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American Morning

State of Emergency; Chief Justice Pick

Aired September 05, 2005 - 09:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Judge Roberts has earned the nation's confidence, and I am pleased to announce that I will ask him to serve as the 17th chief justice of the Supreme Court.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A developing story in Washington as Supreme Court nominee John Roberts is suddenly in line for the top job on the court.

In New Orleans today, going house by house, searching flooded rooms and attics for victims of Katrina. Officials now looking for the dead in this city. And there may be thousands of them.

And the reunions. Moments of boundless joy in an overwhelming tragedy as the families separated from Katrina are finally put back together.

All ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Much more in just a moment on the president's nomination of John Roberts as the next chief justice of the United States.

But before we do that, let's hear from Soledad, who is in New Orleans.

Soledad, good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Miles, thanks.

Of course another focus of the president, in addition to the Supreme Court justice, is also what's happening here in the hard-hit regions after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As you can see, in this heavily touristy (ph) section, Canal street and Bourbon Street, you can see the water starting here. And right here, of course, it's not so deep, about six inches or so. But it goes on and on and on and on, and it's really down those parts, in the neighborhoods way down where the search and rescue efforts are focused.

Now, not so much search and rescue, as we've been telling you and as we'll continue to tell you, because frankly right now they're recovering bodies. A number of volunteers out trying to pull people from their homes. It is a grizzly and grim task, and it is hard, just physically getting in, physically figuring out who is missing. All very difficult.

No one, Miles, again, as we've been telling you, has a grasp at all on just how many people are missing and how many people are dead -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Soledad. Back to you in just a few moments.

President Bush on his way to your part of the world. He'll be in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before too long. After a stop there, he will head to Poplarville, Mississippi.

Deborah Feyerick is in Baton Rouge.

Deborah, the visit comes amid reports of a power struggle between the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, and I guess the president. I guess you could call it a power struggle. He offering to federalize the whole response. She's balking.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well -- and Miles, the one thing we can tell you is the president will be here in the in Louisiana today. The governor will not be here in Louisiana. She is heading over to Houston in order to visit the shelters there. It could be a coincidence as to the timing, but we are being told on background that there's been a lot of tension between the White House, which wants to federalize the troops, and also the governor, who feels that she's being unfairly criticized for how she handled this response.

So that is something that's definitely going to play out over the next couple days as this whole effort gets under way.

We can tell you, here at the command center, the efforts have completely ramped up. We are seeing hundreds of people come in an out every day. And this is happening at different air bases and different military bases all around this area as more and more federal workers begin to flow into the Louisiana area. But again, between the White House and the governor, right now they're sorting things out to see how they can best handle this situation, how much money is going to go into the relief effort and to the recovery effort, how the victims could possibly be compensated.

We are being told, Miles, that one of the things there might be an emphasis is, for all those people who lost their homes, for all those people who lost their livelihoods, one of the possibilities is that they themselves may be -- may help build the community, may help rebuild the community. Some sort of workers project, as you remember back in the -- under FDR. So that's one possibility that could happen.

The mortuary teams, they're in place. The sad task of collecting bodies, that, too, is also ramping up. And that is going to be a very difficult and a very long and arduous job -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Deborah, it's just -- it's just hard to fathom that the president of the United States would come to the state of Louisiana, there to try to help sort things out, offer some assistance, and the governor would go to Texas. There's got to be some outrage over that.

FEYERICK: There probably will be a lot of outrage. But again, she has worked nonstop since this tragedy arrived. And we just are being told that perhaps the White House was putting some unfair pressure on the governor to try to federalize those troops, something that she does not necessarily want to do.

She has made it very clear that she is the one leading this effort, she is the one who is in control. And so, again, we don't know what kind of conversations passed between her and the White House, but we understand that some of them were very strong-handed and some of them very, very bitter -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting to hear about a turf battle in the wake of this terrible tragedy. All right. Deborah Feyerick, thank you very much.

That other developing story we've been telling you out of the White House, President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts as the chief justice of the U.S. Roberts would take the place of Chief Justice Rehnquist, who died over the weekend, if he were confirmed. The funeral for Rehnquist is set for Wednesday.

Joe Johns is on Capitol Hill.

The president is -- wants to move quickly on this. I guess essentially so that there's a complete court in October.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly what he would like to do. Also, quite frankly, he gets a lot of things in going ahead and nominating John Roberts for chief justice.

He gets someone who is young, by court standards, someone who could affect the direction of the court for decades. He also gets someone who has emerged as reliably conservative during the vetting process that has already gone forward.

Of course that announcement coming from the president with John Roberts early today. Let's listen to part of it.


BUSH: It is in the interest of the court and the country to have a chief justice on the bench on the first full day of the fall term. The Senate is well along in the process of considering Judge Roberts' qualifications. They know his record and his fidelity to the law. I'm confident that the Senate can complete hearings and confirm him as chief justice within a month.


JOHNS: So now, of course, one of the critical questions is, how will this affect the timing of the nomination and confirmation hearings that were supposed to start, in fact, tomorrow morning -- tomorrow afternoon, I should say. The Democrats, of course, continue to try to advocate for at least a very short deploy, perhaps a day or two, perhaps to the end of the week so that they can look over some of the information once again that they already have on John Roberts.

Just a little while ago, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, putting out a statement that said in part, "Now that John Roberts has been nominated chief justice, our task is even more important. This is one of the most important jobs in the government. The Senate must be vigilant in deciding whether John Roberts is the right man for this honor."

Of course, on the other side, conservatives, people on the right, are saying that they would like to see these hearings go forward as quickly as possible. But you also do have to factor in the fact that the chief justice's funeral is scheduled on Wednesday. And some, of course, suggesting it would be unseemly to go forward with the confirmation hearings on John Roberts, at least until that funeral is held.

Back to you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Joe Johns in Washington. Thank you very much.

Now back to Soledad in New Orleans.

Soledad, good morning.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles. Good morning to you again. Thanks.

Many volunteers out here helping. We certainly showed you some of the people out in boats trying to pull people, hopefully alive from their homes. Some of the more, let's say, unusual volunteers, Sean Penn and Douglas Brinkley -- Sean Penn, of course, the actor, Douglas Brinkley, the well-known historian.

This is your home town, Douglas. And I know it's very hard for you to see it under water.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NEW ORLEANS HISTORIAN: Yes, my house got hit by the storm. I stayed here for Hurricane Katrina, and then evacuated with my family to Houston. But just watching it on CNN didn't seem to be enough. It kind of felt important to get back, both as an historian and as a citizen to take notes about the damage, to find out what's going wrong, what went right, to get some of the human interest stories.

It turned out yesterday to get into the kind of rescuing mode. There are still a lot of people in this town that need to be saved. They're stuck in buildings, nobody's getting to them. There's no airlifts. It's a sad situation that this many days after Hurricane Katrina there are still people in such deprivation.

S. O'BRIEN: It definitely seems weird. I mean, we're a week out, and we have cell service. Our BlackBerries are working. And yet you get the sense that the communication is not really 100 percent back.

What was your experience, Sean? I know you guys went out on a boat.

SEAN PENN, ACTOR: Well, I think the first thing I'd want to say is that for anybody who's got -- who needs help, medical help, Oschner Hospital is fully functional, and they're taking in patients. And they've been extremely cooperative with us bringing people in there.

Also, I think what's needed -- the entire time that we were out in the water, eight hours yesterday, we saw three non-civilian boats the entire time. The helicopters are in the air, but those airlifts are very difficult. They take a lot of time.

So one of the things I think is needed for anybody that wants to try to help are smaller -- smaller boats, kayaks and things like that, because it's getting in between some of the areas between some of the housing projects and so on where it's very difficult to get back and see. There's also almost no door-to-door kind of searches going on. And I know it's inevitable that there are a lot of elderly people that are just not able to get to their windows and their roofs.

So just for the few square miles that we continued to cover yesterday, there are a lot of people still there.

S. O'BRIEN: The houses -- these neighborhoods, the houses are very closely packed together. I mean -- so it could be a small area, but you're talking about dozens and dozens of homes, and nine or 10 or 12 or 15 blocks.

BRINKLEY: This is just behind the Superdome. This isn't far away. And there are corpses just floating around. There's no public health or public safety people.

The water, just to walk in it, you have to immediately go get shots for it. People don't want to get in the water.

And these were housing projects which always were, even on a good day, one of the worst in America. Now they've been gutted out, blown out. And people are in them.

For many people we ferried out of there yesterday, meaning physically -- I saw at one point he had to dive in the water. I thought he was gone to pull a woman out of the water from drowning and get her in. And those sorts of situations are going on left and right in there.

And it's -- I don't know what one does, but I think we've got to stop looking at it just from the air and start looking at it from the ground.

PENN: Which is another thing I think is real important, is a lot of people who are trying to help out on this rescue...

S. O'BRIEN: Civilians are trying to help out. PENN: Civilians, and they're going in and getting very contaminated. We come back, there's nobody there to help decontaminate or any of that stuff. There's no prophylactic care for those people in terms of any...

S. O'BRIEN: Shots, tetanus, typhoid.

PENN: ... all of that sort of thing. And so any medical people that hear this and can come in and get -- because these launch points are very easy to find. You know, whether you see where the dry land goes to the water and you find boat launches, and you go there and a doctor comes down there with supplies, he'll be very helpful.

S. O'BRIEN: I've got to interrupt you here, because you're basically calling for civilians to come out and be the infrastructure for search and rescue. And you're saying people are alive because you're pulling them out.

You're an actor. You're a historian. With all due respect, why are you managing this? Why is someone else who's official not managing this?

PENN: Well, we can say that we've seen, you know, some great work by local authorities and by the -- and those National Guardsmen that are here. But there's -- we're -- I think that it's at about one-sixth of what it needs in terms of the federal support. And minimally that, just on the ground in New Orleans. And we haven't seen much of the other areas at all.

So this is -- you know, I know that -- I don't know what the numbers are in terms of what's here, what's deployed in the Middle East, but clearly it's deeply understaffed here. And so people are doing what, you know, what people do, which is do whatever they can to help. And I don't think that necessarily people should be coming in from all over the country to flood this place, but those people who are within the area who have boats should get in the water.

S. O'BRIEN: Gentlemen, I thank you. Sean Penn and Douglas Brinkley.

And Douglas, I certainly hope that your home can be salvaged and that your family's OK in the long run as well. And I look forward to whatever you write historically about this situation. It's going to be a fascinating read.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, guys.

PENN: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get back to Miles in New York -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Soledad.

Let's turn our attention to Mississippi for a moment, where shipments of relief and aid are getting through, and the cleanup is making some progress. But the death toll is more than 160. That is expected to rise, as we've been telling you, as the cleanup goes on.

Chris Huntington live in downtown Biloxi.

Chris, is the relief getting through?

CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, yes, the emergency situation here has stabilized, indeed. Food and water and basic sanitation is available for people here.

Local radio stations powered by generators are doing a terrific job guiding folks to various distribution centers. So people, by and large, are getting what they need to be safe and secure. And security, in large measure, being provided by an increasing military presence.

Just down the beach from where I'm standing right now, there's a rather dramatic Navy amphibious unit. They were brought in there by a hover craft off a ship that steamed around from Norfolk. It took them four days to get here.

The law enforcement and military throughout the roads up and down the Mississippi coast are keeping order. They're directing traffic, they're making it safe for people to move about and to get to their homes and begin the painful process of trying to assess what the damage and rebuild. And also, frankly, Miles, they're still conducting what they're calling search and rescue operations, but they are, as Soledad mentioned before, frankly, looking for the deceased among the rubble.

The stability here simply gives people a platform to contemplate their future, and it's a bleak one here on the Mississippi coast, which is so dependent on the casino industry. Here in Biloxi, there are massive casino barges littering the coast.

Laws require the casinos to have the actual gaming halls floating. They've been tossed up here like Styrofoam cups. There are several of them.

I'm standing amidst a couple of them. I think you can see the pictures that we've shot recently. It's unbelievable how these massive structures were just tossed around by the waves.

The casino industry puts about $100 million in the state coffers every year. It's responsible for 16,000 direct jobs here in Biloxi and thousands more of people that work in restaurants and hotels. These jobs are not returning any time soon -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris Huntington in Biloxi. Thanks very much.

We'll have more on the aftermath of Katrina a little later.

But first, a closer look at the president's pick to become chief justice of the United States. What's in store for Judge John Roberts? Some insight from our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. That's next on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: A developing story this morning, the nomination of John Roberts for chief justice of the United States. The president made the announcement this morning at the White House in the Oval Office two days after the death of -- excuse me -- Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Joining us now is CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, good to have you with us. First of all, opportunity here for George Bush. He's a young man who will -- you know, assuming he stays healthy, he's going to be on there -- he could be there 30 years.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: You know, one of my favorite aspects of this story is that we all keep talking about a 50- year-old man as how young he is.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, the older I get, the younger...

TOOBIN: It's starting to sound really good.

M. O'BRIEN: Really young.

TOOBIN: But it is true, by Supreme Court standards, 50 years old is very young.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

TOOBIN: And, you know, here's this guy with those little kids that we have seen so frequently, and he's going to be there, as we all know, life tenure. And on the Supreme Court, life tenure means life tenure.

His senior colleague, John Paul Stevens, will be 86 years old this year. So that's 36 years that John Roberts, if, as he's likely to live, you know, he could serve on that court.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, you mentioned John Paul Stevens. That might have been part of the White House calculus in getting this decision out quickly, because he, as the senior associate justice, would assume the administrative responsibilities of William Rehnquist, the chief, after his passing.

So do you think they were concerned about having a liberal having that authority?

TOOBIN: Potentially for a little while, but I think mostly they were just concerned about getting their people there. I mean, you know, one of the reasons people run for president is to name Supreme Court justices. It is a tremendous legacy that a president can have, and that's why they have put so much effort into this search. And now they will have two spaces to fill. M. O'BRIEN: So now you have an outsider coming in to, you know, herd the cats here, so to speak. And, you know, Rehnquist got high marks, unlike his predecessor, Burger, for fostering this great sense of collegiality, making the trains run on time there for the court.

You have a new person coming in into that. And you've had a chance -- you've spent a lot of time with Anthony Kennedy, and would have some insights then in on how he might be received in that role of being the boss.

TOOBIN: You know, the Supreme Court is an institution that cares deeply about itself and that -- its own traditions. And, you know, they really have their own traditions of collegiality and reverence for the institution.

John Roberts is the part of the institution. He clerked on the court. He argued 39 cases. He worked in the solicitor general's office, which is sometimes called the office of the 10th justice, the people who appear so frequently by the court.

He's someone who the justices know. And, you know, my piece in "The New Yorker," as I said earlier, you know, Anthony Kennedy said to me, you know, he -- that Roberts was a marvelous oral advocate. You know, "We feel like we know him." That's going to stand him in very good stead in a court that takes, you know, knowing each other very seriously.

M. O'BRIEN: So he has their respect. It seems as if he has the proper demeanor to foster that sense of collegiality, which is apparently so important.

TOOBIN: I think the demeanor is very important. You know, it sounds funny to say it, but he looks like a chief justice.

He is not a person of wild mood swings, emotions. He does not have in his history great loud partisanship for one way or the other. He's scholarly, he's very knowledgeable about the law.

I think he will fit into the institution very well. But although, you know, Justice Byron White said something that many justices have quoted over the years. He said, "When you change one justice, you don't change one justice, you change the whole court."

M. O'BRIEN: Really?

TOOBIN: Yes. I mean, they dynamics always change. And especially now.

Remember, these nine had been together for 11 years, the longest that one court had ever been together since there were nine justices. So here you're going to have two justices this fall changing, and the dynamics will almost certainly change. And the collegiality, which you talked about, and is certainly real, will it maintain? Maybe yes, maybe no. M. O'BRIEN: So this decision to upgrade John Roberts seems like a good move. Actually, when you think about it, it seems like really giving all else that's going on right now, really the only move.

TOOBIN: You know, President Bush has a long to-do list at the moment, longer than he's ever probably ever had in his presidency. He crosses off a very big item here with, it seems to me likely, very little controversy. And that's a big advantage for him.

A little controversy, but big gain, because John Roberts is likely to be very conservative. That's what President Bush wants. But he's likely to get on the court with relatively little controversy.

M. O'BRIEN: And when you say that, it should be fairly -- I mean, we've been saying all along he's got a fast track to confirmation. That doesn't change by this announcement this morning, right?

TOOBIN: I don't think so. Although the timing is interesting.

The hearings were supposed to start tomorrow afternoon. They probably won't start, I would suspect, until Thursday at the earliest, because Chief Justice Rehnquist's funeral is now scheduled for Wednesday. So it will be delayed a couple days.

But, you know, the first Monday in October is about just a month away. They have a little bit of time to give. I don't think there's any way an associate justice can be confirmed in that time.

Certainly either Sandra day O'Connor will remain on the bench or there will be a vacancy. But the court has dealt with that before. But it looks like Roberts will be there.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Jeff Toobin. The piece is out today.

TOOBIN: Correct.

M. O'BRIEN: "New Yorker," "Up Close and Personal with Anthony Kennedy."

TOOBIN: Yes, indeed.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm looking forward to seeing that.


M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks very much.

Still to come on the program, more on the Katrina relief effort. We'll look at how Americans from coast to coast are helping in ways big and small. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has been overwhelming, of course. So has America's response, though. Total cash donations well over $200 million. The kindness of strangers has been priceless.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP (SINGING): This is my story, this is my song

M. O'BRIEN (voice over): The worst natural disaster in U.S. history prompting an epic relief effort.


M. O'BRIEN: Americans from coast to coast doing little things that make a big difference.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, volunteers are giving blood, donating food, and washing cars to aid Katrina's victims.

KATIE LEWINGER, VOLUNTEER: We're sending all our money to America's Second Harvest. It's strictly just for getting food and water to people.

M. O'BRIEN: Others are opening their homes to the suddenly homeless. An Atlanta couple offering their vacation home as a refuge. They're asking others to donate as well. And hundreds of private pilots are ferrying supplies in and families out of the hurricane zone.

MILO PINCKNEY, PILOT: I wouldn't want my wife or children or the friends or children of any of my friends living under an overpass for five minutes, much less five days.

M. O'BRIEN: A convoy of New York City buses headed south this weekend, stocked with food, water and other supplies. They'll be transporting victims from New Orleans to shelters in Texas and Arkansas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really want to feel welcomed.

M. O'BRIEN: About 1,500 weary evacuees have found comfort at a National Guard camp in eastern Oklahoma. Volunteers are eager to help those who in so many cases have lost everything but their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, you just sit at home wondering what you can do. And this makes you feel good to know that you can do something for them. And we're just blessed to be able to do it.


M. O'BRIEN: Relief groups say the needs of the Hurricane Katrina victims will last for months, perhaps longer. They don't know how much will be enough.

Now, if you would like to help, you can go to for a full list of the charity organizations.

Now back to Soledad in New Orleans.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles.

Some developments to tell you about in the governor's schedule. Governor Blanco had planned to go to Houston, her intention to meet with some of the evacuees that were there.

Well, now she's not going to do that. She's actually going to spend the day with the president. We'll update you on those changes just ahead.

Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.