Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Judge Samuel Alito Meeting With Senators This Morning; New Orleans; Road to Recovery

Aired November 01, 2005 - 09:36   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk a little bit more about Samuel Alito now that news has come down that President Bush has tapped him to head to the Supreme Court. He's meeting with senators this morning. And the White House is doing the sell job on a candidate who is sure to be controversial.
Senator Mitch McConnell is part of the Republican leadership team and he joins us this morning.

Thanks for talking with us, Senator. Nice to see you, as always.

U.S. SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Yes, good morning.

O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about what you think about Samuel Alito. I know lots of conservatives like him; do you?

MCCONNELL: Well, he's a nominee in the mold of John Roberts, with great credentials, a lot of experience in the court. And, of course, we're enthusiastic about the nomination.

You know this is, after all, the Supreme Court of the United States. You ought to have a great lawyer appointed to the Supreme Court. And the president certainly has picked another great lawyer, just like he did with John Roberts.

O'BRIEN: You know, I thought it was interesting. I heard you in a little clip when you were doing a, kind of, photo-op with him. You said, "What we guarantee you is a dignified process here, a respectful hearing. At the end of day, you get an up-or-down vote," which has always been the case for Supreme Court nominees except Harriet Miers, who didn't get that.

MCCONNELL: Well, she withdrew. She would have certainly gotten an up-or-down vote had she not withdrawn.

O'BRIEN: In the face of many people who were screaming and yelling about her nomination.

MCCONNELL: There've been plenty of nominees over the years that are withdrawn. That really doesn't count if you withdraw.

Had she remained the president's choice, she certainly would have been given an up-or-down vote.

O'BRIEN: Do you expect that there is going to be a filibuster over this issue? MCCONNELL: I wouldn't think so. There's never been a filibuster of a Supreme Court nomination in the history of the country. And I don't think we're going to start now.

On what basis would you filibuster such an outstanding lawyer, Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Princeton, law journal student at the Yale Law School; got a unanimous well-qualified from the American Bar Association which is their very highest rating when he was nominated for the appeals court?

On what conceivable basis could this wonderful lawyer not be given an up-or-down vote? I think he will be given an up-or-down vote. It's important, it seems to me, Soledad, not to confuse the kind of antics that go on on the outside. I think you'll see a lot of outrageous advertising on the outside. It's important not to confuse that with what we do here in the Senate where the actual votes are cast. I think he will have a respectful, dignified process.

O'BRIEN: The critics might say, "Well, we could look more closely" -- when you're asking on what grounds could you, sort of, inspect him more closely -- "on the grounds of the ruling in the 1991 case, where he ruled the Pennsylvania law saying that a woman needs to seek her husband's permission before she has an abortion is constitutional or is not unconstitutional, that he essentially supported that law." That seems like it's going to be big grounds for, certainly, debate.

MCCONNELL: Well, there are several other cases in the area of abortion where he followed Supreme Court precedent.

I think it was his view in that particular case that the Supreme Court precedent was not clear. But there are other cases in the same subject area, the abortion area, where he followed Supreme Court law.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that there is a risk of losing the support of moderate Republicans with his nomination?

MCCONNELL: No, I don't think so. In fact, I think we're going to get moderate Democrats.

This is an outstanding choice. The president really picked an all-star lawyer here, the kind of people that ought to be on the Supreme Court. And not only do I think it will get virtually all of the Republicans but a significant number of Democrats as well, just as we had the experience in the John Roberts nomination.

O'BRIEN: Almost sounds like you're predicting smooth sailing all around. Is that right?

MCCONNELL: I think it's going to be a big debate. It's what we do in the Senate. We have big debates. It's perfectly all right to do that. Certainly, Sam Alito is not the kind of nominee that President Clinton would have made. But President Clinton picked two prominent liberals, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. I voted for both of them because President Clinton won the election. So it's a good nomination and exactly the kind of nomination you would expect George W. Bush to make. And at end of the day he'll be confirmed.

O'BRIEN: Senator Mitch McConnell with a prediction there.

Thanks for joining us, sir. Nice to see you as always.

MCCONNELL: Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Let's get right back to Miles. He's in New Orleans this morning.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Soledad.

You know, in the wake of Katrina, the Corps of Engineers, Engineers in general, a lot of construction people, have been trying to figure out what caused those levees and those flood walls to fail. Take a look at these pictures. This is up on top of the levee. There you see the 17th Street Canal, there you see some of the remnants of the sandbags there that are -- that have been used to fill the gap temporarily.

And then, Walter, if you pan right, you'll see the floodwall, which has metal beneath it. They call it cheap pile, if you pan right over there. And you can see where it broke off. And part of the problem was is that wall -- there you go, there's the wall there -- may not have been buried deeply enough into the soil.

Joining me to talk a little bit about this, as we sort of analyze forensically what happened is, Herbert Roussel with Roussel Engineering. He was involved in doing consulting work on this project when it was built in the '60s. And at that time, you were among the people who said that the wall was not deep enough down. Explain what your concern was.

HERBERT ROUSSEL, FLOODWALL EXPERT: About 20 feet below the surface, there's a peat layer, which is organic material which is about five foot thick. The sheet piling stopped right above that. Actually, in my opinion, it should have gone through it into the bed of soil below.

M. O'BRIEN: And you gave the Corps of Engineers your opinion at that time. You have a doctorate in engineering. You know a lot about this. What did they do when you said you got to go deeper?

ROUSSEL: At the time, the sheet pile was already driven, we couldn't do anything about it because Pittman (ph) was only hired to build the concrete wall on top.

M. O'BRIEN: That's the construction company you were working with at the time. So they were -- so basically that wall, when you built it, you felt it didn't have a proper footing.

ROUSSEL: It should have been deeper.

M. O'BRIEN: And because it had been done at the time, they just said we got to press on.

ROUSSEL: Well, that's what -- Pittman wasn't hired to do anything other than the concrete.

M. O'BRIEN: Understand. Now, at other levees, it could be a different story. We know, for example, in the Industrial Canal, there was a concern about overtopping. And it's difficult to design against overtopping. That just means the surge exceeded the design, right?

ROUSSEL: Correct.

M. O'BRIEN: But in this case, what you're talking about is a flaw in the way the design was implemented. And that's a problem.

ROUSSEL: The peat layer was five foot thick and it has practically no strength whatsoever. Peat is organic material that is decaying.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So as we take a look at that, let's take a look at that picture out there one more time. And you can see what we're talking about. And when you look at that wall, they're talking about now, as they replace that wall, putting its footings down at least 50 feet or so, which will put it through that peat layer. And it presumably would give it a better foundation.

As you can see you there, there's the top of the wall there. It goes beneath the surface, 20 feet, right to that peat layer, which is kind of unstable. If the new wall goes 50 feet below, is that enough?

ROUSSEL: It ought to go at least through the peat layer and at least another ten feet. So it ought to be about at least 30 foot deep.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. So 50 would certainly do it.

ROUSSEL: Certainly, yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a big question here. I'm sure you've thought about this quite a bit, especially since Katrina, probably even before. Can you build a system that would beat back a Category 5 storm?

ROUSSEL: It would be expensive. And I can't give you an idea how expensive, but it could be done. But you'd have to have the sheet piles deeper, probable bigger sheet piles than it was strong for horizontal movement, and then the concrete wall would probably have to be thicker and higher.

M. O'BRIEN: Do you think it will be done?

ROUSSEL: If the Congress gives everybody the money to do it. But I know it's going to be expensive to do something like that. And it has to be not just where the breach was, the whole vent, both sides of the canal.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Herbert Roussel, who with Roussel Engineering was here 40-some years ago when they were building this and said, hey, go deeper. Thank you very much for your time.

ROUSSEL: That's it?

M. O'BRIEN: All right, and we'll be tracking that, obviously, as they build the new system here, whenever they get around to that. In the meantime, all they're trying to do right now is before June 1st, get the system back to the pre-Katrina levels. It's not enough to make people sleep very easy here yet, but at least it buys them a little bit of time. Back with more AMERICAN MORNING in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: In just about 20 minutes or so, we're going to hear from President Bush. He's going to introduce the nation to the national flu plan this morning. CNN's going to carry the president's remarks live at 10:10 a.m. Eastern time, in just about 22 minutes. We'll have it right here for you.

First, though, let's get right to Miles in New Orleans -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Soledad. Back here in the Lakeview neighborhood. This is a neighborhood of middle class to upper middle class homes, some of the nicer homes in New Orleans here. Many of them severely damaged, definitely lost. In some cases, could be brought back. But one of the real issues that is on a lot of people's minds here is what sort of a real estate economy will there be? How do you value property in the wake of something like Katrina, with levees that are still very vulnerable. And it will be at least June 1 before they're even back to pre-Katrina levels.

Joining us now is Sandra Green, who is a real estate agent and broker, too, here in the area.

SANDA GREEN, REAL ESTATE AGENT: Real estate agent with Prudential Realties.

M. O'BRIEN: Prudential. Sandra, good to have you with us. You've actually been busy since Katrina. Seven transactions, which is a busy time. What sorts of things are selling?

GREEN: Well, primarily, the sales that I have encountered since the hurricane have existed in Jefferson Parish, which is right across the 17th Street Canal, which was not impacted by the hurricane. However, the majority of the people who are buying in that area are people who were in a transitional state and they are leaving the door open to coming back here.

M. O'BRIEN: As far as insurance and mortgage and all that, on that side of the canal, you're not getting into any companies that are backing out. They're willing to finance these deals.

GREEN: No, business is great on the other side of the canal, and in the neighboring parish. And most of the people who are buying there are buying smaller homes than they were already in, and they're planning on staying there as a transitional time for maybe a year or two, waiting to see what the city and what the federal government is going to do to protect them in the future.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, now, on this side, a whole different picture here.

GREEN: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: I don't even know how you'd to value this. Do you have people calling you up, though, out-of-state people, saying I want to buy whatever I can get? Bottom-feeders, they'd call them.

GREEN: I haven't really found that happening yet. Some agents are telling me that they are getting calls from investors. I have only gotten calls from small investors, nothing major. No one coming in trying to buy tracts of land. A few people are buying -- there have been three sales that I know of, three properties that are under contract in the Lakeview area that are flood damaged, but small investors have purchased them to renovate them.

M. O'BRIEN: And I assume those are cash deals. I can't imagine a mortgage company...

GREEN: People have lines of credit with banks, primarily bank loans. No mortgages whatsoever.

M. O'BRIEN: How do you begin to start selling real estate again in a place like this. Do you need an assurance there will be a category-five system here.

GREEN: I don't think you need an assurance of that. I think you need an assurance that there will be a plan in place. I think people will be willing to come back, even if it's a long-term plan. I don't know about 10 or 15 years, which is what they're speculating at times, but I think people will come back, provided they're told that there is a plan in place.

And people want to come back, because Lakeview is not a neighborhood where the houses were of the utmost importance; it's a neighborhood of community and people are putting their kids back in satellite schools here that are damaged. They're moving them in schools that are, like, outside of the damaged area, because they plan on coming back here to their original schools.

M. O'BRIEN: So do you think it will come back? Will you be selling property here?

GREEN: Absolutely. It will come back, because of the community spirit of Lakeview. It is probably the strongest community in the city of New Orleans.

M. O'BRIEN: Sandra Green, thanks very much.

All right, real estate market not so good right now, but she's bullish. All right -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles, thanks.

Well, "CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next. Daryn, what're you working on? Good morning.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: A big two hours ahead for us. Hello, Soledad.

At the top of the hour, bird flu fears and preparing for a flu pandemic. President Bush says he has a plan to protect your health. How much will it cost? And will it really work? We are going to hear from the president. He is coming up at 10:10 Eastern. We also want to hear from you, with your questions about bird flu this morning. So e-mail us. the address, We'll have answers from our medical experts coming up for you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Daryn, thanks, looking forward to that.

And ahead this morning on AMERICAN MORNING, does your office have four-wheel-drive. Gerri Willis explains how you can get one, just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You want your was to have four-wheel-drive? Well, Ford's got one for you. Gerri has a look at that. She's in for Andy, and she's "Minding Your Business."

Good morning.


Good to see you. You've heard about pimping your ride, or maybe making sure your car is loaded. Well, imagine a car loaded with Excel and Powerpoint. That's exactly what Ford is going to be selling with its new F-series truck. They're showing people this in Vegas this week, at the special Equipment Marketing Association Meeting. It costs about $3,000. You get a wireless computer, printer, global- positioning system and a credit card scanner. So if you're a contractor out there in the field, you never have to go the office.

Now it costs $3,000. We were just discussing.

S. O'BRIEN: Is that a good deal, or a good deal? Because who makes the computer.

WILLIS: It's a great question. It's called Stargate Mobile. Well known computer maker Stargate Mobile, right?

S. O'BRIEN: Right after Dell, Stargate Mobile, never even heard of them.

WILLIS: Yes, exactly.

S. O'BRIEN: And with all those parts I wonder if really you can put together something in your office for less than three grand, because computers are relatively cheap. Wireless is relatively cheap now. I don't know what a credit card scanner costs. WILLIS: The extra that they add that maybe you can do yourself is the way they've mounted it inside the car, so ultimately it's very, very convenient, very, very flexible.

I think it's an interesting thing, and I've got to tell you, I'd kind of like to have it myself.

S. O'BRIEN: Sounds good, in the F-series truck. I hear you. I like it. It would look good on you.

All right, Gerri, thanks. And thanks for helping us out today with Andy out. I appreciate that.

WILLIS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: As we've been telling you all morning, in just a few minutes, we're expecting to hear from the president. He's going to introduce the national flu plan. CNN's going carry the president's remarks live. We'll have that for you right at 10:10 a.m. Eastern Time.

A short break. AMERICAN MORNING is back in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: You continue reporting from New Orleans I know tomorrow, Miles. Where will you be?

M. O'BRIEN: We're going to St. Bernard Parish, Soledad. Going to see some friends of yours, in particular, Sheriff Jack Stephens, and the story there, of course, as you know, one of the most devastated places in the wake of Katrina. They're so fed up with FEMA, they're just taking matters into their own hands. They're going to do their own housing, do as much of it on their own. It will be interesting to see how much they can accomplish on their own there.

S. O'BRIEN: They've got a huge, humongous job ahead, but I'm glad to hear that you're going to be checking in with them as well.

All right, Miles, thanks. We'll see you there tomorrow morning.

We are out of time. Let's get right to Daryn Kagan. She's at the CNN Center, going to take you through the next couple of hours on "CNN LIVE TODAY."