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American Morning

Bush's Poll Numbers Decline; Summit of Americas in Argentina

Aired November 04, 2005 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Demonstrators by the thousands are swarming the streets in Argentina, protesting the U.S. and President Bush. He's in the country for talks today, and getting more bad news at home, with new record low approval ratings.
Fires are burning through the night in France. Another wave of rioting outside of Paris. Is the violence spreading to other cities, as well?

And a year of terrible disasters around the world. Now, has the Red Cross reached a breaking point? We're looking at crisis management on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning.


Thanks for joining us.

We're doing a split show today.

Miles is in Pass Christian this morning and I'm reporting from New York -- Miles, good morning.


Your looking at the attempts of a homeowner to recover a few things -- plates, a candlestick, a knife, a pitcher, an old vintage laptop computer. Just a few of the items that they have been able to pull out of this wreckage.

Take a look at what's left here, though. This house was clearly built up high on piers here in Pass Christian. But it wasn't enough to protect it. As you can see, just the piers remain, as it was swept clean. And only those meager belongings remaining.

That's a scene, of course, repeated all throughout the Gulf region.

We're here at the two month mark, just assessing how things are going post-Katrina in the recovery. In Pass Christian this morning. We began the week in New Orleans. As you know, Soledad, we went to the French Quarter. We went up near the levees. We went to St. Bernard Parish. We went to Algiers across the river, where things are a little bit better. And this morning we traveled 60 miles to the east because, of course, Mississippi was terribly hard hit, as well. Two hundred and twenty-one deaths here in Mississippi. And the Gulf sections, really, whole swaths of the Gulf, Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, affected tremendously. Eighty percent of the homes here were wiped out.

In just a little bit, we're going to check in with three mayors, Soledad, who we've been talking to all along, Houston, Atlanta and Baton Rouge. They have received a lot of Katrina evacuees in the past couple of months. And it's been a challenge and they haven't gotten much help from the Feds to this point. We'll ask them how they're doing on that front -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles.

We look forward to that.


Let's start with Washington, D.C. from here this morning.

The White House dealing with some pretty bad numbers, new record lows, in fact, in the president's approval ratings.

If you look at three new polls, the "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows that only 39 percent of those asked say they approve of the way that President Bush is handling his job. The A.P./Ipsus poll had that number down to 37 percent. And a CBS News poll is down to 35 percent.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken live for us in Washington, D.C.... Bob, good morning.

What else do the numbers show?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are so many facets, of course, to what is really an onslaught against this administration right now.

Let's talk about one of the fundamental issues, and that is the handling of the Iraq war.

The "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows that only 36 percent approve of the president's handling of that war; 64 percent disapprove.

Now, what is so interesting here is that the administration has always tied the war in Iraq -- with now more than 2,000 -- the war in Iraq to the war on terror, to the outrage of the president's opponents. So when you get to the "Post" poll about the handling of the war on terror, for the first time, it is now 51 percent disapproving of the administration's handling of this.

This is a fundamental issue, one that is going to define this presidency, and this presidency right now, Soledad, is having a great deal of difficulty, even with that one. S. O'BRIEN: A great deal of difficulty in other fronts, as well, especially if you look at the CIA leak investigation. That's kind of taking a toll, too, isn't it?

FRANKEN: Oh, it's taking a tremendous toll. It's raising questions about the trustworthiness of the president and his administration.

Let's talk about "Scooter" Libby, who is the vice president's chief of staff, who has been indicted for obstruction of justice, for making false statements and for perjury. The question in that "Washington Post" poll was are these serious charges or a minor crime? And look at that number. Seventy percent saying that these are serious charges, 26 percent saying they're minor. And this moves over into the view of the president right now. His honesty is down to 40 percent approval, that people say that they trust him; 58 percent say they'd have doubts about the president's honesty these days, the first time that that number has been at less than half.

So you can see that this is an administration that is really in a defensive crouch right now -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Bob Franken in Washington for us.

Bob, thanks.

The president, meanwhile, is in South America right now. He is at a summit in Argentina with dozens of Latin American leaders.

White House correspondent Elaine Quijano is live in Mar del Plata, southeast of the capital of Buenos Aires.

Nice to see you -- Elaine, good morning.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

And amid strong anti-American sentiment here in Latin America, President Bush started his day here in Argentina by trying to stress the positive. The first thing this morning the president sat down with world leaders who do agree with him on free trade. Specifically, the president sitting down with the leaders who signed off on CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

But at the same time, there is one leader attending the larger event, the Summit of the Americas, who has made clear he has no interest in being cordial with President Bush. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is looking to confront the United States, which he calls a capitalist, imperialist model of democracy.

Now, the U.S. is largely glossing over the issue, insisting that President Bush is focused on the economic topics at hand. But polls show that across Latin America, the president is not a popular figure. In fact, thousands of demonstrators have gathered here in Argentina outside of the secure area, of course, here, to protest Mr. Bush's visit.

Nevertheless, U.S. officials insist that the president will remain focused on his agenda.

And the official theme of this year's Summit of the Americas, Soledad, is creating jobs to fight poverty and strengthen democratic governments -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Elaine Quijano is traveling with the president.

Elaine, thanks.

And we expect to see President Bush live later this hour. He is holding a news conference with Argentina's president. We're going to keep our eye on that. We'll bring you any new information that comes out of that meeting.

Back to Washington now.

Scrutiny of the vice president also. Now that his top aide has been charged, there is some talk that Vice President Dick Cheney has become a liability to the administration.

John King has that story for us.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The case against "Scooter" Libby is a trial of sorts for his former boss, as well.

JAMES THURBER, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: The vice president has been very close to this president. He's been a stealthy leader behind the scenes. He's now out in front of the media, which hurts him, because that's not his style. It will hurt, therefore, the president.

KING: In the Libby indictment, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald alleges the vice president was among the first to tell Libby administration critic Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. And on a July 12, 2003 flight with Cheney and other officials, Libby sought advice on how to deal with questions about Wilson. And that later that same day, Libby discussed Wilson and his wife with two reporters.

THURBER: I think the vice president will claim executive privilege and try not to appear in court. But if he does appear in court, it is likely to draw him even closer to this controversy.

KING: Cheney's role in this administration has always been controversial -- a defender of presidential powers, whether the issue be his secretive energy task force or resisting outside investigations into the 9/11 attacks and Iraq war intelligence failures. The leading advocate of toppling Saddam Hussein.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because the issue is that he is pursuing nuclear weapons.

KING: Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft says the vice president is a changed man -- for the worse: "I consider Cheney a good friend. I've known for him 30 years," Scowcroft told "The New Yorker," "but Dick Cheney I don't know anymore."

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I've known him quite well since our days in the House together in the late '70s.

KING: Senator Trent Lott scoffs at talk his friend the vice president has changed, and at talk Cheney is now a liability and will lose some of his unrivaled West Wing influence.

LOTT: I think the president relies on him and I sleep better every night knowing that Dick Cheney is serving as vice president of the United States. That role will not diminish, because it's too vital a role. It's too critical.

KING: But Democrats see an opening, criticizing Cheney in this letter for promoting two deputies to fill Libby's role. "Instead of cleaning house," the Democratic senators wrote, "you simply rearranged some of the furniture."

The prospect of an election year trial focusing on the vice president's office has some in Washington whispering perhaps Cheney will step, or be nudged, aside. Not a chance, say those who know the relationship.

NICK CALIO, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: No. If you know him, and if you know the president, the answer is flat out no. And that's, you know, one of the great secondary sports in Washington, is, you know, speculation about the vice president resigning for one reason or another. It won't happen.

KING: John King, CNN, Washington.


S. O'BRIEN: In June of last year, President Bush said he would fire anyone in his administration who was involved in the leak of CIA Officer Valerie Plame's name. Lewis Libby resigned as soon as he was indicted, just last week.

There are other stories making news.

Kelly has got those -- good morning, again.


And hello, everyone.

We are beginning in Iraq, where a major Muslim holiday is being marred by violence. At least six Iraqi police officers were killed, 12 others wounded, at a checkpoint north of Baghdad. And these are some new pictures from the scene there that are coming into us here. Police say insurgents fired mortar rounds and then opened fire in that attack.

The nightly violence is escalating in France. Two warehouses were set on fire and hundreds of cars were torched overnight. The rioting has spread to about 20 neighborhoods near Paris and even to Dijon in southeastern France. The rioters are said to be angry over lack of jobs and some say they are discriminated against because they're Muslim. The protests started more than a week ago when two teenagers were accidentally electrocuted while trying to escape police.

President Bush not getting his wish for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. The president had called on the Senate to get things done by Christmas. But Alito's confirmation hearings are now set to begin on January 9th, with a possible final vote on January 20th. After talks with Democrats, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, said the president's timetable simply could not be met.

And if you're worried about your heart health, you might want to take a look at your hips and your waist. That's right. Researchers say the hip to waist ratio -- yes, pay attention now -- is a better predictor of heart attack risk than height and weight. So they recommend trimming your waistline and building muscle mass in your hips.

That sounds reasonable, right, Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Uh-huh.

WALLACE: Previous studies have shown a pot belly to be a warning sign for heart trouble. Results from this new study appear in the British journal, "The Lancet."

S. O'BRIEN: Well, of course it's a warning sign. I mean because it means you don't have time to exercise and you're not eating well.

WALLACE: Right. Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: A shocking study out of "Lancet" this morning.

Thank you, Kelly.

S. O'BRIEN: Men out there, pay attention if you have a pot belly. And women, too, I guess we should say.

S. O'BRIEN: Pete, we're not talking about you at all. Don't worry. He's going like this. He's rubbing his stomach.

WALLACE: He's very trim. It's a lot of muscle mass there.

What does Jacqui think about all of this?

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, Jacqui -- good morning.


I just keep thinking of the guys with the really big pot bellies and really skinny on the bottom where their pants just never fit.

Anyway, not a good visual to wake you up with this morning.


S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, tough times at the Red Cross. Forced to take out a loan, facing scrutiny in Congress. We're going to find out what's behind the recent troubles -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad, Pass Christian is a place hard hit by hurricane Katrina. But there are also many other cities far away which are feeling the effects -- Atlanta, Houston, Baton Rouge. Many of the mayors there upset about the lack of support they've received post-Katrina. We'll check in with them shortly.


M. O'BRIEN: The beach road, Route 90, Pass Christian, Mississippi, evidence of the recovery. Also evidence of the tremendous devastation here. Eighty percent of the homes in Pass Christian destroyed or heavily damaged in the wake of Katrina.

We're now two months out from the storm and all week long we've been touching base with people we've talked to all along the way to see how things are going. And we have focused, of course, on New Orleans all this week, and we've come here, as well. But there is a big story in some of the cities surrounding, sort of in concentric circles around the swath of the storm, because, of course, many of the evacuees ended up there.

Let's check in with three mayors that you've come to know.

From Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- although he joins us from L.A. this morning -- Los Angeles' "Kip" Holden.

From Atlanta, Georgia, Shirley Franklin.

And then finally Mayor Bill White of the City of Houston.

All three of these mayors have, in one way or another, been dealing with all kinds of issues related to Katrina evacuees and their needs.

And Mayor Holden, let's begin with you in Los Angeles today.

I know you're there trying to get some movie contracts. I wish you well on that.


M. O'BRIEN: But let me ask you this. When we spoke, I think it was about three weeks ago, you hadn't received a single dime of FEMA money yet.

Have you gotten that money?

HOLDEN: Well, we've gotten some dollars, but there are still some problems we're trying to deal with. We're finding out now, especially when it comes to faith-based organizations, FEMA is requiring us as a city government to adopt those agencies as one of our own agencies and we're still asking about the question of liability once that happens.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, so they're hung up on liability issues?

HOLDEN: We're hung up on liability issues because, number one, we are saying that if there was some damage to that faith-based organization prior to the time we took them in as an agent of the city, who's responsible for the bills that they have accumulated?

At the same time, they want us virtually to hand a check out to the faith-based organizations and rely on them for reimbursement and we do not have an endless stream of money coming into our coffers.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. It sounds like a technicality would should be rectified.

Mayor Franklin, let's talk to you for just a moment.

When we talked to you last, the big issue, I think you had on the order of 40,000 evacuees, getting them housing and finding them good places to stay was a real challenge for the city.

How is that going?

MAYOR SHIRLEY FRANKLIN, ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Well, we are continuing to work with United Way and Travelers Aid and other organizations. But our problem is that we haven't received federal funding from FEMA to actually help us place the evacuees.

We had almost 100,000 in the State of Georgia, mostly in metro Atlanta. We don't know how many we still have. But we are still struggling to help just legions of people who are showing up every single day at our not for profit agencies.

So our problem is very similar to Baton Rouge, just on a similar scale.

M. O'BRIEN: How many FEMA dollars have you received, Mayor Franklin?

FRANKLIN: None. The City of Atlanta allocated a million dollars from our general fund coffers and we have re-granted that or granted that to Travelers Aid and some of the other not for profits. We would like to get reimbursed, but we don't expect that we will be. We put our money into a housing plan that we thought would work, which would allow families to get assistance for up to six months for rent and utilities and also furniture and transportation.

It would be great to get it back, but the truth of the matter is at about $11,000 per household, a million dollars won't go very far on 100,000 evacuees.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Mayor White, let's go, finally, to you. We're going to do this in two segments. But I want to get your thoughts.

You, of any city, have received more Katrina evacuees, have had to absorb more.

Have you had similar problems getting the kind of federal support that you need to help support all the people that have come to Houston?

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TEXAS: Well, in September people cut checks efficiently in a program to deal with our 150,000 new residents in Houston. But things have slowed down recently. You know, it's incredible, Miles. They say now more business as usual. They'll go through a 12-step approval process for reimbursement. Well, that's not the businesslike way to run government. You ought to make a decision. And we can't afford to loan the federal government money.

I'm sure that they'll come around, because it's obvious what needs to be done. We put over 50,000 people in apartment units, where they ought to be, rather than in shelters or living in hotel rooms, which is more expensive.

But the bureaucracy has started to bog down a little bit.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, maybe we should put FEMA on a 12-step program of some kind.

Let's talk about.

When we come back, we'll check back in with our mayors.

I want to get a sense of what they see as the number one solution in their mind to solving this logjam.

Back with more in a moment with the mayors.


M. O'BRIEN: Back now with our mayors' roundtable. Two most post-Katrina, we're asking for solutions. And we're putting them on the spot a little bit.

Mayor Holden, you were talking just a little bit about liability waivers and all the paperwork.

Do you have a solution to that problem?

HOLDEN: Yes. FEMA needs to make sure the rules are very clear. There seems to be a disconnect from the White House down to the field. So the first thing I would do would say here are the rules, here are the dangers possibly lurking out there that could impact a city. But by and large the rules should be set firm and those rules should be stuck to by whomever is running that operation on the ground.

M. O'BRIEN: Mayor Franklin, the same thing? I mean it occurs to me that, you know, red tape brought down the British Empire. It seems like we're being strangled in red tape here in the United States.

FRANKLIN: Well, my biggest concern is that people are still in hotels. Families are still living in one hotel room. Families can't reestablish and get jobs. FEMA needs to have a housing plan that gets people resettled into apartments with assistance over a period of time.

I happen to believe it should be six months plus if it's three months or four months, they need to get on with that and give housing vouchers to families who need to relocate into available apartments, in each of these cities.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. So streamline the rules, housing vouchers.

Mayor White, what could you add to the solution list?

WHITE: Well, you know, we have a large population here and the policies were set up in September and approved and have been implemented. So first FEMA should simply keep its word. We have a housing program. FEMA is part of it. There's people working every day. But then they say that there's problems in Washington. Well, the commitments were made. The families have moved in. It's too late to redo a program.

Second, they ought to give more power to the local people. When they had power in September, they worked well with us. And they should have the power to make some commitments and at least -- and, at most, have one layer of review. And every request for reimbursement ought to be turned around in 10 days.

M. O'BRIEN: Those are all good pieces of advice.

I hope they're listening in Washington.

Streamline the process, housing vouchers, give people in the field a little more power.

Listen up, FEMA.

Listen up, White House.

That's what the mayors are saying right now.

Mayors, good to have you with us.

Mayor "Kip" Holden, Mayor Shirley Franklin, Mayor Bill White.

By the way, he's Mayor/President Holden. I don't know how you got that title. That's pretty good. That's a good title, mayor/president.

HOLDEN: Thank you, sir.

FRANKLIN: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

Thank you so much for being with us.

We'll check back in with you and we'll keep you all posted on the progress.

Coming up on the program, we are going to continue our coverage on hurricane Katrina two months later and we will check in with more stories in just a moment.

Stay with us.