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CNN Live Event/Special

President Bush Holds Press Conference; Recovery Efforts Underway In Gulf Coast Region; Investigators Look Into Tour Boat Tragedy

Aired October 04, 2005 - 10:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush plans to hold a news conference at the bottom of the hour. It's his first such event in four months and follows major stories such as two Supreme Court nominations, two massive hurricanes and the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. We'll have live coverage from the Rose Garden when the news conference gets underway.
In Iraq, three U.S. troops have been killed in a newly-launched combat operation in Western Iraq. All died from a roadside bombing in the western Anbar Province city of Haqlaniya. Also yesterday, another roadside bomb in Anbar Province killed a Marine.

The U.S. Army says it's recruitment of new soldiers has fallen short of its annual goal for the first time in six years. The Army signed about 73,000 recruits this year, but those numbers fell about 10 percent short of the goal despite a disappointing year. The Army says recruiting actually increased over the summer.

We have an update on the tour boat that capsized on New York's Lake George over the weekend, killing 20 people. Investigators have determined the vessel was operating without the required crew and have shut down the company. Shoreline Cruises has had its operator's license suspended pending an investigation.

And good morning. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Daryn Kagan is of today.

We have a lot to tell you about this morning.

First, we're awaiting remarks from President Bush at the bottom of the how. And the news conference comes a day after the president nominated White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Miers has never been a judge and some conservative groups have initially expressed concern that Miers has no judicial philosophy.

But the Bush administration is trying to allay their fears. Vice President Dick Cheney took the lead yesterday. In an interview with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Cheney said Miers "has a conservative judicial philosophy that you would be comfortable with." You'll be proud of Harriet's record, Rush. Trust me."

And to another conservative commentator, Sean Hannity, Cheney had similar guidance. "I think you'll find that Harriet is rock-solid from a philosophical standpoint." While the conservatives point to what they see as Miers blank slate, some Democrats are crying cronyism in the president's pick, so a selling job is underway at the White House. That's where our Bob Franken is this morning.

And good morning to you, Bob.


And we'll have the seller in chief holding his news conference at 10:30. The president will spend quite a bit of his time talking about Harriet Miers, although there's certainly a large range of other issues and other matters that he will probably have to defend himself from the reporters' questions.

But a lot of the focus will be on his latest nomination to the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. That is going to be such a critical seat on the Supreme Court, O'Connor being the swing vote. President Bush went to somebody that he's known for a long time and there, of course, are now charges that he's engaged in cronyism.

Harriet Miers has been a White House official since almost the beginning of the administration. Most recently the White House counsel. She is a lawyer from Dallas, Texas. She's now spending her time on Capitol Hill trying to convince members of both parties that for those who are conservative, yes, she is a true blue conservative. For those who are not, that she's not so conservative to be dogmatic.

That's the kind of dance that is going on right now. One that was can see the president engaging in. One that was indulged in this morning by the president's communications director.


DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: So as the weeks unfold and people see what President Bush has seen for the last 10 years, this is somebody who's not only highly qualified to be a Supreme Court justice, but somebody who has the integrity, intellect and character to be a very well accomplished Supreme Court justice.


FRANKEN: And now Harriet Miers will be spending her day smiling with the various members of the Senate who, after all, are the key to her confirmation. And we'll certainly hear the president say that he wants this confirmation to go smoothly and happen as quickly as possible. Many people are saying that the target date of Thanksgiving my be unrealistic.


HARRIS: Bob, it seems to me that folks try to judge the book by the cover. And when we get to the contents of the book, what will we find? Papers, specifically. Will we get to see some of her advice to the president and others in this administration? FRANKEN: Don't expect a lot of that. There's certainly going to be a fight over that because of the concept of lawyer-client privilege and executive privilege and that could be a problem because she has no judicial record. And what we know about her record is going raise some questions. Specifically such things as the fact that she's only argued a few appellate cases in her life, never argued before the Supreme Court.

HARRIS: Bob Franken at the White House for us.

Bob, thank you.

And a programing reminder for you. CNN will have live coverage of President Bush's news conference from the White House Rose Garden. That's at the bottom of the hour.

Now to Tom DeLay. Just days after being indicted on a conspiracy count, the congressman faces new charges, including money laundering. DeLay is calling the new indictment an example of prosecutorial abuse. Our congressional correspondent, Joe Johns, is covering the story from Capitol Hill.

And, Joe, good morning to you.


This is basically insurance for the prosecutor in the event the original indictment is thrown out by a judge. Late Monday, DeLay's lawyers filed a motion in court arguing that the first charge should be thrown out because conspiracy in this context wasn't available as a prosecutorial charge when the alleged wrongdoing occurred. The law was changed in Texas in 2003. There's been no ruling by a judge. Last night DeLay went on the radio laughing, essentially ridiculing the prosecutor.


REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: The law that connected conspiracy to the election code was passed in 2003. This event happened in 2002. So this crime didn't even exist. And I -- I'm sorry for laughing. This is this is beyond -- it's just unbelievable. I mean, he's making the Keystone Cops look good.


JOHNS: Still, this new indictment for money laundering carries a stiffer penalty than the previous charge, five years to life in prison plus a $10,000 fine. The prosecutor's office is not conceding that anything wrong occurred with that indictment. Still, they say they're willing and ready to fight it out in court.


HARRIS: And, Joe, this is not the first time we've seen prosecutors tack on additional charges. Was this a real surprise to the DeLay camp? JOHNS: Well, it wasn't a surprise to the DeLay camp because they, in fact, went to court with this motion trying to get this first charge thrown out. They felt that there was something wrong with it all along. Some indications that the prosecutor's office was at least a little bit concerned about whether that charge might be thrown out. So, yes, a little bit of jockeying there in Austin to try to make sure they have a charge that survives, regardless of what a judge does.

HARRIS: CNN's Joe Johns.

Joe, thank you.

On Lake George, New York, investigators are trying to determine the cause of Sunday's tour boat tragedy. Divers attached inflatable devices to the hull to right the capsized boat yesterday. While the probe goes on, the tour boat company has been shut down.

With more on that, we turn to our Susan Lisovicz on Lake George.

Susan, good morning to you.


Another busy day here on Lake George in the aftermath of the sinking of the Ethan Allen on Sunday. Warren County Sheriff's Department has just begun a news conference this morning. We're expecting them tell us about yet another diving operation today. This time to retrieve personal effects from the area around where the Ethan Allen sank.

We were also hoping to hear from the operators of the Ethan Allen. They're just about the only people we haven't heard from talking to the governor, local congressmen, the NTSB, the sheriff's department. A noon press conference is what we were expected. Representatives from the company this morning on the property telling us that is not happening.

The Shoreline Cruises operates four boats in addition to the Ethan Allen. The Adirondack is situated right behind me, a much larger boat than the Ethan Allen. The New York Sate Park's Department yesterday suspended all operations for Shoreline Cruises because on Sunday the Ethan Allen was required to have two crew members aboard, not just the captain, for a party that size. You remember, there were 47 people onboard, just one crew member and that was the captain.

A very dramatic day here in Lake George. Yesterday, though, when divers after hours of careful preparation were able to lift that boat from 70 feet of water, intact and able to toe it away to a secure, undisclosed location for further examination. Earlier today, NTSB Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker explained why that boat is so important in this investigation.


MARK ROSENKER, NTSB: Today is our first opportunity to examine the vessel itself and see its sea worthiness. We're going to be able to take a look at the hull. We're going to be able to look at the engine. We're going to be able to look at the rudder. We're going to be able to look at the throttle settings. There will be a host of things we'll be looking at that will give us a good deal of information as we move through this tedious and methodical process.


LISOVICZ: Tony, meanwhile, most of the survivors have already left Lake George going back to their home of Michigan. A memorial mass will be taking place tomorrow here on Lake George to commemorate those victims that perished in Lake George on Sunday.

Back to you.

HARRIS: Susan, a quick question. Has the NTSB spoken with or any of the investigators spoken with the captain of the vessel yet, Captain Paris?

LISOVICZ: Very good question. In fact, that's another thing that's happening today. The NTSB is holding its first formal interview with Richard Paris, the captain of the Ethan Allen. There have been informal conversations with him. He's spoken to the sheriff's department. But today, a more detailed conversation will take place. Mr. Paris is a retired state trooper, 74 years old, who operated on Lake George for a couple of decades. Well known, well liked and described as absolutely devastated by this accident.


HARRIS: And, Susan, once again, just to be clear on this, we understood there was to be a news conference at about noon with the owners of Shoreline Cruise and your understanding is that that's not going happen, but there is a press conference going on right now?

LISOVICZ: Yes, just too clear it up. There's a lot of things going on. There is a news conference happening right at this moment. The Warren County Sheriff's Department are holding that news conference as we speak.

But we were expecting a noon press conference held by the family that operates the tour boat, the Shoreline Cruises. We were on the property in the last hour. We talked to a couple of representatives who said that it's not happening. In fact, my field producer, Tom Denatto (ph), was asked to leave the premises. It's obviously a very stressful time for them. A very somber mood on the property and it's a very fluid situation, obviously.

HARRIS: Susan Lisovicz for us.

Susan, thank you.

We are awaiting a press conference from President Bush this morning. That happens at 10:30 at the White House Rose Garden and we will bring that to you live when it happens.

Also ahead, the battered Gulf Coast sees a familiar face this morning. Former President Bill Clinton is set to tour the damage and meet with Hurricane Katrina survivors. More on CNN LIVE TODAY after a quick break.


HARRIS: And more now on the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. The search for bodies has ended in Louisiana with the death toll at 964. The street by street sweeps uncovered fewer bodies than first feared. Mississippi's death toll remains at 219.

Business owners are trying to set up shop in New Orleans, but cleaning up storm debris is just one of the many tough tasks they're facing.

CNN's JJ Ramberg has that story.


JJ RAMBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Former President Bill Clinton visiting the Gulf Coast today. He's spending two days meeting with victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as local officials, to determine how best to spend the $100 million raised by the Bush- Clinton Katrina Fund. As business owners continue to return to New Orleans, they face a number of hurdles. Not the least of which is finding people to replace employees who have been scattered across the country.

JOEL DONDIS, THE JOEL COMPANIES: Put papers out with little pull tabs, call here for a job, you know. We've increased the hourly rate. Everything we possibly can just to find people and it's been kind of tough.

RAMBERG: Officials estimate they'll have to haul 22 million tons of trash out of New Orleans as resident comes home and start the cleaning up process. That's equivalent to 200 football fields piled 50 feet high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's trash everywhere.

RAMBERG: The Army Corps of Engineers says it plans to declare the city dry by today or tomorrow, but it has closed two canals near the ninth ward, fearing strong winds and high tides could cause more problems.

Other signs of progress here, some neighborhoods should have clean drinking water as early as next week and nine ships are expected to call on the Port of New Orleans this week.

JJ Ramberg, CNN, New Orleans.


HARRIS: And CNN is the only broadcast network to be traveling with the former president and Kelly Wallace is accompanying Mr. Clinton in the New Orleans-Baton Rouge area. And Kelly is on the phone with us right now. Kelly, good morning to you.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Tony.

Yes, we're getting some interesting access with the former president on his trip to the Gulf Coast region. We're expecting him to arrive probably about 15 or 30 minutes from now here in Baton Rouge. And he'll be visiting the river center. It's one of the biggest centers to help people, hurricane survivors and evacuees.

His first stop will be meeting with 30 evacuees from the New Orleans area, talking with them. Then he'll be getting a tour of this facility and also sitting down, Tony, with local, state, federal officials, Red Cross officials, people from the Salvation Army.

It is being billed as a fact-finding mission. The former president and former President Bush raising more than $100 million, as JJ just reported, and (INAUDIBLE) the best way to spend the money. Do they give it to the governors and then the governors figure out what to do with it? The former president in interviews has said that he wants to make sure this money goes to people who are, in his word, falling through the cracks, not quite getting federal and state assistance right now.

From here, Tony, he goes to New Orleans and he will visit and tour the ninth ward. And area one of the hardest hit from the Hurricane Katrina. He'll also sit down with some residents and community groups in the section called Algiers, a neighborhood where a lot of people are back and things are up and running again. At the end of day, he'll be meeting with relief workers before heading to Mississippi and Alabama tomorrow.

We know, Tony, that the former president has been somewhat critical of the federal response to Katrina. He has said that FEMA head should be a cabinet (INAUDIBLE) position and he would like to see that happen in the future. But right now this is a trip to figure out what to do with all this money and how best to get it to the people in need.


HARRIS: CNN's Kelly Wallace traveling with former President Clinton today.

Kelly, thank you.

And just a reminder, we are waiting to hear from the president this morning. He is set to hold a press conference in just about 10 minutes from now. We will, of course, bring you live coverage when it happens.

But coming up next, two new operations to root out insurgents are underway in Iraq but the violence is anything but over. We're live in Baghdad straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS: To the New York Stock Exchange now and a look at the Big Board. About an hour coming up on an hour into the trading day, we're up 29 points at 10,564.

Minutes from now, President Bush is to hold his first news conference in four months. It follows several major developments, including his two Supreme Court nominations, two massive hurricanes and the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. We will have coverage from the Rose Garden when the news conference gets underway about eight minutes from now.

Now "The Fight for Iraq."

Just a few hours ago, a car bomb exploded near one of the main gates into Baghdad's green zone. Police say two Iraqi soldiers and a civilian were killed and several others were wounded. In Western Iraq, three U.S. troops were killed in combat yesterday, plus two others in separate incidents. U.S. and Iraqi security forces have launched a series of offensives in the region and in Southern Iraq.

Joining us from Baghdad now to explain is CNN's Aneesh Raman.

Good morning, Aneesh.


The suicide car bomb detonating just around 11:00 a.m. local outside the heavily fortified green zone. As you mentioned, at least three people killed, including a Iraqi civilian. Upwards of seven others.

The green zone, of course, is home to the U.S. military who today announced that two major operations have been launched in the western part of Iraq, in that volatile Al Anbar Province, as a push-back against the insurgency. The first is dubbed Operation River Gate and, Tony, it is one of the largest U.S. military assaults in that area to date. Some 2,500 U.S. troops, along with 400 to 500 Iraqi security forces, are operating in that area, centering essentially on the city of Haditha that is being described as a critical crossroads for insurgent smuggling. The bringing in of weapons, as well as foreign fighters across that poor (ph) Syrian board.

The other operation is dubbed Operation Mountaineer. That involves about 500 U.S. troops and is focusing on the city of Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold. Both of these operations come just days ahead of that October 15th referendum. The attempt really to go in, route out the insurgency in those areas, stop the safe haven that is being provided and try and find the weapons before they make their way into the capital and elsewhere ahead of those polling stations being set up.

We know upwards of 60 suspected insurgents have been killed. The U.S. Marines have come under small arms fire. They have encountered a number of IEDs.

The military also saying that five U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq over the past two days, four of them as part of these ongoing operation, three of them lunched now in the past four days. Another U.S. soldier, Tony, was shot -- was killed after a gun battle in the town of Balad.


HARRIS: Boy, just a lot of activity.

Aneesh, thank you.

We are just minute away from hearing from President Bush. He is holding a news conference in the Rose Garden at 10:30. About, oh, six minutes from now Eastern Time. And we will bring that to you live coming up next. Stay with us.


HARRIS: And welcome back, everyone. I'm Tony Harris, sitting in today for Daryn Kagan.

Here's what's happening "Now in the News."

We're expecting President Bush to come out to the White House Rose Garden any moment for a news conference. We're not sure what the president will talk about first. It may be his nomination yesterday of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. You'll find out what's on the president's mind if you keep it here on CNN. We'll bring you Mr. Bush's remarks live.

Former President Bill Clinton travels to Louisiana today. He'll meet hurricane evacuees from Baton Rouge, get a briefing on the relief effort and tour New Orleans' devastated ninth ward. Clinton and former President Bush are heading up a fund to help Katrina victims. The fund has raised $100 million so far.

Tropical Storm Stan has grown to a category one hurricane. Land fall in the Mexican state of Veracruz is expected late tonight or early Tomorrow. Mexico has evacuated five oil platforms in Stan's path. It is still too early to tell how the evacuations might affect oil supplies to the United States.

And the Major League Baseball playoffs begin today. There are three games on the schedule. St. Louis hosts San Diego in the National League Division series. That game's followed by the two American League Division series matchups, Boston and Chicago and New York at the Los Angeles Angels. The final playoff series between Houston and Atlanta begins tomorrow.

At any moment, President Bush is to hold a news conference in the Rose Garden. Joining us now to set the stage, CNN's Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley at our Washington bureau.

And, Candy, good morning to you.

A couple of things here. The president can talk about any number of things. Two Supreme Court nominations, two massive hurricanes and those relief efforts and we've mentioned the lowest approval ratings on his presidency. We could be here a while, couldn't we?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as long as he wants to be there. Interesting that he's this is not his favorite thing to do, as I think we know over these past many years. And, you know, I think it speaks to the sort of trouble that the administration has been in over the past couple of months. It just seems to sort of be ratcheting up different things.

But Iraq had already begun to depress his poll rating numbers, then came Katrina. Any number of things have sort of settled in to create this kind of lull in the Bush administration and these sort of poll numbers that you're seeing.

HARRIS: You know what, Candy, talking about Harriet Miers for a second here. If you listen to some of the reaction from the right, you would think he had nominated someone who wasn't even an attorney. Who is defending this pick other than perhaps maybe some Democrats and the president and his team?

CROWLEY: Well, there are some members. I mean, not all conservatives are equal, nor are they alike. So there definitely are some members the conservative group that are defending this pick, saying -- and they're out there reassuring or trying to reassure their fellow conservatives, saying, listen, in fact, this is a conservative woman, you can bank on her.

What those that are complaining don't like is not that she's done anything wrong, but that they have no means to judge her. And they had wanted a rock solid conservative. And more than that, they had wanted the fight with Democrats. They felt that the president backed off of a fight by not naming a conservative with a big, long record that proved that he or she was a conservative. Because they wanted to have that fight with the liberals in Congress.

HARRIS: Why? Can I ask you that? Why did they want the fight?

CROWLEY: They wanted the fight because they want -- they wanted, as one said, to sort of deal the death nail to the liberals on the court. They felt that this was the chance for a knockout blow in the high courts. Certainly, the president has done a lot in the appellate court. But they wanted a fight to deal that blow.

HARRIS: And Bob Franken, let me bring you in here. You know, there's a sense that from -- that what you hear from some folks on the right is that, look, they won the election, they put in a conservative president, they won Congress and now this was the last piece of that puzzle, to find this judge and make this judge move the court to the right -- as we see the president. And I'll hold off on getting your response to that, as we see the president moving to the microphones right now. My apologies, Bob.


Yesterday, I nominated an outstanding individual to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Over the past three decades, Harriet Miers has built a stellar record of accomplishment in the law. She's been a model of service to her country and to our citizens.

I've known her for more than 10 years. I know her character. She's a woman of principle and deep conviction.

She shares my philosophy that judges should strictly interpret the laws and the Constitution of the United States and not legislate from the bench.

I appreciate the reception that Harriet's gotten in Capitol Hill. I expect the Senate to conduct fair hearings and to hold an up-or-down vote on Harriet's nomination by Thanksgiving.

Congress has got other important work to do, starting with our response to the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

We here in Washington have got a vital role to play in the recovery and reconstruction efforts on the Gulf Coast. I have made that clear.

I've also made it clear we must do so in a fiscally responsible way. Congress needs to pay for as much of the hurricane relief as possible by cutting spending. I'll work with members of Congress to identify offsets and to free up money for the reconstruction efforts.

I will ask them to make even deeper reductions in the mandatory spending programs than are already planned.

As Congress completes action on the 2006 appropriations bills, I call on members to make real cuts in nonsecurity spending.

The heart of America is big enough to be generous and responsible at the same time.

One of our most important obligations to to ensure that hundreds of thousands of students displaced by the storms can continue with their studies. Congress needs to provide assistance to states and local school districts that have taken these children in, whether the schools are public or private.

As the federal government meets its responsibilities to the people of the Gulf Coast, it must also recognize its limitations.

The engine that drives growth and job creation in America is the private sector and the private sector will be the engine that drives the recovery of the Gulf Coast. So I've outlined a set of policies to attract private investment to the affected areas, to encourage small- business development and to help workers in need get back on their feet.

These policies are vital to our efforts to help the good folks who've suffered down there in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. I call on Congress to includes these measures in the recovery legislation that they send to my desk. The storms that hit our Gulf Coast also touched every American with higher prices at the gas pump. They highlighted a problem I've been talking about since I've come to Washington: We need more refining capacity.

It ought to be clear to everybody that this country needs to build more refining capacity to be able to deal with the issues of tight supply. We haven't built a new refinery since the 1970s.

And so I look forward to working with Congress to pass a reasonable law that will allow current refineries to expand and to encourage the construction of new refineries.

We've also got to continue to make sure we meet our obligations to prevent further terrorist attack. One of the most important, effective tools for safeguarding our country is the Patriot Act.

This good law allows law enforcement officers to hunt down terrorists with many of the same tools they already use to fight organized crime and drug dealers.

The Patriot Act is getting results. It's a positive piece of legislation. Parts of it are set to expire. Congress needs to recognize that terrorist threats won't expire. And so they need to send me a bill that reauthorizes the Patriot Act.

We've been through a lot but there's no question in my mind that we're going to accomplish great things. We'll make this country more secure, we'll help the parts of our country that got destroyed rebuilt, we'll keep this economy strong.

The work of our government goes on, and I'm looking forward to working with members of Congress to meet our obligations and responsibilities.

With that, I'll be glad to take some questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, of all of the people in the United States you had to choose from, is Harriet Miers the most qualified to serve on the Supreme Court?

BUSH: Yes. Otherwise, I wouldn't have put her on.


BUSH: Look -- please, please.

I've known Harriet for over a decade. I've worked with Harriet. She's a woman of principle and character. She's highly intelligent.

BUSH: She's been a pioneer of law in my state of Texas. She was the first woman hired by her law firm -- first woman partner, I mean, by the law firm. She managed the law firm. She was the first head of the Dallas bar -- first woman to head the Dallas bar, first woman to head the state bar of Texas.

She's an enormously accomplished person who's incredibly bright.

Secondly, she knows the kind of judge I'm looking for. After all, she was a part of the process that selected John Roberts.

I don't want someone to go on the bench to try to supplant the legislative process.

BUSH: I'm interested in people that will be strict constructionists.

And I've told that to the American people ever since I started running for office. I said: Vote for me, this is the kind of judges I'll put on the bench. There should be no doubt in anybody's mind what I believe the philosophy of a judge. And Harriet Miers shares that philosophy.

Thirdly, I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change; that 20 years from now she'll be the same person, with the same philosophy that she is today. She'll have more experience, she'll have been a judge, but nevertheless, her philosophy won't change.

BUSH: And that's important to me. That was important to me when I picked Chief Justice Roberts. It's important for me in picking Harriet Miers.

Finally, you know, I got some interesting suggestions. I actually listened to senators when they bring forth ideas. And they brought forth some really interesting ideas during the course of our conversations. Some told me directly; many brought to me by people on my staff.

And one of the most interesting ideas I heard was, "Why don't you pick somebody who hasn't been a judge? Why don't you reach outside the" -- I think one senator said -- "the judicial monastery?"

And I thought it was an interesting idea.

BUSH: And I thought long and hard about it. I, obviously, looked at whether or not other presidents had made that decision. They had.

And so recognizing that Harriet would bring not only expertise but a fresh approach, I nominated her. And she'll be a really good judge.

And as I said, I appreciate the reception she's gotten at Capitol Hill. After all, they'll decide.

QUESTION: Some conservatives have said that you did not pick someone like Scalia and Thomas because you shied away from a battle with the Democrats.

QUESTION: Is there any truth to that? And are you worried about charges of cronyism?

BUSH: Well, I just described to you why I picked Harriet. I'll be glad to go over it again if you like.

In other words, she's eminently qualified. She shares my judicial philosophy. She is a pioneer when it comes to the law. She is an extraordinary woman.

The decision as to whether or not there'll be a fight is up to the Democrats. They get to decide whether or not the special interests will decide the tone of the debate.

I'm upbeat about the tone of the hearings, but except I'm mindful of the fact that somebody as eminently qualified as John Roberts did have half the Democratic caucus voted against him.

I picked the best person I could find.

BUSH: People are going to be amazed at her strength of character and her intellect.

But the tone will be set by the people who conduct the hearings and give the speeches and run the television ads.

When it's all said and done, the American people are going to know what I know: This woman deserves to be on the bench. And she'll bring credit to the bench and to the law.


BUSH: I just answered: I picked the best person I could find. People know we're close. But you've got to understand, because of our closeness, I know the character of the person.

It's one thing to say a person can read the law -- and that's important -- and understand the law.

BUSH: But what also matters is the intangibles. To me a person's strength of character counts a lot. And as a result of my friendship with Harriet, I know her strengthen of character.

It's important to me -- again, I repeat to you: I don't want to put somebody on the bench who's this way today and changes. That's not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in finding somebody who shares my philosophy today and will have that same philosophy 20 years from now.

And after spending a long time thinking about his nomination, there's no doubt in my mind that's the way Harriet Miers is. There's no doubt in my mind that's the way Chief Justice John Roberts is, as well.

QUESTION: You've taken time to express that you know her heart, her character. You've emphasized your friendship. So it seems reasonable that over the course of the years you've known her perhaps you have discussed the issue of abortion.

Have you ever discussed with Harriet Miers abortion? Or have you gleaned from her comments her views on that subject? BUSH: I have no litmus test. It's also something I've consistently said. There is no litmus test.

What matters to me is her judicial philosophy. What does she believe the proper role of the judiciary is relative to the legislative and the executive branch?

And she'll be asked all kinds of questions up there. But the most important thing for me is what kind of judge will she be. And so there's no litmus test.

QUESTION: Sir, you've always said there was no litmus test...

BUSH: Correct. I'll say it again: There is no litmus test.

QUESTION: But she is not someone you've interviewed for the job that you didn't know. You'd known her a long time. Have you never discussed abortion with her?

BUSH: In my interviews with any judge, I never ask their personal opinion on the subject of abortion.

QUESTION: In your friendship with her (INAUDIBLE)

BUSH: Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her.

What I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be.

QUESTION: A couple of weeks ago, you stood in the Rose Garden with Generals Abizaid and Casey and you cited the accomplishments regarding standing up of Iraqi troops there and said that there were 12 battalions that were working on Fallujah in the western part, 20 in Baghdad, 100 across the nation.

QUESTION: And that afternoon, Abizaid and Casey went up to Capitol Hill and said, "Well, there's one battle-ready battalion," which led some Republican senators to say, "Well, the situation is getting worse."

So, the questions is, sir: It appears that between what you said and what they said, something's not adding up here.

BUSH: Well, what is happening in Iraq is the following: More and more Iraqi are able to take the fight to the enemy.

BUSH: And that's important to achieve our goal. And the goal is for a stable, democratic Iraq that is an ally in the war on terror.

Right now, there are over 80 army battalions fighting alongside coalition troops. When I say army battalions, Iraqi army battalions. There are over 30 Iraqi battalions in the lead. And that is substantial progress from the way the world was a year ago.

Success in Iraq is really important for our future. And to succeed in Iraq, we have a dual-track strategy. BUSH: On the one hand, there's a political strategy: the constitutional process and then elections in December. On the other one is the security strategy that you described.

American troops have got two missions. One is to track down the Zarqawis and his affiliates and bring them to justice. We had success doing that, as you might recall, with the fellow in Baghdad.

And the second mission is to train Iraqis. And we've got several ways we're doing that.

One is, obviously, your basic training route. The other is to embed our troops with Iraqi forces to teach them not only how to fight but how to have a proper command and control structure.

BUSH: I remember a Rose Garden press conference awhile back -- I think it was a Rose Garden press conference -- where you might have asked me this very type of question. I said one of the concerns we have is the capacity of the Iraqis to develop command and control.

In other words, there's one thing to have people able to march; it's another thing to have the capacity to send them into battle in an organized way.

One of the things that our folks measure is whether or not that's taking place. And the answer is there is progress.

There's, obviously, more work to be done, more units to be stood up. But we've got, as I said, over 30 battalions in the lead, and that's positive progress.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you've presided over the largest increase in the size, the power and the cost of the federal government since Lyndon Baines Johnson. A lot of your supporters are wondering what's so conservative about that.

And can you answer them and tell the American people, given the budget deficit, the cost of the war, the cost of Katrina, specifically, by naming a specific program or revenue measure, how you're going to pay for all this?

BUSH: First, let me remind people that we are at war. And I have pledged the American people -- and more importantly, the troops and their families -- we'll make sure they have what it takes to succeed.

BUSH: Secondly, when it comes to discretionary spending -- nonsecurity discretionary spending, the budget I submitted to the United States Congress actually reduces nondiscretionary -- or discretionary, nonsecurity spending.

And as a matter of fact, if you look at the trend line for nonsecurity discretionary spending, I think it's pretty -- 6 percent when I first was elected. It's down to negative now.

Secondly, I have addressed the issue of mandatory spending. And this is an area where I believe we can find substantial offsets to help pay for ongoing Katrina operations or Rita operations.

BUSH: As a matter of fact, we proposed $187 billion in cuts over a 10-year period of time. The Congress has looked at some of that. I would ask them to look at all of that $187 billion.

We proposed to eliminate or streamline 150 programs in the budget process, saving about $20 billion this year. I would ask them to make sure that, as they consider the budget, that they take a look at those 150 programs.

One of my concerns is that, as they begin to move the appropriations bills, that the appropriations bills don't strictly adhere to the budgets we've agreed to. And there's another area we can show fiscal responsibility.

In the long run, there's two big issues looming that are budgetary issues, one.

BUSH: And these are the unfunded liabilities inherent in the mandatory programs of Social Security and Medicare. And, as you know, I've advocated the need for people to come together to address the Social Security issue. It's an issue that's not going to go away.

And I'll continue to talk about it. There seems to be a diminished appetite in the short term. But I'm going to remind people that there is a long-term issue that we must solve, not only for the sake of the budget but, more importantly, for the sake of younger workers who are going to either have to pay a ton of money in order to justify current benefits, or to take a look at the underlying causes of the growth of benefits and do something about it, show some political courage.

QUESTION: Are you still a conservative?

BUSH: Am I a what?

QUESTION: Still a conservative?

BUSH: I'm still a conservative, proudly so, proudly so.

QUESTION: Mr. President, as we hop around here, let me move to the Valerie Plame investigation, which many people believe is coming to a close.

As you know, some top members of your administration have been named as part of that investigation. Is it your intention if anybody in your administration is indicted to you remove that person from your administration?

BUSH: I am mindful of the investigation. I will remind you what I said last time I was asked about this -- I'm not going till the investigation is complete. And it's important that the investigation run its course.


BUSH: I think -- let's just let the process run its course.

QUESTION: You said at the time of Hurricane Katrina that you were dissatisfied with your administration's response.

You've had some time to think about it now. Is there anything that you, yourself, personally, could have done or would have done differently now?

BUSH: You know, as I said the other day, to the extent that the federal government fell down on the job, I take responsibility.

And I command a large, vast administration, and people I put in place, you know, I take responsibility for the decisions they made.

BUSH: One area where I hope the country takes a look at it the responsibility between federal, state and local government when it comes to catastrophic events -- highly catastrophic events.

In other words, is there a need to move federal assets more quickly in spite of laws on the books that may discourage that? That's an area where I think we ought to take a good hard look.

We have taken a look at FEMA. We've made decisions inside of FEMA. And we're continuing to take a look at FEMA to make sure FEMA is capable of dealing with an emergency of this size.

BUSH: So there's a lot of analysis going on, not only to the response in the immediacy of the hurricane, but continuing to analyze, to make sure our response is a wise response.


BUSH: I'll take responsibility. I'll take all the responsibility for the failures at the federal level.

QUESTION: Mr. President, the Bible speaks of goodwill toward the least of these. With that, how are we going to bridge the divide of poverty and race in this country, beyond economics and homeownership, that after Hurricane Katrina, and also the Bill Bennett statements?

And also, how can the Republican Party gain the black vote -- more of the black vote in 2008 after these public relations fiascoes?

BUSH: Well, first of all, I happen to believe that economics has a lot to do with bridging divides. You mentioned poverty, and there's a divide in our country when it comes to wealth. And one way to bridge that divide is to encourage economic growth, vitality, jobs that pay well and small business.

You can't divorce bridging divides from economic vitality. You just can't. It's a part of how we enable people to realize dreams: by having a growing economy.

BUSH: Secondly, I don't think you can divorce bridging divides from ownership. In other words, I think it's essential that people own something if they're going to have a stake in the future of the country. I think part of the divide occurs because some people own a home and others don't.

I think there's something so powerfully healing about a society in which more and more people have ownership.

Thirdly, education is a vital part of bridging divides.

As you know, I came to Washington intent upon challenging the system which, in my view, too often gave up on children. In other words, "Let's don't measure and let's just move them through."

BUSH: It's a system that let a lot of families down but more importantly let a lot of children down.

I think education is one of the keys to addressing the issue of divides in our country. So the No Child Left Behind Act, which challenges what I've called the soft bigotry of low expectations, is beginning to make good results. You know why? Because we measure.

I think it's important for us to continue to allow faith-based programs to interface with people to help them have hope.

One of the most important initiatives I laid out was the mentoring program for children whose parents may be in prison.

And so you address the racial divide in a variety of ways.

And, obviously, the tone matters from leadership.

BUSH: It matters what leaders say. It matters if somebody, first of all, understands there's a problem and is willing to talk about it. And I will continue to do so as the president.


BUSH: 2008?

My head's not there yet. I'm right here in 2005.


BUSH: Just got to keep asking for the vote.

First of all, the Republican Party should never take a vote for granted and neither should the Democrat Party, OK. And therefore that means you've got to go out and work hard for the vote and talk about what you believe.

And I tried to do so, with not a lot of success, although I improved.

BUSH: But I was disappointed, frankly, in the vote I got in the African-American community. I was.

I've done my best to elevate people to positions of authority and responsibility -- not just positions, but positions where they can actually make a difference in the lives of people. I put people in my Cabinet. I put people in my sub-Cabinet. I've elevated people from all walks of life, because I believe there's a responsibility for the president to reach out. And so it's not a matter of tone, it's also a matter of action.

And just got to keep working at it.

QUESTION: Mr. President, shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit, we saw all the ugly pictures from New Orleans.

QUESTION: You said that the results of the response were unacceptable. Are the results acceptable yet, sir? Are people getting the aid they need as fast as they need to get it?

BUSH: In some cases, we've done a good job of getting $2,000 to people. And in some cases, we'd probably do a better job of getting temporary housing to people.

We're dealing with a storm of a massive scale in which millions of people left their homes -- over a million people left their homes.

BUSH: I think that the notion of helping people immediately worked pretty good. It worked good because the government responded with the checks. It also worked really good because our individual citizens responded in an incredibly generous and compassionate way.


BUSH: You know, I'm not so sure -- I'm not through yet -- I'm not so sure how history will judge the movement of people, but I suspect it's going to be, when we actually take an objective look at what took place, people will be amazed at what happened and how it happened and the responses of thousands of citizens to take in strangers.

It's, kind of, the untold story.

BUSH: I know you've, kind of, looked at it. But deep down, there's a richer story to be told.

There's always going to be frustrations in the immediate aftermath of a storm. I remember going down there and talking to those mayors in Mississippi and the county folks that were just overwhelmed.

You're looking at a mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi, he'd been in office for two months and the city was obliterated. It's gone.

Pascagoula, Mississippi: The mayor of that city had been mayor for two months. Young guy, you know, wanted to serve his community. First thing that came to his desk was the fact that the city got wiped out.

There was the initial shock.

BUSH: And then there was the reaction about: How about getting this debris removed? And there was some bureaucracy, some rules that prevented the debris getting removed right off the bat. And I will explain why if you're interested.

OK. Now that you're interested, I'll tell you.

Because they didn't want to be moving federally paid dozers on private property. Imagine cleaning up a debris and the person shows them, says, "Where's my valuable china?" or, "Where's my valuable art?"

So we had to work through all this. The frustration level was building. But we came up with an accord that allowed for the federal government to pay for debris removal off private property.

It took a while.

BUSH: And there was a lot of frustrations. But the fact that we were able to gather the problem and respond to it was positive. And that's what's continues on.

My own judgment, as I said earlier, is that, obviously, there's a federal role. But the true engine for growth is going to be the private sector. That's where things are going to happen in an expeditious way. That's where you'll find a lot of hope and opportunity that will develop.

I mean, there are going to be a lot of construction jobs. And the fundamental question is: Do we have the wherewithal and the skill to train people to do the jobs that'll exist?

You've got people that maybe not were able to be electricians, but will have an opportunity to train and to become an electrician because that's where the jobs will be.

BUSH: And so we're constantly -- what I'm telling you is we're constantly dealing with problems as they arise, from one of the largest storms in the nation's history. And we're trying to make it as even a response as possible.

QUESTION: You said several times now, sir, that you don't want a justice who will be different 20 years from now than she is today. Given that standard, I wonder in hindsight whether you think the appointment of Justice David Souter then was a mistake. And even...

BUSH: You're trying to get me in trouble with my father.


QUESTION: I'm trying to understand what informed your choice this time.

BUSH: Well, call him.


Go ahead, sorry to interrupt you. QUESTION: Part of my question is, if there's no litmus test, regardless of who serves on the Supreme Court, would you like to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?

BUSH: You know, I'm not going to interject that kind of issue in the midst of these hearings. Harriet Miers will stand on her own.

I made my position very clear in the course of my campaigns -- my position -- and I'm a pro-life president.

Harriet Miers is going to go up to the Senate and they're going to look at her and determine whether or not she has got the temperament, the intelligence and the philosophy to be an excellent Supreme Court judge and she will be. She will be.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Getting back to the leak investigation just for a moment, I'm curious, sir, whether you've had any conversations with any of your aides, particularly Karl Rove or Scooter Libby, about any of their dealings with reporters poking around on that issue and any strategy that they may have come up with to deal with that issue.

BUSH: A special prosecutor made it very clear early in the process that those of us in the White House should not discuss the case publicly or privately.

QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President.

Sir, you've talked about a lot of priorities you still would like to see enacted. But Congress is now facing its own elections and re- elections a year from now and you're not. To what extent is the divergent interests -- how does that scramble your agenda?

QUESTION: And I guess I'm asking: How much political capital have you got left, in your own mind?

BUSH: Plenty. Plenty.

QUESTION: What do you plan to do with...

BUSH: I'm going to spend it in the short term on getting a budget out that is fiscally responsible, one that decreases nonsecurity discretionary spending -- actually decreases it, not increases it.

Secondly, I will continue to work with Congress to make sure our soldiers have what they need to win the war on terror. We're making good progress in Iraq, and Iraq is a part of the war on terror. That's what the American people need to understand.

BUSH: That's what General Abizaid made clear when he came back from the theater. He said: "Recognize that Iraq is a part of a larger global struggle."

And we've got to win in Iraq. And we will win in Iraq. Obviously, I talked about energy. I want to make sure that Congress continues to focus on energy.

Listen, we've got a -- the storm created a short-term problem. And that is, when they shut down refineries, it creates a bubble in the system.

Now, one of the things I did was I suspended all blending rules in order to be able to more likely import foreign gasoline. And that helped make up the difference between the refinery capacity shutdown and the demands of the American people.

BUSH: But there's a bubble moving through the system. And one way to deal with it is to be wise about how we use energy.

So another way to deal with it is to recognize we've got tight energy supplies. And one way to deal with tight energy supplies is to increase supply. And the only way to increase supply is to build refineries.

Again, I'll repeat to you this amazing fact: We have not built a new refinery in America since the 1970s. And we had a storm and it took refinery capacity off. And guess what happens? It creates a tight supply situation which causes price to go up. So Congress needs to deal with that.

And I repeat, they need to get the Patriot Act on my desk.

So we have a short-term agenda that we're dealing with, that have got consequences for the long term.

BUSH: And once we get this part of the session over with, I of course will be preparing State of the Union address for '06 that'll call upon Congress to work to achieve much of what we've talked about here but some new ideas, as well. But right now, let's just get the business of the Congress done now.

QUESTION: So Social Security is off until next year, sir?

BUSH: Well, Social Security for me is never off. It's a long- term problem that's going to need to be addressed. When the appetite to address it -- you know, that's going to be up to the members of Congress.

I just want to remind people it's not going away. It's not one of the issues that's, "Well, if we don't deal with it now, maybe it'll fix itself." It gets worse over time, not better.

And I did make some progress convincing the American people there was a problem. And I'm going to continue talking about the problem because I strongly believe that the role of those of us in Washington -- one role is to confront problems.

BUSH: That's what we got to do.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you've been thinking a lot about pandemic flu and the risks in the United States if that should occur.

I was wondering, Secretary Leavitt has said that first responders in the states and local governments are not prepared for something like that. To what extent are you concerned about that after Katrina and Rita?

And is that one of the reasons you're interested in the idea of using defense assets to respond to something as broad and long-lasting as a flu might be?

BUSH: Yes. Thank you for the question.

I am concerned about avian flu. I'm concerned about what an avian flu outbreak could mean for the United States and the world.

BUSH: I have thought through the scenarios of what an avian flu outbreak could mean. I tried to get a better handle on what the decision-making process would be by reading Mr. Barry's book on the influenza outbreak in 1918. I would recommend it.

The policy decisions for a president in dealing with an avian flu outbreak are difficult.

One example: If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country? And how do you, then, enforce a quarantine?

It's one thing to shut down airplanes. It's another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu.

BUSH: And who best to be able to effect a quarantine?

One option is the use of a military that's able to plan and move. So that's why I put it on the table. I think it's an important debate for Congress to have.

I noticed the other day, evidently, some governors didn't like it. I understand that. I was the commander in chief of the National Guard and proudly so. And, frankly, I didn't want the president telling me how to be the commander in chief of the Texas Guard.

But Congress needs to take a look at circumstances that may need to vest the capacity of the president to move beyond that debate. And one such catastrophe or one such challenge could be an avian flu outbreak.


BUSH: Wait a minute, this is an important subject.

Secondly, during my meetings at the United Nations, not only did I speak about it publicly, I spoke about it privately to as many leaders as I could find, about the need for there to be awareness, one, of the issue and two, reporting -- rapid reporting to WHO, so that we can deal with a potential pandemic. The reporting needs to be not only on the birds that have fallen ill, but also on tracing the capacity of the virus to go from bird to person to person. That's when it gets dangerous: when it goes bird, person, person.

BUSH: And we need to know on a real-time basis as quickly as possible the facts so that the world scientific community can analyze the facts and begin to deal with it.

Obviously, the best way to deal with a pandemic is to isolate it and keep it isolated in the region in which it begins.

As you know, there's been a lot of reporting of different flocks that have fallen ill with the H5N1 virus. And we've also got some cases of the virus being transmitted to a person, and we're watching very carefully.

Thirdly, the development of a vaccine.

BUSH: I've spent time with Tony Fauci on the subject.

Obviously, it would be helpful if we had a breakthrough in the capacity to develop a vaccine that would enable us to feel comfortable here at home, that not only would first responders be able to be vaccinated, but as many Americans as possible, and people around the world.

But, unfortunately, we're just not that far down the manufacturing process. And there's a spray, as you know, that can maybe help arrest the spread of the disease, which is in relatively limited supply.

So one of the issues is how do we encourage the manufacturing capacity of the country, and maybe the world, to be prepared to deal with the outbreak of a pandemic?

BUSH: In other words, can we surge enough production to be able to help deal with the issue?

I take this issue very seriously, and I appreciate you bringing it to our attention.

The people of the country ought to rest assured that we're doing everything we can. We're watching it. We're careful. We're in communications with the world.

I'm not predicting an outbreak. I'm just suggesting to you that we better be thinking about it. And we are. And we're more than thinking about it, we're trying to put plans in place.

And one of the plans -- back to where your original question came -- was, you know, if we need to take some significant action, how best to do so. And I think the president ought to have all options on the table to understand what the consequences are -- all assets on the table, not options -- assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant. BUSH: Thanks. Good to see you.

Mike, please, unless you don't want to be heard in New York with your question.

QUESTION: There's always that possibility.

Many conservative women lawyers have expressed their extreme distress that you chose as a woman nominee for the court someone whose credentials did not come close, in their view, to the credentials of John Roberts. They feel as though it's, kind of, old-fashioned affirmative action, women don't have the same credentials. I wonder if you could address that.

BUSH: Sure. Thanks.

I would ask them to watch the hearings of Harriet Miers. I think they will become as impressed with her as I have become.

BUSH: She is plenty bright. As I mentioned earlier, she was a pioneer in Texas. She just didn't kind of opine about things; she actually led.

First woman of the Texas Bar Association; first woman of the Dallas Bar Association; a woman partner of her law firm; she led a major law firm. She was consistently rated as one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States -- not just one year, but consistently rated that way, as one of the top 100 lawyers.

And secondly, I can understand people not, you know, knowing Harriet. She hasn't been, you know, one of these publicity hounds. She's been somebody just quietly does her job.

BUSH: But when she does it, she performs, you see.

She's not a person in Texas saying, "Look at me. Look at how stellar I have been." She just did it and, quietly, quietly established an incredibly strong record.

And I know her. I know her heart. I know what she believes.

Remember, she was part of the search committee that helped pick Roberts. In other words, she went through the deliberations and talking to these different candidates about what they believe.

BUSH: She knows exactly the kind of judge I'm looking for. And I know exactly the kind of judge she'll be, which is an excellent judge.

I know people are jumping to all kinds of conclusions. And that's fine. That's part of our process, you know. People are quick to opine.

The thing I appreciate is that she's gotten a good reception on the United States Senate. People can opine all they want, but the final opinion is at the floor of the United States Senate. That's where it's going to be decided whether or not she is a Supreme Court judge.

And I'm hopeful she'll get confirmed. I certainly don't want to prejudge the senators. Somebody asked me about trying to avoid conflict. That's up to them to decide how they're going to treat this good woman.

BUSH: That's up to them, if they're going to be willing to give her a fair look at her credentials and to listen carefully to her view of what it means to be a judge. That's up to them to make that decision.

It's up to them to decide whether or not they want to reject all the special interest money that seems to want to try to influence the outcome of certain issues here in Washington, D.C.

It's up to them if they want to bring dignity to the process. I will assure you of this: Harriet Miers will bring dignity to the bench.

QUESTION: Following up on that, for 10 years, you've been on the receiving end of paperwork from Harriet Miers, but the rest of the American people haven't seen either her command of constitutional issues or her philosophy.

QUESTION: Will you release some of her -- or the bulk of her White House legal work and not claim executive privilege?

BUSH: Listen, there is a lot -- first of all, this was a part of the Roberts debate. People talked about executive privilege and documents.

Secondly, it is important that we maintain executive privilege in the White House. That's part of the deliberative process. That's how I'm able to get good, sound opinions from people.

And so, you know, I'm sure they're going to try to bring this up. I happen to view it as a distraction from whether or not Harriet Miers is capable of answering the questions she's asked. They can all the questions they want.

BUSH: It's a distraction from whether or not she'll be a good judge. But this part of the process was part of the Roberts process. We handled this issue and I just can't tell you how important it is for us to guard executive privilege in order for there to crisp decision-making in the White House.

QUESTION: It may be a little early for this, but now that you've gotten your deliberations for the Supreme Court vacancy out of the way, can you talk about the process you're going to use for determining the next chairman of the Federal Reserve?

BUSH: Yes. It's ongoing, by the way. There is a group of people inside the White House who are bringing forth -- who will bring forth nominees.

BUSH: The nominees will be people that, one, obviously can do the job and, secondly, will be independent.

It's important that whomever I pick is viewed as an independent person from politics. It's this independence of the Fed that gives people, not only here in America but the world, confidence.

And so there's an ongoing process. Right now, I, frankly, hadn't seen any -- personally hadn't seen any names yet because part of the process is to surface some names internally but also part of the process is to reach outside the White House and solicit opinions.

BUSH: And I'll name the person at an appropriate time.

QUESTION: As you know, ethics has been the hot topic here in Washington. I wonder, as a matter of principle, do you believe it is ever OK for a member of your administration or a member of Congress to accept free gifts or travel from lobbyists?

BUSH: Let me answer your question this way: It's not acceptable for any member of my administration to break the law. And I presume free gifts from lobbyists break the law. And there's all kind of reporting requirements.

BUSH: And I expect my people that work here to adhere to what's expected of them.

QUESTION: You said a few minutes ago that you're proudly a conservative, but there was a lot of hand-wringing when you made your nomination yesterday on Harriet Miers.

Bill Kristol said he was depressed and demoralized, and Rush Limbaugh said it was a nomination out of weakness.

What do you say to these critics specifically? And how can you convince them that she is as conservative as Justices Scalia and Thomas?

BUSH: I guess I'll start over. I hope they're listening.

First, she's a woman of enormous accomplishment.

BUSH: She understands the law. She's got a keen mind. She will not legislate from the bench.

I also remind them that I think it's important to bring somebody from outside the judicial system, somebody that hasn't been on the bench. And, therefore, there's not a lot of opinions for people to look at.

Harriet Miers will testify. There's going to be a lot of attention paid to her testimony.

First of all, she'll go meet with the senators individually, and then she'll answer questions.

BUSH: And people will get to see not only her strength of character but will get a sense of her judicial philosophy. I'm hopeful she'll get confirmed. And then they'll get to read her opinions. And what I believe and what I know is important is that she doesn't change over the course of time. And had I thought she would change I wouldn't put her on there.

And I recognize that, you know, if you pick somebody from outside the judicial system, you pick somebody's who's not a judge and they didn't -- hadn't written a lot of opinions, then people are going to guess. And they're going to speculate.

BUSH: I don't have to guess and speculate about Harriet. I know her character, I know her strength, I know here talent, and I know she's going to be a fine judge.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You've spoken a lot today about knowing Ms. Miers and knowing her history and knowing what she's about. Earlier this summer, you stood up for Rafael Palmeiro when you were asked about whether or not you thought he took steroids, and then he tested positive.

Do you think he should face perjury charges?

BUSH: I think that steroids ought to be banned from baseball. And Jackson asked me -- sitting right over there -- about his statement, and I said I believed him when he testified.

BUSH: But let me be very clear about this: Steroids ought to be banned from baseball. And I'm sure the Congress will look as to whether or not he broke the law.

QUESTION: Mr. President...

BUSH: Yes?

QUESTION: ... in our latest poll...

BUSH: The what?

QUESTION: In our latest poll...

BUSH: Latest poll?

QUESTION: Yes. Our latest poll.


BUSH: Gosh. OK.

QUESTION: I know you don't pay attention to polls. But anyway, in our latest poll...

BUSH: You run one every other day.



BUSH: You mean yesterday's poll, as opposed to tomorrow's poll?

Go ahead. It's a good way to fill space, Richard.


Eighty-five percent of the Republicans approve of the job you're doing, but only 15 percent of the Democrats approve of the job you're doing. What is it about that that Democrats find so objectionable that you do?

BUSH: Ask the pollsters. My job is to lead and to solve problems. I will continue to articulate, as best I can, the stakes in Iraq.

This is -- Iraq's a part of a global war on terror. We're facing people who have got a vision of the world which is opposite of ours. I know I've said that endlessly, and I will continue to say it, because I know it's true.

And they have designs. They like the idea of being able to find safe haven in a country like Afghanistan so they can plot attacks.

BUSH: They like the idea of killing innocent people to shake our will. That's what they're trying to do.

We're not leaving Iraq. We will succeed in Iraq.

Secondly, I've got a job to help promote economic vitality. And I was pleased to see the manufacturing report was strong yesterday.

But, clearly, we've got some challenges when it comes to energy. And there are two ways to address the energy issue. One is through better conservation and encouraging technologies to change how we use energy; and, secondly, to increase supply of energy.

One place we need to increase supply is through the refineries. And the other place we need to do so is through safe nuclear power.

I had an interesting opportunity to go see some research and development being done on solar energy.

BUSH: I'm convinced someday in the relative near future we'll be able to have units on our houses that will be able to power our electronics within our houses and hopefully, with excess energy, be able to feed them back into the system as possible.

We're not there yet but it's coming.

Thirdly, we've got to deal with Katrina in a fiscally sound way. And I repeat what I said before: The engine of growth in these areas that have been destroyed is going to be the private sector.

And therefore Congress ought to get a bill to my desk that I can sign that encourages investment. If you want the private sector to thrive, there is a way to do so. And that is to provide tax incentives to people.

BUSH: It's amazing what happens when there's proper tax incentive to encourage investment.

And so these are issues that we're dealing with. And I'm dealing with them on behalf of everybody. And I'll let you all sort out the politics.

My job is to lead this country, as best I possibly can, to deal with the big problems that we face.

And there's no doubt in my mind that we'll succeed in Iraq and lay the foundation for peace for generations to come. There's no doubt in my mind this country, if it puts its mind to it, can put energy policy in place that makes sense that will help continue this economic growth of ours.

BUSH: There's no doubt in my mind we can be good fiscal stewards of the budget. It's going to make some hard choices. I just earlier in this press conference talked about $187 billion over 10 years of mandatory spending reductions.

It's going to take some political will by people. But there's a good place to start right there when it comes to offsets.

Or the 150 programs that can be streamlined or eliminated.

There's no doubt in my mind we can work together to do it. We've got big things to do, and I intend to work with Congress to continue to do them.

Listen, thank you for your time.

HARRIS: And there you have the president wrapping up his first news conference in months. Three, four months now, about an hour-long news conference. The president taking questions on a number of topics.

Taking questions, a lot of questions on his Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers; recovery efforts along the gulf coast; the Iraq war, of course; and then number of questions. And the president went on in length about Avian flu. A lot of concern there voiced by the president.

Let's bring in our team of correspondents. First of all, we have Bob Franken at the White House; Joe Johns, our congressional correspondent; and Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.

And Bob, let me begin with you. The president started with a pretty hearty defense of Harriet Miers. And what he said in part was, "I picked the best person I could find," and that "She won't change."

FRANKEN: Well, you know, that's interesting. First of all, responding to charges that he went to his inner circle, already being accused of cronyism, he says she's enormously qualified. She's plenty bright, the president said at another point.

As for the "She won't change," there's a real concern in the conservative community over David Souter. David Souter was presented as a conservative by President Bush I, this president's father. And he has now antagonized conservatives. Obviously this president was making sure that the conservatives -- said she's a reliable conservative and will be one in 10 years.

There are, of course, also so many other subjects that were discussed...


FRANKEN: ... the Valerie Plame investigation -- or rather it wasn't discussed. The president refused to get involved in questions about what would happen if members of his administration were going to be indicted.

He called for a heavy involvement, looking forward to a heavy involvement in the response to the hurricanes by the private sector, even suggesting that this is going to provide economic opportunities for those who might get job training.

I guess I would have to say, Tony, that the best question that I believe was asked at this news conference was the one responding to the president saying earlier in his administration he had so much political capital.


FRANKEN: And after all the time that is spent, with all the drains that have been going on right now in his prestige, the question was, do you have -- "How much political capital do you have left?" The response, an emphatic "Plenty."

HARRIS: You know what, Bob? You mentioned the drain on this presidency. And it's coming from so many fronts.

But back to Miers for just a second, do you believe -- at the beginning of the press conference he seemed -- well, he seemed a bit drained. Did you get the sense that he has been stung by the criticism of this choice?

FRANKEN: Well, it's hard to read somebody's mind. I can tell you that as late as about an hour before the news conference, or two hours before the news conference, there was still a discussion about whether to have it.

The decision was, yes, we really should go ahead and do this. It comes at a time when the attention at least is not as unfavorable as it has been, questions about Iraq and all the resulting fall in the poll numbers. And, of course, the responses to the hurricane...


FRANKEN: ... that has had a similar effect. At least with the Harriet Miers nomination, it as at the very worst of sort of neutral. The fight is ahead on that one.


Bob Franken for us at the White House.

Bob, thank you.

Let's bring in Joe Johns, our congressional correspondent.

And Joe, you know, there's been some criticism that the president was too quick to write -- open up the checkbook and provide a blank check for the recovery efforts after Katrina and Rita. Did you hear anything in the president to suggest that in this continuing budget process he's going to back away from that position?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sounds very much like he's talking about cutting spending in the federal government to try to help offset the cost in Katrina. That's been continuing debate here on Capitol Hill. And he is expected to run into some trouble up here.

The Democratic leader, Harry Reid's office, I talked to them a little while ago. They're saying something we've heard many times before, that cutting entitlements is quote, "morally bankrupt," it shows misplaced priorities of the administration.

There's not a real appetite for that, as witnessed by the fact that the President's Social Security plan looks like it's going nowhere right now, especially after considering the fact that the midterm elects are coming up next year, and members of Congress are going to have to face the voters. There is a bit of a problem with cutting some of those services that people expect to be provided to them.

The Democratic leaders office also saying it was nice to hear the president talk about rebuilding the Gulf States. Let's not forget we still have to work on rebuilding lives as well -- Tony.

HARRIS: Hey, Joe, let me pick up on that Social Security point. I think it's a good one, the president saying I'm going to continue about reform of Social Security, but that's different than I'm going to fight for reform, isn't it?

JOHNS: Right. Well, he did say he thought he made some progress a, least in convincing people that there is a problem out there. And he's certainly got the debate going, but after we started looking at all the spending from Katrina, we haven't heard much about Social Security reform at all. A lot of people think there are going to be completely different priorities here on Capitol Hill, at least through the end of this year -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK, Joe Johns, thank you.

Candy Crowley now. And, Candy, there was a lot there -- and maybe we can touch on some of the other topics that the president touched on -- but on Harriet Miers, did you get a sense that perhaps the president has been stung by the criticism?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POL. CORRESPONDENT: We know the White House seemed a little bit surprised by it, by talking to aides yesterday, that the vociferousness of the conservative response, well, some of the conservative response, still it is, I think what you're getting at, and what to me was interesting about this news conference, is what the president himself chose to talk about.

And usually when presidents have news conferences, they'll start out with a warning to Democrats if they are a Republican, or vice versa, but this started out with the president talking directly to the people who are responsible for helping put him in office, who have kept him in office and who have pursued his agenda with him. What was the first thing he said? I want to assure you that Harriet Miers shares my philosophy. She will not legislate from the bench. That's a message to conservatives.

What was next? We need to be fiscally responsible about our response to Rita. That's directly to conservatives, both social and economic conservatives.

The truth is, by the numbers, the president could get a lot of his agenda through without Democrats. He has a Republican majority. He can't do it without Republicans. So it is both meaningful politically and interesting that his remarks that he chose to say at the beginning were aimed directly at his conservative base, both on spending and on the choice of Harriet Miers.

HARRIS: You know, I'm going to try to get at it this way. The president's tone at the beginning, did you notice that?

CROWLEY: You know, I share with you -- I mean, my sort of first thought is because we do this sort of thing for a living, is he seems tired. He usually gets out there and he's peppy, and he, you know -- I thought he picked up afterwards. It's hard to know, bad night, who knows.

But I agree with you, at the beginning, I sort of to myself thought he looks tired. But you know what, it's been a rugged two months. There have been a lot coming at them. I mean, look at this news conference and just sort of the breadth of what was out there -- the Plame investigation, deficit spending, Harriet Miers, Iraq, poverty and race. I mean, all of these things have come at him in a fierce way over the past couple of months. That's bound to take a little of the spark out of a guy.

HARRIS: Yes, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. Candy, thank you.

We'll take a break. More CNN LIVE TODAY right after this.


HARRIS: And here's what's happening now in the news. For the second time in less than a week, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas finds himself under indictment, against, from Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. The latest criminal charge includes one count of money laundering. DeLay calls it prosecutorial abuse and a partisan vendetta. If convicted, DeLay could get five years to life in prison.

In Iraq, three U.S. troops have been killed in a newly launched combat operation in Western Iraq. All died from a roadside bombing in the western Anbar Province city of Haqlaniya.

Also yesterday, another roadside in Anbar Province killed a Marine.

And Delta Airlines says it will cancel a flight if there's a large number of empty seats. The carrier says it's a fuel-saving measure. Cancellations will be at least two days in advance. Delta says passengers will be easily accommodated on other flights.

In Upstate New York, Shoreline Cruises is shutdown today after the state pulled the company's license. Investigators say its tour boat was a crew member short Sunday when it capsized. Authorities raised the Ethan Allen Monday and started going over it today. It rolled and sank on Lake George. Twenty elderly sightseers died. Investigators are talking again this morning with the captain. He says he lost control after the Ethan Allen was hit by a large wave, one kicked up by a passing boat. But that boat's owner says his vessel was two miles away at the time.

Frank Sause, helping with rescue efforts. He joins me now from Lake George.

And, Frank, good morning to you.


HARRIS: Take us back. It was Sunday. It was calm. The conditions, I understand, were great. Give us a sense of what you saw initially.

SAUSE: Well, I wasn't there for the -- I was there more in the aftermath, after the boat had gone down. I guess I got there about a half hour after it started. I was more or less helping take some of the elderly off the boats, the more agile ones that were able to get around a little bit.

HARRIS: Well, Frank, describe the scene when you arrived.

SAUSE: Well, when I first got there, there were a lot of personal boats out on the water, trying to pick some of the people out of the water, then there were three or four emergency boats that were out there. They were picking up the more disabled ones that weren't able to fend for themselves, and I guess some of the bodies also. Then there was a ton of equipment on the shore, a lot of EMTs, and ambulances and police.

HARRIS: Emotionally, how difficult was it for you to be a part of that rescue effort and to know that there were people who died in the accident? SAUSE: Well, when I first got there, I had no idea people died. I thought it was just a boat that turned over. Then I found out it was a tour boat that turned over. And then I was helping people out, and again, I was assuming that everybody was OK. I just thought it was capsized and everyone was fine. It wasn't until after I unloaded about three boats that I looked back at where the police were unloading their people at, and I realized that those were all bodies laying on the shore that were all covered up.

HARRIS: How difficult, how tricky was the rescue effort that you were involved in?

SAUSE: Mine wasn't difficult at all. I was just helping the elderly out of the boats. They were elderly. They seemed like their mid-to-late 70s, and they were having a hard time just lifting their foot that high to get out of the boat, but -- and they were shaking and they were all emotionally distraught.

HARRIS: Hey, Frank, you're familiar with those waters, correct?

SAUSE: I am.

HARRIS: You know that area?

SAUSE: Yes, I do.

HARRIS: You know, if you were an investigator, what are you looking at? What are you looking at as the possible cause? I'm not going to ask you to sort of openly speculate on what you think happened, but what would you be looking for?

SAUSE: Geez, you know, that's out of my ballpark. But I'd just be looking at conditions. The weather conditions were nice. The -- you know, didn't seem like they were overloaded. Just something -- it had to be just -- the way it all happened, the way it all fell together, there had to be something to do with the wave. It was a low-cut boat, compared to other tour boats, which one of the nice aspects of it. There had to be something that got somebody's attention. I imagine they all drifted to one side of the boat for some reason or another, and that had a lot to do with it, and probably a wave of some sort.

HARRIS: Do you think it was the wake of a bigger boat? Does that make sense to you?

SAUSE: It could be, yes, it could well be. It makes sense that some boat, whether it be the one that they were talking about or a different one, something had to have make that boat tilt like that. There's no way it could have just done it on its own on a turn

HARRIS: Frank Sause, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Appreciate it.

SAUSE: You're welcome.

HARRIS: The systematic search for Katrina victims is over in New Orleans, but that's not stopping some from still going door to door. We'll hit the flooded streets of the Ninth Ward.

And still to come, Louisiana's attorney general tries to make his case. Why the owners of the St. Rita's Nursing Home may not be the only operators of senior centers to face criminal charges. We'll be right back.


HARRIS: And new pictures just in to CNN. Want to show these to you right now of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, meeting with Orrin Hatch. Senator Hatch, the second ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee that will be holding the confirmation hearings for Harriet Miers in short order. A new video into CNN just a few moments ago. Orrin Hatch talking to Harriet Miers. And what he said this morning on "AMERICAN MORNING" is that he would just sort of be guiding her through this process, filling her in on what she can expect in the confirmation hearings that will be under way shortly.

Five weeks after Katrina, New Orleans is calling off the house- to-house search for bodies. Teams have pulled 964 corpses from storm- ravaged areas across southeastern Louisiana. Authorities admit more bodies are probably out there. They'll be handled on a case-by-case basis. The count is far short of the 10,000 dead once predicted by New Orleans mayor. As of today, the death toll from Hurricane Katrina stands at just under 1,200.

Searchers and residents insist there are still plenty of dead to find in New Orleans. Once again, they say the Ninth Ward is being ignored because it is poor and black. Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: (voice- over): In pulverized portions of New Orleans's Ninth Ward, where water flows, instead of traffic, most homes bear the signs that search teams have been in to look for the living and the dead, but not in one area that spans several blocks. Here, house after house after house is unmarked.

EDWARD MENDEL, SEARCH VOLUNTEER: From here back, I estimate 100 to 150 homes that are still unsearched. And I do expect we will probably find some bodies.

MESERVE (on camera): Why do you think that?

MENDEL: You can smell them as we drive by.

MESERVE (voice-over): Federal officials say search teams came through every house and ran out of paint to mark them. But volunteer Ed Mendel believes they were not able to go where he can on what he calls swamp thing, a vehicle designed for hunting pigs and deer in the Everglades and modified for rescue work.

MENDEL: It will drive in six feet of water. After that, it starts floating like a boat.

MESERVE: Mendel is particularly concerned about the unmarked homes he passes with nice cars still parked in the driveway.

MENDEL: That's a pretty bad indicator that there may be a recovery involved there.

MESERVE: And then there are the places where houses used to be.

MENDEL: I know there's bodies under the debris piles in the sides of the road. You can -- you can tell from the byproducts that comes off of humans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay right there. I'm going to pull you up.

MESERVE: Mendel picks up Roz Kay and Adam Irvin, a brother and sister who want to take a look at their family home.

ADAM IRVIN, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: I don't think I will be doing any more smoking or barbecuing back here, not at this house.

MESERVE: But Roz Kay knows others lost more than property and possessions.

ROZ KAY, FORMER NINTH WARD RESIDENT: We have so many people who were superseniors that lived in these neighborhoods. And they didn't have children or anyone to rescue them all the way out.

MESERVE: If these homes have not been searched and these people found, Roz Kay perceives it as another slap at the Ninth Ward and the people who lived here.

KAY: This is a predominantly black neighborhood, OK? And it's always been neglected. And it's been a hard fight and an uphill fight always. So, I'm not surprised.

MESERVE: Not surprised, but horrified that, more than a month after Katrina rampaged and ravaged through, there may be grim discoveries still waiting to be made.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, New Orleans.


HARRIS: Another body has been fond at St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish. That brings the death toll there to 35. The owners of the facility are facing criminal charges for their failure to evacuate patients. CNN is able to confirm that as many as 19 Louisiana healthcare facilities are being investigated because of how they handled evacuations during Hurricane Katrina.

CNN'S Drew Griffin reports.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The spray paint marks the sorrow and hopelessness more than any damage you can see, 14 dead at Lafon Nursing Home. With one more body found at St. Rita's, the total here is 35, then this at Bethany Home on New Orleans' Esplanade Avenue, six more dead, along with a silent plea for the morgue to pick up the bodies.

What happened at all three of these nursing homes is now under investigation. The owners of St. Rita's have been charged with 34 counts of negligent homicide. And this man is looking into what happened at these and 11 more nursing homes, plus six hospitals.

FOTI: This is going to be a rather lengthy investigation.

GRIFFIN: What Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti says he wants to find out is why so many nursing homes and even hospitals decided not to follow mandatory evacuation orders and why, perhaps, more than 100 senior citizens died.

The owners of St. Rita's, where those 35 elderly patients literally drowned lying in their beds or sitting in their wheelchairs, says through their attorney that the staff did all they could in a last-minute heroic effort to evacuate in the midst of the storm. The St. Bernard Parish's coroner says that was too late. This nursing home, he says, had the chance to get everyone out long before Katrina hit.

BERTUCCI: I said, you can have the buses or not have the buses. She told me no. And that was the end of our discussion.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So, the bottom line, Doctor, is the county, you, called the facility and offered to evacuate those people 2:00 Sunday afternoon?

BERTUCCI: That's correct. And there was a mandatory evacuation.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): St. Rita's is the only nursing home so far to face charges. The attorney representing its owners says his clients weren't notified of any mandatory evacuation and says Attorney General Foti filed his case before he knew all the facts.

(on camera): Did you move too fast on St. Rita before you knew the facts?

FOTI: We had the evidence.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Foti says he expects more charges at more nursing homes and hospitals if similar evidence shows better decisions could have saved lives. Hurricane Katrina tested the state's medical and nursing home disaster plans. And, for many, he says, those plans failed. After all the deaths, he says Louisiana owes answers to its most vulnerable citizens.

FOTI: We want to look at how do we repair our city, our state and potentially our nation to take care of these type of disasters that could occur in the future.

GRIFFIN: Foti says Hurricane Katrina's deadly lesson was quickly learned. When Hurricane Rita barreled towards the Gulf Coast, among the first moves, he says, by the governors of both Texas and Louisiana was to evacuate all nursing homes.

(on camera): The attorney general says, beyond prosecutions, he wants to come away with a plan of what needs to be done to evacuate the elderly, not just for the next storm, but even for manmade disasters like terror strikes.

Drew Griffin, CNN, New Orleans.


HARRIS: More CNN LIVE TODAY right after this.


HARRIS: As new Chief Justice John Roberts gets used to life in the public eye, he may want to consult with 4-year-old son, Jack, who seems quite comfortable in front of the cameras.

CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Before you even see him, you hear him. He's back. Four-year-old Jack Roberts was in the spotlight again, and parents everywhere much have shuddered in sympathy when they heard the words...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you bring the kids up? The kids?

MOOS: He was dubbed the "Court Jester" back when his dad was first introduced. Remember how he eluded his mom and ended up crawling on the floor on national TV. But it was his dance step that got him on "The Daily Show."

Since then, Jack's every gesture has been scrutinized, flexing his muscles at the Judiciary Committee hearing, yawning, shaking hands with politicians like he was running for something. This is a kid who has a nose for news, pressed up against the window pane, eying the press.

(on camera): Jack was so renowned for his antics that all it took was the mere mention of his name to get laughs.

(voice over): Witness President Bush welcoming Roberts' family.



BUSH: ... the fellow who's comfortable with the cameras.

MOOS: Comfortable, yet wiggling in his seat at his father's swearing in, where dad thanked the committee that confirmed him.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: With this nomination, the committee faced a very special challenge. We found a way to get Jack into the committee room without any serious crisis.


MOOS: Jack's even starting to resemble a Supreme Court justice. Notice Justice Stevens' bow tie. And check out Jack's neckwear.

But the headline for Monday's series of photo-ops was "Ain't Misbehavin'." When there was applause, Jack waved appropriately. He got up like a young gentleman on his dad's lap, with only a single pointed finger admonishing him.

He allowed his jacket to be straightened. He smiled on command.

Sure, his dad's eyes kept darting in his direction. At one point he cleaned his ears on camera. And there was that one moment when his legs started to move.

Would Jack dance? Would Jack fall? Saved by the firm hand of grandma.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


HARRIS: Love that Jack.

New flu fears. This particular strain affecting your dog. How concerned should pet owners be? And can it spread to humans? That's ahead in our next hour of CNN LIVE TODAY.