Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Larry King Live
Reaction to Presidential Address
Aired September 15, 2005 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: The president is about to address the United States. He's doing it from historic Jackson Square in New Orleans. It's a very famous place if you've been to that city. It's a lovely, lovely area right in front of America's oldest churches.
We will follow the president's speech with a panel discussion with Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, James Lee Witt, the former director of FEMA, David Gergen, the former White House adviser, Mark Whitaker, the managing editor of "Newsweek," and Jay Carney, the deputy Washington bureau chief of "TIME" magazine, and Haley Barbour, the Governor of Mississippi.
To take us to the president, let's go to Washington, and my compatriot, Mr. Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Larry. We'll be coming to you right after the president's speech. The president preparing himself to walk in to deliver a speech, a critical speech to the nation given the fact that in recent public opinion polls, his job approval ratings have been exceedingly low.
Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by to help us better understand. Set the stage, Suzanne, for what's about to happen. And I want to point out to our viewers, these are feeds that we're getting in from NBC, which is the pool news organization that will feed the president's remarks to the United States, to the American people -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, what you're looking at is St. Louis Cathedral. Really this is at the heart of Jackson Square. And the president will be before the statue of Andrew Jackson. That is where he is going to speak. So there really is just this single light, the light set up by the White House.
All of us have been kept at a fair distance away for security reasons, but also because this is supposed to be a very private and solemn moment for the president to deliver this address.
Many people believe, of course, that this is what is known as his bull horn moment. That, the event that took place four years ago yesterday when he stood with the firefighters to rally the American people after the 9/11 attacks.
But Wolf, as you know, he's come under a lot of criticism from Democrats and even members of his own party who said perhaps that moment has come and gone. We'll see tonight. BLITZER: The president will say tonight, he's prepared to authorize one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever, ever seen. And the president will begin to walk out. He'll come to the lectern. And he will address the American people.
This is the 19th -- 19th time that he has had a nationally televised, prime-time address. The last time he did so was in July when he announced John Roberts to be his Supreme Court nominee.
The president walking to the lectern from Jackson Square. It was high enough to avoid flooding. It's in the beautiful French Quarter of New Orleans. We expect his remarks to last at least 20 or 25 minutes.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. I am speaking to you from the city of New Orleans -- nearly empty, still partly under water, and waiting for life and hope to return.
Eastward from Lake Pontchartrain, across the Mississippi coast, to Alabama and into Florida, millions of lives were changed in a day by a cruel and wasteful storm.
In the aftermath, we have seen fellow citizens left stunned and uprooted, searching for loved ones and grieving for the dead, and looking for meaning in a tragedy that seems so blind and random.
We have also witnessed the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know: fellow Americans calling out for food and water, vulnerable people left at the mercy of criminals who had no mercy, and the bodies of the dead lying uncovered and untended in the street.
These days of sorrow and outrage have also been marked by acts of courage and kindness that make all Americans proud.
Coast Guard and other personnel rescued tens of thousands of people from flooded neighborhoods.
Religious congregations and families have welcomed strangers as brothers and sisters and neighbors.
In the community of Chalmette, when two men tried to break into a home, the owner invited them to stay -- and took in 15 other people who had no place to go.
At Tulane Hospital for Children, doctors and nurses did not eat for days so patients could have food, and eventually carried the patients on their backs up eight flights of stairs to helicopters.
Many first responders were victims themselves -- wounded healers, with a sense of duty greater than their own suffering.
When I met Steve Scott of the Biloxi Fire Department, he and his colleagues were conducting a house-to-house search for survivors.
Steve told me this: "I lost my house and I lost my cars, but I still got my family and I still got my spirit."
Across the Gulf Coast, among people who have lost much and suffered much and given to the limit of their power, we are seeing that same spirit: a core of strength that survives all hurt, a faith in God no storm can take away, and a powerful American determination to clear the ruins and build better than before.
Tonight so many victims of the hurricane and the flood are far from home and friends and familiar things. You need to know that our whole nation cares about you, and in the journey ahead you are not alone.
To all who carry a burden of loss, I extend the deepest sympathy of our country. To every person who has served and sacrificed in this emergency, I offer the gratitude of our country.
And tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.
And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know: There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.
The work of rescue is largely finished; the work of recovery is moving forward. In nearly all of Mississippi, electric power has been restored. Trade is starting to return to the port of New Orleans, and agricultural shipments are moving down the Mississippi River.
All major gasoline pipelines are now in operation, preventing the supply disruptions that many feared. The breaks in the levees have been closed, the pumps are running, and the water here in New Orleans is receding by the hour.
Environmental officials are on the ground, taking water samples, identifying and dealing with hazardous debris, and working to get drinking water and waste water treatment systems operating again.
And some very sad duties are being carried out by professionals who gather the dead, treat them with respect, and prepare them for their rest.
In the task of recovery and rebuilding, some of the hardest work is still ahead. And it will require the creative skill and generosity of a united country.
Our first commitment is to meet the immediate needs of those who had to flee their homes and leave all their possessions behind. For these Americans, every night brings uncertainty, every day requires new courage and, in the months to come, will bring more than their fair share of struggles.
The Department of Homeland Security is registering evacuees who are now in shelters, churches or private homes -- whether in the Gulf region or far away. I have signed an order providing immediate assistance to people from the disaster area. As of today, more than 500,000 evacuee families have gotten emergency help to pay for food, clothing and other essentials.
Evacuees who have not yet registered should contact FEMA or the Red Cross. We need to know who you are, because many of you will be eligible for broader assistance in the future.
Many families were separated during the evacuation, and we are working to help you reunite. Please call this number: 1-877-568- 3317. That's 1-877-568-3317. And we will work to bring your family back together and pay for your travel to reach them.
In addition, we are taking steps to ensure that evacuees do not have to travel great distances or navigate bureaucracies to get the benefits that are there for them.
The Department of Health and Human Services has sent more than 1,500 health professionals, along with over 50 tons of medical supplies -- including vaccines, antibiotics and medicines for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes.
The Social Security Administration is delivering checks.
The Department of Labor is helping displaced persons apply for temporary jobs and unemployment benefits.
And the Postal Service is registering new addresses so that people can get their mail.
To carry out the first stages of the relief effort and begin rebuilding at once, I have asked for, and the Congress has provided, more than $60 billion. This is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis, which demonstrates the compassion and resolve of our nation.
Our second commitment is to help the citizens of the Gulf Coast to overcome this disaster, put their lives back together and rebuild their communities.
Along this coast, for mile after mile, the wind and water swept the land clean. In Mississippi, many thousands of houses were damaged or destroyed. In New Orleans and surrounding parishes, more than a quarter-million houses are no longer safe to live in. Hundreds of thousands of people from across this region will need to find longer- term housing.
Our goal is to get people out of the shelters by the middle of October. So we are providing direct assistance to evacuees that allows them to rent apartments, and many are already moving into places of their own.
A number of states have taken in evacuees and shown them great compassion -- admitting children to school and providing health care. So I will work with the Congress to ensure that states are reimbursed for these extra expenses.
In the disaster area and in cities that have received huge numbers of displaced people, we are beginning to bring in mobile homes and trailers for temporary use.
To relieve the burden on local health-care facilities in the region, we are sending extra doctors and nurses to these areas.
We're also providing money that can be used to cover overtime pay for police and fire departments while the cities and towns rebuild.
Near New Orleans, Biloxi and other cities, housing is urgently needed for police and firefighters, other service providers and the many workers who are going to rebuild these cities.
Right now, many are sleeping on ships we have brought to the Port of New Orleans, and more ships are on their way to the region.
And we'll provide mobile homes and supply them with basic services, as close to construction areas as possible, so the rebuilding process can go forward as quickly as possible.
And the federal government will undertake a close partnership with the states of Louisiana and Mississippi, the city of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities, so they can rebuild in a sensible, well- planned way.
Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems.
Our goal is to get the work done quickly. And taxpayers expect this work to be done honestly and wisely. So we will have a team of inspectors general reviewing all expenditures.
In the rebuilding process, there will be many important decisions and many details to resolve. Yet we are moving forward according to some clear principles.
The federal government will be fully engaged in the mission, but Governor Barbour, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin and other state and local leaders will have the primary role in planning for their own future.
Clearly, communities will need to move decisively to change zoning laws and building codes, in order to avoid a repeat of what we have seen.
And in the work of rebuilding, as many jobs as possible should go to the men and women who live in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Our third commitment is this: When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm.
Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well.
That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.
When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets.
When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses.
When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created.
Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome.
We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.
When one resident of this city who lost his home was asked by a reporter if he would relocate, he said, "No, I will rebuild, but I will build higher."
That is our vision for the future in this city and beyond. We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better.
To meet this goal, I will listen to good ideas from Congress and state and local officials and the private sector.
I believe we should start with three initiatives that the Congress should pass.
Tonight, I propose the creation of a Gulf opportunity zone, encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.
Within this zone, we should provide immediate incentives for job- creating investment; tax relief for small businesses; incentives to companies that create jobs; and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again.
It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity. It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty. And we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.
I propose the creation of worker recovery accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. Under this plan, the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job and for child-care expenses during their job search. And to help lower-income citizens in the hurricane region build new and better lives, I also propose that Congress pass an Urban Homesteading Act.
Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government and provide building sites to low- income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot, with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity.
Homeownership is one of the great strengths of any community, and it must be a central part of our vision for the revival of this region.
In the long run, the New Orleans area has a particular challenge, because much of the city lies below sea level. The people who call it home need to have reassurance that their lives will be safer in the years to come.
Protecting a city that sits lower than the water around it is not easy, but it can and has been done. City and parish officials in New Orleans and state officials in Louisiana will have a large part in the engineering decisions to come.
And the Army Corps of Engineers will work at their side to make the flood-protection system stronger than it has ever been.
The work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen. When that job is done, all Americans will have something to be very proud of.
And all Americans are needed in this common effort.
It is the armies of compassion -- charities and houses of worship and idealistic men and women -- that give our reconstruction effort its humanity. They offer to those who hurt a friendly face, an arm around the shoulder and the reassurance that, in hard times, they can count on someone who cares.
By land, by sea and by air, good people wanting to make a difference deployed to the Gulf Coast. And they have been working around the clock ever since.
The cash needed to support the armies of compassion is great, and Americans have given generously.
For example, the private fundraising effort led by former Presidents Bush and Clinton has already received pledges of more than $100 million.
Some of that money is going to the governors, to be used for immediate needs within their states. A portion will also be sent to local houses of worship, to help reimburse them for the expense of helping others.
This evening, the need is still urgent, and I ask the American people to continue donating to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, other good charities and religious congregations in the region.
It is also essential for the many organizations of our country to reach out to your fellow citizens in the Gulf area. So I have asked USA Freedom Corps to create an information clearinghouse, available at usafreedomcorps.gov, so that families anywhere in the country can find opportunities to help families in the region or a school can support a school.
And I challenge existing organizations -- churches and Scout troops or labor union locals -- to get in touch with their counterparts in Mississippi, Louisiana or Alabama and learn what they can do to help.
In this great national enterprise, important work can be done by everyone, and everyone should find their role and do their part.
The government of this nation will do its part as well. Our cities must have clear and up-to-date plans for responding to natural disasters and disease outbreaks or a terrorist attack, for evacuating large numbers of people in an emergency, and for providing the food and water and security they would need.
In a time of terror threats and weapons of mass destruction, the danger to our citizens reaches much wider than a fault line or a flood plain. I consider detailed emergency planning to be a national security priority.
And therefore, I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to undertake an immediate review, in cooperation with local counterparts, of emergency plans in every major city in America.
I also want to know all the facts about the government response to Hurricane Katrina. The storm involved a massive flood, a major supply and security operation, and an evacuation order affecting more than a million people.
It was not a normal hurricane, and the normal disaster relief system was not equal to it.
Many of the men and women of the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States military, the National Guard, Homeland Security, and state and local governments performed skillfully under the worst conditions. Yet the system, at every level of government, was not well-coordinated and was overwhelmed in the first few days.
It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.
Four years after the frightening experience of September the 11th, Americans have every right to expect a more effective response in a time of emergency.
When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I as president am responsible for the problem and for the solution. So I have ordered every Cabinet secretary to participate in a comprehensive review of the government response to the hurricane.
This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina. We're going to review every action and make necessary changes so that we are better prepared for any challenge of nature or act of evil men that could threaten our people.
The United States Congress also has an important oversight function to perform. Congress is preparing an investigation, and I will work with members of both parties to make sure this effort is thorough.
In the life of this nation, we have often been reminded that nature is an awesome force and that all life is fragile. We are the heirs of men and women who lived through those first terrible winters at Jamestown and Plymouth, who rebuilt Chicago after a great fire and San Francisco after a great earthquake, who reclaimed the prairie from the dust bowl of the 1930s.
Every time, the people of this land have come back from fire, flood and storm to build anew and to build better than what we had before.
Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature, and we will not start now.
These trials have also reminded us that we are often stronger than we know -- with the help of grace and one another. They remind us of a hope beyond all pain and death -- a God who welcomes the lost to a house not made with hands. And they remind us that we are tied together in this life, in this nation, and that the despair of any touches us all.
I know that when you sit on the steps of a porch where a home once stood or sleep on a cot in a crowded shelter, it is hard to imagine a bright future.
But that future will come.
The streets of Biloxi and Gulfport will again be filled with lovely homes and the sound of children playing. The churches of Alabama will have their broken steeples mended and their congregations whole. And here in New Orleans, the street cars will once again rumble down St. Charles and the passionate soul of a great city will return.
In this place, there is a custom for the funerals of jazz musicians. The funeral procession parades slowly through the streets, followed by a band playing a mournful dirge as it moves to the cemetery. Once the casket has been laid in place, the band breaks into a joyful "second line," symbolizing the triumph of the spirit over death.
Tonight the Gulf Coast is still coming through the dirge. Yet we will live to see the second line. Thank you, and may God bless America.
BLITZER: The president speaking for just more than 22 minutes, saying the system did not work at every level of government. It was not well coordinated and was overwhelmed in the first few days. He also says that when the federal government fails to meet such an obligation -- "and I'm quoting now -- I as president am responsible for the problem and for the solution." He says his cabinet will investigate. He also says Congress will investigate. He stopped short of calling for an independent, outside investigation.
Much more analysis coming up right now, a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." Larry standing by to pick up our coverage -- Larry.
KING: Thank you, Wolf. And with us in Washington is Senator Richard Shelby, the Republican of Alabama. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, James Lee Witt, the former director of FEMA, who has been hired by the state of Louisiana to advise the governor on hurricane recovery. In San Francisco, David Gergen, the White House adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. He's also a professor of public service at Harvard's JFK School and editor at large, "U.S. News and World Report." Here in New York, Mark Whitaker of "Newsweek," its managing editor. And in Washington, Jay Carney of "Time" magazine, its deputy Washington bureau chief.
We start with Senator Shelby. What's your overall read on this speech?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I thought it was a very compelling speech. I thought it was sincere. He passed the buck to no one. He accepted it in the mold of President Truman. He admitted a lot. He admitted that no one was prepared. And that means the federal government, the state and the local governments. He was very, very honest, upfront. I think this is a new beginning. It's also a big commitment on the part of the president, and he's committed to Congress, even perhaps tied us down to doing more than some people wanted to do -- not more than I wanted to do, but more than some.
KING: Mark, when someone like a president takes responsibility, what do they do with that taken? What do they do with it?
MARK WHITAKER, NEWSWEEK MANAGING EDITOR: I think that's a very good question. I mean, Suzanne Malveaux talked before the program about a bullhorn moment. And I don't think Bush necessarily got it with this speech. First of all, I think it's too late. I think the response that probably a lot of people had is, this all sounds very good, but why are we hearing it weeks after the event rather than days?
On the responsibility issue, he made it sound like this was just a problem that was so overwhelming that nobody could deal with it. Well -- and he never accounted for the days when our reporting, other people's reporting shows that things could have been done; they just weren't. I mean, he talks about how he's -- he made it clear that there was a need for broader federal authority in the use of troops. Well, there's a long tradition of federalizing troops and sending them into these kinds of disasters.
KING: Which wasn't done.
KING: He also, David Gergen, said, "I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to undertake an immediate review in cooperation with local counterparts of emergency plans in every major city." Weren't they doing that for four years?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: That's a very good question, Larry. And I think that only a year ago, of course, New Orleans officials sat down with FEMA officials and had a week-long practice to prepare for a storm of Category 3, so-called Hurricane Pam. So you wonder, you know, what has been accomplished in these four years of planning when we were so ill-prepared as we were here. And we were so easily, you know, overwhelmed, our first responders were so easily overwhelmed.
But it's a good step forward. These plans do need to be reviewed. I agree with Mark Whitaker, that this was not a bullhorn moment, if that's what the White House was seeking. But it was a strong, confident speech, and I do think it will give reassurance to the people of the Gulf region, that the government -- the federal government, after its faulty beginning, is at last on their side. And it was particularly -- I think it was welcome not only that the president took personal responsibility, but that he's taking the issues of poverty more seriously. And that is -- you know, we've had four straight years in this country when poverty has been going up. You know, millions of people have been added to the rolls of poverty. This is the first time I think that the president has been as direct as this, that I can recall, when this president has spoken to it. There's a lot to chew over in these proposals, but it's striking that he made this -- he took this new initiative.
KING: We'll take a break, come right back, get the comments of Jay Carney and of James Lee Witt. Later, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi. Don't go away.
KING: James Lee Witt, the former director of FEMA in the Clinton administration, and Bill Clinton will be our guest tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE, what did you make of the president's proposals of things for the Congress and the federal government to do to avoid this?
JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Well, Larry, you know, I really like some of his ideas and proposals that he's committed to about building back better and safer and higher. I think that's really important.
And I think the people, Governor Blanco and I think the people here that's hoping to come back will appreciate that and I think the programs that he announced about the jobs training and so forth is really important to get people back here and working. I was just a little bit concerned about the fact that talking about using the military more in response, you know, the military is an important asset and I know when I was there, DOD worked very closely with us as a resource and is extremely important.
But, I think one of the most important things, and I think Senator Shelby knows this, Senator Shelby and I have weighed a lot of mud together when I was director of FEMA and I think it's important that you look at FEMA as an organization.
And I think it's important they look at it and put it back and give it the resources that they need to become the premier agency for this country again in an all hazard way and I think they can do that. And, I would really like to see that and I know every state and local emergency management and fire services across this country would welcome that.
KING: I'll get the Senator's opinion but I want to bring Jay Carney in. Jay, do you share Mark Whitaker's view that this didn't -- it's not a bullhorn, it didn't work in that respect?
Well, there really wasn't the opportunity. It wasn't just a matter of the fact that it's now several weeks since the event but we're talking about a different kind of event. America was attacked by an enemy who could be attacked back after 9/11. In this case, Mother Nature was to blame for the initial cataclysm and the federal government that President Bush sits on top of was to blame for the failures afterward.
So, there was -- he had no chance to duplicate the bullhorn moment but I thought he did probably stop the bleeding for himself politically. I thought the speech was effective and pretty powerful at the end and there were some novel ideas in it that will take a lot of examination including I thought the most creative was the Urban Homesteading Act, which is a really creative way I think towards giving home ownership to poor people.
But, the president here and I think Senator Shelby and other fiscal conservatives and Republicans in Congress are going to have to swallow very hard when they look at the numbers that this building plan represents.
I mean this is going to cost more in a very short period of time than the Iraq War has cost in three years and that's -- that's a huge commitment from a government that's already running a deficit.
KING: Senator Shelby you can respond to that and what do you make of James Lee Witt's idea to take FEMA back the way it was?
SHELBY: Well, James Lee Witt as all of us know was an outstanding, I thought, director of FEMA. I've worked with him as he alluded earlier on tornadoes and other things. He knows a lot about dealing with emergencies.
We'll have to look at all that but I can say this. There was not -- there was a lot of blame to go around everywhere if that's what we're looking for but I think we better be looking how we're going to rebuild these areas, my state of Alabama and Mississippi and, of course, Louisiana and we've got to work together, Democrats and Republicans.
Is it going to cost a lot of money, absolutely, but we've spent billions and billions of dollars overseas for years and now it's time for us to look inward. President Bush placed his support for massive, the biggest reconstruction job we've ever done in this country. We're going to do it and I'm going to gladly be part of it but that doesn't answer the question. We're going to have to find money to do it with.
KING: Yes. Mark Whitaker, do you think this will turn more people against the concept of staying in Iraq?
Well, I think you're already seeing that in the latest polls. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll today showed that the first place where people think we should go for money to fund all of this is Iraq and starting to draw down the troops and...
KING: But this administration shows no inclination to do that.
WHITAKER: No. There is going to be a big debate now about how you pay for this, OK, and you're going to have the Democrats who are going to be calling for repeal of Bush's tax cuts or starting to withdraw troops from Iraq.
On the Republican side you're going to be talking, they're going to be talking about offsets and spending cuts and my prediction is none of that's going to happen. We're going to borrow a way out of this.
Basically, we're just going to borrow more money, which in the short term is going to make it look like we can afford all of this but is going to put off a day of reckoning and just put us further into hock to the National Bank of China and other foreign creditors.
KING: David Gergen you fear that?
GERGEN: I do. I think that while this was a strong speech and much about it was reassuring for the gulf and we should welcome that, I think critics will find that there were a lot of shortcomings in the speech, Larry.
There was no price tag here. We don't know how much the president is talking about in terms of the ultimate costs and, of course, numbers are floating around now of as much as $200 billion and that's just for starters.
There is no sense of -- there's no call for sacrifice here. There's no tradeoff. How can we afford to do $200 billion here, to do Iraq and do tax cuts? Somewhere somebody is going to have to make some hard calls. That was not in this speech.
I think there are many Senators who would like to see a czar. There is no czar in this speech, nobody who is going to take charge of this effort, a General Franks type figure or a Jack Welch type figure who is going to take charge.
And, frankly, there's very little accountability here about what happened. I mean looking to the -- looking to this -- looking to a congressional investigation it doesn't come anywhere close to what the 9/11 commission did which was very bipartisan, very fair and as a result we got one of the best reports we've ever had about an investigation inside the -- what happened inside of government why we weren't ready. It's surprising to me the White House continues to resist something similar to a 9/11 Commission.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: To carry out the first stages of the relief effort and begin rebuilding at once I have asked for and the Congress has provided more than $60 billion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: James Witt, what specifically are you doing in Louisiana?
WITT: Well, we've been helping the governor in many ways and some of it is putting people into parishes that's going to be helping the parishes with project work orders and documentation because she wants to make sure that all of the dollars are accounted for and that they're all spent in a wise way.
And also, Larry, I'm the CEO of the International Code Council and she is also -- which is a family of codes, building codes and plumbing and electrical and she also has asked us to help them to put the best building codes that's possible for hurricane resistant codes and making sure that we build back better and safer.
And we've been also helping them with the water, the power in New Orleans and the parishes, getting cell sites back up so people can communicate with telephones and just basically helping them to put the programs in place that's going to do the short term housing, planning, long term housing, planning and also the long term reconstruction of these parishes that have been hit so hard.
KING: Jay Carney, where do you think the money is going to come from?
CARNEY: Well, I have to agree with what's been said that it's highly unlikely that the money will be carved out of other programs. I mean some of the suggestions from think tanks in Washington as to where the money could come out of includes the budget of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for example, or you know places that have already been put on the line through this disaster.
So, I think we'll likely borrow, like Mark Whitaker said, and this is going to be very interesting to watch to see whether or not the president loses support from fiscal conservative Republicans who have already felt upset with this president who has overseen, you know, vast expansion in the size of government over the last four or five years which is not what he promised he would do.
KING: Senator Shelby what do your fellow Republicans think about where it's going to come from?
SHELBY: Well, we probably got 55 different ideas at the time but seriously at the end of the day we will come together because we know this is a crisis. This is an emergency. We're not going to turn our backs on our own people in any way.
It would be best to pay as we go. Let's face it. The deficits are too much as we know it. On the other hand, I think as you face a crisis you do what you have to do.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee we could probably look for some offsets here and there. Will it be $200 billion? I doubt it. That's a lot of money but I think right now let's meet the crisis whatever it takes. I'd like to pay it as we go but if we have to borrow it, we'll have to borrow it. We'll have to pay it back make no mistake about it.
KING: Mark, did the president deal well tonight with the black/white issue?
WHITAKER: Well at least, you know, he mentioned it I think which was a positive thing but it's very deep. I mean I've got to say in their favor since the election Bush and his people actually and more his political operative, Ken Mehlman in particular at the RNC have been making overtures to the black community in a way that Republicans haven't for a long time, so they clearly viewed that as a target of opportunity.
But, again, if you look at the polling in the last couple of days it shows a huge gap between the perceptions of this crisis among African Americans and white Americans.
KING: But he did mention it tonight the injustice of the past.
WHITAKER: He talked about it but when you have 70 percent of blacks saying that one of -- that they are convinced that the response would have been faster if it had been white victims rather than black victims, which is the exact opposite of what whites say. Two-to-one whites say race was not a factor.
That is a huge perception gap and I think it's a political problem for him and it's a political problem and not only with African Americans but, again, what the latest polling shows is that his support is beginning to slip among Hispanics as well. And, long term that has been the great prize that the Republicans have been after and they cannot afford to lose ground on that front.
KING: Polling in a lame duck presidency though affects other Republicans more than him right, just affects him historically?
WHITAKER: Yes, that's right. That's right. And I think what you're going to see on the political front right now and you were seeing already before this disaster because this has compounded it is a lot of Republicans who are up for election in '06, a lot of moderate Republicans, Independents and so forth, who have had reservations about Bush but basically have been on the team who are now going to start thinking that basically they've got to take care of themselves.
KING: We'll be right back, pick up with David Gergen, lots more. Don't go away.
KING: Before we get back to our panel, joining us in this segment from the governor's mansion in Jackson, Mississippi is Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. How did you assess that speech and its meaning for your state?
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, Larry, I thought there were three things that are really very important. First is the president saying Washington is not going to try to dictate the solutions that the people in Mississippi, in my case, the people down on the gulf coast and in south Mississippi, the damaged areas, they're going to make the decisions about how to rebuild, what they want, what their own community should be about.
He did make it very plain the second crucial thing that the federal government understands that it has a major commitment here. It's going to be required to support financially what we do, particularly in areas of public infrastructure.
But the last thing and I think crucially by this Gulf Opportunity Zone he recognized that really at the end of the day it's the private sector that's going to rebuild the coast, that's going to provide the jobs that it's going to be crucial to whether we're successful and what I'm committed to and that's building the Mississippi gulf coast bigger and better than ever before.
KING: But you are, as our panel has been discussing, you're going to need a lot of federal money aren't you?
BARBOUR: We're all going to need a lot of federal money, you know. New Orleans is 300 years old this year and the Mississippi gulf coast was settled six years before that and a whole lot of public infrastructure's been built in the last 306 years Larry from roads to schools to bridges to water and sewer.
And this storm, the most devastating natural disaster in the history of the United States, has obliterated a lot of public infrastructure and we're going to need the federal government's help there.
We're going to need their help in -- we have a lot of federal programs down there. We build ships for the Navy. There's a NASA base. There are other military facilities. They're crucial to our economy coming back, so the federal government is a huge partner and they've been a good partner so far, not perfect but, look, I haven't been perfect either and we do need them to continue to be a good partner. KING: Anything in the speech you didn't like?
BARBOUR: Well, I don't want to say I didn't like. There was a part in there that people could have taken the impression that we in Mississippi need the federal government to come in and take over what we're doing that we need some kind of czar to tell us how to run Mississippi.
We don't need that. In fact, that wouldn't help us. That would hurt us. Right now we Mississippians are proving to the world that we're resilient, self reliant people who want to help our neighbors, who are selfless and courageous and we don't need the federal government to come in and take over what we're doing. We're going -- we're working hard at it but we're making progress every day.
KING: He didn't call for a czar though.
BARBOUR: Well, there was a stretch in there about the military and that sort of stuff.
BARBOUR: That, you know, a lot of this is sketchy. I like the sound of the Gulf Opportunity Zone, the home ownership, the workforce training but we don't need the military to come in to Mississippi or Florida or New York or any of those states if a disaster comes. We do need the federal government's help. We need them to be a good partner but we don't need a takeover.
KING: And I also want to ask you Mississippi's attorney general is suing five insurance companies. Jim Hood said adjusters have tried to trick Katrina survivors out of millions of dollars. What's your comment on that?
BARBOUR: I think we have to make sure that insurance companies honor their contracts. Insurance is a contract. If people make a contract, they got to honor their contract.
For people in Mississippi who do not have insurance for flood insurance or for this kind of disaster we and the federal government have an obligation, particularly if they were prudent. We have thousands of people outside the flood zone who got flooded. They were told they didn't need insurance.
We need to be sure we come up with the right way to help them. We cannot leave them high and dry and I'm committed to helping them just like I'm committed to people honoring their word when they make a contract with somebody.
KING: Thanks, governor, good seeing you as always.
BARBOUR: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Governor Haley Barbour the governor of Mississippi; back with our panel right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Every time the people of this land have come back from fire, flood and storm to build anew and to build better than what we had before, Americans have never left our destiny to the whims of nature and we will not start now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David Gergen, do you buy the concept that maybe we need tax increases?
GERGEN: I think we should look at that, Larry. I think all things ought to be on the table. It would be reckless in the extreme just to borrow our way through this crisis and not have some kind of sacrifice to help pay for it, to help pay for Iraq and pay for this so we meet our bills.
You know, Alan Greenspan has been arguing recently, Larry, that we -- that we really have to worry about the inflationary consequences of a continued fiscal indiscipline and this is only adding to that pressure for more inflation down the road. So, I do think we ought to pay for it.
Let me just say about, if I might, Haley Barbour one of the few people in all of this who really stood out for his leadership but on this question of a czar, we need a czar not to run Mississippi but we need somebody to coordinate the federal effort so when Haley Barbour picks up the phone and says "Who do I talk to in the federal government who I can be a partner with" he's got somebody on the other end of the line instead of ten different cabinet offices.
KING: What do you make, Jay Carney, of liking a lot of things but not federal troops helping?
CARNEY: Well, I think that, you know, Senator Shelby and I were talking during the break that that was the governor of Mississippi talking like the governor of Mississippi, even though he used to be the head of the Republican Party.
I mean he, you know, especially in a state like Mississippi where feelings about federal control run pretty strong, I think he has to say that and, you know, this whole crisis and the rebuilding effort will expose a lot of raw nerves between people who want, you know, state control and limited spending on one side and federal control and a big reconstruction project, like the Tennessee Valley Authority on the other side. And, it's going to be a big battle and it will be fascinating to watch.
KING: James Lee Witt, do you think a czar would help?
WITT: Oh, I think so, Larry. I think that there should be across three states I think there should be someone that the governors could call upon and say, you know, something's not working or we need this and I agree someone needs to be heading that effort up that is a one stop shop.
KING: Senator Shelby, might you lean that way?
SHELBY: I would lean that way, Larry. I think, I don't know about the word czar, it's all powerful.
SHELBY: Director, administrator, world class administrator to make sure that this money, which is going to be spent in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi and for a good reason is spent well and you got a one stop shop, as James Lee Witt said.
KING: Mark, you had a good analysis of what you thought had happened to (INAUDIBLE).
WHITAKER: Well, I was going to say -- I was just saying that I think whatever you think of all of this I think we should all step back and appreciate the irony of a president who ran for office originally in 2000 talking about limited government and a humble foreign policy who now sounds like Woodrow Wilson wanting to spread democracy around the world and abroad and now, at least in terms of this crisis, sounds a little bit like FDR or at least Clinton in one of his State of the Union moments. So, you know, there's a lot about the red/blue divide in America but I can tell you that being a conservative doesn't mean anymore what it used to mean.
KING: David, 30 seconds, what's the effect going to be on next year's elections?
GERGEN: I don't know yet, Larry. I think the larger thing that's in play now is the big enterprise that Karl Rove and the president were engaged in. It was building a durable Republican majority to rule the country for another 20 to 30 years. I think that is much more questionable now after Katrina and after Iraq and other things.
KING: Thank you all very much. We thank the governor of Mississippi Haley Barbour; Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, who by the way is chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; James Lee Witt, the former director of FEMA who is now hired by the Louisiana governor to advise her state on recovery; David Gergen, the editor-at-large at US News and World Report, wears a lot of hats; Mark Whitaker, we said managing editor, he's editor of Newsweek; and Jay Carney of Time magazine, its deputy Washington bureau chief.
Right now we remind you that tomorrow night Bill Clinton will be our special guest, the former president of the United States. He'll be with us for the full hour.
We turn things over to the tandem now, the duo of Anderson Cooper and Aaron Brown. They have been handling things so effectively through these tough nights and they will anchor now two hours ahead on CNN, fellows, Anderson Cooper and Aaron Brown.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com