updated 9/8/2005 11:48:44 AM ET 2005-09-08T15:48:44

Guest: Elaine Chao, Elijah Cummings, Eugene Robinson, Bernard Kerik

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, Cheney‘s challenge.  President Bush sends the most powerful vice president in history to New Orleans.  How big is Cheney‘s challenge, to show the flag, to chop heads or truly take command?  Will Dick Cheney be Bush‘s hatchet man or the man who built the new New Orleans? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

As Congress creates a House-Senate commit to study what went wrong in the relief effort last week, President Bush is sending Vice President Cheney to the Gulf disaster area. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have asked the vice president to go down to the affected region on Thursday.  He will go down to assess our recovery efforts.  He will help me determine whether or not we‘re meeting these goals. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But with what mandate?  Is Cheney‘s challenge to show the flag, to show the administration cares about the suffering and wants to smarten up the relief effort and thereby lower the heat on President Bush?  Is Cheney‘s challenge to chop off heads?  Will Dick Cheney be the butcher who lops off some bureaucrat heads, starting with FEMA Director Michael Brown, and thereby reforge the federal relief effort?  Is Cheney‘s challenge to take charge personally of the reconstruction?

Will the most powerful vice president in American history become the man who ramrods the rise of the new South and with it a legacy that could promote a draft for a Cheney presidency?  The question is a big one.  Is Cheney charging down South to serve as President Bush‘s executioner or full-fledged viceroy?

We begin with our NBC reporters in the region, starting with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams in New Orleans. 

Brian, thank you for joining us tonight. 

What‘s going on with the effort to try to get people out of that city?

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Well, Chris, I talked to some armed federal officers stationed in Washington, D.C., detailed down here for the week, and not looking forward to the time tonight when they really do have to, no kidding around anymore, get everybody out.  And that includes the now legendary old salts. 

You know, we cover them every hurricane we cover.  There‘s one in every Southern community, in every television correspondent‘s report.  But this is different.  A lot of this, Chris, as you know, is socioeconomic.  And a lot of reason people didn‘t get out of some of the poor towns in Louisiana and Mississippi was government checks, the fear that they would sit in the mailbox and fly away, either thanks to Katrina or someone in the neighborhood. 

And now we‘re up to the first of the month.  We‘re back to the same reason.  People are expecting things in the mail.  And it‘s tough.  When you‘re in Washington, you got a nice G.S.-level job, or when you‘re in the private sector or in the media or think about, or perhaps for some of us remember what it‘s like to live a hand-to-mouth existence. 

But this is down to, with many people, the holdouts, a socioeconomic issue.  So, they are not looking forward to what will be the inevitable news media pictures of people being forced to live what they have worked for all their lives. 

MATTHEWS:  The reason for the urgency for the evacuation at this point, the final evacuation, of New Orleans has been upticked in terms of its importance, Brian.  Tell me about these people dying because of bacteria down there.  They are getting infected by the water.

WILLIAMS:  Chris, I was just—you know, every time—those of us here haven‘t seen all that much television coverage of this.  There is a television in the trailer we‘re working out of.  Every time you look up at perhaps snippets of the coverage you missed, perhaps an aspect of the sadness you—it hadn‘t occurred to you earlier.

You can‘t believe that the chain of events, and now it‘s history still unfolding—people are still dying.  You can‘t believe this chain of events happened.  That the levees broke, obviously, can‘t be reversed.  That the water—we were just down in the French Quarter, appears to be about 30 percent oil—can‘t be changed now. 

But it‘s just one of those dominoes.  It‘s one of those—it‘s a different kind of domino game than Lyndon Johnson used to talk about.  But, still, it‘s the very same effect.  And telling people—the local news ran a picture of a guy washing in the Mississippi this morning.  No.  Wrong.  That‘s exactly what officials are telling people not to do.  But Americans have a funny way of going on about their regular behavior. 

MATTHEWS:  Finally, I want to ask you about the significance—Can you weigh it from down there? -- of the vice president‘s arrival in the region tomorrow. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, I ran into a cynic today who asked the following rhetorical questions, which I can nicely repeat to you and not have to answer your question in chief, which I‘d rather not do.

And that is, what of substance is going to be learned at a briefing?  What will the vice president weigh the answer against?  What‘s his standard of measurement?  You brought in 8,000 cots.  I thought it was supposed to be 10 or why not six.  And who will be candid?  Who will speak truth to power to the vice president?  How much can an after-action briefing during a trip tomorrow do, when the damage in lives lost in this city—the two new icons in this city, and they stand silently, are the Convention Center and that Superdome.  They are now grave sites.

Think of the families of 9/11 and how they view ground zero now.  There‘s a whole lot of loved ones in this region who now look at that and say, it‘s where our loved one died. 

MATTHEWS:  Brian, tell us about where you are at right down there.  We‘re looking at that interesting cityscape behind you.  What part of town are you in right now? 

WILLIAMS:  We are on the edge of the Quarter.  Unofficially, it‘s kind of the warehouse district.  That was proven today when we all ran to a fire about three blocks from here. 

There‘s a little mini-snippet of good news.  When they turned on the hydrants, they had been charged.  There was city water flowing to three five-inch hoses that the firefighters set up.  And they were able to put this fire out.  It would have taken one block, perhaps two, unabated. 

But you can see, there‘s the remnants of an Army deuce-and-a-half truck down there full of soldiers.  That‘s all you see.  This is a convoy city, automatic weapons on just about every corner, the kind of response that the lawlessness called for last week that now is kind of incongruous.  There‘s no threat for it to meet, because open lawlessness is not the issue tonight in New Orleans. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much for Brian Williams for that great report.

Let‘s go now to NBC‘s Ron Blome in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

Ron, thank you for joining us tonight. 

We just heard from Brian Williams about the whole question of moving those people, those older people, African-American, in many cases, waiting for their checks, who don‘t want to leave the mailbox.  And they‘re being told they‘re going to be forced out at gunpoint, it looks like, tomorrow because of this threat of contamination, these people dying of tetanus and everything else down there. 

What‘s the story in Biloxi?  There are some people who have died there already today, right?

RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, they did die in the storm.  I couldn‘t give you any today figures. 

But they have got 11 post offices knocked out of commission, two sorting facilities knocked out.  People are beginning to line up at some of the other poster offices, saying, how am I going to get my Social Security check?  And they are trying to work something out.  But that‘s still a big issue here.

They have had 60,000 people calling in the Postal Service or get online just to do a change of address.  So, getting things to catch up to people is going to be quite a nightmare.  I had a reconstruction worker a few minutes ago come up to me who is really not watching the news, because there isn‘t any available here, no newspapers, no TV.  And he said, do you think they are starting to feel the heat in Washington?

And I assured him, oh, yes, that‘s a big part of the story now.  Another part of the story here is, all of the attaboys and pat on the backs here are going to the private relief agencies.  They are going to the U.S.  military, which is now here in a big way.  Biloxi Beach is now camp Biloxi or fort Biloxi.  Every Navy construction battalion, C.B., that‘s available in the continental United States is now headed to the Gulf Coast.  And a lot of them are coming in through the Gulfport naval facility. 

They performed a lot of rescues afterwards.  Right now, they have taken on the job of trying to assess public buildings and structures in all of the public schools.  They are even starting to repair schools, even though they have no clue when they can open schools.  They are still doing this heavy debris sifting through a lot of these flattened communities; 20 percent of this town was flattened by the storm.  And they are reaping the grim results.  Five more bodies were pulled out yesterday.  The toll here is now 148. 

But one other thing I wanted to mention, I was talking to a city official who was up in City Hall when it came in.  He said, not only was it a 15-20 feet storm surge.  There was one rouge wave, 10 to 12 feet or higher, that came in.  And as that wave swept across Biloxi, they feel that is what did the final coup de grace, the blow of destruction, to so many of these old and historic structures. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, NBC‘s Ron Blome in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Early tests by the Environmental Protection Agency today show that the floodwaters in New Orleans to be 10 times more polluted than even minimal safety levels and the Centers for Disease Control say at least four people died from exposure to bacteria in the floodwaters.

Doctor Bernadine Healy was the president of the American Red Cross.  She headed up the National Institute of Health in Washington.  And she‘s also an MSNBC analyst.  Couldn‘t have a better person here today. 

What is this disease that is killing people down here?  We had four to five cases today reported of people dying of bad water. 

DR. BERNADINE HEALY, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, it‘s Vibrio vulnificus, vulnificus, which is a poetic name.  In fact, it is important that it‘s not Vibrio cholera.  It‘s in the same family.  This is not cholera.  And that‘s the most important thing I can tell you, which means it‘s not going to be able to communicable.  It means it‘s not going to be spread.  It‘s not going to cause an outbreak. 

But the Vibrio vulnificus is a very unusual bacteria.  It‘s not a common one.  It causes maybe 50 cases in a year.  There have been about 12 deaths.  The fact that we have had five deaths related to it in the past few days is very worrisome, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Brian Williams was just on.  And he said, he saw a guy. 

There was a story.  I don‘t know if he saw him personally.  But there was a

sort of the buzz was, there‘s a fellow out there taking a bath in the Mississippi. 

What‘s the danger of the people down there—and maybe there are some of them watching right now—and exposing themselves to any of the water out there, running water?

HEALY:  Well, the danger is two, first of all, they are going to get it into a wound, and they‘re going to get an infection.  And that can lead to septicemia or food poisoning and death. 

The second thing is, they are going to get it in their mouth.  And they get it into their mouth, they‘re going to get gastroenteritis.  And that means diarrhea.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HEALY:  Vomiting, dehydration. 

MATTHEWS:  But look at these people.  What do you think of the risk they‘re running right now?  We saw this last night.  This is footage from last night.  We saw it.

These people went out to get some food supplies.  See that thing he just threw?  That was some water.  So, these people are hanging in there.  These are the guys who are going to get arrested tomorrow and thrown out of town, because that‘s what the word is now.  You must leave New Orleans.  That‘s the federal law now.  They are going to enforce that these guys have to leave. 

But the ones who stay and maybe evade the feds when they come in.  Look at this guy.  Look at this.  Now, he is risking, with all of the crap in that water right now?

(CROSSTALK)

HEALY:  He‘s putting his head in it.  He‘s putting his head, immersing his head in this.  I mean, this is ridiculous.  He‘s going to get...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a body around the corner probably. 

HEALY:  Yes.  The body probably is not going to give off the kind of pathogens that the sewage has. 

MATTHEWS:  Sewage is dangerous stuff.

HEALY:  The sewage is just—has E coli.  It has salmonella.  It has all sorts of pathogens.  It has Vibrio in it. 

And the fact that he‘s immersing his head in it, I mean, his eyes, his ears, his mouth, his nose, I mean, this is a guy who is nuts.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HEALY:  And the worst thing is that the should be seen—anyone should see that this is a good thing to do.  Hey, isn‘t that fun?

MATTHEWS:  Well, look at the color of the water.  It‘s pretty brown anyway. 

HEALY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  But these are hearty souls.  I got to tell you, these may be the last pioneers or the first fools of the 21st century.  I don‘t know.

HEALY:  You think he can‘t smell? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they are hanging in there. 

You know that we have—just put it all together, the health concern and the economic concern.  When you are living month to month on a disability check or an SSI check or—these guys aren‘t Social Security, but living on welfare check of some form, some kind of assistance, you can‘t leave your mailbox.  You need that check to go to the bank with.  That‘s how people live.

HEALY:  I‘m sympathetic to that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HEALY:  But I‘m not sympathetic to kind of reckless abuse of one‘s health, when all the information is out there.  You know those guys have scratches on their legs.  They are going to get infected. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the people going down, the relief workers watching right now in D.C. and New York and other places that are going down there?  Do they need tetanus shots before they go down there? 

HEALY:  They need tetanus shots.  And they also probably will need hepatitis A vaccinations.  They also have to go in with heavy waders.  They‘re...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s a wader? 

HEALY:  You know, what those fly fishermen use. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Cheney will be ready, huh?

HEALY:  He will be ready.

MATTHEWS:  The vice president is a real fly fisher.              

(CROSSTALK)

HEALY:  That‘s right.  He‘s..

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘ll go from right out West to here.

Anyway, thank you, Dr. Bernadine Healy. 

HEALY:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Vice President Dick Cheney is headed, with or without the boots, to the Gulf Coast.  Will he take the lead in the rescue of those Gulf states and save President Bush‘s legacy in the process?  Is this about public relations, this trip?  Is it about lopping heads in the bad work some of people have done in this relief effort?  Or is he taking on a very big job down there, as the president‘s viceroy for cleaning up that area? 

Former New York Police Chief Bernie Kerik was a towering figure in New York after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  He‘s going to come here and talk about whether it should be Dick Cheney‘s job or maybe Rudy Giuliani‘s job. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, who is running the recovery effort in New Orleans?  Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik knows about leading in crisis situations.  And he joins us when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Nine days after Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast, people are still asking, who is in charge?  That‘s a question New Yorkers didn‘t have to ask after 9/11.  Bernard Kerik was New York‘s police commissioner during 9/11 and he worked side by side with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, bringing order out of the chaos of that city. 

I said this last night as a guy who grew up in a big city, in my case, Philadelphia.  When something big happened, a big four- or five-alarm fire, you saw the police commissioner and the mayor and the fire commissioner standing side by side at the curb.  That appeared on the evening news, the late news.  You knew somebody was in charge.  If something didn‘t go right, you knew who to blame. 

But, luckily, in most cases, you knew who was getting the job done.  I don‘t see that face this time.  Do we need a face down there in New Orleans to take charge, Mr. Commissioner? 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER:  Honestly, Chris, I think you do.  I think that‘s what you have needed from the beginning. 

You know, I know people are sort of laying blame all over the place.  The bottom line is, the state and local authorities, they have the ultimate responsibility, the first line of responsibility for the planning, preparedness, response, first-responders.  And we really haven‘t seen that face. 

You know, we have heard the mayor saying the feds don‘t know what they are doing, the feds saying they are not getting cooperation from the locals.  You know, New York City sent 200 or 300 cops down to New Orleans and that area.  They got a call to send them.  Then they got a call from somebody else, don‘t send them.  Then they got a call to send them, then not to send them. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERIK:  I think one thing that we learned out of 9/11, we had one person in charge of New York City.  It was Rudy Giuliani.  It was very clear.  We all sat in one room.  Every commissioner, every state agency head, even the governor sat in that room.  Rudy made the decisions.  And we followed.  And I don‘t think we have seen that type of leadership in this event. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one way to get authority, I mean, by true authority, not that you have a nice title, like mayor, but people look up to you in a time of crisis, true authority, is to have authenticity, to give people what they need to know in terms of information.

One thing I liked about Mayor Giuliani during the hell of 9/11 is, I remember him standing on a street corner in his trench coat one night saying, we have got three cases of that, maybe four.  He was giving us information—I think it was anthrax or whatever it was—as he was getting it.  In other words, we knew, when we put the cameras on Giuliani, we would be finding out what was going on, no rolling disclosure, no, I will tell you when it feels good to tell you or when it‘s convenient to tell you.

KERIK:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know if there‘s anybody around even doing that right now, Mr. Commissioner.

KERIK:  Well, I think the problem is, Chris, you don‘t have that direct leadership. 

And those meetings I‘m talking about, we had meetings in New York City 7:00 a.m., 12:00 in the afternoon and 7:00 at night, 5:00 to 7:00 at night.  Every commissioner, every state agency head, when we walked out of there, nobody left that meeting not knowing what was going within ground zero, outside of ground zero.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERIK:  The security of the city. 

No matter what it was, every principal member of the city‘s and the state‘s Cabinet, they were aware of what is going on.  We don‘t have that down South right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it was smart to bury FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency in a government department, to bury it as a sub-Cabinet department? 

KERIK:  Honestly, Chris, I don‘t see a problem with it. 

Really, FEMA is supposed to be a coordinator and an assistant to state and local authorities. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERIK:  We had FEMA here after 9/11.  Joe Allbaugh was the FEMA director.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

KERIK:  Did a phenomenal job.  He was basically living at ground zero for the first three or four weeks, five weeks after the attack. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but he was the president‘s good friend.  He came with the authority of the president of the United States.  He was not some nebbishy guy buried in a bureaucracy. 

The way it looks now, FEMA is buried in a—I shouldn‘t say nebbishy guy.  The fact is, they buried this authority of the FEMA director down under somebody else, Mike Chertoff, who is an impressive guy, an impressive prosecutor.  But you don‘t think there‘s any problem with that kind of bureaucratic burial job? 

KERIK:  No, I think there‘s a—it‘s a chain of command.  He reports to Chertoff.  Chertoff reports to the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERIK:  He has got to follow the chain of command.  But he has a job to do.  And it‘s—if he does that job and does it right, fine.  If he doesn‘t, then he will be held accountable, I would imagine.

MATTHEWS:  You know, whenever we have, Mr. Commissioner, a big challenge, like rebuilding Tokyo after World War II or rebuilding Berlin or saving Berlin from the communists, the president of the United States, whoever he was, would name a big figure, Lucius Clay in Berlin airlift, of course, the general, or, of course General MacArthur in Tokyo. 

He became basically an American Caesar over there.  I want to ask you when we come back whether the president doesn‘t have to do something like that now and pick somebody big to go in there, whether it‘s the vice president, to go down there and move down in New Orleans for six months, or put in Rudy Giuliani or Colin Powell in there, somebody who is a power figure that will take—who will give orders and put everything together and do something like you folks did up in New York during 9/11.

We will be right back with that hot one with Bernard Kerik.

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Bernard Kerik. 

He was New York‘s police commissioner during 9/11. 

Mr. Commissioner, three big questions.  Do you think the vice president is being detailed with a big job down there to maybe take over the operation or something less than that, to go down there and maybe execute a couple people, like Michael Brown, have him fired, or maybe just for public relations?  How do you see the vice president‘s role in the next couple days?

KERIK:  Well, I think the vice president is going to go down and get a debriefing on—after the fact, what‘s happened thus far, where they think they have to go in the future, what it‘s going to take in resources from the federal government.  And then he‘s going to go back, basically, and brief the president and tell the president, give the president his recommendations.  That‘s what I think will happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the president didn‘t do the job himself, if that‘s all it is? 

KERIK:  Well, I think it‘s going to take a little bit more time than the president would have to be down there, you know, listening to briefings and conducting inquiries and doing the things that the vice president would do. 

But I think, you know, that‘s his designee.  I think it‘s right within the chain of command. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

KERIK:  And the vice president is an experienced guy.  He will get the job done. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Rudy Giuliani?  There‘s been a lot of buzz around this studio, around my world here, that the president needs to name a real hot shot, somebody who can go down there and take the heat and be the man in charge or the woman in charge.

Rudy Giuliani, your longtime colleague, has been named.  He said to the press the other day that he—depending on who made the offer and what the offer was, he would be open to helping out.  Do you think he would accept the job as the president‘s top man down there to make this thing work the next several months? 

KERIK:  Well, I don‘t know.  He has to make that decision.  He has got a great private life.  He has got a political life, a future ahead of him, if he wants. 

This is an enormous task.  It‘s going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort.  Is he the right guy for the job?  I will be the first one to say he‘s probably one of the best for the job.  Look at what he did from New York City—for New York City...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KERIK:  ... from ‘94 to 2000, how far it came, how clean it got, so forth and so on.  Look what he did on 9/11.

He‘s the perfect guy for job, but he has to make that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Well, if he does it, he will teach them down South how to spell Giuliani.  I will tell you that.

Anyway, thank you, Bernie Kerik, former commissioner of police in New York.

KERIK:  Thank, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, repairing the breach in race relations.  Is New Orleans a poster now, a poster for race tensions in today‘s America?  That‘s a hard question.  We are going to get some hard answers. 

And here at MSNBC, we‘re working to rMDNM_reconnect loved ones who have lost contact after the evacuations.  Here are some of their messages. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Anthony Swili (ph).  This is my wife, Marie Swili (ph).  We‘re originally from the coast.  But our family is living in Hattiesburg, down in Lamar County.

And, mama, if you get this, I just want you to know that we have made it.  And please, please contact me and let me know that you are all right. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hello.  My name is Joe (INAUDIBLE).  I‘m from (INAUDIBLE) Mississippi.  I just want to say hello to my mother, Daisy (ph) and let her know that I love her. 

And I‘m all right, mom.  I‘m doing good.  I got a pocket full of money, been working every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  If you are trying to reconnect with loved ones, check out our Web site.  You can tell people that you are safe and list people you are still looking for.  That‘s MSNBC.com, MSNBC.com. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Vice President Dick Cheney will to tour the ravaged Gulf region tomorrow, as I said, to assess the recovery effort.  And he‘s expected to face a myriad of challenges. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is in Louisiana with the latest.  We are going to hear from him in a moment.

Let‘s go right now to Eugene Robinson.  He‘s on the phone right now.  He‘s the associate editor and a well-known columnist for “The Washington Post.”  And, also, we have Elijah Cummings from Capitol Hill. 

Let‘s go to you, Gene Robinson, first. 

Mr. Robinson, thank you for joining us. 

Tell us your sense of the... 

(CROSSTALK)

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to be here, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, there‘s been so much talk from every community about this picture we saw on television the last week-and-a-half.  How is it going with your thinking?  How do you see this in terms of America‘s race relations, racial history, etcetera?  

ROBINSON:  Well, I think what we‘re seeing is not a very pretty picture.  But maybe it‘s a picture we need to see. 

I think we‘re seeing that—you know, we haven‘t talked about race and poverty in a sort of frontal way in a really long time.  Yet, I think what we‘re seeing is that real deep problems still exist and maybe it‘s time we started talking about them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Congressman Cummings.

Is this like the Titanic?  When the ship goes down, the people in the bottom part of the ship are the ones that drown first or what? 

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  I think there‘s no question that poverty is a very significant factor here. 

You have got to keep in mind here, Chris, 60 percent of New Orleans residents were African-Americans, 20 percent under the poverty level, which means that a lot of these folks could not move anywhere, if they wanted to.  And so, I think they got caught up in a situation.  But the fact is, is that poverty plays a very significant role in this whole scenario.  It‘s not necessarily just about black and white.  It‘s about green.  That is, money. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

And some people have been pretty brutal in their commentary about the people left behind. 

Let me start with Gene Robinson on that.

You know, you have heard the commentary, usually from white people, saying these people are too stupid to leave, or why didn‘t they get the message, or it‘s their fault.  What is going on in terms of people you have talked to about that decision?  These last 10,000 holdouts, by the way, are going to get pushed out at rifle-point tomorrow. 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, these people had no way to get out.  Bus service ended out of New Orleans on Saturday night.  So, a lot of these people had no way to get out. 

And a lot of these people have nowhere to go.  I mean, if you or I were stuck in—were told to evacuate the city, we have friends we could stay with in a kind of comfortable setting. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  A lot of these people had nothing like that.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ROBINSON:  There was no place for them to go.  They had a home and they had to stay there. 

MATTHEWS:  Like, if you or I were told to go to the RFK Stadium tomorrow afternoon and stay there for three months while they fed you at their convenience...

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... I would get an off-road vehicle and head for all points west, I think, just to get away from the people trying to take me to that stadium. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  You wouldn‘t be very happy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.

Congressman Cummings, is this a forecast of what we‘re going to see if we hit a real national situation?  Suppose we have another hurricane.  Are we all going to the stadiums again?  Or what‘s coming next? 

CUMMINGS:  I think, until we do something about poverty and something significant, we‘re going to have these problems. 

One of the things that we have to do is remember that education, for example, is directly related to poverty.  And there are a lot of things that we need to do as a society.  And I think basically what Katrina has done is pulled the covers off of not only possible racism, but also our failure to address—adequately address poverty in our nation.  As you know, the most recent data shows that, over the last three years, poverty rates have gone up. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens—what happens, Congressmen about the crime front?  I know we live with crime.  You work in D.C.  The crime has gotten a little better here—or a little less, I should say, same in New York City.  There‘s been a big drop in the murder rate in New York lately, luckily.  And it has to do with economy. 

But is the attitude of the establishment, as long as they are shooting each other, it‘s OK?  What is the—how do you explain that New Orleans, a city, the most violent—one of the most violent cities in the world, has allowed itself to get that way, even before the hell of the last two weeks? 

CUMMINGS:  Well, I think there are a lot of violent circumstances throughout the country. 

But, and the fact is, a lot of that has—a lot of it has to do with poverty also.  But, let‘s not—I got to get you on this one, Chris.  Most of these people, probably 99 percent of these people are wonderful folks, law-abiding.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CUMMINGS:  And I hate the fact that so much emphasis has been shifted to some law-breakers who are just absolutely wrong.

But the—and what happens when we do that, Chris, is that we basically demonize a whole group of people, both black and white, because they have been left behind and they don‘t have money.  Even the folks that did—were, you know, in poverty, they are—they—these are people that Congressmen Jefferson was telling us today, they sat there for the most part for five days, no food, no water, trying to make it, waiting for government to do what government was supposed to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Let me go to Gene Robinson.  I‘m not going to weigh in here.  I‘m just going to say that not everybody poor gets a gun. 

But let me ask you, Congressman—Mr. Robinson—Gene, let me ask you this about that.  Do you feel that that is a big part of this story, as a reporter, the guy—you read about these 100 guys running around with guns in the Superdome, gang leaders? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, some of that happened, not as much as has been reported.  But it‘s a part of the story. 

But what‘s interesting to me, it‘s not—there‘s not just class at issue here.  It‘s not just poverty.  There‘s race at issue.  And I‘m surprised at how many white New Orleanians are ready to believe that black New Orleanians are kind of flooding into their neighborhoods to rape and pillage.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  Even when that—in cases where that was not happening, and how many black New Orleanians were willing to believe that the levee breaks had somehow been engineered to save the French Quarter and the Garden District, the rich, whiter parts of town, and to flood the poor blacks part of town.

Now, neither of those things is really true.  Yet, there was a hair-trigger willingness to believe that on both sides, which tells me that there‘s a racial issue here that hasn‘t been dealt with. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

And you have read very—you have written very well about that, the lovely little part of the city that we all go to as tourists, black and white, and the big poor part of the area that is not so pretty to look at. 

Thank you very much, Eugene Robinson, associate editor of “The Washington Post,” and U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. 

Now let‘s go to New Orleans and this report from David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The sludge may look disgusting, but this is a welcome sight in New Orleans, where city officials say two main pumps are now at full speed and half the city is finally dry. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will go up there and get a little water on you, so your skin evaporates and you cool off a little. 

SHUSTER:  In neighborhoods still under water, though, the scene remains horrifying.  The dark polluted water is filled with sewage, garbage and decomposing bodies. 

Recovery teams say many of the cadavers are now falling apart or are so badly decomposed, they are unrecognizable.  FEMA teams have now asked the media not to show pictures of the dead, though, with so many corpses still in plain sight, it‘s a grisly picture difficult to ignore. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are going to be all right.

SHUSTER:  Meanwhile, a huge number of New Orleanians continue to be found alive.  Some say they survived in the water for several days.  Others stayed above the water in their homes and are only now being rescued. 

EDWIN COMPASS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT:  We have

thousands of people who want to voluntarily evacuate at this time. 

SHUSTER:  Rescue teams acknowledge there are still dozens of neighborhoods nobody, including the media, has reached yet. 

J.T. ALPAUGH, HELICOPTER REPORTER:  What you see there—oh, that‘s a great shot, these firefighters just pulling apart this rooftop and these eaves, trying to get under this fire and put some water.  

SHUSTER:  Across the city, fires continue to be a challenge.  There were 15 yesterday.  And, today, firefighters filled downtown systems with storm water just to get water pressure back in a few lines. 

One of the teams helping is from New York City, firefighters who remember well the help they received from cities like New Orleans after 9/11. 

JIM HAY, FDNY CAPTAIN:  We want to give life back to New Orleans, just like they gave us life back to New York. 

SHUSTER:  Across the city, you can see many of the difficult choices that lie ahead.  The French Quarter is dry.  And most of the sites that bring tourists into the city did not suffer catastrophic damage. 

But many of New Orleans‘ most impoverished neighborhoods are a total loss.  And it here where the scene in coming days will be grisly and where, in the long term, difficult economic decisions will confront city leaders, who acknowledge these were challenging neighborhoods to begin with. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  And before city officials decide where to rebuild first and what their priorities are, there is, of course, that whole issue of trying to pump out the water. 

And just to give you an indication, Chris, as to how severe the damage was to the city‘s pumping system, city officials said today that there are normally 148 permanent pumps that pump out the water during a rainstorm.  As a result of Hurricane Katrina, they only have 23, 23, that are working.  In other words, 125 pumps are down.  And what that means is, even as the mayor and city officials say that because of the police presence, this is now the safest city in the world, it is, clearly, Chris, also the smelliest.  And in areas, the smell is just unbearable—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Up next, with predictions that more than a half-million people could lose their jobs because of Hurricane Katrina, what are the plans to create new jobs for people down there on the Gulf Coast?  Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is going to tell us how the government is trying to make it happen. 

HARDBALL will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, Cheney‘s challenges.  Can the vice president save the city of New Orleans and save President Bush‘s legacy?  HARDBALL returns after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Victims of Hurricane Katrina are struggling to cope with the loss of basics, like clean water and shelter.  And as the disaster continues to unfold, they are coping with another loss, like jobs. 

I‘m joined right now by Labor Secretary, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who has freed up national emergency grants to Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. 

So, let‘s talk about these people. 

ELAINE CHAO, LABOR SECRETARY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We have been watching these older folk, afraid to leave their houses, because they are afraid to not get a check.  What can the government do to help these people who live check to check?

CHAO:  We‘re very focused, number—first of all, on the income assistance that‘s necessary for these folks. 

We‘re very, very focused on increasing income assistance for these folks.  We know that a lot of people are unable to work because their place of establishment is under water, under detestation.  So, we have unemployment insurance available for these people.  There are also other people who cannot work, who are not ordinarily eligible for income unemployment insurance, because they are self-employed or nearly employed. 

And we have another program called disaster unemployment assistance.  And then, on top of that, I have just signed $191 million in national emergency grants in the last six days to create 47,500 temporary jobs to give people a paycheck and also allow them to participate in the cleanup and delivery. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What would these jobs be? 

CHAO:  Oh, they will assist in the distribution of humanitarian aid.  They will help in the cleanup and recovery of their community.  And, most of all, we‘re very, very focused on the practicalities of getting income assistance to these people. 

MATTHEWS:  When‘s it start, though?  These people are all being bused and planed and airlifted.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  These people are being told to leave New Orleans.  So, everybody is leaving.  So, nobody is doing any cleanup work there now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How are they going to get—how are they going to get paychecks? 

CHAO:  In Mobile, Alabama, in Alabama and Mississippi, they are. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, in those cities, they can.

CHAO:  And then, in the surrounding areas of Texas. 

But the majority of people have left the area.  But that‘s OK, because we have a nationwide system, nationwide network of 3,500 what‘s called local one-stop centers.  So, they don‘t have to return home to their home communities to get income assistance.  What we want them to do is—we say to them, if you have access to a telephone, call this toll-free number. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s give it to them. 

CHAO:  1-866-4-USA-DOL.  And there, you will find caring, compassionate professionals. 

MATTHEWS:  So..

CHAO:  Who will be able to give you assistance.

MATTHEWS:  If you are out of work...

CHAO:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and you‘re in the bus or you‘re in the Astrodome or you‘re anywhere out of town from New Orleans, you can get an unemployment check, if you had a job, if you had a job?

(CROSSTALK)

CHAO:  Yes.  If you are at the Astrodome, there‘s actually a mobile van outside the Astrodome that you can go and visit. 

And we also have teams of people canvassing neighborhood by neighborhood, going to parishes, churches, community organizations to register people with laptops. 

MATTHEWS:  When are the cranes going to be going up in New Orleans?  A year from now?  In your mind‘s eye, when you think about the smell of construction, when is it coming back?

CHAO:  I don‘t know, but I am confident—I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CHAO:  But I will say that, from history, that, after a natural disaster like this, there‘s a tremendous building boom. 

MATTHEWS:  I see the stock market going up.  I couldn‘t believe it.

CHAO:  And new jobs will be created.  Lots of new jobs will created. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. 

CHAO:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, the role of Vice President Dick Cheney, we are going to get back to that.  That‘s our big story tonight.  What is his role going to be down there when he goes down tomorrow?  The vice president, the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, what‘s he going to do down in New Orleans?  We will back with that one when we come back on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  All of us here at MSNBC and MSNBC.com are looking to help the many victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Our initiative called “Reconnected” helps folks bridge the widespread communications breakdown caused by Katrina.

Our crews in the field are helping people get messages out to their loved ones to say they‘re safe. 

Here now are some of those messages.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is Leroy Singleton Jr. (ph).  I want to send a message out to my father, Leroy Singleton Sr. (ph), let him know that we‘re in Memphis, Tennessee and we are OK. 

And Danielle (ph) wants to say hello to her mother.

Say hello to your mother.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And we‘re devoting a special section of our Web site to this effort, trying to reconnect people with their loved ones.  You can find the link on the front page of MSNBC.com. 

We have been talking, by the way, about the challenges facing Vice President Dick Cheney, who‘s headed to the hurricane-stricken region tomorrow.  Can the vice president cut through the bureaucracy to help New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast recover? 

David Gregory is NBC‘s chief White House correspondent.  And Dana Milbank is with “The Washington Post.”

David, it seems to me there‘s three ways to look at the Cheney visit.  It‘s P.R.  He‘s showing the flag down there.  Fair enough.  The president wants to show his concern and smarten up the effort.  Two, he‘s going down there to get evidence to chop some heads, starting with perhaps the head of the FEMA, Michael Brown.  Third, he‘s going down there as a beachhead to really be our ramrod in this long-term effort, several months and years, to rebuild that part of the country. 

Where do you calibrate it?  How big a job is Cheney taking on here?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I think he‘s got a huge job.

And I think it‘s just the leading edge of it.  I‘m not so sure about the third part of it.  I think that the president wants to send the vice president down because, any time he‘s tapped, you know it‘s a big deal.  You know it rates high on the president‘s list of priorities.  And that‘s the message that the president wants to send. 

I do think you‘re right about the second point, too.  The president wants his vice president, his number two guy, to gauge how the operation is working now.  Are they making any headway at erasing the problems of the first eight days?  And are they getting to a point where people are getting the services they need, getting them easily and are they cutting through the red tape?

I think that the administration right now wants this phase of it to go so well that if this is possible—and I don‘t know that it is—people start to forget about the initial breaches in judgment or negligence or any other mistakes that were made.  They are so militant at this point about not answering any questions about what went wrong, other than to say that, clearly, things went wrong.  They‘re trying to protect themselves, insulate the president from that.  And I think the vice president‘s trip is a big part of it. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I got the feeling, Dana Milbank, that the vice president was really not part of this battle theater, but now he‘s clearly going to be the front man in the battle theater.  How did that change from being a guy who was not involved, who was still on vacation as of last Thursday, to being the front man? 

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Well, actually, some of the Democrats had started to say, to complain about the Cheney vacation.  He‘s really just the latest one down there. 

We had Rumsfeld down there.  We had Rice down there.  Myers was down there, just a whole parade of Cabinet secretaries, President Bush down there twice.  And now the most powerful man in the land, Vice President Cheney, will be there, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MILBANK:  I wouldn‘t say that he‘s so much in charge of the effort, but it‘s just one more effort to show. 

And to go back to your question to David, it is a lot about the P.R., because the bureaucracy is there.  That‘s something that can be fixed going forward.  We have what we have down there right now.  And they need to demonstrate that they care about this.  They also want to try to shift the blame to the state and local governments.  The polls indicate that people aren‘t really quite buying that.  But they want to remind people that they weren‘t allowed to do at the federal level some of the things that they thought they should be doing right from the start. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, David.

GREGORY:  Well, I was going to say, Dana and I both know this from having covered this place for a long time. 

This is not an outfit, the White House, that does compassion as well as it likes to do leadership and efficiency.  And the vice president is not going to be down there hugging people and shedding tears with people.  As a matter of fact, the president does that much better, some would argue not as well as, say, a Bill Clinton in this instance, but he certainly does it better. 

What they at this point want to show is efficiency, leadership, being in control, making sure that people who need the help don‘t have so much bureaucracy to cut through that they can‘t get any of it done.  They don‘t want any more scenes replayed of people screaming in front of the cameras saying, I can‘t get any money.  I can‘t get in touch with anybody.  The government is not helping.  The cavalry is here, but it‘s not really doing anything for me.

I think that‘s their primary objective right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Dana, it seems to me, it‘s fair to say that the president‘s legacy depends on how well this turns out, New Orleans.  It hasn‘t gone well.  It‘s gone badly.  But it‘s not over yet. 

A year from now, two years from now, will we see cranes in the city of New Orleans building buildings back up again, people coming back home, a sense of recovery, and, in fact, a sense of celebration that New Orleans is back?  Can the president count on Michael Brown to do that, the head of FEMA?  Can he count on Michael Chertoff?  Doesn‘t he have to put a big foot in there?

And I‘m asking again tonight, last time I‘m going to ask it tonight, is the vice president going to be the big foot, the kick at the butt of bureaucracy and make sure this job gets done?

MILBANK:  You know, Chris, I just don‘t think there‘s any more that they can do, other than what they have put in place at this point. 

The threat to the president‘s legacy isn‘t exactly what is occurring down there in New Orleans.  It‘s what New Orleans does to the rest of the country.  Does it damage the president‘s image?  He‘s already down in the low 40s in the polls. 

More importantly, does it keep gas prices at a permanently high level? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MILBANK:  It‘s estimated there‘s up 40 cents on average now and will stay that way for some time; 400,000 jobs are predicted to be lost, 1 percent off the GDP.  These are the things that the entire country will feel.

And if the country hits a real economic slump, they‘re going to take a pounding in the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

One last time with David Gregory.  Will the president let Dick Cheney be his big foot down there this week, and that‘s enough, or does he still feel the need to put a Giuliani in there or a Colin Powell in there as his viceroy in that part of the country? 

GREGORY:  I don‘t think that he‘s going to that step yet.  I think Cheney does it for now, gets it on the right kilter, and they defer those decisions for a while. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, David Gregory and Dana Milbank.

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more

HARDBALL. 

Right now, our coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the crisis and recovery, continues with “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”

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

END   

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