updated 9/14/2005 10:58:59 AM ET 2005-09-14T14:58:59

Guests: David Zucchino, William Jefferson, David Cohen, Jay Carney

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Two weeks later, President Bush takes responsibility for the federal‘s government failure with Katrina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government.  And to the extent that the federal government didn‘t fully do its job right, I take responsibility. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m Chris Matthews from New Orleans.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in New Orleans. 

Tonight, the buck stops at President Bush.  In a dramatic display of accountability, the president took personal responsibility for the federal government‘s failure in dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  With a strong majority of Americans blaming him for a poor performance, is this a preview of his prime-time address to the nation Thursday night from Louisiana?  More later on the president‘s damage control effort. 

But, first, sad news.  The Louisiana Health Department reports the death toll had climbed to 423 people, up from 279 people on Monday. 

Now with the latest on the ground here in New Orleans from HARDBALL‘s David Shuster. 

David, these numbers are rising.  

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, first of all, you have got the hospital.  Two days ago, Memorial Hospital said that there were 45 patients who died essentially right after the storm, in part because the temperatures soared to 110 degrees.  There was not additional care that was available.  There was no power in this hospital.  So, you have got that number. 

But you also have the number now that is coming in as the search-and-recovery teams are able to go back to some of the locations where they first identified bodies, but could not retrieve them.  The bodies are now being retrieved and, Chris, they are now being processed. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, one thing that strikes you into this city—you were here before me, David Shuster—is that, when you come in parts of the town, like we are in right now—and those who have been to New Orleans as tourists or people on convention business know where I am right now.  I am in front of the beautiful Cathedral of St. Louis, which goes back to the year 1720.  This cathedral was around almost 100 years before the Battle of New Orleans, when General Jackson, of course, whose statue stands there, won that great battle against the British. 

But this part of town is in good shape.  A little sweep-up and they are back in business.  Turn any lights on, and we got Mardi Gras.  Yesterday and part of today, we are in parts of the town which are under water and, to be honest about it, looked finished. 

SHUSTER:  Yes, Chris. 

I mean, the damage, even some of the areas that are now dry, like this area, but that had five or six feet of water.  For example, we went down—if you take Canal Street all the way towards the lake, there, off to the side streets, there is still a little bit of water.  But, for the most part, it is drying out.  But you see the water line up to the first level, five or six feet, and it is just decaying.  It‘s just—you just have wood that is decaying, that is not going to be able to be replaced, is not going to—you are not going to be able to—you are going to have to essentially build from scratch in some of these spots just in part because of the decomposition of what is going on there. 

MATTHEWS:  We are going to spend a lot of time tonight with the military.  Everybody in the United States has come to adore the American military, because they have come through.  Even in wars that have been debated about at home and will be debated in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq and all the debates about who did what in this town, everybody gives credit here to the arrival. 

It‘s almost like an old cowboy movie when the cavalry arrives.  They really love the deployment here.  I talked to—we will be seeing later in this show, a bartender over here in this Quarter, saying he never felt safe to sleep at night until the military got here.  They are out in the streets.  The police love them.  We talked to the chief of police yesterday.  We talked to him again today.  Great support here for the military. 

SHUSTER:  And, Chris, there is really a message.  And that is, as you know, they have tried to secure the downtown area, the financial district, the tourist district.  But they have also taken a major step in that direction by opening the airport today. 

Three flights came in.  Two flights went out.  On one of the flights out, they only had two passengers.  But, nonetheless,, even supervisor of the airport declares this a very symbolic day.  They are sending a message that businesses are going to be welcomed back in New Orleans, that there is going to be something for people to return to in this city. 

MATTHEWS:  So, we have a city basically under military occupation.  As you go down the streets of the poor neighbors, the residential areas, as you walk through the famous French Quarter, same thing.  You turn a corner, camouflage, M-16s, military presence. 

Let me ask you about the commander in chief.  The president made a dramatic statement today.  President Bush, like most political figures, has a very hard time admitting mistakes.  He made an admission today.  He said that he takes personal responsibility for some of the foul-ups that have been endemic in this mess down here.  What do make of that decision, big strategic decision, I think? 

SHUSTER:  Well, Chris, I was in Slidell, which is a little bit east of New Orleans, about a half-an-hour away.  And we were talking to people there about—who are busy trying to go through furniture and clothing.  And I asked a couple people.  And, again, it is the same story you see throughout the area.

A lot of people don‘t even know sometimes when the president is speaking, because they don‘t have power in their homes.  If they‘re not listening into the radio, they may not hear the president.  But when I told some of the people about the president‘s remarks, a few of them said, well, you know, it is about time.  But a few on the other thought that he had already taken responsibility.  There is still that reverence for the commander in chief in this part of the country, despite the problems that they have had. 

They are looking forward.  They want to see FEMA continue to bring in some of the manufactured homes.  And, Chris, right now, again, people are not spending that much time focusing on what the president is doing.  They‘re spending a lot of time focusing on the issues directly in front of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president will be speaking to the country on Thursday night.  We will be carrying that on MSNBC.  Thank you, David Shuster, for that report. 

For the latest in Mississippi, we are going to go right now to NBC‘s Ron Blome, who is Biloxi. 

Ron, what about the president‘s decision to go on the air Thursday night, a very dramatic decision?

RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It is. 

But, again, the residents here are really not that plugged into the national news.  The power is back on some more, but people are out trying to pick up and clean up.  You know, I was talking to a mayor of a Gulf Coast city last night and I said, what do you think of the federal response so far?  What do you think of FEMA? 

And they said, too little, too late, too vague.  And they said too vague again.  Let me add another word to it, overwhelmed.  They have 300 FEMA inspectors working the coast.  And they have got 180,000-plus claims.  So, people in places like East Biloxi, where we spent part of the day, are their own.  It is only through the grace of church groups and the Salvation Army that they are getting any assistance. 

Now, their homes weren‘t destroyed.  They were drenched by the floodwaters.  They don‘t want to live in a shelter that is overcrowded, so they are staying in the homes.  They‘re cleaning up.  They‘re trying to move ahead.  And they also called FEMA.  They reported themselves.  They are in a case file somewhere.  They called in early. 

Now we are day 15 here and they still have not heard anything.  Very frustrated there.  There was something else going on here today.  The Red Cross opened up one of their centers to hand out disaster assistance funds.  People here are hard up.  Payday was a couple of weeks ago.  Some didn‘t even get that check.  And there‘s a lot of just working stiffs here, working in the casino industry.  They were lined up 1,000 or more at the Red Cross center to get ahold of that assistance.  That‘s $2,000 from the Red Cross. 

FEMA does the same thing, but you have to go to a FEMA center to get there.  There were some FEMA workers with T-shirts.  Obviously, they had just been drafted into this.  They were down in the Vietnamese community here in East Biloxi this morning.  People there were saying, OK, where are the FEMA centers?  Where do we go?  And they didn‘t even have an address.  Finally, they advised people, listen to the radio.  That is where we are getting our information, not from FEMA superiors.

So, this whole organization seems somewhat overwhelmed.  I did talk to a FEMA representative this morning.  They said that the governor wants 10,000 trailers down here.  They have identified 1,200 that people can live in.  But they have only got 130 in place on the ground.  They have got quite a few engineering specifications that people have to meet.  They want it to be safe, livable housing. 

But the people who are living in houses for 15, 16 days now without electricity say they want any kind of housing.  They are willing to put up with a trailer in their front yard, even if it doesn‘t meet certain standards—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Those trailers, do they stand up well in hurricanes? 

BLOME:  Well, they put them into Punta Gorda in—after Hurricane Charley.  And they were up before the hurricane season was over.  And some people were worried about that.  But it‘s temporary shelter.  It‘s better than living in a rotary club tent in your front yard.  That doesn‘t stand up any better than a trailer. 

MATTHEWS:  I guest you‘re right.  Beggars can‘t be choosers.  Thank you very much, NBC‘s Ron Blome in Biloxi.

Now more on the president‘s remarks today, that he takes responsibility personally for the federal government‘s slow response to Katrina, and the other big story of the day, the Roberts confirmation hearings up in Washington.

Joining me is “TIME” magazine‘s deputy Washington bureau chief, Jay Carney.

Jay, the first thing, the president‘s amazing decision to announce his personal culpability for the government‘s failure at the federal level these last two weeks with regard to Katrina. 

JAY CARNEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “TIME”:  Chris, this is a major milestone for President Bush, because, as you know well, this is a president and a White House that has always been reluctant to say, I made a mistake, we made a mistake, we were wrong or we didn‘t perform as well as we should have. 

And, in this case, the president‘s advisers went to him and said he has to lay down this marker.  He has to say, we failed.  And he did that.  The language was a bit grudging.  It was that kind of, if there was some way that the federal government didn‘t do all that it could have, then I take responsibility.  But, for this president, that is saying a lot.  And I think we are seeing a preview of the speech that we will hear Thursday night. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you expect he will confirm that admission, rather than use the admission today as a launching point to say, yes, I accept some of the responsibility, but others deserve more? 

CARNEY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, do it in a two-step.  Do you—you think it is going to be a consistent message from now through the rest of this episode in American history, that the federal government was slow to react and the chief of—the head of state admitted that? 

CARNEY:  Well, I am not sure that he will use the exact language again Thursday night. 

I think what you are suggesting is right, that maybe he got this out of the way today, so he doesn‘t have to say specifically, I take responsibility Thursday night.  I don‘t think he will get into a blame game again with state and local authorities, because I don‘t think that plays well in either direction.  The public is sick of that. 

So, I think he will try to look forward, talk about rebuilding New Orleans, and talk about all the things that the federal government is going to do, which is pour a lot, a lot of money into the Gulf Coast. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it might work in terms of public support, because his

numbers are down below 40 percent.  And, of course, the record we do have

is that, when John F. Kennedy, back in the Bay of Pigs days, Bay of Pigs

days, after that failed invasion of Cuba back ‘61, I will never forget it -

he admitted responsibility personally for the failure of that

catastrophe, rather, and his ratings went up. 

CARNEY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Here is a heated exchange, by the way, Jay—go ahead, Jay.

CARNEY:  Well, I was just going to say, people like—they like their leaders to take responsibility and even take blame for failure.  And you remember Janet Reno, back after Waco, when she said, I am to blame.  I take responsibility.  This was on my watch. 

And her numbers soared after that, before her, you know, later troubles as attorney general. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let‘s go to another story.  And it is the second big story of the day, maybe even a bigger story, the confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts to be chief justice of the United States. 

Let‘s look at the heated exchange between Judge Roberts and Senator Biden of Delaware. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  My question to you is:  Do you agree with it or not?

JOHN G. ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE:  Well, I do know, Senator, that in numerous other cases—because I read the transcript...

BIDEN:  So did I.

ROBERTS:  ... she took the position that she should not comment.

Justice O‘Connor took the same position.  She was asked about a particular case.

BIDEN:  Oh, Judge...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS:  She said, It‘s not correct for me to comment.

Now, there‘s a reason for that.

BIDEN:  But you‘re going from the...

SPECTER:  Wait a minute, Senator Biden.  He‘s not finished his answer.

BIDEN:  He‘s filibustering, Senator.  But OK, go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

SPECTER:  No, he‘s not.  No, he‘s not.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS:  That‘s a bad word, Senator.

BIDEN:  That‘s if we do it to you.  Go ahead.  Go ahead and continue not to answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of that, Jay? 

CARNEY:  Well, you know, in this case, senators are frustrated.

There is no person who has ever been at one of these hearings as a subject, a nominee in one of these hearings, who has been better prepared than John Roberts.  Here is someone who has argued multiple cases before the Supreme Court, perhaps the best of his generation as a litigator in front of the Supreme Court, and someone who has prepared previous nominees for these very same hearings. 

He is smooth and will do everything he can to avoid answering a question in a way that will get him in any trouble when the final votes are cast.  Now, that is frustrating to Democrats, because, while previous nominees, including Bill Clinton‘s nominees, were evasive on some issues, we are in a situation now where what works in the past, new nominees just take what they have learned and expand on it. 

So, Roberts is probably being even less forthcoming than Justice Breyer or Justice Ginsburg were, but, in the same vein, refusing to answer questions that in any way could prejudice their decisions later on the court. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Jay, didn‘t he give the liberals a couple things they wanted?  First of all, he said that he did believe in the constitutional right to privacy, a notion which began with the Griswold case regarding birth control up in Connecticut and of course was confirmed dramatically in Roe v. Wade.

And, secondly, he said he believed in precedent and honoring precedent.  Aren‘t those two major points the liberals want to hear from him? 

CARNEY:  Absolutely.  And these are signals that he is sending that he is not a conservative judicial activist, that he is conservative—and he‘s made that clear, and he‘s done a lot to reassure the conservative court watchers, but he is also saying, I am pragmatic and I believe in what‘s called stare decisis, which is that precedent rules and that cases that are settled law, like Roe v. Wade, are just that.

And, therefore, it would be—it would only be in an extreme situation that you would consider overturning settled law.  He did back away a little bit and suggests that there has is—there has been and there is—there—you know, there are cases where you might undo precedent.  So, he left himself a little wiggle room on that.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARNEY:  But you‘re right.  The things he said were meant to reassure. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is reassuring—Jay, he is reassuring the chairman of the committee from a purple state, Pennsylvania, which is half blue and half red.  Here is he responding, Judge Roberts, to the chairman‘s questions about the issue of abortion. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Judge Roberts, in your confirmation hearing for the circuit court, your testimony read to this effect, and it‘s been widely quoted:  Roe is the settled law of the land.

Do you mean settled for you, settled only for your capacity as a circuit judge, or settled beyond that?

ROBERTS:  Well, beyond that, it‘s settled as a precedent of the court, entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it, Jay.  It sounds to me like he is confirming the principle of privacy as a right of the Constitution in the famous Roe v. Wade case, which gave a woman a right to an abortion in many cases. 

CARNEY:  That‘s right. 

I think that Judge Roberts is essentially that, while we know that he is conservative and almost assuredly pro-life, and therefore may not like the decision, even as a matter of law and reasoning, that it has become established law of the land, Roe v. Wade. 

Now, there are cases—he made an argument and suggested that, when precedent becomes eroded by decisions that pick—sort of chip away at a precedent, that there can be a cause to overrule the—what remains of a precedent in the future.  And we could see something like that as efforts are made to chip away at the right to abortion in the future. 

But, for now, he is saying, I think, that, if Roe v. Wade, a challenge to Roe v. Wade were to come before the court next year, he would affirm it as settled law. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It looks to me like a good day for those who support abortion rights. 

Anyway, here is Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, who has often appeared on HARDBALL, making this comment, sort of referring to the show. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN:  All of the things that we debate about here and the court debates that deserve 5-4 decisions, they‘re almost all on issues that are ennobling phrases in the Constitution, that the founders never set a strike zone for.

You get to go back and decide.  You get to go back and decide like in the Michael H.  case:  Do you look at a narrow or a broad right that has been respected?  That‘s a strike zone.

So, as Chris Matthews said, Let‘s play baseball here.  And it‘s a

little dangerous to play baseball with you,

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was a nice reference.  Jay, that is the point he is making, however, that the Supreme Court gets to define the strike zone.  They don‘t just get to be umpire. 

CARNEY:  Well, right, because Judge Roberts has suggested that he is not an activist.  He‘s not there to make policy as a judge.  He is an umpire.  That is the analogy he used.  You don‘t decide on the rules of the game.  You just—you follow them and you enforce them, essentially. 

Now, what Biden was saying, Senator Biden was saying, is quite clear, that, you know, there is enforcement and there is enforcement.  You get to decide about the parameters.  And it was a clever exchange, actually, for both of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I think—I think Joe Biden was getting at something pretty important.  It wasn‘t referring to this show.  It was to the fact that the Supreme Court has historically passed landmark decisions which define new strike zones. 

Anyway, thank you, Jay Carney of “TIME” magazine, deputy Washington bureau chief. 

We are going to see more of the National Guard units in action, helping clean up Louisiana.  And they are great to watch.  They‘re American service people at work down here in Louisiana, some of them fresh from the front in Iraq. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, from Baghdad to New Orleans, National Guardsmen are patrolling the streets.  We will talk to them about the challenges they face when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL in New Orleans.

You know, I have been saying now for a couple days, having been down here, how powerful the military influence is.  And it‘s all benign.  Everybody is glad to see the military, I guess with the exception of the lawbreakers or those who would like to break the law,the people that might be tending to loot or something.  But all the citizens of this city, the great overwhelming majority are so glad to have that military presence. 

First of all, it backs up the police.  Secondly, when you‘re worried about getting robbed or whatever or hurt in some way or looted, it is nice to see guys with M-16s in camo coming along, militarily trained folks, men and women both.  And, secondly, the police need a lot of backup in terms of their attempt to go out and rescue people under water in a lot of the communities here.

And the military have those facilities, those boats that can take those—those Zodiac boats, those little boats, raft-like boats that go out quickly and bring people back alive.  It‘s a great performance to watch.

I visited a command post not far from here and I talked to some of the soldiers there about the challenges they are facing as they try to save the people of New Orleans and clean up the city. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We are here at Harrah‘s Casino.  I have been here before in brighter days.  What is going on here?  What is this?

CAPT. WILLIAM LYNN, U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES:  We are assisting the coordination effort with the New Orleans Police Department on getting assets out to the waterborne areas, where we have got five-ton trucks, helmets (ph) and boats to continue to search for survivors. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you guys are going over the stuff that is still flooded? 

LYNN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, one of the things people don‘t know back there, it is not really water, is it?  It is really crap.  It is horrible stuff... 

(CROSSTALK)

LYNN:  It‘s really contaminated water, yes, sir.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It looks like an oil slick. 

WARRANT OFFICER BRUCE ERICK, U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES:  There is crude oil on the surface of the water. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you guys worried about your health, floating around on that stuff all day? 

LYNN:  We have got medication, and we have got enough doctors.  And we are prepared.  We have gone into Third World countries and... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are used to doing this in bad places. 

LYNN:  We have had guys up to their waists in water, especially when we first got here.  We had the boat operations.  The special forces guys were actually pulling out and doing a lot of the actual tactical operations out there. 

And we are trying to assist the city, especially the NOPD.  It‘s actually setting up—we are going to be moving some of our operations from here over to the Hyatt, so it‘s under the same umbrella with FEMA and with the city‘s assets, and basically set up a strategic level, instead of a tactical level operation level for the city.  And we are going to help...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the people weren‘t gotten—didn‘t get out of—didn‘t get out of their houses before they flooded? 

ERICK:  It is their home.

(CROSSTALK)

LYNN:  The water levels went from about two to six inches to 10 feet in a matter of minutes. 

(CROSSTALK)

ERICK:  ... leave the last time.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is the worst part of your mission down here?  What do you hate doing? 

LYNN:  There is nothing we hate doing.  We are proud to be down here doing what we are doing, assisting as much as possible.  I don‘t know of anyone that hates any facet of the mission we are doing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I meant—maybe I will come up with a better word. 

ERICK:  It is not fun getting into that nice water.  You don‘t have an option.  But, if you have got to do it, you have got to do it. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, I will take you on a tour of the most famous neighborhood here in New Orleans, the French Quarter.  People there are confident that this city will be rebuilt better than ever. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back on HARDBALL here in New Orleans. 

As the cleanup continues, plans for the long-term economic recovery of this area are being made.  And the economy of this city begins with tourism in the French Quarter. 

Today, I toured the quarter.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  You know, you try to figure out what the prospects are for recovery in New Orleans, coming in from the outside.  And what strikes you is how it changes every time you turn a corner. 

I mean, here we are in the heart of the French Quarter.  Everybody has heard about the French Quarter.  It is where Mardi Gras is staged.  It‘s where Louis Armstrong used to play and all the great jazz musicians.  And you can see the clubs around here.  Some of them are pretty good jazz joints.  Some of them are just tourist spots and some are strip joints.  It is a mixture. 

DENNIS BOOTH, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT:  People are attracted by the architecture, the music, just the soul the city. 

MATTHEWS:  How fast will this place come back?  You know, you can imagine it opening Friday night right here this week.  All they need is electricity.  And the sewer is working.  These places are in great shape, I mean, in really good shape, considering all that they have been through. 

FINIS SHELNUTT, RESTAURANT OWNER:  Yes, it looks great.  The city, evidently, has hired an independent contractor.  And the guys are doing a great job.  They‘re going one street at a time.  So, I think, within the next two days, they will have—the Quarter will be ready to open.  We just need some electricity, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  And it is in fact the cash cow.  If you want to get to the economics of New Orleans, it‘s not the poor areas that the money is going to come from.  The money is going to come from this area, feeding into the hotel district.  And the hotels get packed with conventioneers, people coming back to see New Orleans and what it has been through.  That may even add to the appeal of this city. 

LARRY HIRST, BARTENDER, JOHNNY WHITE‘S BAR:  This is a place where people can come and forget about their daily things.  The best food in the world.  Good music, great music.  Good drinks.  Good talking.  People.  Fun.  There‘s a lot of things to see in New Orleans.  This city is older than the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HIRST:  Yes.  There is a sense of that history here.  And that sense will not die here. 

MATTHEWS:  This city is not down and out at all.  It has a tremendous economic potential.  Cities like Las Vegas and L.A. and Miami would love to have this Quarter to sell as part of their presentation.

So, you come here and you get a hopefulness about this area.  I have been down here a number of times in my life when I was a kid, Peace Corps training down here.  I love the place.  And after going through a lot of the really poor areas yesterday and really hard-up areas that were hit the hardest because they are below sea level, you can get kind of despondent about the future here.

But that‘s probably true of a lot of cities in America.  There‘s nice areas and there‘s tough areas and there‘s areas that make the money.  And this is the money-making part of New Orleans.  They‘re selling history here.  They‘re selling fun.  They‘re selling Mardi Gras.  And I think there‘s a lot of potential down here.

I would expect the money is going to come pouring back in here. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, one radio station in New Orleans stayed on—on the air while Hurricane Katrina slammed the city, providing a lifeline for many who stayed behind.  We will talk to WWL‘s news director and on-air host when we return. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Dave Cohen is news director and on-air host for radio station WWL in New Orleans.  He was on the air for 28 straight hours through the bulk of the hurricane and after it.  And he was a lifeline for many of those who were stranded here and looking to connect with other people. 

What was that like for you, to be in the middle of all that hell? 

DAVID COHEN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It was unbelievable.  Thank God I had a big support staff with me and my fellow hosts and reporters to help us along. 

But there were times where there was just three of us, really, who could stay on the air.  We were on six radio stations.  And, throughout the storm, we stayed on at least four at all times. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think you contributed by being on live? 

COHEN:  Well, it was a position I never expected to be in.  I am on the air Tuesday morning as the city is filling with water, and people are calling:  I am in water up to my chest.  I am holding my two-month-old.  What do I do? 

And I have got to help these people find a way to survive.  I never thought I would be doing that on the radio.  So, I‘m telling people, climb out the window.  Swim on to the roof.  Do whatever you can to stay alive.  But I‘m sitting there really wondering, why are they calling me?  How can I help these people? 

And this was after we were sort of begging people to evacuate the city.  We became more than just journalists telling what was happening, but advocates for life, begging our listeners.  Once we knew that the 17th Street Canal levee was broken, and we knew the city was going to fill with water, to the same height as the lake, I was on the air literally begging listeners to get out of their homes, get out of the city, get out of the east bank of New Orleans, and get to higher ground, get to the west bank, get somewhere, get up high. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a number of things.  And they may sound naive, but I am an outsider.  And I will always be an outsider to this city.

I was struck by the fact that common sense would tell you, at whatever age you are, as the water rose, if you had to stay behind for whatever reason, or your chose to, you would climb up the stairs.  You would go to the second floor.  You would go to the third floor. 

And then I never thought of it.  How the hell would you get out of on your roof?  You would have to be an acrobat to climb out a third-story window or a second-story window and somehow make it up over a pitched roof, climb up the shingles, and end up having sort of a good grip and stay there for a couple days.  A lot of people got trapped in their attics, didn‘t they? 

COHEN:  Ever since Betsy in ‘65, where we saw the same thing happen in a smaller—on a smaller scale.  The Ninth Ward went under.  Bywater area went under.  People in New Orleans for a generation have kept a hatchet in their attic.  And, in fact, public officials on Saturday and Sunday were begging those people who did not evacuate to put a hatchet in their attic, so they could literally bang through the roof.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the mayor said, bring your tools.  I guess that is what he meant, right?

COHEN:  Yes, anything you could.  And some people tried to kick their way through. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you can‘t do that. 

COHEN:  But you can‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  And how—imagine what kind of a Bluto you would have to be to able to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  To be able to kick through your roof?

COHEN:  So, that is why many people had axes.  But many didn‘t. 

People were calling us.  Families of six, seven, eight people are calling us from their attic, saying:  We are in the attic.  We can‘t see the water coming up anymore, but it was so high, we couldn‘t stay in the house anymore.  And, on the radio, we are trying to tell these people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you tell them to do?  Jump out their window and swim up—and hang on to the gutter? 

COHEN:  We took it on a case-by-case basis.  If they had an eave they could kick out—a lot of people didn‘t think about that, that maybe they could kick out the eaves on the front or the side. 

MATTHEWS:  The gable, yes, the gables. 

COHEN:  The gables.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COHEN:  Get out that way and swim out.  But a lot of these people can‘t swim.  We are talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Of course.  Most—a lot of people can‘t.

Let me ask you about this—once you have been through something like that—the word trauma is overused, but I think it qualifies.  What do you do know?  Do you come back and say, hey, once in a lifetime, that will probably be it?  I have had my worst?  I get through that, I will get through anything?  Or do you say, I am getting handles on the side of the house or something?  I‘m getting stairs put up or sort of a reverse fire escape to get the roof?

COHEN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Do people think about that now or not?

COHEN:  We hope that people think that they will evacuate next time, that they will find a way. 

That—you know, the problem was, this storm shifted 150 miles on Friday afternoon, before landfall on Monday.  So, the warning time was very small. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COHEN:  And so many people are in poverty in this city.  And it is so hard to get those people out.

There was a call for everyone who had a bus a van, everyone who had a bus a van, everyone who had a bus a vehicle, to get people in them and get them out.  But it could not be done in such a short time.  So, the question becomes, next time there is a storm coming—and we never know until two days out exactly where these things are going to go.

(CROSSTALK)

COHEN:  Will be able to evacuate the city again? 

You know, the suburbs were almost completely evacuated. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COHEN:  The problem was the city.

But the hope is that maybe people will have tools available to get back on their roofs.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COHEN:  But, hopefully, they will get out. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to another route.  The chances of this city having the money from the federal government now, maybe the first time in history they are going to say yes, to build a state-of-the-art system of flood control. 

Like, people who have been to the Panama Canal come back saying, this is not just a work of nature.  This is a work of man.  We are capable of building locks and gates that work forever.  You imagine Amsterdam is probably—knowing the Dutch, it‘s state of the art.  Do you think we could have a state-of-the-art system along this river we are on right now and along the lake and the canals that basically can deal with a Category 5? 

COHEN:  They are talking about redundant levees.  So, if even a levee is breached, a barge smashes into it and breaks it open or for whatever reason it breached, they‘re talking about now redundant levees, double levees to help. 

MATTHEWS:  How about redundant walls? 

COHEN:  Well, and flood walls as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Because you can‘t—you don‘t have enough space to build the levees in some of the downtown areas. 

COHEN:  Well, we may have to reclaim some of that land to do that. 

But the main focus has been, and still continues to be, on letting these storms get weakened before they get here.  We lose so much of the coastline.  And we have heard for years and years that Louisiana has been fighting, the congressional delegation, the locals have been fighting to get the marshes recreated, to get the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COHEN:  ... programs going to try and take some of the punch out of these things before they get here.  I don‘t know that anybody has the answers. 

You know, this has not happened.  This city has been here for 300 years and this has never happened before.  We always knew it could.  We have talked about the worst-case scenario for generations.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COHEN:  That we knew the city could fill with water. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go with, David—hang in there, Dave Cohen.

Let me go right now to the congressman from there, U.S. Congressman William Jefferson.

Thank you very much, Congressman, for joining us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you had to put the federal money in one place, would you put it in rebuilding—or building state-of-the-art flood control for this city?  Would you put it into better evacuation, or would you put it into the environmental work that needs to be done in the wetlands to make sure the city has the best possible chance to avoid a storm surge? 

REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA:  Well, that is a real, real tough question. 

I—you have got to—you have got to start with the coastal restoration, because there you can slow these storms down before they get to where the heavy population centers are and give everything a better chance and make the levee system have a better chance to hold.  And, after that, of course...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

JEFFERSON:  ... I think it is the levee system that we have got to put our emphasis on.  And we know what it takes to build a Category 5 levee.  We just have not ever committed the resources to do it, even though it has been modeled God so how many times by various studies. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Is it just a higher levee, a wider levee? 

JEFFERSON:  Higher levee, stronger levee, a better reinforced levee, all that.  And I think that this is all possible.  There are any number of models that are out there as to how this can be done.

In fact, the Corps of Engineers, to its credit, has often talked about what it needed in the way of resources to get this done.  It is always OMB that slows it down.  And then, at the end of the day, it doesn‘t get done in the Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  How are you going to blow the whistle to make sure that the people that said no last time don‘t get to say it this time? 

JEFFERSON:  I think Hurricane Katrina has blown the whistle pretty well on this one. 

And I kind of think that people will never, ever take this with the attitude that, well, it is just something we can cut and save maybe because we have something else to pay for.  I think they will know that this is foolish expenditure decision that Congress is making.  Preventive work is always better, no matter what you‘re involved in, than to pay the price down the road, in lives, in fiscal terms and all the rest.

A $14 billion hurricane 5 levee seems like a pittance compared to what will have to be spent to rescue all.  And then some things we have lost, we can never recover. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana.

And, Dave Cohen, thank you.

COHEN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  And what a great guy you have you been, WWL, radio history. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are in the Hall of Fame, sir.

COHEN:  Well, we did it because we had to, not because we wanted to. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I appreciate the motive.  I also appreciate the success. 

When we return, we will go on patrol with the National Guard in search of holdouts who have not yet evacuated—they‘re still there—from New Orleans. 

This is HARDBALL in New Orleans, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, from Baghdad to New Orleans, National Guardsmen are patrolling the streets.  We will talk to them about the challenges they face when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to New Orleans. 

The owners of a nursing home here where 34 people were found dead after Hurricane Katrina have been charged with negligent homicide for not evacuating their patients.  Here is the Louisiana attorney general. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We prepared an arrest warrant that was signed by a judge in St. Bernard Parish.  We talked to their lawyer.  And, today, they have turned themselves in and are currently incarcerated while awaiting whatever bond procedures will happen at the East Baton Rouge Parish Jail. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the attorney general of Louisiana, bringing negligent homicide charges against the owners of a New Orleans area nursing home for not evacuating the patients in time.  We follow that story on MSNBC. 

One of the comparisons you hear from soldiers working here in this

city is that it is like Baghdad, believe it or not.  I went on a patrol

with a group of Oregon National Guards people as they toured a damaged

neighborhood and checked for people who have not yet—believe it or not -

have not yet evacuated.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  So, let‘s see, 12 feet.

(CROSSTALK)

SGT. JOHN KNOX, OREGON NATIONAL GUARD:  At least.  That was a couple of blocks over. 

MATTHEWS:  Unbelievable. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  These houses are all one floor.  There‘s some—a little attic space.

Yes.  I have been hearing about these folks that climb up to their attic.  There is no air up there. 

KNOX:  They were able to punch a hole through the ceiling.  They got some drops from the helos that came in, food and water, yes, sir.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do you get through a roof when you‘re in the inside? 

KNOX:  I‘m sure they had a drop box or something.  They probably punched a hole through it.

You have got your gables up through here.  A lot of these were built in the 1930s or ‘40s, prior to that.  So, you can punch a hole through a gable. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Explain the...

KNOX:  The markings?

MATTHEWS:  The markings.  What is that...

(CROSSTALK)

KNOX:  Nine-eleven is the date.  One -- 162, that is my unit, my battalion, 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry Regiment.  Northeast is the northeast...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, does that tell if you there‘s any fatalities? 

KNOX:  That is affirmative, sir. 

KNOX:  And what is—where‘s the fatality?  Would it be listed?

KNOX:  There is nothing on there.

MATTHEWS:  Nothing on there.

KNOX:  Yes. 

Right now, actually, our mission is—we have got hard sites, and hard sites meaning addresses and grids...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KNOX:  ... to where we have located personnel that have chosen to evacuate or have chosen to stay.  And we are trying to coax them out with food and water, and get them up to the Convention Center. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I feel like I am on a patrol here. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re like on a patrol here. 

KNOX:  Well, that‘s what we are on, sir.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, in an urban situation, in an American situation. 

KNOX:  We‘re here to protect American lives and property, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Not a familiar sight, for me, at least. 

KNOX:  It looks a lot like Baghdad, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it? 

KNOX:  Yes, sir, it does.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it certainly felt like it.

After the resignation of FEMA Director Michael Brown, the White House moved quickly to replace him with a top FEMA official, David Paulison, who has got three decades of firefighting experience.  He‘s the guy with the right credentials?  It he or is he not? 

Let‘s go to Norah O‘Donnell.  She‘s MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.  She joins me now.

Norah, does this appointment makes sense to everybody?  How is it going over? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  It is going over pretty well.  It‘s a big change.  And it comes on a big day here in Washington, when the president took the rare step today of admitting a mistake in dealing with the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. 

Today, the president suggested it was a real wakeup call for government officials in dealing with natural disasters or terrorist attacks.  So, we saw the president trying to move forward.  He took the first step today with this new head of FEMA, who—and this time, this FEMA chief has decades of emergency experience. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  So, we are delighted to have the chief on board. 

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Today, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff introduced David Paulison, the man President Bush has chosen to take over FEMA. 

CHERTOFF:  He has been involved with fire and rescue for I think approximately 30 years, starting out as a basic fireman, working his way up to be the head of the Metro Dade Fire and Rescue Services. 

O‘DONNELL:  Paulison replaces the embattled Michael Brown, who resigned on Monday, after playing a part in the slow response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 

DAVID PAULISON, ACTING FEMA DIRECTOR:  I can‘t deal with what happened in the last two weeks, but I can tell you, from this point forward, we are going to be focusing on the victims of this hurricane.

O‘DONNELL:  Paulison is a seasoned disaster response expert.  He helped lead the emergency response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Everglades.  After 9/11, he helped define the nation‘s preparedness.  In fact, Paulison is the same FEMA official who, two-and-a-half years ago, was behind the recommendation to Tom Ridge that Americans build a safety kit and stock up on duct tape to protect against a biological or chemical attack. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  Oh, and, yes, I have to say, stash away the duct tape.  Don‘t use it.  Stash it away in that pre-measured plastic sheeting for future, and I emphasize, future use. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That sent off a run on duct tape at stores and widespread criticism of the administration. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Now, today was Paulison‘s first day on the job.  He says the first thing he is going to focus on is those tens of thousands of families who are without homes and finding temporary homes for them and getting them out of the shelters—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell in Washington.

Up next, some New Orleans residents are arriving back in the city. 

But which ones are able to get back and which can‘t get back?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL from New Orleans. 

Katrina shed light, as everybody knows, on the divide between the rich and the poor in this city.  And while residents from poor neighborhoods have been largely unable to get back to their homes to see what is going on, those from predominantly wealthier neighborhoods have found ways to revisit their flooded homes and even to go back and collect some belongings. 

David Zucchino is with “The Los Angeles Times.”  And he accompanied some people as they returned home.  He joins us now by phone.

David, you got on to a good piece here.  You reported it for “The L.A.  Times.”  What did you notice about the people from the wealthier areas, like the Garden District here?

DAVID ZUCCHINO, “THE LOS ANGELES TIMES”:  Well, the people I was with are from Lakeview, which is a middle-class and in some cases upper-class neighborhood on sort of the western shoulder that borders New Orleans.  And these people lost their homes, just like people in New Orleans east did, the poorer neighborhoods.

But they had the means and the resources and the opportunity to return.  They were able to hire rental cars and get out of the city, first of all, and then hire rental cars—rental cars and hotels and work their way back and find people with boats.  There‘s—just below the 17th Street levee that broke and flooded—this neighborhood was the first one to be flooded, because it‘s next to the levee.

There‘s a bridge there that goes right down into the water, about eight feet of water.  And it makes for a natural boat ramp.  So, all these volunteers are filling up the boats and people are able to get into these boats and roll out to their homes and collect pets and belongings and wedding albums and family albums and whatever else hasn‘t been ruined. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re showing pictures right now of the homes that are not the nicest homes in the world.  These are working people‘s homes and some poor people‘s homes, I guess.  And they were hit hard. 

We were in, actually, some of those neighborhoods which are only barely out of water right now.  But let me ask you about the rules of engagement here, so to speak, the police rules.  The police—we‘re lucky we‘re in the media.  We have been able to move around in this city with no traffic, no obstructions, ever since we showed our I.D. cards.

The rules for other people are, you can‘t come back into town.  It‘s still under mandatory evacuation.  How are these people from the better neighborhoods getting back into town to check their stuff?

ZUCCHINO:  Right. 

Well, first of all, there‘s no clear policy.  The policies change hour to hour and checkpoint to checkpoint.  You have got people in dozens of law enforcement agencies from around the country here who don‘t know the city.  There‘s no unified command.  So, if you happen to get the right checkpoint, you can get in.

But, for the most part, these middle-class and upper-middle-class people, they have connections.  They have cars.  They know people.  They know the way around.  And, in the case of Lakeview, the authorities are letting them in and giving them complete permission to use this ramp and to bring boats in, whereas, if you go to the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth wards or the mid-city area or New Orleans east, they‘re completely sealed.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ZUCCHINO:  I have not seen one person go back to their house in these African-American neighborhoods.  They‘re sealed off.

MATTHEWS:  You only have a few words left here.

Can you tell me what it was like to cover Iraq and then to come in and cover this? 

ZUCCHINO:  This is harder.  As a journalist, it‘s much harder. 

If you—it‘s hard to believe you‘re in the United States.  We all keep talking about how we think we‘re in a Third World country.  The infrastructure has just completely collapsed.  And we are so dependent on it, when we don‘t have it, it‘s really hard to function.  When you go to places like Iraq, you expect it to be tough, but you don‘t expect a major American city to turn into just a Third World country literally overnight. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s a great story for your paper, “The L.A. Times.”  Thank you very much for joining us, David Zucchino, who told us, first time to report this, about how some people have been able to get back to their homes, where most of the poor people have not. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and then at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  I will be reporting tomorrow from Baton Rouge, the capital of this state. 

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

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