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The Situation Room
The Politics of Hurricane Katrina
Aired September 08, 2005 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much. To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from the Katrina disaster zone are arriving all the time.
Happening now, holdouts and hidden bodies in the watery ruins.
It's 3:00 p.m. Central Time in New Orleans, where search and rescue teams say they're ready for the worst, forced evacuations and a horrific death toll. The president sends his top partners into the Gulf region once again where the White House warning of an ugly situation -- I'm quoting now -- "an ugly situation, once those flood waters recede."
The same might be said now about the partisan sniping going on here in Washington, reaching new levels every day. Returning to the race question, a top Democrat says skin color and economics played a significant role in who lived and who died, along the Gulf Coast.
I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This hour in the disaster zone, authorities appear to be tightening their control over New Orleans. And they're searching for up to 15,000 people still holed up in the city. The Coast Guard says it will do what the military won't, help police remove residents by force if necessary.
In Houston, tens of thousands of evacuees are lining up to get two different debit cards, one from FEMA and the other from the Red Cross. The lines and the confusion about who qualifies and when the cards are available, prompted a lockdown over at the shelter complex in Houston earlier today. That lockdown is over.
And Mississippi's governor says he expects power to be restored by Sunday to all homes and businesses in his state that are in good enough shape to get electricity.
And just moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved, $51.8 billion of aid to the disaster zone just a day after President Bush requested it. A Senate vote expected today, or tomorrow.
The official death toll across the region now stands at 294, but, of course, that number is expected to rise dramatically. In fact, 25,000 body bags have been delivered to New Orleans. Temporary morgues there are set up to process as many as 1,000 bodies a day.
Tens of thousands of hurricane evacuees remain in shelters -- about 56,000 in Louisiana, 5,500 in Mississippi. Almost 79,000 evacuees are spread out across nine states, mostly in the South and Southwest.
As for the financial impact, an estimated 10,000 workers who lost their jobs due to Katrina filed for unemployment benefits last week. The Postal Service is urging evacuees to submit change of address forms, so they can get Social Security checks and other forms of assistance out to them.
Let's go to New Orleans right away, the situation there. CNN's Karl Penhaul standing by live. Karl?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly no sign yet of the forced evacuations that were pledged by Mayor Ray Nagin, but what has been going on in the course of the day is that all law enforcement officials -- we're talking here about police, both from the state and out of state, and many of the other law enforcement agencies that have flocked to New Orleans -- they've been working on voluntary evacuations. So, taking out people who still want to get out of the city.
The procedure there has been bringing them by pontoon boat or by fan boat onto dry land, and then bringing them either by truck or helicopter over towards the Convention Center area. From there, they're being shipped out to the New Orleans Airport, and from there, being taken to other parts of the country that are now receiving evacuees.
Still no idea when the process of forced evacuations will get under way. But it's essential to get the first wave out first. Nor any details of how those forced evacuations will get under way, because many of the agents that are involved in law enforcement here, although they say, yes, they're willing to take part in forced evacuations, say they don't yet feel comfortable going into people's homes and dragging people out. They say they feel that they have suffered enough so far.
BLITZER: That would be very, very painful, not only for all the people of New Orleans, but for the whole country to have to watch those kind of scenes where individuals didn't voluntarily leave, but the government, local government, state, federal, whatever, goes in there and physically removes them, forces them to leave their homes. These are desperate people to begin with.
What's the latest on disease, the fear of disease, the toxic waste that clearly exists in so much -- such a great part of that area?
PENHAUL: Well, toxic on a number of levels, Wolf, because not only, as health officials have been telling this, is this filthy flood water home to E. coli bacteria, and other bacteria likely to cause diarrhea and respiratory infections, such as colds and influenza, but there's also toxins in there in terms of chemicals.
A paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne that I was talking to said that one of his buddies went into the water and received third-degree burns from chemicals in the water. And we know there's all sorts of gasoline and natural gas in there as well. That is very problematic. But not, so far, any sign of anything disastrous like cholera, typhoid or malaria in those waters. Health officials say those possibilities are rather remote at this stage, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Karl Penhaul on the streets of New Orleans for us. Thanks, Karl, very much.
I want to show our viewers some live pictures we're getting in right now. Once again, helicopters picking up these sandbags, these huge sandbags, workers getting those sandbags ready. There's a lot of them there. They clearly still need a lot of them to fill in the holes in the flood walls, to fill in the holes in the levees, to try to get the water to stop from coming in to New Orleans, to get those levees back in action. We'll watch these pictures for our viewers.
But in the meantime, I want to bring in CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's in New York, but Deborah has some new information on a new tool that's being used to try to find some of the bodies. Deb, what are you picking up?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we're hearing is as much as five unmanned drones, the same kind they use in Iraq, are now at the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station. The plan is to try to get them up into the air at night. They have heat-seeking devices on them. These drones would then fly over homes and try to pick up images of anybody who might be moving around.
This would have a two-fold purpose. One, find people who are still living and try to rescue them, because this is attached to a GPS system, the coordinates would go directly back to a communication center, so people could be picked up and rescued.
But also, to help law enforcement monitor any potential criminal activity. For example, if they see people in areas where they're definitely not supposed to be, they could mobilize some sort of law enforcement agency to go out and at least try to stem whatever going on out there.
Right now, the plan is in the works. They're trying to cut through the some of the red tape, but they're hoping to get those unmanned drones up in the air pretty quickly.
BLITZER: Did you point out who's going to be operating the unmanned drones? We know in Iraq and in Afghanistan, often it's the CIA that does it. What about in New Orleans and elsewhere in the Gulf region, in our Gulf region as opposed to their Gulf region?
FEYERICK: Well, right now we're being told there's one person who would be manning one of those drones. He's a Navy pilot, and he was operating a similar drone over in Iraq. That's at least one of the vehicles that would be used, one of the people who would be operating it. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Deb, thanks very much. Very new interesting new angle in the story. All the tools being used, as much new high technology as possible to deal with this relief, this rescue, this search operation, that continues in New Orleans and in the entire Gulf region.
In the meantime, President Bush is trying once again today to show he and his administration are actively engaged in disaster relief. At the same time, Democrats are ratcheting up their criticism of the Republican response when the hurricane hit, and now there are new developments.
CNN's Dana Bash, our White House correspondent, is over at the White House. Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is on Capitol Hill.
Dana, let's start with you. What's the latest there?
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you're absolutely right. What we're seeing here at the White House today is a continuation of the attempt to try to reverse some of that initial criticism.
Today, what the president announced were some initiatives to try to cut through the red tape, some initiatives like relaxing requirements in order to get some of these evacuees their benefits, federal benefits, like Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment checks faster. Also promised that states taking in evacuees would be reimbursed. All of this, the president said, is part of an effort that will take some time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have much more work to do. But the people who have been hurt by this storm know -- need to know that the government is going to be with you for the long haul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: The White House is well aware of the fact that Americans will start seeing a lot more of what we have been record reporting on CNN today, bodies being recovered. And they want to show that the president is, first of all, in touch with what was is going on, on the ground. And also, they understand that Americans might have some more outrage when they hear more and more of the grim news. The president announced today that he understands that, and he actually called for a national day of prayer on September 16.
BLITZER: When the president, Dana, says he's in it -- the federal government's in it for the long haul, what does he mean by that?
BASH: Wolf, they're actually trying to figure out exactly what they mean by that here at the White House today. Several meetings -- not just today, but really all week -- trying to figure out how to really get a handle on what needs to be done in the long term.
You know, the vice president has been down in the region today. That is somewhat of a fact-finding mission for the president to try to get some answers. What's needed for relocation? What's needed for rehabilitation? And also there were some Republican leaders here at the White House today talking about what kind of legislation might be needed to go through Congress on this.
One interesting thing, Wolf, is that two prominent Republican senators told us coming out of the White House that they told the president he absolutely needs to find somebody outside the administration, an official of influence, to take on this long-term project, that it's absolutely essential.
We've been hearing from senior officials that that is something they've already been discussing at the White House for a few days now.
BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you very much.
President Bush's request for $51.8 billion, the second installment in hurricane disaster assistance, now heading to the U.S. Senate after the House passed it very quickly and very overwhelmingly just a few moments ago.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Ed Henry. He's following this part of the story. Ed?
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as if we needed another example of just the utter devastation in the Gulf Region, that $10.5 billion relief fund that Congress passed last week has already evaporated, that's why they had to speed through this $51.8 billion that you mentioned, just moments ago, going through the House, likely to go through the Senate tonight.
But for the first time today, very interestingly, we started hearing some very sharp questions from lawmakers in both parties about the soaring price tag of all this.
On the Republican side, you have people like Mike Pence, saying there should be some spending cuts in other federal programs to pay for it.
On the Democratic side you have people like Sen. Harry Reid, complaining and raising questions about the fact that much of this money is going to end up in the hands of FEMA, the much maligned agency. And he's wondering whether it's really going to get to the people who need it most.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Let's figure out how we're going to pay for it. Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: First of all, money for the relief effort goes basically to FEMA, more than 90 percent of it. After everything that has happened with FEMA, is there anyone -- anyone -- who believes that we should continue to let the money go to FEMA and be distributed by them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Now, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay just acknowledged moments ago that, in fact, this is obviously big money. Some people on both sides of the aisle saying it's go it eventually in total reach well over $200 billion. But DeLay assured his colleagues there will be accountability, it will get to the people who need it, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yesterday around this time we heard the Republican leaders in the House and Senate announce what they called would be a bicameral, bipartisan committee to go ahead and investigate what went wrong, to report back by February. Democrats today saying, never mind. They're not interested.
HENRY: That's right. Democrats are basically saying they do not feel they were adequately consulted about the formation of this bipartisan, bicameral committee, as you mentioned. They also say they do not believe it's going to have teeth to really ask and answer the tough questions, so they're basically boycotting at this point and instead saying they want an independent commission.
On the Republican side they reject all that, of course. They say they did adequately consult. They're also saying they're going to move forward with this investigation with or without the Democrats. But they certainly hope the Democrats, in the words of the Republicans, do not shirk their responsibility, that they come across the table.
But one final note, you know today, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi once again ripped into President Bush saying he was out of touch and that he was basically oblivious to what happened in the first days after this hurricane. Republicans are saying, that's not helping the bad will around here, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Ed Henry reporting for us on Capitol Hill. Thanks very much.
Anger at the administration extends beyond Washington, at least in one particular case. When the vice president, Dick Cheney, was in Mississippi earlier today, he heard one critic vent his frustration by shouting an obscenity at him twice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got -- as I was talking to the mayor, in those areas...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go (BLEEP) yourself, Mr. Cheney.
CHENEY: You have to figure out what to do with all of the...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go (BLEEP) yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you getting a lot of that, Mr. Vice President?
CHENEY: That's the first time I've heard it. He's a friend of John -- or of -- never mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Vice president clearly shrugging that off. Let's go to CNN's Jack Cafferty. He's standing by in New York. You heard that bleep, I hope, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The vice president said that's the first time he heard it. Didn't he utter the same phrase to Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the United States Senate?
CAFFERTY: So it wasn't the first time he heard it. He said it ...
BLITZER: It is the first time he heard it in this context of this trip.
CAFFERTY: You know what? I'll bet it's not the last.
At long last -- here's a bulletin, Wolf -- at long last the Democrats have agreed on something. It's been a long time, but they have come together on this. From Hillary Clinton to Howard Dean, to Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats are pouncing on the weak response of the Bush administration in the initial days following Katrina.
While Democrats blame Republicans, the Republicans want to shift the blame away from the federal government and shift it down to the local and state officials. Even some prominent Republicans are calling on the president to have an independent investigation of all of this.
And in this humble reporter's opinion, if there's not an independent investigation, the investigation won't be worth the paper it's written on. The fact there are still victims of Katrina who need to be rescued, and who are dying every day, of course, doesn't stop our politicians from the posturing and the finger pointing.
It's particularly obvious and distasteful when it comes from those who are trying to turn a massive government failure into a political opportunity for themselves. See some of the names mentioned above.
Here's the question. What effect will Hurricane Katrina have on the off-year elections in 2006? CaffertyFile - one word -- @CNN.com -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Jack Cafferty in New York.
Coming up, help on the way. Emergency workers on the ground are delivering basics, but online people are coming up with other creative ways to give and to help. We'll have some specific details.
Plus, the president and the disaster. We have striking new snapshots of Americans' attitudes towards Mr. Bush in these difficult times. In other words, new poll numbers.
And we've heard so many stories of evacuations, rescues and reunions. Coming up our own Donna Brazile will bring us up to date on her family's remarkable story and their plans to get together again.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: More live pictures coming in right now, Chinook helicopters taking the sandbags three at a time, 2,000- and 3,000- pound sandbags to fill in the holes in those levees, the breaches, to try to stop the water from coming into New Orleans. Get that city back into some semblance of shape. It's going to take a very, very long time.
As we see this process unfold, it looks like about every minute or so a new helicopter comes in, picks up more sandbags. They load them up, and then they move them out. You've got Chinook helicopters, Black Hawk helicopters doing this kind of work, dangerous work, especially for the workers underneath those blades as they load up these helicopters.
Any time you fly these helicopters, in these kind of sandy environments, there's always an element of danger, but these are especially well-trained troops who are engaged in this very, very important operation. We'll continue to watch it together with you.
If you've got it, they can use it. Donors are coming up with all sorts of unusual items for hurricane survivors and they're showing up on the Internet.
Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is checking the situation online. Jacki?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: There are plenty of these, Wolf, we'll give you some more of them if you want to help out. Here's some more ideas for you.
KatrinaList.net is a site that is compiling a lot of the databases online and putting them all into one place. So you can search for family members. What they need help with is half hours of data entry. If you have a half hour to spare, they need somebody to put some of these names online for them, and also programmers needed to help. You can volunteer for them at KatrinaList.net.
Another way you can help out on the ground, a lot of people asking, if I'm there in person, what can I do? In Houston, specifically, go to VolunteerHouston.org. This will connect you to another page, that's a longer volunteer center. It gives you an idea how you can help out, like in a warehouse, for example, in Pasadena, Texas. They need volunteers to do that sort of work for them. Another idea, DisplacedDesigner.com. This is an idea to help out people in the creative industry. If you have a desk, you have an unused computer, you have a phone you are willing to share, you can help people get back on their feet. Again, that's DisplacedDesigner.com.
Finally, I wanted to show you this one, BluesForKatrina.com, if you have a musical skill, or if you work in the service industry, they need help putting together benefit concerts.
These are some of the ways, other than just giving money -- which of course, they do need as well -- ways you can help out -- your time, your energy, some of those links for you online.
BLITZER: Jacki, thank you very much. Jacki Schechner, our Internet reporter.
Zain Verjee is joining us now. Zain, we're seeing something rather historic unfold -- Mexican troops operating in the United States. These are live pictures we're showing our viewers. They're bringing in assistance to the United States. This is about 150 years since this has happened, Mexican troops operating in the United States?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: They haven't operated -- the Mexican military -- in the U.S., since 1846. This is the first time the Mexican army convoy has begun crossing into the United States. You're looking at live pictures. They are heading towards San Antonio, Texas.
They're carrying humanitarian aid to victims of the hurricane. They're carrying things, Wolf, like mobile kitchens that can make food for up to about 7,000 people. There are water treatment plants on this convoy as well. You have military engineers, doctors and nurses as well. All in all, you have about 45 vehicles in the convoy. You're looking at them now heading down a main road into San Antonio in Texas.
Mexico is among about 90 other countries and agencies around the world that are offering aid to the United States. And this certainly is something quite historic. As you say, not since the mid 1800s has the Mexican military operated in this country. Mexico has offered disaster aid to other countries, but never to the United States.
BLITZER: It would go back to the Mexican-American War. Thanks very much, Zain. A fascinating development, an outpouring of support for the victims of the hurricane coming in from around the world.
BLITZER: Katrina's toll, can the president weather the political storm that's breaking out here in Washington?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from our friends at the Associated Press. Still photographs likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.
At Camp Victory in Kuwait, members of the Louisiana National Guard rest before their departure for New Orleans. Many lost homes, jobs, and loved ones in the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.
In downtown New Orleans, ATF Agent David Deer (ph) helps patrol the streets.
In Ocean Spring, Mississippi, residents wait in long lines for FEMA assistance.
In Houston, Texas, a young evacuee waits for the bus on her first day of school. Hundreds of evacuees have already been enrolled in Texas schools.
Just a few of the photographs coming in from the finest photographers in the world over at the Associated Press.
Let's take a look at some more live pictures coming in. Once again, this mission we've been watching it unfold over the past several days, especially today. They're very, very busy. U.S. military Chinook helicopters taking on these huge sandbags and moving them over into the breaches in the levee to make sure that the water stops flowing into New Orleans from the Mississippi River and make sure that those breaches can be filled. The sandbags are eventually dropped, and then they hopefully will fill up those holes so that the water will stop coming in.
While President Bush has been under fire, his wife has stepped in to more than once -- stepped in more than once to try to present a softer image to the American public. Mrs. Bush is back in the disaster zone today, touring damage in Mississippi and highlighting the plight of school children displaced by the hurricane.
Back here in Washington, her husband faces a different kind of storm. That would be a political firestorm.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us now. How did the -- how does the public, Bill, rate the president's response, at least so far in the new numbers, the new poll numbers you're watching?
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, for the first couple of days after the storm hit the Gulf Coast, there was a rally to support the president, which people typically do in a crisis. But it wore off fast.
By this week, according to the CBS News poll that just came out, President Bush's handling of Katrina has turned sharply negative.
BLITZER: We see those numbers right there. What about the storm, how has it affected the president's overall rating?
SCHNEIDER: Well, last week the president had a very low overall rating, 41 percent. And this week his rating remained low, 42 percent. No significant change.
BLITZER: Is there any evidence of a political price that the president is paying for the supposed delay, I guess -- the delay, I guess we should just say, forget about the word supposed, the delay in getting response in those first few days to the hurricane victims?
SCHNEIDER: Well, yes. His image as a leader has been tarnished. After 9/11, 83 percent of Americans considered Mr. Bush a strong leader. Last year when he went into his re-election campaign, 64 percent. Now that number has dropped dramatically to 48 percent, who describe Bush as a strong leader. What Americans saw last week, Wolf, was a vacuum of leadership. No one seemed to take charge. And it damaged this president's image as a take-charge guy.
BLITZER: Has the storm, in this new poll, changed people's priorities around the country?
SCHNEIDER: Wolf, the nation's agenda has shifted. Ever since 9/11 people gave top priority to the war on terrorism. Now that has completely turned around.
By 2 to 1, better than 2 to 1, the public says domestic policies are more important even than the war on terror. And it's not just Katrina. In the latest Pew Poll, Bush gets his lowest rating not on handling of Katrina or even Iraq, but on the nation's economy. And that, Wolf, is why Democrats are becoming more aggressive. Democrats feel it's their agenda now.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. Bill Schneider watching all of these poll numbers for us, our senior political analyst.
Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we've been showing you amazing aerial pictures of the rescue and recovery operation unfolding in Louisiana.
Up next, we'll head back to New Orleans. We'll hear from helicopter reporter J.T. Alpaugh. Stay with us.
BLITZER: These are live pictures we're seeing. San Antonio, Texas, a convoy -- a military convoy moving up a highway there. But it's no normal military convoy. These are not United States forces. These are Mexican forces. They've crossed the border from Mexico into Texas just a little while ago. They're moving in now with assistance that the Mexican government is providing the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Mexico, like so many other countries around the world, 90 at least, volunteering to provide some assistance. The world reaching out trying to assist the United States, including Mexico. This is the first time, by the way, since the Mexican-American war more than 150 years ago, that Mexican troops have formally been operating inside the United States.
Helicopter reporter J.T. Alpaugh is about to show us the plight of some of the residents in the New Orleans area. This is video that was shot a little bit earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J.T. ALPAUGH, POOL PHOTOGRAPHER: Rosa Lee and Richard Bruno (ph), who have been residents of this area for nearly 46 years. And I spoke to them this morning, and they asked me to come take a look at this area and see how their house was. And I explained to them the operations that were going on in this area. And they were told, and I'm not -- I don't know by who, but they were told maybe they could come back on Monday. And I had to tell her that was very unlikely, just because all the water is still being drained out of this area. And it's all migrating through this area.
We're going to pan right here, Dave. Just pull out a little bit. I'm going to show you the homes just to the right of your frame here. The homes in this area are still -- the water levels are up to the rooftops. All of these homes here, keep coming right for them Dave, as you can see as you pan up this row, that all of these rooftops -- rooftop levels, let's push in there and show you how the waters still is extremely high in these areas, because this is where all -- most of the water is being drawn back to and out of the canal.
So, again, Rosa Lee Bruno, a very sad woman. Her daughter Kathy Singleton was there with us, and they lived in the 6400 block of Bel- Air Drive for 45 years.
We sat down and we talked for half an hour this morning and she told me what they had gone through in their evacuations, and she was really -- just needed some news about her neighborhood. She wasn't being given the information, so I promised that I would come out and kind of show her this, so hopefully she's watching and showing her this area.
And I told her it's going to be a very long time, if ever, they're going to be able to get in here.
And again, it's story after story. And that's just one individual's story of some of the personal contact that we've had with people in this area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Reporter J.T. Alpaugh flying over New Orleans earlier today showing us these dramatic pictures. You see those flood waters up to the roofs of those homes, still up there on this day. And they've got to get that water out of New Orleans. And they've got to do it quickly. They're doing the best they can.
Up next, the blame game. Are Democrats going too far in criticizing the federal government's response, specifically the Bush administration's response? Are Republicans going too far in their response? I'll speak with two political experts. They're standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Despite the devastation Hurricane Katrina has caused, also a political firestorm here in Washington. There are new criticisms of harsh comments from Howard Dean, and new comments on Vice President Dick Cheney's first visit to the disaster zone.
Here with me two guests, CNN political analyst Paul Begala, a former Bill Clinton adviser, and CNN contributor, president of American Cause, Bay Buchanan. Let's listen to what Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, said last night, among other things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Survivors are being evacuated. And as order is restored and the water recedes, and we sort through the rubble, we have to come to terms with ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Paul, is he right? Specifically skin color played a role...
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He didn't say that. He said skin color, and age and economics.
BLITZER: Skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.
BEGALA: And that's just not Howard Dean saying that, or you know, some irresponsible rap artist who apparently said that last week. Don Imus, nobody's idea of a liberal -- he's a radio talk show host based in New York -- he's been saying all along that President Bush -- maybe it's not that he doesn't care about black people, Imus says, he doesn't care enough.
And when that sort of conversation gets going -- I happen to think it's not just race, that it's more class than race. I think that President Bush would have been just as neglectful of poor white people in say, rural Vermont. I think it's more about class than race. But these racial tensions are there. And I think both parties need to be very careful about that.
BLITZER: Bay, what do you think?
BAY BUCHANAN, AMERICAN CAUSE: And those racial tensions are there. And they should not be stroked by people in a position like Howard Dean who knows better. It's clear that the people who are poor in New Orleans were overwhelmingly African-American. We can't change that fact. It's also true that the poor and the elderly and the sick should have been taken out of that city before Katrina, because we all knew they would be the least likely to get out on their own. So, there was a mistake made whoever's fault it was, we should understand. But it wasn't anything to do with their black, it was their circumstances.
So, I agree with Paul. And I think that leaders in this country should be very careful before they're throwing out that race card, because that is not beneficial to either party. It's certainly not to the nation.
BLITZER: I think you agree with Bay on that, right?
BEGALA: Right. I'm not a great Howard Dean fan, I have to say. But I think he was not playing the race card here the way that that rap artist was. I think he was saying something that's inarguably true -- at least, I guess it's arguably true. But I think he's right about -- that race was one of many factors that disadvantaged these folks.
BLITZER: That rap artist being Kanye West.
BEGALA: Kanye -- I'm not a big rapper. I'm more of a George Jones guy than a Kanye West.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the vice president. He's there today. He's touring the region. We're going to be hearing from him shortly. He was in Gulfport, Mississippi, earlier in the day. Here's an excerpt of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really want to say a word on behalf of so many folks who are getting it right. And that is to say, I think the police and law enforcement and fire, first responders, fire officials have done just a phenomenal job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think, Bay, about the vice president now stepping in and being appointed by the president effectively to take charge and make sure the red tape, the bureaucracy is not there?
BUCHANAN: A week late. I would like to have seen him put the vice president in charge last week, to be quite honest.
I think it's an excellent idea. We still hear stories that things are not getting done as smoothly as they should. And if it takes someone as the vice president of the United States who can say no, it's going to be done this way. That's it. He's clearly a take-charge kind of guy, and can do it. And I don't think it's too high of a person to personality to be in charge of this terrible disaster.
BEGALA: I have to say, the White House is usually much better as the optics of setting these kinds of events. Contrast that with the footage you showed a little while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM of Laura Bush, our first lady: warm, gracious, surrounded by kids.
There's Dick Cheney standing alone, and he is not a warm and fuzzy guy.
He looked like he was sort of looking around, anybody here got a pet they need euthanized? You know, I'm ready to help. You know, he's just a grouchy, old guy. Now, maybe that contributes to a sense of competence, which is sorely lacking.
But I think they're going to have a real problem here because it is too late. The damage is done. They do have to do the clean-up now. It will be interesting to see how long Dick Cheney stays on the ground and actually runs things. I doubt it will be for very long.
BUCHANAN: ... not necessarily on the ground out there on the road, but in an office where people are calling, saying, we've got a problem, there's something not happening. And he can make a difference. He can make a change. He can tell FEMA, look it, you're not doing it that way. Or can tell the National Guard, you're going to do it this way.
Somebody that can break all that red tape and make things run smoother. I think he's an excellent choice.
BLITZER: By the way, the video that we're seeing -- take a look over there behind you, Bay. You can see the media there. The vice president has just arrived at this location. He's going to tour the sandbagging operation.
We've seen those giant helicopters lifting up those huge sandbags and taking them over to fill up the breaches in the levees. The vice president's there. That's why all of those reporters are shooting, taking pictures of the vice president right now.
If he speaks, by the way, we're going to carry his remarks live. Go ahead.
BEGALA: I hope so. Because earlier today, local residents, while he was speaking, were hurling the F bomb at him.
BLITZER: One, one.
BEGALA: A word the vice president knows well, having used it on the Senate floor himself. But also another resident on the AP wire copy of the neighborhood he was traveling through ostensibly to help was complaining that he was distracting from the relief effort.
Now, when people on the ground who he's supposedly trying to help are angry, this thing is a mess for the White House.
BUCHANAN: Paul, that is exactly what's happened here. You've taken two isolated incidents and you didn't mention that there was all kinds of people who were thrilled to have him down there talking to him... BEGALA: Why weren't they...
BUCHANAN: And they said -- I read it in the paper. They said the people in Mississippi are very, very pleased with the response they're getting from the federal government. And it's the people in New Orleans that are more upset. So, there's two sides to this story.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the investigation. Yesterday the Republican leadership in the House and Senate announced they want to form a bipartisan, bicameral committee to investigate what was going on and conclude -- have some conclusions by February. The Democrats today said, you didn't consult us. We don't want to be part of it. Is that smart on the part of Democrats?
BEGALA: I think ultimately Congress should look into this. But I think -- and I think Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, Republican, is probably doing a good thing publicly to distance himself from the White House and say we're going to investigate this. The problem is, if Congress is investigating it, it will exempt Congress from its own investigation.
Congress is going to find some culpability here. And that's why I think Hillary Clinton has the smartest move where she's called for a Katrina Commission like the 9/11 Commission. And if Congress is partially at fault, and I'm sure it is, let them be criticized. If it's the White House, let them be criticized. If it's the governors of these states, let me them be -- so I think an independent panel rather than a congressional panel would be preferable.
BUCHANAN: You know, I don't have a problem with an independent one. But I think Congress also should investigate. I mean, they made a major play. They put FEMA under here -- into that Homeland Security. They were part of that. Now, should FEMA be taken back out? And this is something they should study in see if they should take some action here.
So, I think the Democrats make a mistake by playing this kind of kindergarten game, well, you didn't ask me first, so I'm not going to play your game. I won't do this. They have a responsibility. And I'll tell you, what the American people are looking for is leadership. They're not looking for game and blame. They're looking for leadership. They haven't found it. They're upset with the Republicans. And the Democrats aren't stepping forward.
BLITZER: We'll leave it right there. But this debate will continue. In fact, it's probably only just getting started.
Coming up, a SITUATION ROOM update. A few days ago we told you our own Donna Brazile's appearance on this program helped her save family members -- at least one of them -- and several others unaccounted for in New Orleans. In a few minutes, we'll have the latest on her situation. Donna standing by to join us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We've got some new live pictures coming in from the skies over New Orleans right now. These are pictures that helicopter pilots are bringing our viewers. You see some areas still very, very flooded in New Orleans on this part of the canal, perhaps on the other part of the canal not as flooded. But look at how high those waters go. Once again, almost to the roofs of a lot of those homes. And clearly, understandable now why authorities want people to leave if they're still stuck up there. This is a good time to get out as quickly as possible.
Here in THE SITUATION ROOM we've been thrilled to bring you stories of lives saved and loved ones found along the Gulf Coast. One of those stories featured our own Donna Brazile whose sister was rescued in New Orleans along with four other people after Donna made an emotional appeal on this program earlier in the week. We promised to check back with Donna to see how her family is doing. Donna is here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Donna, first of all, how is your sister doing? Sheila, your sister who was saved?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sheila is doing very well. She's with Lisa and my niece. And she's doing very well. I'll see her in a couple of days.
And she's strong. She's holding up very well. She's, of course, worried about a lot of other people who she felt that stayed behind. But she's very -- doing very well. Thank you.
BLITZER: We have another of your sisters and you are blessed with a huge family. Indeed, your sister Zeola Golden is joining us now on the phone. Zeola, where are you?
ZEOLA GOLDEN, DONNA BRAZILE'S SISTER: I'm in San Antonio, Texas.
BLITZER: Say hi to your sister.
GOLDEN: Hi, Donna. How are you?
BRAZILE: Hey, boo. What's going on?
GOLDEN: OK. I'm OK. I'm glad to see that you're doing OK. And I'm grateful for CNN for airing Sheila on the air as well.
BLITZER: Zeola, what about you and your story? How did you get through this? Where were you?
GOLDEN: We were at home, Wolf. We wanted to stay at home. My father, who lives next door to us, he's a diabetic. We had no idea that the levees were going to break and the waters was going to be as high as they grew, you know.
BLITZER: So you were in New Orleans when the storm hit?
GOLDEN: Yes, we was in New Orleans.
BLITZER: Inside your home?
GOLDEN: Yes, we were at home. We suffered wind damage. And the waters started rising up Tuesday morning.
BLITZER: And so then what happened?
GOLDEN: Tuesday morning, the waters were like eight feet high. So there were helicopters flying around. And we were just waving. And they -- we were told that they were going to the hospitals, rescuing the sick people first at the hospitals.
Friday morning between 8:45 and 9:00 a.m. we were rescued by two boatmen from Shreveport, Louisiana.
BLITZER: You and what, your husband, your daughter, and your father...
GOLDEN: Right, my husband, my daughter, my father were rescued 9:00. We were on the porch of our home. We live in a two-story home. The water was maybe -- it wasn't receding as fast as we thought it would.
But however, we were able to get these two men to bring us to Carrolton (ph) and Tulane Avenue where the water wasn't as high, where we were flown from the bridge to the New Orleans International Airport. And from there we was brought to Texas, to San Antonio.
BLITZER: Donna, the whole -- during those critical days, did you have any idea what was going on with your dad and your sister?
BRAZILE: We had no communication. The last time I talked to my dad was Monday morning. I talked to Zeola. Zeola, remember the last thing I told you to do?
GOLDEN: Yes. You told me to run some water in the bathtub, was that correct?
BRAZILE: That's correct. I told her to fill up her bathtub.
Zeola wasn't born when Hurricane Betsy struck us in 1965. And I wanted her to be very prepared, because I was afraid that they would be without power and water. They don't have any cell phone, no satellite phone no way of contacting. So we just had to depend on you friends to help them out.
BLITZER: All right. You're going down to the region now. Give us your next assignment.
BRAZILE: Well, we have found temporary housing for at least seven members of our family. I have 14. We have a large family. We're going to use those seven homes to help others relocate.
I have family in South Carolina. My brother, Kevin, I was just telling Zeola that. Chet's family is in Houston, Texas. And Zeola and Lionel will be reunited with Sheila and Lisa and Sheryl this weekend on Saturday. I'm going home tomorrow. We have got my friends, they've helped me. Wolf, we have got enough stuff. I want to let you know, Paul Begala does not have a living room set. So, when he goes home, his wife gave me his living room set. So, we're grateful for all of the love and outpouring of support.
BLITZER: That's very nice of him.
Zeola, thanks very much. Good luck to you and all of your family and friends down there. Donna, we'll be checking back with you from the road.
GOLDEN: May I add -- I would like to say, I would like to say thank you to the Red Cross for their help and the citizens of San Antonio, because they have been so helpful and so volunteering. And the volunteers there at the Kelly Air Force Base.
BLITZER: Thank you, Zeola. Thank you very much. Thank you, Donna.
We have got some important breaking news coming in.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
BLITZER: CNN's Rob Marciano is at the CNN Weather Center. What's going on, Rob?
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Latest from the National Hurricane Center, Wolf, Tropical Storm Ophelia has been upgraded now to a hurricane -- the seventh hurricane of the season. And just 60 or 70 miles off the shoreline of Florida.
Here's Cape Canaveral. Here's the center of the storm itself. And obviously, the spiral bands continue to fire up. You see the explosion of storms here.
Well, what's the forecast for this? It is not moving. That's the biggest challenge in forecasting a storm when there are no steering currents. And the problem also is that it is sitting over very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
So, a situation for sure. And as far as the forecast track is concerned, we still think -- or the National Hurricane Center thinks it will drift a little farther to the northeast and then possibly loop around. So, that's a problem also.
I heard some fuzz, I'm not sure if that was microphone acting up, Wolf.
BLITZER: No. But I just want to get a little clarification, because earlier today there was some suggestion, Rob, that that hurricane -- now it's a Hurricane Ophelia, could make a U-turn and head back towards the coast of Florida or perhaps Georgia or South Carolina. What's the best estimate, guess, right now?
MARCIANO: Well, it's important to note that when there are no stirring currents stuck in between a couple of things right now. So it's not moving at all. So until we get a definitive motion away from the coastline, we're not even sure it's going to do that.
But right now, you're right. The possibility of it going out to sea and then looping around is there. As a matter of fact, that's the official forecast track out of the National Hurricane Center through day five. And if you remember Hurricane Jeanne last year which came on shore across Central Florida, that did a loopty-loop as well.
So, it's not completely unheard of, back to Florida, Georgia coastline, the Carolinas or completely out to sea. Any of those scenarios is possible.
BLITZER: Well, what would make it do a loopty-loop, as you say, or a U-turn, sort of make a circle in the Atlantic and come back and be dangerous to U.S. land and people?
MARCIANO: Well, there's an area of high pressure that's prevalent this time of year in the Atlantic Ocean called the subtropical ridge. And it's one of the main reasons that hurricanes stay to the south and then move from east to west.
That is pretty weak right now. We have got a couple of hurricanes that are kind of battering that ridge. But once they move out, we expect that to strengthen a little bit. And what that will do, is pretty much put a big bowl of air, basically a rock in a stream, up in this general direction.
So, when it does start to move that way, it could easily hit that area of high pressure, hit that rock in the stream and maybe be deflected back in this direction. So, that's kind of the realm of thinking from the National Hurricane Center and the computer models that we tend to look at.
BLITZER: And so just to recap, this is now a hurricane Category 1?
MARCIANO: Category 1 storm with 75-mile-an-hour sustained winds, so a weak Category 1. Some strengthening is certainly possible as it stays over the Gulf Stream. The waters are still 85 degrees plus. So as long as it sits right there, strengthening is possible. And that's what we expect to happen.
So, a Category 1, about 60 to 70 miles east of Cape Canaveral. Right now, hurricane force winds only extend about 15 miles from the center. So, it is a small storm, but right now it looks like it continues to gather strength.
BLITZER: All right. CNN's Rob Marciano reporting from the CNN Weather Center. Rob, thank you very much.
Let's check in with CNN's Jack Cafferty who's been getting responses to his questions this hour. Jack?
CAFFERTY: Before we get to that, did you hear the news? Remember that big, fat ugly guy that won the very first survivor show on CBS?
BLITZER: Yes. Sort of. CAFFERTY: Richard somebody Hatch, or -- he's been indicted for tax evasion. Apparently he forgot to pay any taxes on that million bucks that he won on that television show. The other question I had was, is loopty-loop, is that a meteorological term?
BLITZER: It's a scientific term.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is this. What effect will Hurricane Katrina have on the 2006 off-year elections?
Ken in Yuma, Arizona writes, "Katrina will have no impact on the elections. The American electorate has a long history of not holding elected officials accountable. At election time, heavily funded, well orchestrated rhetoric will overcome any outrage we feel today."
Dartanton in LA, "The Republicans will finally lose control of both houses of congress, leading the way to a Democrat winning the presidency in 2008."
Carlos in Houston, Texas, "It'll be interesting to see how many people running for office in 2006 will try to take credit for sending General Honore to New Orleans."
Jean writes, "If Katrina doesn't affect the '06 elections, I will have to resign myself to believing sadly that most of this nation is truly drunk on Kool-Aid and prefers to remain in willful ignorance of the ugly truths in front of their eyes."
And Elbridge writes, "I don't think the Republicans can get themselves dog catcher in 2006 unless they agree to a two bipartisan investigation of the Katrina relief effort debacle. Frankly I think there's going to be major house cleaning in both houses of the congress."
The one and only time I ever watched "Survivor", Wolf, I saw that guy Richard whatever his name was, wading around in the surf nude trying to catch a fish. And I said, you know, what? I'm never watching this program again. And I never did.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. We're going to check back with you in a few moments.
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