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CNN Live At Daybreak

Judging Roberts; Congress Opens Hearings Into Federal Response to Katrina

Aired September 14, 2005 - 06:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: From the Time Warner center in New York, this is DAYBREAK with Carol Costello and Chad Myers.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. Thank you for waking up with us.

He had plenty of answers, but were they the ones Democrats wanted to hear? Chief justice nominee John Roberts spent 10 hours in the spotlight Tuesday. You'd better bring a cushion today. It could be another long one.

But first, "Now in the News."

President Bush will address the nation from Louisiana tomorrow night. His aides say he will discuss the serious problems that Hurricane Katrina exposed at all levels of government.

A new version of the 9/11 Commission's report on the four hijacked flights has been released with recently declassified information. The changes come at the request of the commissioners. Not all of the previously blacked-out material is exposed.

There are published reports that senior Pentagon and military officials are discussing a proposal to cut American troop levels in Afghanistan by as much as 20 percent by next spring. It would be the largest withdrawal since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001.

To the forecast center.


COSTELLO: The first day of real questioning in Judge John Roberts confirmation hearings may not have brought any more answers for Democrats. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch admits that Democrats are wasting their time by trying to get Roberts to pick a position. But we did have at least one colorful moment.


JUDGE JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: Senator, I was a staff lawyer. I didn't have a position. The administration had a position. And the administration's position was the two-fold position you've set forth. First, Title IX applies. Second, it applies to the office -- the admission's office.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Only to the office. It applies narrowly.


ROBERTS: The question...

SPECTER: Let him finish his answer, Senator Biden.

BIDEN: His answers are misleading, with all due respect.

SPECTER: Well, they...

ROBERTS: Now, let me...

SPECTER: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. They may be misleading, but they're his answers.

BIDEN: OK, fine.

SPECTER: You may finish, Judge Roberts.

BIDEN: Fire away. Fire away. At least I'm misunderstanding your answers.

ROBERTS: With respect -- with respect, they are my answers, and with respect, they're not misleading. They're accurate.


COSTELLO: That was Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Committee Chair Arlen Specter providing the fireworks. But will there be anymore of that today?

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken joins us live from Washington.

Good morning, Bob. That was pretty much the only, I guess, really exciting moment during the long hearings yesterday.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's pathetic when we consider that exciting. But that was it.

He showed that he would have been a great boxer, bobbing and weaving, not punch-landed. And we're going to have a second round, and it's going to be this type of thing again to the best of our knowledge, unless the Democrats are holding some surprise.

There's going to be another long day, as you pointed out just a moment ago. Roberts takes the position, and the Republicans support him, that he really should not announce how he could possibly rule on cases that could go before the court. Otherwise it would undermine his credibility as the justice or even as a judge as he is now.

The other side, though, the Democrats, contend that their job is to confirm somebody. And before they can do that they really need to know what they're confirming. So, that kind of thing is going to go back and forth. We're going to see more of the same, and we're going to see that, thus far at least, Roberts and his supporters feel like they've outsmarted the Democrats.

COSTELLO: OK. We're going to play some sound from Judge Roberts during the hearings yesterday. He's talking about precedent. After this, you can explain further. Here's John Roberts.


ROBERTS: I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent. A precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and even-handedness. It is not enough -- and the court has emphasized this on several occasions. It is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided. That really doesn't answer the question; it just poses a question.


COSTELLO: Translation.

FRANKEN: "However."


FRANKEN: But he's talking about -- and we keep hearing this term -- "stare decisis," which loosely translated means "already decided." And judges, particularly at the appellate and Supreme Court level, like to start that saying that the precedents that are already in place are assumed to be right unless otherwise proven.

But as Roberts was very quick to point out, there have been some notable exceptions to that. The most notable one probably in our history is Brown v. Board of Education, which declared school segregation illegal, which overturned the 58-year-old precedent, Plessy v. Ferguson, which said that segregation was OK.

That's one example. There are many others. And all of this is asked in the context of Roe v. Wade. And there is a precedent now. This is going back to the '70s. But Roberts, although he said he starts with that stare decisis assumption, he made it clear that sometimes stare decisis isn't enough.

COSTELLO: Well, I'm sure we'll hear more on that and other things today. Bob Franken reporting live from Washington this morning.

Besides the Roberts confirmation hearing, there are other hearings that begin today in the nation's capital; these into the government's response time to the Katrina disaster.

J.J. Ramberg is in New Orleans and has more on that government response.

Good morning. J.J. RAMBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Not only are we getting government response from Congress, but we got a surprising comment from President Bush yesterday. He came out with some uncharacteristic comments.


RAMBERG (voice over): After two weeks of finger-pointing at all levels of government, President Bush acknowledged serious problems in the way the administration handled Hurricane Katrina.

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

RAMBERG: Congress will begin hearings today to try to determine how a city flooded, thousands were stranded and many left dead after a disaster that had so much warning.

The owners of the nursing home where officials found 34 bodies last week have been charged with negligent homicide after surrendering to authorities on Tuesday. The state attorney general says patients should have been evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were crippled. They were in wheelchairs. They could not make the decision themselves.

RAMBERG: The owners' attorney disputes the home was ever under a mandatory evacuation order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They abandoned no one. They saved over 52 lives after the water rose precipitously.

RAMBERG: In an unexpected move, Mayor Ray Nagin said he'll reopen parts of New Orleans for business if an Environmental Protection Agency report comes out clean on Monday.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We will be set within the next couple of days to open up a couple of key areas of the city for full access -- Algiers, the Central Business District, the French Quarter and Uptown.


RAMBERG: Well, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta is expected to come here to New Orleans today. He's going to visit the port here and also the airport, which reopened yesterday but just to limited passenger service -- Carol.

COSTELLO: J.J. Ramberg live in New Orleans. Thank you.

Still to come on DAYBREAK, the president's political stakes were high when he made that public mea culpa. Will it help silence his critics?

And bringing the flavor back to America's favorite Cajun city. Rebuilding New Orleans. Where do you even begin?

But first, here's a look at what else is making news this Wednesday.


COSTELLO: Actually, we have word of gas prices, and you know I always like to tell our viewers what the gas price is. So, let me go to my special place here. AAA is reporting another dip in the price of gas. The average price for self-serve unleaded fell 2.1 cents, to $2.93 a gallon. Now you know.

He has said he doesn't want to play the blame game, but now President Bush is blaming himself for mistakes that were made in the hurricane disaster. And the president admits what others have been saying.

The failures raised questions about the government's ability to handle other disasters.


BUSH: Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong.


COSTELLO: The president will address the nation tomorrow from New Orleans. And in anticipation of that, we thought we'd ask a few questions of our CNN political editor, John Mercurio.

Good morning, John.


COSTELLO: The president has accepted responsibility for the missteps of the federal government. Will he take it farther tomorrow?

MERCURIO: Well, yes and no. I mean, I don't think he'll focus on the issue of responsibility or blame per se. I mean, as he's said all along, he thinks, you know, there will be plenty of time down the road to focus on what went wrong.

But, yes, I think tomorrow in Louisiana he'll lay out his road map for how the federal government can help New Orleans rebuild and recover. And I think that's probably going to include a lot of conservative priorities and principles we've already seen from this administration, including things like reducing regulatory obstacles and taxes for businesses and school vouchers.

COSTELLO: What about the tax cuts?

MERCURIO: Yes. Well, I think that you'll see on a broader level, you know, obviously we're not going to see this year -- not obviously. But I don't think we're going to see this year the Republicans' agenda priority for, you know, making the estate tax cut permanent. But there will be sort of taxes created -- or tax cuts created, I think, for businesses encouraged as an incentive to bring them back to New Orleans.

COSTELLO: You know, many African-Americans in this country feel race did or surely played a part in the government's lack of urgency to this crisis. How as a politician do you fix that perception? And will the president mention that again as he did yesterday?

MERCURIO: Well, that's a very good question. I don't think you're going to see a lot of overt gestures by this president, because the public position of this White House is that those charges and even just charges themselves are offensive and absolutely untrue. We saw that from the first lady in her talk last week.

But what the president can do and I think has to do to repair relations with African-Americans is to make sure New Orleans is rebuilt in a way that accommodates the city's very large black population, especially on issues of housing and on jobs. I think he needs to work with state and local officials, many of whom are black Democrats, to make sure this happens in a way that they embrace.

COSTELLO: Well, then would he have to stop the finger-pointing at Mayor Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans?

MERCURIO: I guess to some extent he probably would. But, you know, whether all of the finger-pointing and all of the blame game, I think there's a level to which the public is watching it. There's also a level to which the public is watching their actions as opposed to their words.

COSTELLO: All right. John Mercurio, CNN political editor joining us live this morning. Thanks.

Yesterday we spoke to Joanne Doroshow, the executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy. In her comments, she said, St. Paul Travelers Insurance had one office in Baton Rouge, and the company was asking policyholders to travel there to file their claims.

Well, the insurance company takes issue with that. It says Ms. Doroshow was incorrect.

Adding: "We have been using TV, radio and newspaper advertising to inform Travelers customers of our toll-free phone numbers to call to report their claim. We have more than 600 adjusters on the ground making contact with customers to settle those claims. If they are able to receive mail, we are mailing checks. And in addition to Baton Rouge, we have mobile claim headquarters in Hattiesburg, Gulfport and another setting in Slidell, as well as claim offices in Houston and Jackson, where people can file their claim in person and receive an additional living expense check or debit card as appropriate on the spot."

That statement from a spokeswoman for St. Paul Travelers Insurance Company. Still to come on DAYBREAK, rebuilding New Orleans. Many want to bring the city back to life, but it's built like a bowl. Who will build it? And how will the new New Orleans look?


COSTELLO: Welcome back. It is 6:49 Eastern. Here is what will be making news today.

President Bush and other world leaders will begin signing a nuclear terrorism treaty during today's opening of the 60th annual U.N. General Assembly. The agreement bans individuals and groups from using nuclear weapons as tools of terrorism. The pact does not address the use of such weapons by nations.

It is day three in the hot seat for John Roberts, the man poised to be the next chief justice of the United States. He's managed to sidestep the volatile issue of abortion.

And Ophelia is a hurricane once again. The category 1 storm is expected to make landfall sometime this afternoon north of Wilmington, North Carolina. Mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders have been issued.

A surprise announcement came out of New Orleans. The mayor wants to reopen parts of his city much faster than expected, as early as next week in fact.

Stephen Perry, president and CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, joins us live now from Baton Rouge.

Good morning, Stephen.


COSTELLO: Let me play for our viewers what Mayor Nagin said exactly. Here it is.


NAGIN: New Orleans is coming back. We're bringing New Orleans back. We're bringing this culture back. We're bringing this music back. I'm tired of hearing these helicopters. I want to hear some jazz. And we're bringing these people back. And we're going to bring the spirit that makes New Orleans one of the greatest, unique cultural cities in the world.


COSTELLO: In fact, he said, if the EPA report about the water quality in New Orleans comes back good, he will reopen more neighborhoods and even the Central Business District in New Orleans. And it will be full access. What does he mean by that?

PERRY: He means that not only all of the residents, but the business people can come back, because it will not only have power, it will have sewage and water. And the core of the city, the core of the $5 to $8 billion tourism industry -- the French Quarter, the Riverfront, the Convention Center, all of the hotels, the warehouse in the Arts District, Uptown, the Garden District -- all of those areas where most of the businesses are located and where all of the tourists go is going to come back faster than anyone dreamed.

COSTELLO: As fast as next week?

PERRY: Well, the areas won't all be back, but the basic services of the city are coming back online, Carol, much faster than we had anticipated. We had thought that it would be literally a matter of weeks or months.

But the hotels are going to not be open for tourists right away. What, in fact, we're doing with the hotels is utilizing them to help rebuild the city by serving as accommodations for the essential personnel and recovery workers. We've got some real challenges, because a lot of our workers and citizens have lost their homes, as you know. So, the hotels are going to carve out 20 to 25 percent of their inventory for their workers, get more recovery workers in, accelerate this recovery.

And the stunning thing is that one area that is simply not replaceable in America -- I mean, probably the most important historic district in a mixed-use neighborhood in North America, the French Quarter, is only slightly damaged. It's going to be back really in a matter of 10 days.

COSTELLO: Interesting. So who makes the decision for business owners and some residents who live in that section of New Orleans to come back?

PERRY: Well, it will be their own individual decisions now. I think all of us -- and I'm one of those and a lot of my family are among those who live in the area, in the warehouse in the Arts District and in the French Quarter and Uptown. And as you drive through the city now, you can see the horrors of the images that we saw, just as recently as a week ago, have begun to fade away. There's a lot of work to be do.

But the city, you can feel there's a palpable sense on the ground that the city's recovery is accelerating and gaining momentum. And the optimism among people as you walk around -- and I mean not just business residents, but regular working people that you talk to here in Baton Rouge or in the neighboring areas, it is -- I mean, the spirit is coming back. And it's very exciting right now.

COSTELLO: Well, it is very exciting. But, you know, I guess I'm wondering, because we hear so much about this toxic soup. And parts of New Orleans, large parts of New Orleans are still quite dangerous to be in. I mean, would it be really practical to allow too many people back into the city right now?

PERRY: Well, the mayor made it clear yesterday that those areas that are covered by water -- and those are the areas out in New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward -- are not going to be allow people to come back to them. But all of the areas that tourists come to and that the Central Business District is built around, those areas have either very little or virtually no water whatsoever. They've been dry since almost the very beginning.

And so, there really are no issues there whatsoever. And you can tell the safety of it from just simply the presence of the national media and others who are walking around the Quarter and walking around the Riverfront.

And so, from that point of view, we've been unbelievably spared. The horror is that many of the people -- and it seems like every natural disaster has a disproportionate affect on those who are poorer and have less means. And certainly that seemed to be the case here, again, as some of the most damaged neighborhoods to the east, you know, are those of working people...

COSTELLO: Well, Stephen...

PERRY: ... who will have a harder time rebounding.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about those areas of New Orleans, because I know that city leaders, including you, have gotten together to talk about building a new New Orleans. I want to read you a quote from one businessman in New Orleans, taken from "The Wall Street Journal."

This man says, his name is James Reiss. He says: "Those who want to see the city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way demographically, geographically and politically. I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

PERRY: Well, Jimmy is head of the Business Council, and he's looking at this from a business perspective. And certainly the recovery of the business sector is absolutely critical.

But there's really almost a more important opportunity here. We have a historic opportunity in the United States in policy development to create a living urban laboratory for revitalization. This is an opportunity to rethink the social ills that beset nearly every major urban environment in America, to think about how do you build -- rebuild real neighborhoods with the right kind of schools for all people, not just for people with means.

COSTELLO: Well, I was just going to ask you that, because by this statement, some would think that the poor and disenfranchised will not be welcome back to the city.

PERRY: Well, that doesn't reflect my view or the views of those in the tourism industry nor the views of the governmental leaders that I've talked to, because what they're envisioning is a New Orleans that is new and revitalized for every people, for all person, regardless of race or economic sector. Because the reality is in New Orleans, there's no loyalty here. The culture bubbles up from the street. And what makes New Orleans great, it's French and Spanish and African and Caribbean culture, this multicultural melting pot, comes because of the nature and character of all of the people.

And remember, in New Orleans, it's all about opportunity.


PERRY: The people coming out of poor neighborhoods are the ones who grow up to be incredible saxophone players, thoracic surgeons, business entrepreneurs. This is -- if we miss this opportunity to rebuild every sector of our society and to create the kind of urban environment that is critical to good lives, we'll have missed the greatest opportunity in American history.

COSTELLO: All right. Well, Stephen Perry, thank you so much for joining DAYBREAK this morning. We appreciate it. And we know you have your work cut out for you.

This is DAYBREAK for a Wednesday.


COSTELLO: Chad has a travel update for you.


COSTELLO: From the Time Warner center in New York, I'm Carol Costello along with Chad Myers. "AMERICAN MORNING" starts right now.