updated 10/25/2007 5:57:04 PM ET 2007-10-25T21:57:04

Guests: Bashir Yusef, Tami Yusef, David Paulison, John Garamendi, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Dirk Kempthorne

NORAH O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST:  President Bush declared California a major disaster area today as the wildfires, which have forced hundreds of  thousands of people from their homes, raged through their fourth day.

Welcome to the show, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Tucker Carlson.

The president‘s declaration will funnel relief money to Californians whose property losses aren‘t covered by their insurance.  This afternoon California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced latest round of staggering numbers to describe the disaster:  18 separate fires, 426,000 acres burned, nearly 1500 homes destroyed, another 25,000 structures still threatened; 45 injuries and five deaths connected to the fires.

At the same time, Mr. Schwarzenegger reassured us of the teamwork going into the wildfire fighting efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  We see here a great coordination within the state and federal government, and also the locals, unlike previous disasters like that, there has been an immediate response amongst all of those agencies and a great working relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

O‘DONNELL:  Still the 8,900 firefighters on scene can only hope for nature‘s help to calm the winds, which have fueled the destruction from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Officials offer their first estimates of the financial cost of the wildfires today, we‘re talking about more than a billion dollars so far.

In a moment, we‘ll be joined by FEMA Administrator James Paulison to give us the very latest on this disaster. But we begin now with NBC News Michael Oku, who reports from Running Springs, California, from the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles.

Hi there, Michael.

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Norah, you mentioned the governor, Schwarzenegger, making comments earlier today, well, he has called all of this a tragedy for Southern California.  And here, in Running Springs, California, some 80 miles or so east of Los Angeles, we get a very close up, personal look at that tragedy.

Here as far as the eye can see, certainly in this direction, just homes, just debris everywhere, where houses used to stand. This is one of many homes that we‘ve seen, dozens of homes, that have been charred beyond recognition. What used to be somebody‘s back yard, or their living room, or their kitchen.

We see items, every day items that today look almost unrecognizable here. A kitchen sink, a washer-dryer, a sewing machine. What used to be somebody‘s typewriter.

This is a situation that we‘ve been seeing all over this neighborhood.  Firefighters say they‘re trying to get an upper hand on this fire, so that they can prevent scenes like this replicating themselves, all over the area, Norah?

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you about the Santa Ana winds, Michael. I spoke with the Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who told me today some of the good news is, is that the winds have calmed down. Has that helped?

OKWU:  Well, it‘s great news. And, frankly, you can feel it. Just standing here over the course of seven or eight hours, you can feel that there‘s been a real difference between what was going on here today, and what was going on in other parts of the state yesterday, and the day before that.

Before, the Santa Ana winds were gusting through here at some 60 to 70 miles an hour, fanning the flames and making fighting this fire very unpredictable. So firefighters had to be—they had to be defensive. They had to lay back a little bit, and focus more on structure protection. That is trying to save the homes that might be saved, where they had chance of saving them.

Today they say they can be much more offensive. That is they can be focused more on trying to build a containment line around these fires. I should mention that there are two fires that have been burning here, some 10 miles apart from each other. And firefighters say that now that winds have died down some, 10 to 15 miles per hour, they have been able to really get much more aggressive with the air assault. And they‘ve been able to try to contain the fires to some 30 percent now, are the most recent figures.  That‘s up from 5 percent, as early as just this morning, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  Good news, Michael Okwu, thank you so much.

We turn now to San Diego County, where hundreds of thousands of residents have been evacuated, many to Qualcomm Stadium. That‘s where NBC‘s Martin Savidge is reporting tonight. 

Martin, do we know how many people have come to the stadium?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Norah, about 7,500, the city officials have been saying, have been at this facility. It‘s a number that‘s been declining throughout the day because the good news is there are a lot of families who are either going home or have found other places where they can seek shelter.

Right now, I‘m joined by the Yousef family, Tammy and Bashir and Jenna and this is Bashir, as well.

You‘ve been away from your home how long now?

BASHIR YUSEF, EVACUEE:  We‘ve been away from our home the last two days.

SAVIDGE:  It has to be a nerve-racking time for you, Tami? 

TAMI YUSEF, EVACUEE:  It is. But the good news is that everybody here is committed to making, not only our stay, but our children‘s stay as nice as possible.  They have activities. It‘s like a big festival for them.  They‘ve got stilt walkers and—

(CROSS TALK) 

(LAUGHTER)

SAVIDGE:  You are going to leave, we were just talking about this, Norah, before we came to you, you are going back though, but you‘re going to be on pins and needles you said, Tami.

T. YUSEF:  Yes, we are. Just like they have been saying, any moment the winds could turn, and things could shift around, this fire has been unpredictable the whole week through. We didn‘t think that we would be here in the first place.

SAVIDGE:  Why go?  Why leave then?

T. YUSEF:  You know, there‘s a lot of people here. There‘s a lot of need around the county and we want to be where our kids can at least, for a little while, have some normalcy. And, obviously, we wouldn‘t go back if it wasn‘t safe now, so it is safe now. And that‘s why we‘re going to go for a little bit and check it out. If he even feels like we‘re leaving, there‘s no doubt we‘re leaving. He‘s not going to let us stay there one second longer.

SAVIDGE:  You won‘t hesitate if this fire comes back, Bashir?

B. YUSEF:  No, we won‘t hesitate. That would not be a choice.

T. YUSEF:  We would endanger our family.

B. YUSEF:  No. If we even get a little hint that the fire is heading our direction, we‘ll leave.

SAVIDGE:  What do you know about your home? Is it good?

B. YUSEF:  It‘s good. It‘s very good, we have livable conditions. We can go back and everything like that, so it‘s good.

SAVIDGE:  Great.  Bashir, thank you. Tammy, thank you, Bashir, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   Bye.

SAVIDGE:  And Jenna, thank you as well.

So, you just get sense how people are feeling here. It‘s tough time.  It‘s emotional for them. They worry about going home, but they know that they have got to get back and try to restore some of the normalcy in their lives, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, they are cute babies and kids, and it‘s good news to hear that they‘re being that well cared for.

SAVIDGE:  Yeah, aren‘t they?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Martin Savidge, thank you so much.

President Bush today declared the wildfires a major disaster area.  Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff has already been to California, the president is expected there tomorrow. Joining us to talk about the government‘s response to this emergency is FEMA Administrator David Paulison.

David, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

DAVID PAULISON, DIRECTOR, FEMA:  Good afternoon.

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you, the latest number of evacuees, I understand it‘s just under a million. How are you caring for them?

PAULISON:  Well, there is about 20,000 total in shelters, the rest of them have found places to go.  They‘re renting hotels and motels.  They‘re staying with families.  The biggest group, we have, is right here at Qualcomm, like you just heard.

There‘s about 7,000, 7,500 people left here. They‘re beginning to trickle out as the area is becoming safe. The firefighters have finally been able to get back up into the mountains put those fires out. We can get aircraft in the air. As we do that we see that people drift out of here and go back to their homes.

O‘DONNELL:  The winds have died down a bit today. How has that helped?

PAULISON:  That is a tremendous help. We had much difficult time, firefighters had a difficult time. We could not put aircraft in the air. We could not disburse the firefighting agents that are in the aircraft because the winds were so strong. Up to 100 miles an hour, in some cases, up in the mountains. Now that winds have died down to 10, 15, 20 miles an hour. It‘s really helping firefighters on the ground because the aircraft can help them contain those fires and get surround them, put them out then people can go back to their homes.

O‘DONNELL:  What kind of services are you providing for the people there at Qualcomm stadium?

PAULISON:  A lot of it is being provided by volunteers. We worked early on with the city, and with the state, to make sure we had blankets and cots, food, water all the necessities they‘re going to need for that first night.

But I have to tell you, the next day the volunteers showed up in

droves. Just like you heard earlier—I wouldn‘t say it‘s a festival here

but it‘s almost that way. People are upbeat, there‘s all kinds of food, there‘s water, there‘s clowns here, people blowing balloons. They‘ve got crafts for the children. It‘s just remarkable sense of community that we have here. And I‘m really impressed very proud of the people of San Diego.

O‘DONNELL:  Administrator Paulison you use the word festival, that was what the—the word the family used, before you, talking about their kids having a very good time there. When you hear that, you can‘t help but think of the contrast with what happened at the Superdome and Hurricane Katrina.  Why such a vast difference?

PAULISON:  There‘s a couple of reasons. One is the difference in the types of disasters. Don‘t forget in Katrina you had no electricity, you had no water, you had no sewer systems, there was not community left to respond to something like this.

Here, sun is shining, the weather is warm, there‘s no water—no flooding water, I mean. There‘s plenty of food, plenty of water. There‘s electricity everywhere, it‘s much easier place to handle. However, another big difference what we have done since Katrina to put together a community of responders. Dealing, not just with the federal government, but working at the local level, working at the state level, working inside the federal government, making sure we‘re all communicating with each other.

I mean, up on the mountains, behind us here, we have federal firefighters from Interior, federal firefighters from Department of Agriculture, we have local firefighters, we have state firefighters. Those men and women all working side by side as a team to make sure they can get a handle on this disaster. We‘re doing the same thing here. Working together as a team, I think that is the biggest difference that I‘ve seen, all the planning we‘ve done, in the last two years is paying off.

O‘DONNELL:  Finally, Administrator Paulison, much has been made of the work of the National Guard does at a time like this, in emergency. Would it help if more of our troops were back here at home and not in Iraq?

PAULISON:  Well, we‘ve—there‘s plenty of National Guard on the ground. I‘ve heard that rumor going around before. There‘s over 17,000 National Guard troops here in California, over 1,500 have been deployed just for Katrina. That is 85 percent of California‘s strength. On top that have general bloom that oversees the national guard has committed any resources the states need. And when they ask for assistance, we‘re moving them in. General Renoir from Northcom has made the same commitment. We have a lot of resources on the ground, a lot of National Guards people there. We need to dispel those rumors, there is plenty of help here.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, Administrator Paulison, you mentioned the clowns. I can actually see one right behind you looks like he‘s on stilts there. Thanks so much for your time, we appreciate it.

PAULISON:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Still to come, thousands of San Diegans are living in a football stadium. Hundreds of thousands more are sleeping in strange beds.  Up next, we‘ll ask California‘s lieutenant governor what the state is doing to care for the homeless.

Plus, haunted by the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush heads to the hot zone. We‘re going to discuss the federal government‘s response to this natural disaster in a minute. Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

O‘DONNELL:  Both the California state and federal governments have taken swift and visible action to deal with the fires in Southern California. Just yesterday, White House said, any talk of presidential visit to the area was, quote, “premature”. Well by the end of the day they had announced that the president will travel to California tomorrow.

John Garamendi is the lieutenant governor of California and former insurance commissioner of the state; he joins us to assess official efforts to manage the crisis, there.

Governor, good to see you.

JOHN GARAMENDI, LT. GOV., CALIFORNIA:  Pleasure talking to you.

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you, do you think the visit by President Bush will make a difference?

GARAMENDI:  I hope so. The record of this administration on dealing with disasters is—disastrous. So we hope that they have improved, and when he comes out here, well, we‘ll be hopeful. And we‘ll see if he‘s keeping his promises and we‘ll hold him accountable.

O‘DONNELL:  Do you have enough National Guard there in California to handle this disaster?

GARAMENDI:  We do at this time. We‘re seeing, unless this wind shifts and we have renewal of it, we‘re seeing the tail end of this firefight.  That being the case, the National Guard is deployed. There are obviously deployed around here at Qualcomm with this incredible evacuation center.  But they‘re also deploying out providing relief services for the police that are providing police services in the areas that have been evacuated.

Now people, as they return home, the National Guard can move back from there, we‘re OK now. But the National Guard in California is a heavily stressed organization. Many of them have been deployed three or four times.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Governor, I heard you express concern because of the stress that the National Guard, not only in California but across the country have suffered because of the involvement in Iraq.

But we heard from Lieutenant General Stephen Blum, who said today there is still 17,000 National Guardsmen in California, only 3,000 of them are in Iraq. So, you‘re not criticizing the National Guard, are you?

GARAMENDI:  No, I‘m not criticizing the National Guard, at all. In fact, they have done extraordinary job. They have deployed three or four times from California into Iraq. We‘ve got 2,600 people there now. We‘re going to have others deploying. We‘ve got Guardsmen out here that have been on the Mexican border assisting in that issue.

In fact, they came in to San Diego County to help out with the initial stage of the fire. What I‘m saying is, that the war in Iraq is stressing the California National Guard, men, equipment, personnel, women, having to deploy. It‘s a problem for the National Guard here.

In response, yesterday, asked what could be done?  Bring those Guard troops home. End this war. End the extraordinary drain that the war is causing to this nation, to the Guard and to the resources of this nation, in fact to the reputation of America across the world. That‘s my point with regard to the Guard.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, let me ask you, the number, right under a million evacuees, hundreds of thousands of acres scorched. More than 1,500 homes and structures burned. Has it gotten any better today? Do you feel any sense of optimism today? I spoke with the Interior secretary earlier he said at least the winds have died down.

GARAMENDI:  Well, in fact, the winds have died down. Many of the fires are contained, or nearly contained. Certainly that‘s the case in Los Angeles. We got real serious problem in the eastern side of the area, out in San Bernardino County, up in the mountains in Big Bear and Arrowhead.

The fires here in San Diego are mostly contained, not completely, so there is still a potential risk. We‘re seeing many thousands of people being allowed back in to their homes, into their communities, as the evacuation orders are lifted. So things are beginning to move in the right direction here.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor just quickly, can I can ask you about, we understand authorities are now investigating arson as possible cause of at least one of the wildfires. What do you know about that investigation?

GARAMENDI:  Right.  Well, that would be the Orange County investigation.  That is the Orange County Fire, which actually is still burning, not so much in the urban area but back into the wildland areas, right now. We believe that was arson caused. There is an effort underway to try to find out. I believe there‘s going to be an award—a reward being offered to try to get information, anybody out there that may have seen or heard anything about that, get to us.

One more point is that, here in California, we knew we were going to have these fires and we set up a mechanism to coordinate all of the various elements, the local, the state and including the federal, particularly the federal Forest Service, in anticipation of the fire. It worked very, very well. Governor Schwarzenegger, his Office of Emergency Services and his Emergency Council has working for a long time in anticipation. It went into affect well, the early removal of people through the evacuations undoubtedly saved lives.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor Garamendi, thanks so much for your time, we appreciate it.

GARAMENDI:  You got it, thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Up next, President Bush declares California a major disaster area. What was the process by which the president made that move.

Later, what did presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani do to get some of his biggest supporters hot under the collar? That story is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back. We continue to cover the wildfires still scorching much of Southern California. We just got some new information in.  Police in Southern California have shot and killed a man who fled when officers approached to see if he might be trying to set a fire. San Bernardino say he was shot Tuesday night following a chase that ended when the unidentified Arizona man backed his car into a cruiser and an officer opened fire.

That‘s some of the new information we‘re just receiving in here at

MSNBC.

We mentioned, of course, how much of Southern California is in a state of emergency, there is a disaster on a human level, it‘s been a disaster for the state and federal governments, which have had to deal with this. We know FEMA is on the ground. Joining us now on the phone to talk more about this is Los Angeles—from Los Angeles, I should say is California Senator Barbara Boxer.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  Thanks, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  How is your state?

BOXER:  Well, you know, Southern California is smoldering. I left Washington early this morning to see for myself what was happening. It‘s oppressive heat. And we‘re getting better reports now about a change in the weather. But I can describe it as being just stiflingly hot, and you get that along with the low humidity and the Santa Anas, which are now dying down, but when they were at their peak they were like hurricane force winds.

As they call it there, the perfect firestorm. And I went to see for myself the people at Qualcomm Stadium. I just want them to know that we‘re all working together on this, federal, local, state, as never before. And people are amazing in the community. They are just reaching out to each other and I wanted them to know that we‘re not only working to get these fires out, but also we‘re getting ready to help in the rebuilding.

O‘DONNELL:  President Bush got much of the blame for Hurricane Katrina, this is being handled much better. Do you give him credit?

BOXER:  Oh, yes, I give everyone credit, I tell you why. The secret to this is really working together. You have to set egos aside, you have to forget turf wars, and you have to follow the lead of the state in the situation. Now our state is very, very good at this. Sad to say, we‘ve had too many experiences. I mean, I‘ve been in Congress for a long time but I‘ve gone through two major earthquakes, one in northern California, then the Northridge in L.A. And every time we learn, we have fires, we have floods. We always learn from our mistakes. And we always try to do better.

So, yes, I think FEMA is out ahead of this. I had them in my office yesterday along with the head of National Guard. And I think just everybody is working together and I cannot over state the bravery of the firefighters from every level of government and also they‘re coming in from all over the country.

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, I heard you express some concern, however, that a large number of the National Guard from California have been in Iraq, have been serving in Iraq. What have you done about that?

BOXER:  Well, let me say the issue of the National Guard in Iraq is a whole other subject.  I think that they are being worked to the bone and it‘s very tough. But why the issue came up is because I‘ve been told, it is a fact that 50 percent of the equipment that we should have in California, for the National Guard, is not there any more. Some of it is in disrepair, some of it is in Iraq.

I wrote to the secretary of the Army, who wrote back and said that he couldn‘t give me that much confidence that in a major disaster we would have all the equipment. So I did two things about it. One I called ahead of the National Guard, he came to my office. And he said he‘s getting equipment from all over the country and I‘m satisfied that he‘s done that.  Secondly, I asked my colleagues to help, they also have problems being down on equipment, in the National Guard. It‘s tied together, but I have to say at this point I‘m convinced that they gotten enough equipment from other states to help us.

O‘DONNELL:  That is good news. Senator Barbara Boxer, thank you so much for taking the out time to update us on the situation.

BOXER:  Thanks.  OK, Norah, bye.

O‘DONNELL:  And coming up, climate changed did wonders for Al Gore‘s career. Can it bolster Senator John McCain‘s bid for the White House, too?  Our political panel is going to weigh in. Plus, Hillary opens up to “Essence” magazine about her husband‘s romantic side. The tantalizing details, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(MARKET REPORT)

O‘DONNELL:  Wildfires continue to burn throughout southern California at this hour.  One of the key questions of this day was the magnitude of the Santa Ana winds, which have fanned the flames to historic reach and intensity.  Forecasters had hoped that by the end of this day we would see a calming of the winds and a change in direction.  NBC‘s Jay Gray is in Rancho Bernardo, just north of San Diego, and joins us now with the latest on conditions there.  How is it, Jay?

JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Norah, those hopes and prayers really that you talked about were answered today, a much calmer day, a good day for fire fighters, who were able to, apparently, in some cases, establish at least early barriers, though they stressed, make no mistake, mother nature is still in complete control of the wildfires at this point. 

Now, also fire teams were able to get into these areas, some of the hardest hit neighborhoods.  And what they have done basically is come in and sprayed for hot spots, make sure that all the debris has calmed down to the level that they can actually bring residents back in to begin to sift through some of this damage and see exactly what, if anything, could be left here. 

Now, that should start this evening into early tomorrow.  A lot more people coming back to their homes early tomorrow.  This is the kind of thing they will find.  But we‘ve talked to them.  They say they need to get back.  They need to see it for themselves.  They‘re tired of watching this play out on TV.  They want to come home, whatever home may be. 

O‘DONNELL:  And Jay, the improvement in terms of the winds there, I was told by the interior secretary earlier that it meant that they could bring more planes into the area, the aerial assault.  Have you been able to see that that from your perspective? 

GRAY:  Yes, in fact this afternoon we‘ve seen a lot more in the air, as far as air power is concerned, major choppers moving through.  And we do see a lot more activity in the air.  That‘s good news.  The fire fighters have said for the last four days, we need some help from above.  We need more than we‘re getting right now. 

But the winds were just too strong.  Gusts, I‘m told, at times of close to 100 miles an hour.  So the conditions just not right to get up there and take a chance.  Now today, though, they are able to dump those chemicals retardants and water on some of the flames.  They‘re making progress.  But again, they don‘t want people to that I think that this is over.  It‘s not going to be over for quite some time, Norah.  In fact, fire officials told me today, if these conditions continue—and the forecast is good for that—it will still take weeks before the wildfires are contained and extinguished. 

O‘DONNELL:  Wow, Jay Gray, thank you so much. 

Politicians, of course, have watched the events in southern California along with the rest of us.  Senator John McCain, still hopeful on the presidential campaign revival, talked about the wildfires in broader terms in his speech last night, borrowing perhaps a theme more familiar to Al Gore. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have traveled all around the world, usually at your expense.  And I‘ve been to the south pole.  I‘ve been to the Arctic.  I‘ve been to Brazilian rain forest.  I‘ve been to Greenland.  And my friends, I‘ve seen with my own eyes.  I‘m not saying that these forest fires that you all are hearing about in California are a direct result of climate change.  But I will say to you that we are experiencing weather and conditions, such as severe droughts all across the Southwest, such as all of a sudden, sudden and torrential rains, and things like that, that are symptoms—that are symptoms of the violent climate conditions that result from climate change. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Back to talk about John McCain‘s analysis and the rest of today‘s political news, our NBC political director Chuck Todd, Democratic strategist and MSNBC political analyst Hillary Rosen and the “Politico‘s” Josephine Hearn.  This is interesting, McCain.  It‘s like the Straight Talk Express is back, the shoot from the hip McCain.  He talked about climate change before.  It‘s interesting. 

TODD:  He‘s been the most aggressive of all of Republicans.  That‘s the thing; it‘s sort of a common sense thing that the voters are thinking.  They‘re sitting there going, wait a minute, it seems like everything is to more of an extreme, as far as the weather patterns.  You sit there, you—the beauty of McCain is when he acknowledges common sense.  It is one of those things.  That‘s how he does touch voters, particularly in New Hampshire, where I think voters are used to, first of all, crazy weather.  They have been going outside and wondering why they don‘t have their parkas on right now. 

So, I think it does.  For McCain, this is how he‘s going to appeal to an independent voter.  This is how he‘s going to make his come back. 

O‘DONNELL:  Does it help him on the campaign trail? 

HEARN:  I think it does.  Agreeing with Chuck, I think that in New

Hampshire there‘s lot of environmentalism.  It‘s not bad idea to be doing -

to be saying these kind of things in a state like that.  It‘s where he won big in 2000, and I think he‘d like to appeal to those same independents that he hasn‘t really been appealing to this year. 

O‘DONNELL:  Hillary, I have to ask you about another Hillary, Hillary Clinton, who has given an interview to “Essence Magazine,” where she talks about Bill Clinton.  She says, quote, “oh, he‘s so romantic. He‘s always bringing me back things from his trips.  He brought me back a giant wooden giraffe from Africa.  He bought me this watch.  I had dental surgery and he said it reminded him of teeth.” 

Interesting.  What do you think about that? 

ROSEN:  Yes, well, I give him credit, because it was a pretty Chanel watch.  So, the fact that it looked like teeth—

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s a strange remark, but why does she feel the need to talk about him being romantic. 

ROSEN:  She was asked about him, and frankly, she was in a room full of women who are asking her for, you know, the first time that they had met, a lot of personal questions.  And to her credit, she started answering them.  People are fascinated—

O‘DONNELL:  There was an uncomfortable silence before she fully gave the answer to this question. 

ROSEN:  Anybody would be hesitant to go deeper.  She had just finished talking about how they met.  You know, how the minute that they met in the library at Yale Law School, they fell instantly in like and started dating, and have basically been together ever since.  So I think she sort of felt like, all right, I‘ve given you this much, how much more do we go?  It‘s a tough question for a candidate to go. 

O‘DONNELL:  Chuck, what about it?  This has always been sort of an X factor, if you will, is the relationship between Bill and Hillary. 

TODD:  I don‘t think it‘s a good—Any time she sort of gives fodder or opportunity for reporters to say, you‘ve said this, and then it opens up a conversation about their private lives.  What‘s interesting on this campaign so far, she has been the one that nobody has done the private life probing of, compared to Giuliani or Romney or Obama. 

There hasn‘t been the same type of—in some way, people have said we‘ve already—

(CROSS TALK)

TODD:  That‘s right.  But it‘s sort of like—I think, in some ways, the campaign has done a good job of saying, you know, those are old questions.  This is not necessary. 

O‘DONNELL:  Everybody knows about it. 

TODD:  But then when she says something like this in an interview, more reporters are going to say, maybe I should go back and start having this conversation.  They don‘t want to have a conversation about their relationship over a two-month long campaign. 

ROSEN:  I think that on some levels she needs to say, again, what she has said and had to deal with in her Senate campaign, which is, I made a decision about my marriage.  It was the right decision for me.  And it‘s something that you can support it or not support it.  But that‘s what we want as women, to be able to make those decisions. 

TODD:  It shuts it down. 

ROSEN:  That‘s what she said that day.  That‘s as far as she‘ll go.  I think that‘s as far as she‘ll go throughout the entire campaign. 

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re just under ten weeks to the first voting happens in the Iowa caucuses.  We‘ve got a new “L.A. Times”-Bloomberg poll out today, which shows Hillary again with this very sizable lead, 48 percent to Barack Obama at 17, John Edwards 13 percent.  Josie, it shows, she‘s just continuing her wide margin on just about every demographic.  Right?

HEARN:  I think the most exciting thing or interesting thing about this poll is that 2/3rds now view her health care plan, the failure of her ‘94 health care plan, as being an asset to her.  I think this is a triumph for the campaign that they have turned this failure into an asset that—would you do that in other situations?  Would you say, well, Bush‘s failures in Iraq, you know, that means that he‘s really well equipped to handle the next foreign policy problem. 

It doesn‘t transfer.  But somehow the campaign has been able to do that.  It‘s been remarkable.  And I think it‘s really helped her a lot in using that legacy from the White House as a strength. 

O‘DONNELL:  Chuck, does it lead to the sense of inevitability.  Is that good for her to be this far?  I mean, all these polls that are showing her 30 points ahead? 

TODD:  It‘s got to be what it is.  It‘s probably more demoralizing for your Obama supporter, because I think the thing that—

O‘DONNELL:  And yet, he continues to raise money.  There was that gap of couple million dollars, they sent out an email and raised the money. 

TODD:  The Obama people will sit there and say this is still a four state January campaign.  It starts in Iowa.  In Iowa, it‘s even or some Obama folks argue they might be ahead, at least ahead of her, maybe a little bit behind Edwards.  So I think they look at this, it is a little demoralize to them, because they sit there, wait a minute, we‘re under 20 now? 

This is the second national poll that has shown them in the teens, no longer—it‘s not just being 20 points, 30 points behind.  It suddenly look like he‘s dropping a little bit.  So it can get demoralizing.  That isn‘t a helpful thing.  But he could use an Iowa poll showing him ahead or even again. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s talk about the other front runner in this race.  Here is the cover of the “New York Daily News,” traitor, the headline screams, talking about Rudy Giuliani.  Here is the cover of the “New York Post,” red coat, of course, because now Giuliani, life long rabid Yankees fan, is now backing the Red Sox.  Here‘s how he explained himself; take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m rooting for the Red Sox in the World Series.  I used to do this in New York.  I‘d go to Queens.  I‘m a Yankee fan.  There‘s all Met fans in Queens.  I would say, I‘m rooting for the Yankees.  Now you can respect me.  They didn‘t.  But they did vote for me. 

I‘m rooting for the Red Sox.  I‘m an American league fan.  And I go with the American league team. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Hillary. 

ROSEN:  That has no credibility.  In fact, the one thing that he used to beat up on Hillary Clinton about all the time was when she shifted from saying I‘m a Chicago White Sox fan to I‘m a Yankees fan.  He has lost it now.  He can never criticize her again for that.  Of all insults to—

(CROSS TALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Sorry.  Of all insults to a Yankees fan to actually be for the Red Sox, it‘s unforgivable. 

O‘DONNELL:  New Hampshire, is that why he‘s doing it? 

ROSEN:  Of course. 

TODD:  Bill Richardson claims that he‘s both a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan.  Hillary Clinton completely melted down when she had this; I don‘t know who I‘m going to root for if it‘s a Yankee/Cubs World Series.  She looked absurd doing that.  

O‘DONNELL:  Isn‘t that exactly why people getting angry at politicians, I mean, sports is all about loyalty. 

TODD:  And if you can‘t show loyalty to a sports team, which is kind of a silly thing, but, you know what, it‘s a weird value judgment.  Some people sit there and say, wait a minute, if you can‘t even give me the straight story on who you root for for baseball, how are you going to give me the straight story on who you‘re going to appoint -- 

ROSEN:  Giuliani‘s been doing this for three months.  He‘s changed his position on virtually everything.  Why would he surprised he‘s changed it on a baseball team. 

TODD:  It‘s all of these guys are doing this.  This is on both sides.  Clinton has done this on some issues and you‘ve had Giuliani.  This is what is going to open up—if the two parties are not careful, you are going to get some sane version of a Ross Perot, come in and say, look, you‘re just getting the same garbage from the left and right again.  Isn‘t it time for somebody to talk straight, speak the truth, get to this authenticity thing.  Neither party is doing a very good job at it right now. 

O‘DONNELL:  Josie?

HEARN:  Especially the Republicans have a problem with authenticity, because they‘re all trying to move more to the right, when a lot of them are actually moderates or have been moderates in the very recent past.  I think this—as Chuck was saying, this is just another example of that, of kind of following the polls and doing what the consultants tell you, as opposed to being yourself.  You wonder, with enough of this, is there an opening for a Mike Huckabee, or somebody who is just being themselves and running as the authentic conservative.  I don‘t know. 

O‘DONNELL:  Who are you rooting for in the world series? 

TODD:  As Dodger fan, I hate the Rockies.  I hate these new teams.  My friend is a Rockies fan.  I don‘t want him to experience a World Series victory.  So damn him, go Red Sox. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, I doubt that if the Red Sox win the World Series that we‘re going to see Rudy Giuliani out there with the team celebrating with them, or with a Red Sox hat on.  That would be the ultimate political suicide. 

Thanks to all of you.  We appreciate it. 

Up next, the California inferno has injured nearly two dozen fire fighters so far.  We‘re going to get an update on the efforts to contain the flames from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.  Plus thousands of homes have been destroyed in the fire.  NBC Michael Okwu is following the path of destruction.  Another live report coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  There are staggering numbers coming out of southern California right now; 18 fires have burned more than 42,000 acres so far.  Nearly 9,000 fire fighters on the ground battling these wildfires.  And nearly 900,000 residents have been evacuated.  But help from the federal government is already on the way, and President Bush will be getting a first hand look tomorrow. 

He met with his cabinet earlier today to discuss disaster relief, including interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who I spoke with earlier.  I began by asking him if he is getting all the resources he wants. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Governor Schwarzenegger; is he going to get everything he wants? 

DIRK KEMPTHORNE, INTERIOR SECRETARY:  Yes.  In fact, I‘ve spoken to Governor Schwarzenegger.  I‘ve actually given him my personal telephone number, my cell phone that I carry.  But the California officials have affirmed that the federal assets have been flowing steadily, everything that they have needed, and that there‘s been no gap.  We‘re very intent that there will be no gap in providing this to California. 

O‘DONNELL:  He can call you on your personal cell phone. 

KEMPTHORNE:  Absolutely. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you, what new assets will be deployed today in California. 

KEMPTHORNE:  Norah, the big changing picture will be the fact that we‘re able to launch the aircraft now.  We‘ve had the tankers there, both the federal and the military.  But because of these winds, as has been pointed out—but they‘re now dropping to 15 miles per hour.  And so that allows the retardant, once released, to be effective.  The wind gusts beyond 15; it just disburses that retardant, and it‘s not effective. 

That‘s why the citizens didn‘t see the aerial attack.  Now that that will go into place, that helps these courageous fire fighters on the ground. 

O‘DONNELL:  That is great news.  Also with the federal government has September to California already, 31 crews, including elite fire fighter hot shot crews, 90 fire engines with support from 22 strike teams, 11 heavy air tankers, 14 medium and heavy helicopters, and six bulldozers.  Those are a lot of assets certainly on the ground.  What more can you do in the coming days? 

KEMPTHORNE:  All of that has been put in place.  We just received another order from the state of California.  They want additional fire engines and teams that go with them.  It‘s a large number.  So we will begin—you‘ll have fire engines coming as far away as Seattle, Portland, throughout the Pacific Northwest, that will now be in route to help their neighbors and fellow citizens down in California. 

O‘DONNELL:  One of the big things about this story, of course, that everyone is concerned about, the number of evacuees.  It is just staggering.  Brian Williams on the “Nightly News” last night said it is one of the largest evacuations in our nation‘s history.  What is the latest number about the number the federal government believes is being evacuated. 

KEMPTHORNE:  The number that I have as we speak is 881,000.  That is growing.  So Secretary Chertoff and the Director of FEMA, Paulison, have all been down there on the scene, making sure that the people have everything that they need, food supplies, hygienic needs.  At some points, the volunteers are helping to keep people‘s attitudes up. 

But it‘s a very tough situation. 

O‘DONNELL:  Secretary, as you well know, President Bush was criticized for being out of touch during Hurricane Katrina.  How in touch has he been on this particular disaster?  You were with him most of the morning. 

KEMPTHORNE:  I was with him most of the morning.  We have briefed him.  We briefed him throughout this fire situation.  He peppers us with questions.  As you indicated, he‘ll go down there and join Governor Schwarzenegger tomorrow.  But the president, as a former governor, understands what it is to provide the need in a disaster.  And so those assets are in place. 

One of the things, too, Norah, that I‘ll point out; the federal agencies, watching the weather patterns develop, put in pre-orders and pre-positioned a lot of these assets, the helicopters, tankers, fire engines, before the fires actually hit.  As horrible as it is, it could have been worse.  But this forward deployment really has helped. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s great news.  Secretary of the interior, Dirk Kempthorne.  Thank you so much for all that new information.  We appreciate it. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  When we come back, we‘ll get one last check of the raging California wild fires from a reporter on the ground. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  With those wild fires scorching southern California, we can only hope that weather will start cooperating soon, and help the fire fighters in their battle.  Here is what we can expect weather wise in California.  Here is NBC plus meteorologist Jeff Ranieri.  Jeff, what can we expect?

JEFF RANIERI, NBC WEATHER PLUS METEOROLOGIST:  Well, things are improving, as you‘ve been talking about all day, and improving dramatically here in the past hour or so.  Look at this, Norah; where we did have wind advisories early today, they have all been allowed to expire here in Los Angeles, also in San Diego. 

We still that have red flag fire warnings in effect.  But because of the diminishing Santa Ana winds, they have allowed those to expire.  You can see overall a much better picture than this time yesterday, when we had wind readings in all of these locations, from Los Angeles to San Diego, at 30 to 40 miles per hour. 

Now winds near San Diego at about 13 piles per hour, near Los Angeles anywhere between 10 to 15 miles per hour.  And here is another map here that I think really tells the picture here.  Anywhere you have a wind gust highlights it highlights it in a blue color.  And you can see Los Angeles still getting gusts between 10 to 20 miles per hour.  But where we have the largest fire still burning in San Diego county, the Harris and Witch fire, we currently do not have any gusts higher than 10 miles per hour right now at the surface.

So that is the good news.  And more great weather coming this weekend, in terms of possibly change in the forecast. 

O‘DONNELL:  Jeff Ranieri, thanks so much.  Let‘s check in now with NBC‘s Michael Okwu, who is standing by for is in Running Springs, California.  Michael, what‘s the very latest there. 

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Norah, we‘re some 80 miles east of Los Angeles and it feels as if we‘re in some war-torn country.  You can take a look here, we‘ve been seeing this in this neighborhood, scenes just like this one, a stair case that leads to no where.  But clearly fire fighters trying to make some inroads, trying to mop up some of the hot spots. 

Allyn Herrington is joining us.  He is with the U.S. Forestry Service.  Allen, the big news today has been the fact that those Santa Ana winds that were gusting as high as 50 and 60 miles an hour have died down a little bit.  Has that been helpful for you? 

ALLYN HERRINGTON, SAN BERNADINO NATL FORESTRY SERVICE:  Absolutely.  It‘s giving us a lot of opportunity now to do direct attack, to get in there and actually fight the fire.  When it was so high, we couldn‘t do that. 

OKWU:  Now, what about the topography?  Where are you fighting the fire?  Is that difficult?  I understand that you‘re not using bulldozers to try to cut a containment line around the fire. 

HERRINGTON:  That‘s correct.  Some of the terrain where the fire has burned is just impossible to get equipment into.  So our fire fighters are going to have to be hand crews and they‘re going to have to actually cut line down there using shovels right next to the fire.  That‘s the only way to get to it. 

OKWU:  So is it slow going?  Is the talk of much optimism a little too quick? 

HERRINGTON:  It‘s very slow going.  It‘s a tough job.  It‘s going to take time.  Just because the wind stopped doesn‘t mean this fire is going to go out overnight. 

OKWU:  OK, you have got about ten seconds here.  What is the big challenge at this hour, even though you‘ve got the winds exactly where you want them. 

HERRINGTON:  Big challenge is finding out exactly where the fire burned and getting to it and getting a lined around it.

OKWU:  Find out where the fire is burning?  You mean, you don‘t know where the fire is burning?  I don‘t understand. 

HERRINGTON:  The smoke has been so thick.  Our aircraft hasn‘t been able to fly.  So now we can get in there and really do good accurate mapping of it. 

OKWU:  OK, so visibility a big issue here, Norah, clearly, even though we‘ve got those Santa Ana winds back down where the fire fighters want them, less than ten miles per hour in some cases.  But fire fighters are saying this is not over by a long shot.  They are not out of the woods - Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, Michael.  That does it for us.  Thanks for watching.  Tucker will be back tomorrow.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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