Guests: Tom Ridge, Christopher Dodd, Chuck Hagel, Ryan Murphey, Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, April Ryan, Pat Buchanan
MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST: Tonight, the politics of disaster. A bridge in Minneapolis collapses. President Bush says help is on the way. How can we keep this from happening in other American cities?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews. Wednesday during the evening rush hour in Minneapolis, the unthinkable happened. An interstate bridge over the Mississippi collapsed. The official death count stands at four, with as many as 30 people missing. It was a scene out of a movie, with cars tossed like toys into the mighty Mississippi and survivors crawling to shore. As many as 60 cars were on the bridge when it snapped and dozens plunged into more than 60 feet of water. Recovery teams are still working to find the missing. In a moment, we‘ll have an eyewitness account.
Plus, what‘s the political response here in Washington and out on the campaign trail? Could fixing bridges and roads become a top issue in 2008? We‘ll talk with Senators Chuck Hagel and Chris Dodd, who proposed a bill to fix our infrastructure just hours before the collapse.
But we begin tonight with the sounds of some of the survivors of the bridge collapse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bridge collapsed, and we—we headed titled
we were titled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were stunned. People were crying. People were scared. I don‘t know how this could happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looked like it‘s out of a movie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, she was on her phone. And she just told my fiancee, The bridge I‘m on is collapsing. I‘ve got to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bridge just completely went down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we were falling, literally falling.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then I see the bridge in the water, and I see cars in the water and people swimming out of the river.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was one car that was—like, the bridge was at, like, a V, and the car was literally, like, bent in half between it all, and then just collapsed completely, crush cars.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like, it‘s something you don‘t see every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Ryan Murphey is a bystander who helped pull a couple of people to safety after the bridge collapsed. Ryan, where were you when the bridge went down, what were you doing and what did you do?
RYAN MURPHEY, HELPED IN RESCUE: Well, I tell you, I was just driving down University about maybe six blocks from the incident, and I saw some fire trucks and some medical personnel. I followed the trucks. I had no idea that this bridge had collapsed until I got down there. I thought somebody may have jumped into the river. I did see a big cloud of dust. And so I went down there and saw that the bridge in the river. I mean, it kind of took a few seconds to gather my thoughts at that point.
BARNICLE: You know, Ryan, everybody in this country watches these pictures—we‘re looking at them right now on the TV monitors and TV screens from coast to coast, and people frame up a picture in their minds off of what they see on their very small TV sets at home. Tell us what that looks like in reality through your eyes.
MURPHEY: Well, I tell you what, it‘s—it‘s amazing. I mean, I was actually on the bridge last night and saw the—I mean, this is a bridge that I use daily. And it was, you know, literally 90 degrees, probably five stories up in the air. I could see the lines going right to the sky. There was a few people. I just happened to get down there when somebody had asked for some stretchers, and I was standing next to a few, so I had the opportunity to—you know, to help out. I grabbed a few stretchers and got some people to safety.
BARNICLE: Now, what—where were you on the bridge when you were helping people to safety? What was the degree of difficulty there? Was it slanted down? Where were you on the bridge?
MURPHEY: It was pretty much flat. I was right at a flat part right before the river, right before the bridge went straight up in the air, right where it basically cracked and it was kind of hanging on some pillars. There was a few cars down there, maybe eight or so, pretty well mangled up. And there was—you know, there was actually a gentlemen that was on the other side of the stretcher with me that had fallen, and you know, he got out of his vehicle. He was able to brush himself off and assist in evacuating some people off the bridge.
BARNICLE: Could you hear anything, any cries for help from among people either trapped in cars or perhaps further out on the bridge?
MURPHEY: You know, I really couldn‘t hear anybody, but I did hear a few, like, small explosions. There was a kind of a pop, and then I‘d see flames and the black smoke. And I could see up on the bridge to my right, you know, near the school bus, that there was, you know, a few cars on fire, and they were doing their best to get those fires down.
BARNICLE: You say you took that—you took that bridge nearly every day. So obviously, do you live near the bridge or did you commute across the bridge to your work, or how—why did you use it every day?
MURPHEY: Well, I live about 10 blocks away, so that‘s, you know, a route that I take just to get home every day.
BARNICLE: Give us a sense of what that bridge means in terms of commuter traffic back and forth across the river. Where does it go, and how many people use it on a day?
MURPHEY: Well, you know, I heard 100,000. I know that I probably use it probably, you know, every day of my life, especially living over here in this area. I know it‘s going to affect a lot—you know, a lot of commuters. There‘s some detour routes around the city that I haven‘t quite figured out yet, but I‘m—it‘s going to be difficult. It‘s going to be something that‘s going to be pretty hard to manage. I‘m assuming probably a lot of traffic‘s probably going to go through my neighborhood.
And you know, I—I tell you, last night, after this happened, I was on my way home and I was, you know, a little leery about going over other bridges around the metropolitan area. I think it was just kind of a sense of fear that I had and—but you know, that‘s certainly not a way to live. I just—you know, you just got to do what you got to do and do your best.
BARNICLE: Well, you know, Ryan, I‘ll tell you, you‘re not alone in that. I mean, we live in a country where few people walk to work anymore. People take subways and go across bridges into major metropolitan areas all over the country. So you are certainly not alone. But thank you for what you did last night and thank you for being with us this evening. Ryan Murphey, a bystander who helped rescue people after the Minneapolis bridge collapse.
We‘re joined now by Jack Rice who‘s a radio talk show host for WCCO radio in Minneapolis. Jack, if you could, could you give us an update? We have a casualty count of four dead at this time, with an unknown number of people missing. Is there any latest update on those numbers?
JACK RICE, WCCO RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, we haven‘t heard that much yet. What we do know is that there are 79 that are injured and counting. But I think more importantly, what we‘ve seen is anywhere between 30, 40 or even 50 cars that are at the bottom of the Mississippi River, covered by tons of debris, covered by tons of rubble here. And so while there are four dead at this point that have been confirmed, they expect it to go much, much higher.
BARNICLE: Jack, what have you heard about the degree of difficulty involved? It‘s a fast-flowing river, I assume. It‘s the Mississippi, a big, strong current. I don‘t know how clear the water is there. The degree of difficulty involved in the rescue operation?
RICE: I‘ve been talking to a lot of the people earlier today, and here‘s what we have. The current is very strong, and as importantly, it‘s very, very unstable because of all the rubble, it‘s still moving. In addition to all of the cars, it makes it even more unstable after that. Finally, if you add—as if that weren‘t enough, the divers are saying sometimes you may have a foot of visibility.
So it‘s very, very difficult. Because of all of this, they‘re having a heck of a time. I was out there at dawn this morning, and even at that point, they had to cease all the operations last night and they‘ve been hesitant ever since that time to really come in and take out any bodies or even any vehicles. They simply can‘t do that, at this point.
BARNICLE: And how many vehicles did you say they estimate to be still in the water, under water?
RICE: They estimate in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 cars. They still haven‘t been able to determine that. Now, we should also add, though, because of the current, there are at least three or four or maybe more vehicles that have been pulled downstream. There may be some that are upstream, too. Now, what they‘re trying to do here is, the locks are just to the north of this, and so what they‘re going to try to do is hold the water back, so to lower the water levels. Once they do that, it may make it easier. But this is still going to be difficult.
And if I might, when you look at just how important this route is for the Twin Cities, approximately 140,000 people are on this road every single day, there are two major thoroughfares and one bridge is a little further to the south, then there is this one—you close this one down, and you‘ve created a bottleneck like you may have never seen.
BARNICLE: The White House has announced that the president of the United States is going to come to Minneapolis on Saturday to inspect the scene. What‘s the situation right now? You know, it‘s realty that life continues around these tragedies in Minneapolis and elsewhere. In terms of traffic, You just mentioned alternative routes. What happened today? What‘s happening now on the verge of rush hour again in Minneapolis? How do people transport themselves back and forth across the river tonight?
RICE: They‘re working their way through alternative routes. I mean, that‘s the best way to describe this.
I think one thing we have found that‘s been pretty wild and pretty interesting, at least for the Twin Cities—and I think this is something that‘s true nationally—is that after 9/11, there has been this effort to deal with emergency issues, the ability to reach out and make sure you can deal with the emergency situations. So I‘m not just talking about bringing in police and fire department. I‘m not talking about just bringing in the ambulance folks or bringing in doctors. I‘m also talking about re-routing traffic because it seems, relatively speaking, that things have been relatively smooth. But again, this was simply the first day of this, the first real test. The real question is what comes next, and this could take a long, long time.
BARNICLE: Again, you know, I asked Ryan Murphey just earlier about—visually, we look at this in America on TV. How does it strike you visually right there, in person?
RICE: Mike, it‘s a great question because when I watch this on TV, it looks to be a certain size. But I know this bridge. I‘ve driven this bridge hundreds of times myself. The bridge is massive. It‘s so much bigger than what people think is it, what they imagine it is. It‘s essentially a 1,900-foot span of the Mississippi River. It‘s absolutely huge. And when you realize that something that is this big falls, and falls in such a way that is remarkable—is extraordinary out here, that you have to realize it‘s so much more, so much bigger than what I think one would see on television.
BARNICLE: Jack, Jack Rice, thanks very much for joining us.
Up next, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank on what Congress can do to prevent another tragedy like this. And later, Senators Chuck Hagel and Chris Dodd on how we can improve our country‘s infrastructure. They offered a bill just yesterday to do just that right before this tragic bridge collapse happened in Minneapolis.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were tilted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First we thought we‘d crashed, but then we felt like—we felt us going down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were riding over the bridge, and the bridge collapsed. And we were right on the part where it went down, it curved down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Minnesota‘s tragic bridge collapse is raising new questions about our country‘s infrastructure and how much we‘re investing to keep it safe. Democratic congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts is the chairman of the financial services committee.
Congressman, every city in this country, or nearly every city in this country, people go to work. They use the subways. They drive along highways that have been built—that have been there for 40, 50, 60s years, bridges that have been there perhaps longer, the Golden Gate, San Francisco, Verazzano Narrows, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Tobin Bridge in Boston, Massachusetts. Where are we going to get the money that everyone is talking about today to repair this infrastructure?
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, we‘re going to get it from taxation, and one way we can do that, frankly, in my judgment, is end the war in Iraq. When I propose spending money on some of these things, people say to me where I‘m going to get the money. I was in Congress on September 10, 2001, and I know factually there was no money in the budget at the time for war in Iraq. But since then, we‘ve found $500 billion. So sometimes I think I should go find the guy who found that $500 billion and ask him if he could find some of that for us here.
I mean, we‘re a very wealthy country. We can afford it as a country. The question is, how do we allocate it? And we‘ve got this odd view that some people have been holding which is that any time you cut government, it‘s a good thing. And I have colleagues who say, It‘s the taxpayers‘ money, not the government‘s money. Let the taxpayer keep the money. Well, of course, it‘s the taxpayers‘ money. Sensible taxpayers know, though, they have two sets of needs. Some are best done individually, some we have to pool our resources. I can give you the biggest tax cut in the world, and you can‘t fix a bridge.
BARNICLE: But you know, Congressman, you say sensible taxpayers, and I agree with you, there are huge numbers of sensible taxpayers out there in this country, and yet we are already—we‘re not even on the edge of a presidential campaign, we‘re into a presidential campaign. And in state after state, primary after primary, each and every candidate, each and every campaign is forced to respond to this litmus test of no new taxes. How are you going to get taxes passed when you can‘t get anything done in the Congress, it seems?
FRANK: Well, fair question. We did pass a tax increase yesterday in the House. It was for children‘s health. And I think one of the ways you have to do it—and I do want to stress again, if we did not have the war in Iraq, with hundreds of billions of dollars, we would be able to do a great deal more without raising the taxes. And I hope the next president will have the wit to do that, and that will be helpful. Maybe we can even force it beforehand.
Secondly, though, I think you have to connect the dots. I understand people saying, Well, I don‘t want to just pay taxes for it to be squandered. What we did yesterday in the House—it was a partisan vote, but we won, the Democrats being in the majority. And we are going to raise taxes some on cigarettes, and the money is going to be used to expand health care for children who don‘t have it.
And I think that‘s what you have to do. You have to demonstrate to people the connection between the taxes you are raising and the programs that they are for because I do think if you ask people—look, we have this as a problem here. If you ask people, do they want more fire protection, do they want better roads, do they want more environmental clean-up, a number of these things, they say yes. And then the question is, Well, how do we pay for it? And I think it is incumbent upon us to show, yes, we‘ll spend the money wisely. I think if people believed that the money would be spent on those things, they‘d be supportive.
The other thing, of course, is with regard to taxes, we don‘t have to raise the overall level of taxes. If we had simply not done what George Bush asked us to do and cut taxes disproportionately for some wealthy people, and only in the most minor way for the average citizen, we would have more money. So I think if you ended the war in Iraq and raised taxes on incomes above $250,000, you‘d go a long way towards resolving the crunch.
BARNICLE: So I mean, to stick with the political on this evening when nearly everyone in America is preoccupied with the natural disaster in Minneapolis, does this help the Democrats? Does it help you, this sort of a disaster? I mean, people at street level, at sidewalk level, no matter what they think about the growth of government, whether they want to restrain it, reduce it, get it to grow, they know that volunteerism isn‘t going to rebuild this bridge or any other bridge in this country.
FRANK: Obviously, Mike, and you know, you know that. You‘ve been a -
someone who‘s helped people understand and cope with tragedy in various parts of your career. And nobody‘s looking for an advantage out of this, but it should help make the point—I wish it hadn‘t come to this—that there are things we need for the quality of our life—I‘ve got Superfund sites in my district that are ruining people‘s health that have to be cleaned up. We‘ve got a need for transportation. We have public safety. We have public health. We have fire. We have bridges. They can‘t be done individually.
And I am hoping that we can get this across to people that, again, if we do not pool our resources, there are some things we can‘t do to improve the quality of our life. And by the way, if you‘re are rich, you might be able to buy yourself, you know, some private police, but you can‘t buy yourself your own bridge. You can‘t buy yourself cleaner air. So even the wealthier people ought to understand that there are some things that as a civilized society, living together in a tight set of spaces, we have to pool our resources to deal with it. I—sometimes it does take tragedy to get a point across. That‘s a terrible thing, but the very least you can do is to try and make the point.
BARNICLE: Congressman Barney Frank, as always, thanks very much.
FRANK: Thank you, Michael.
BARNICLE: Up next, former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge and retired general Barry McCaffrey will be here.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The Minnesota bridge collapse raises questions about the state of federal response in emergency cases and the state of our homeland security.
Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania was the first secretary of homeland security. And retired General Barry McCaffrey is an adjunct professor of international affairs at the U.S. Military Academy. General McCaffrey is also the chairman of HNTB Federal Services. In fact, just a month ago, he gave a presentation in Minneapolis about the challenges to the engineering profession in how to fix America‘s infrastructure.
Both General McCaffrey and Secretary Ridge are advisers to the Center for U.S. Global Engagement and are promoting a new campaign to engage presidential candidates in a national conversation about America‘s role in the world.
But, before we get to that, if we get to that, I‘m looking at this, Thursday, 28 June, ‘07, “Challenges to the Engineering Profession, a Leadership Perspective.”
You gave this talk in Minneapolis.
GENERAL BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I have been—look, I have been going around country for the last three years now, trying to underscore that the—the engineering society of the country gave us a D grade on infrastructure, $1.6 trillion to fix it.
We have got to get serious about this. We have got to find new ways of funding it, public-private partnership, bonding issues, in some cases, leasing. But we have got to fix America‘s dams, tunnels, bridges, highway systems. We‘re choking to death. We have got to rebuild America‘s airports. We have got to get cross-border transportation infrastructure into Mexico and Canada. We have got to look at our ports, or we won‘t remain competitive for the next 25 years.
BARNICLE: You know, I was in Pittsburgh recently. I was in San Francisco recently.
TOM RIDGE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF: Cities of bridges.
BARNICLE: Cities of bridges.
BARNICLE: Minneapolis, we are all looking at this right on TV. I mean, the commerce that comes down that river, Mississippi, you talk about detriment to homeland security.
BARNICLE: You could bring this nation to a stop.
RIDGE: ... associated—I mean, a bridge is a metaphor for a lot of things. It has an impact on our way of life, kids going to University of Minnesota going across. It has an impact on our economy. And it certainly has an impact on public safety, and potentially has a security impact.
So, the whole challenge of dealing with the country‘s infrastructure, both above ground and below ground, in the 21st century requires a great deal of attention. There is not a governor and a state legislature, I think, on an annual basis, that doesn‘t go through the political torment and anguish about how are we going to pay for it.
Everybody knows there is a need, and everybody is kind of reluctant to
raise taxes in order to get it done. But, obviously, you can‘t do it on a
on a basis other than funding it. And, frankly, it has got to be done.
BARNICLE: So, I mean, you are a Republican.
BARNICLE: And your old pal the president‘s father became famous, or infamous, at the convention in 1998: Read my lips, no new taxes.
How are we going to pay for this stuff?
RIDGE: Well, let me tell you what I did in Pennsylvania. Everybody has their own decision. I‘m kind of reluctant to bond, particularly about transportation infrastructure. I feel the people that use it ought to pay for it. There are a lot of people that don‘t have vehicles. A lot of vehicles use public transportation.
So, I do think that, from time to time, you put a user fee, particularly on our roads and bridges. We did that—I would rather do that than borrow. But I think—I think, if I‘m honest in even assessing the needs beyond Pennsylvania, there will have to be a massive program over the 20 -- 10 or 20 years to repair.
BARNICLE: On a scale of one to 10, coast to coast, where would you put the level of bridges and highways, in terms of needing repair?
MCCAFFREY: If you took the whole thing...
MCCAFFREY: ... ACEC said it‘s a D grade for America‘s infrastructure.
Now, you know, I join the governor in saying that you can‘t just say the answer is more taxes or pouring more concrete. It means you have got to use technology smart.
HNTB Engineering is very—been very involved in developing high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, HOT lanes, electronic tolling. And I—you know, and tolling shouldn‘t be just highways. It ought to be everywhere you go. If you are a consumer of the product, you ought to be willing to help pay for it.
RIDGE: Though E-ZPass system, a lot of the states...
RIDGE: ... employ it. And you got the sticker on the windshield, you go through. You use, you pay.
MCCAFFREY: At 60 miles an hour.
RIDGE: Yes. Yes.
By the way, it‘s good commerce and it‘s good common sense. And it helps keep some of the maintenance and operational costs down.
BARNICLE: So, what is your instinct on what is going to happen first here as a result of this tragedy? Is it going to be people like the two of you talking about ways to improve efficiency and improve safety and improve the security of bridges, or is going to be a bunch of political finger-pointing?
RIDGE: Well, I think we have already begun to see people jump to conclusions about why the bridge collapsed, without understanding why the bridge collapsed.
So, I think they ought to let the engineers do their analysis. But I don‘t think you‘re going to have too much disagreement that, if you take a look at the infrastructure in the country, Midwest, Northeast, older states, clearly, one of the first things every governor is going to do is send their team out, along with the Federal Highway Administration, do probably a much more closer, more frequent analysis, engineering analysis, of basic pieces of infrastructure.
And I say it‘s not just the infrastructure above ground. You have got water and sewer capability underground, electric underground. I mean, we have been relying on this infrastructure for a long time.
MCCAFFREY: And America‘s train systems, for God‘s sake.
MCCAFFREY: You know, if you want to be sensitive to the environment, we need to make sure our train system is modernized and supports long-haul transportation. We‘re a Pacific Rim trading nation, so you have got to be able to come into port at Tacoma and Los Angeles and Seattle, and then move stuff across country.
MCCAFFREY: A lot better to do it by rail than only by 18-wheeler truck.
BARNICLE: I will tell you, though, what strikes me, watching these pictures—we have been watching them all day; we will be watching them for the next few days—is how truly vulnerable we are as a country.
MCCAFFREY: Oh, sure. Yes.
Well, a lot of these problems, you know—God, the governor knows all about this. You can‘t turn them around in less than 15 years. So, it‘s not—it isn‘t this bridge two years structurally deficient, 77,000 bridges around the country. We have got to step back from this, the next administration, and the governor, because this is really state legislatures primarily have to look at this and invest in America‘s future.
For God‘s sake, it‘s our economic lifeblood.
BARNICLE: Government has got to get bigger to help—to help governors in various states.
RIDGE: I‘m not sure it has to get bigger. It certainly has to get more focused. I don‘t think you necessarily want government programs.
I mean, every state has an operation and maintenance budget. Every state has a new construction budget, but I think they‘re going to have—this should elevate the public discussion about priorities. As the general pointed out, we—we take our infrastructure for granted. It drives our economy. It‘s absolutely indispensable to the quality of life that we enjoy in this country.
And it‘s absolutely critical to us in so many different ways. And I think this will renew the focus and interest in particularly dealing with some of the more pressing problems we have.
MCCAFFREY: Mike, there‘s also a human dimension to this, I might sort of add in.
In the last 25 years, there has been a 40 percent drop in the number of graduate—or undergraduate degrees in engineering. We need our brilliant young men and women in the eighth grade doing algebra, in the 10th grade doing calculus, and then studying civil engineering and architectural design, not just studying law and recreation management.
So, our future is wrapped up in...
BARNICLE: There is a whole other program.
BARNICLE: Drop the hedge funds and go to engineering school.
Governor Ridge, General McCaffrey, thanks very much.
Up next: Senators Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel on how we can improve our infrastructure. Can Congress prevent this from happening again?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Hughes (ph) and Jared Powers (ph), you guys were here at the Stone Arch apartments, about two football, maybe three football fields from the bridge. Tell me what you heard and then what you saw.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I was just riding up the elevator to the fifth floor, and then I felt the rumble. And then we were actually just going to leave, and then we saw this whole scene. So, we got down this hill here and walked all the way up to the scene. And where—it was mainly just firefighters at the time, and then some people that were watching and trying to help, too. And then—yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jared?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You know, we carried people from the bridge.
You know, we put them on the stretchers and then carried them to the ambience.
You know, when you put a bloody, delusional pregnant woman onto a stretcher and then carry her to the ambulance, it‘s one of those things you‘re going to remember for a while.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So she was—one of the victims who was pregnant?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was she saying?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was completely out of it. She was by—she was moaning every once in a while...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and kept flailing around, kind of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flailing around. She was—she wasn‘t looking good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks rallied late in the session for a second straight day. The Dow Jones industrial average finished with a gain of nearly 101 points. The S&P 500 was up six. And the Nasdaq gained 22 points.
Stocks were helped by positive earnings reports by Nokia, Starbucks, and Viacom.
Oil edged higher, gaining 33 cents in New York trading, closing at $76.86 a barrel.
And first-time jobless claims rose modestly last week. But the increase was less than economists had expected.
Rates on 30-year mortgages dipped this week to a nationwide average of 6.68 percent. That‘s the lowest level in a month.
And a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a dozen insurance companies, including Allstate and Travelers, and against Hurricane Katrina victims. They argued their policy should have covered flood damages caused by levee breaches.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel.
I want to say my heart goes out to everyone in Minnesota. I grew up just a few minutes from the 35-W bridge—now back to HARDBALL.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA: Anybody who looks at the national picture, the national statistics, and says we don‘t have a problem would be naive or misleading the situation. We do have a major problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
And that‘s Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty talking about looming problems with America‘s infrastructure. That was late today.
On Wednesday, yesterday, before the bridge in Minnesota collapsed, Senators Chris Dodd and Senator Chuck Hagel introduced a bill to fix America‘s road, bridges, water, and transit systems. Were they tuned into a problem that much of the country had been ignoring? And should fixing infrastructure become a top issue in the 2008 campaign?
Here to discuss it are Senators Dodd and Senator Hagel, two good guys.
Senators, let me ask you both the same question.
I was reading your bill, the component parts of it, a couple of them;
$21 billion would be required to be spent annually every year for the next 20 years to address problems with our transit systems; $131 billion would be required to be spent annually, each year, for the next 20 years, for things just like we are witnessing today, bridge and road repair.
Where are we going to get this kind of money?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA: Well, that is the point of our bill, Mike.
And Senator Dodd and I and our staffs have been working with individuals over the last couple of years, people who really understand financing and infrastructure. And your question is the relevant one, because we do not have, nor will we have within in our current federal budget capacity, the funds to deal with this great infrastructure crisis that is looming in this country.
So, we have come up with a system we think is fairly new and novel and workable. And that is to set up a national infrastructure bank. And it would be based on tax-credit bonds that the government would stand behind. We would harness the private-sector financing with the government‘s ability to stand behind those bonds. And we would then take the harnessing of this and the leveraging of the capital, both private and the government‘s ability to stand behind those, and find those resources.
And the bank‘s job would be to provide and find those funds in order to deal with this great, great infrastructure challenge that lies ahead.
And just to give you one last example of—not last, but one additional example of what you are talking about—on bridges, the governor of Minnesota is exactly right. And we know today that there are at least 160,000 bridges in this country that need maintenance. And that means a lot of dollars.
BARNICLE: So, Senator Dodd, let me ask you now. I mean, you are going to introduce this bill. It‘s going to go on to the Senate floor. And what do say on the Senate floor and on talk shows all across this country when you are confronted with people who say, no, no, no, no, government is too big; we have got to keep government out of our lives; we need smaller government?
DODD: Well, first of all, Michael, our condolences and sympathies for the people of Minnesota and our commendation for the firefighters and first-responders who were where there and did a magnificent job yesterday afternoon.
When we had our press conference yesterday morning on this bill, which we spent two years putting together, I think we had four people there. You know, it took Minnesota today to have us—you know, all of a sudden, everyone wants to talk to us about this bill.
This isn‘t a new problem. This has been around for years. We have been working on an idea here. But, frankly, the numbers are staggering. Our water systems and wastewater systems, Michael, are, on the average, 100 years old in this country. So, this should never happen again in the country.
And the reason we can do this, I believe, is because of the financing mechanisms. I saw the other day some hedge fund made an investment on a road in Turkey. How about investing in the roads, bridges, water systems, transit systems of this country?
We think with this idea we can lure these large pools of capital, private capital, into investing in the kinds of things we are talking about here and minimize the cost to the American tax payer. That‘s what‘s unique about this idea.
BARNICLE: Let me ask the both of you again—one of you, Senator Dodd, you are running for president. Senator Hagel, you are sort of dancing around the idea of running for president. We don‘t know where you‘re going to go. You probably don‘t either. But in terms of history, in terms of what you guys and the others do do in the United States Senate, our history as a country is this: we had Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt—he had the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.
He said we are going to do certain things, put people back to work, build bridges and roads and we did it. We had General Eisenhower as president in the 1950s. He said we are going to build a coast to coast interstate highway system. He said it and we did it.
We had John F. Kennedy in 1961; said we are going to the moon, and we did it. Now we have these bridges and roads crumbling. Can we still do these kinds of things as a culture, as a country? Are we so divided that we can‘t do it anymore, Senator Hagel?
HAGEL: No, we have to do it. We have the capacity to do it. We have the greatest economy, system, nation, people in the world. There is no challenge this country has ever failed at meeting. Now, we have to find a new way to do it. That is not anything different than every generation before us. They‘ve had to face new challenges.
What we are doing here, in our approach, is that we are taking a public/private partnership to a new level. This is doable. This is very doable. We just have to put the leadership, the focus, the resources into doing it. It is going to have to be done, Michael, because if for no other reason, it is going to start to have an affect on our ability to compete in the world, aside from the fact that we have 300,000,000 people in this country that require an infrastructure.
So it‘s not a matter of can we do it or if we do it. It is just a matter of how we do it.
BARNICLE: Senator Dodd, convince me that we can do this.
DODD: Look, this administration has convinced us to spend 500 billion dollars in Iraq. The national leadership in this country, highlighting this problem, talking about it; we should have been doing this for a long time. We have been told year in and year out about this problems growing every single year. Then there‘s an issue like this, a tragedy in Minnesota, one we had in the Meandus (ph) River bridge in Connecticut, you may recall, a few years ago on route 95. And then it goes away.
So national leadership that makes this a priority, that comes up with the creative ideas to bring together to get the job done. Remember, Michael, for every one billion dollars we spend on infrastructure repair or maintenance, 40,000 to 50,000 jobs are created by that effort here. Our economy has never grown in this country without maintaining and building an infrastructure to support a growing economy.
We are in great jeopardy, in my view, of not watching this economy grow in the 21st century because we lack the capacity to accommodate it. This issue, it‘s not a question of should we do it; we have to do it.
That‘s why this idea makes some sense.
BARNICLE: Let me ask the both of you again quickly, last question; you have this great American river, the Mississippi. At opposite ends of the river you have New Orleans, you‘ve got Minneapolis, both enduring huge tragedies this evening, still in New Orleans. Which city gets fixed up fastest? This bridge in Minneapolis or New Orleans?
DODD: Well, I suspect the bridge. This is one highway and there are ways of getting around this, obviously. It‘s causing serious problems. Three people have lost there lives, or four, and three are missing. Obviously here people are doing it. Our first responders and others are responding to it.
New Orleans, of course, that entire neighborhood is wiped out. Thousands have had to leave their homes. There is no comparison between the two in that sense. Obviously that city deserves a tremendous amount of effort and attention, but the overall national problem—when you talk about 160,000 bridges, 614 transit systems, 1/3 of all the roads in the country, this problem will be repeated and repeated unless we have the courage and brains to come up with the ideas to fix it.
BARNICLE: Senator Chris Dodd, Senator Chuck Hagel, thank you very much. Up next, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar on how her state is handling this tragedy and what can be done to prevent another one just like it. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Democrat Amy Klobuchar is the junior senator from Minnesota. She toured the scene of the bridge collapse today and is back in Washington this evening. Senator Klobuchar, thanks for joining us. That bridge, I understand, is your neighbor. You live less than a mile from the bridge. Tell us your reaction to the bridge going down, what you saw out there, and what the sense is on the ground?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you so much for having me on. I have to say, it was just mind boggling to see there once was an eight lane bridge, and now there is nothing. I actually live about ten blocks from this bridge, and you just drive out and it‘s no longer there.
What I kept thinking as I looked down at this damage, at that school bus just on this precipice, I thought about the drivers and I thought about the moms. My daughter is 12. We go on that bridge every day, with their kids in the back seat, suddenly seeing this enormous highway buckle under them.
And the bravery of the rescue crews. Maybe you saw—I‘m sure you ran some of these clips of the divers—there was one particular woman who would go in and in and in—She wasn‘t wearing any gear—looking for survivors. I think as a result of the coordination—I was the former prosecutor from this area and I know we practiced for these emergencies after 9/11 over and over again, never thinking we would have one.
But there was such coordination between law enforcement. Chief Dolin (ph) is a very good friend of mine, the Minneapolis police chief. They were able to get their forces there and to really bring in every medical personnel that we needed. As a result, I know that lives were saved.
BARNICLE: Senator, one of the bread and butter issues for any member
of Congress or any United States senator is, of course, constituent
services. Can you give us any sense of today—it‘s early in this tragedy
in terms of your office being called about issues having to do with the bridge collapse? Anything going on there?
KLOBUCHAR: Sure, the first calls, of course, are people who are concerned for their loved ones on the bridge. We worked with the emergency center set up there to help them with that. We are going to be working with the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, to make sure they have the funds we need.
Today we flew out with Secretary Peters, Senator Coleman and I did. She already pledged the initial five million and pledged to give more. As we speak, I am here in Washington, back to tell the story, to report on what I saw and to ask for an authorization with the ability to go over the 100 million dollar cap. We don‘t know yet how much it will be, but we want to have that in place.
This is something where I think that the national leadership learned from Katrina. I think that disaster with those people left stranded on the roofs was a mirror in the face of the national leadership in this country, and we are bound and determined to handle this differently.
BARNICLE: You know, senator, I‘m sure you know this, but the White House has announced that this Saturday the president is going to Minneapolis to inspect the damage done. Do you have any worry that when a president goes there—or even when a United States senator goes there, that it takes away from the rescue workers, that the obsession about the president is here just get in his the way?
KLOBUCHAR: I think this has been so well managed there, and, as you pointed out in the earlier segment, this is not the massive area of New Orleans. It‘s one set area. It‘s very well secluded. Minneapolis is so organized that when I landed—when Senator Coleman and I landed, we‘re driving in miles away from this, and there were already billboards at 9:00 in the morning, actual billboards telling people where to go for alternative routes.
There were already 30 extra buses advertised in the paper for people to take who normally would have went on this route. So, I believe that having the president come, having a senator there, that they will be able to handle this. This is a part of emergency preparedness. You want the people who are going to fund some of this—the restoration to be there.
The other piece of it is that we had the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board there. That investigation has started. We told our people, and our citizens so they know what to expect. This is going to take quite a while for the investigation. My—I noted this morning that a bridge just doesn‘t fall into the river in America.
The other accidents we have seen, a barge hit a bridge in Oklahoma, in California, an earthquake shattered a bridge. The only thing the secretary goes back to 1983, of a bridge in Connecticut that simply collapsed. This is a very rare incident, and we have to get to the bottom of it. So what I would say I took away is the amazing miracle of the survivors, the heroism of just ordinary people, as well as a conviction that we are going to get the investigation going and rebuild the bridge.
BARNICLE: Senator Klobuchar, thanks very much. Much more on the Bush administration‘s response to the Minnesota bridge collapse. You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Minneapolis and the rest of the country are still sorting out why this bridge tragedy happened, what it means for bridges and buildings in other states, and what our politicians are going to do about it. Here now to talk politics in Washington, and out on the campaign trail are April Ryan from Urban Radio Network and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.
April, down at the White House, what are they doing? How are they gearing up for this? They had a disaster on their hands, public relations wise, after Katrina. How has this influenced anything, if anything?
APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Well, the first thing, Mike, Tony Snow said there is not going to be any finger pointing. They basically said look, our oversight is basically for the state to look at what the issue is, to inspect the issue and to maintain it for maintenance. And they are basically saying, look, oversight is not the issue right now. Let‘s deal with the compassion for the families, trying to be there for the families, and then getting that major artery running again.
BARNICLE: The president is leaving Saturday to Minneapolis, is that correct?
RYAN: Yes, and Mrs. Bush is leaving tomorrow. She is going to do an overlook of the affected area of I-35. And then she is also going to meet with first responders who responded to the scene. President Bush will be there the next day on Saturday to look at the affected area.
BARNICLE: Pat Buchanan, we have been talking all evening, throughout this hour, about the cost of this, how to pay for this. How does this country pay for this?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: This country doesn‘t save anything, Mike. None of our people do. We have a savings rate of about zero. As opposed to close to 50 percent in China. China is sitting on 1.2 trillion dollars in cash reserve because of all that stuff we buy down at Wal-Mart. We had an 800 billion dollar trade deficit last year. So the money is pouring out.
When you and I were growing up, Ike put on a what? Penny, two cents, three cents, four cents on each gallon of gas. We built—it was the greatest infrastructure system ever built in the history of the world, united this country with that incredible interstate highway system. We now tax at 18 percent, but you have a mess in a lot of cities.
I saw Barney Frank in here. How much did the Big Dig cost? Thirteen billion dollars. It was an infrastructure project, collapsed. And as you had Barry McCaffrey here, he‘s talking about sewer systems, road systems, bridges. The United States needs an enormous amount of capital to do this. We don‘t have it.
BARNICLE: April Ryan, Pat Buchanan, it‘s been a long day for America. It‘s been a day when people realized it could happen anywhere. It happened in Minneapolis. Stay tuned to MSNBC for the latest on the recovery effort in Minneapolis. You have been watching HARDBALL. It‘s time for “TUCKER” right now.
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