looks at fighting rising gas prices with technology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILES O'BRIEN, "AMERICAN MORNING" CO-HOST: Drive. We want to drive, as opposed to what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, as opposed to not driving.

O'BRIEN: As opposed to not driving, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: With gas prices rising higher and higher, many people are dreaming of driving a gas-free automobile. Miles O'Brien found one -- actually two of them. He'll tell you all about it tomorrow morning. "AMERICAN MORNING" starts at 6:00 a.m., Eastern.

Coming up, "LARRY KING" is next, with the royal ruckus over the publishing of Prince Charles' diaries and Prince Harry's, well, desire to go to Iraq. We'll have a lot more ahead tomorrow on 360, on the politics out of Washington. A lot more to cover.

Thanks for watching. See you tomorrow.

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