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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for September 5

Read the transcript to Monday's show

Guest: Halli Mulei, Bob Livingston, Bennie Thompson, Bruce Dunagan, Phil Capitano, James Lee Witt

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bad things continue to happen in New Orleans, with the death count now predicted to spike horribly.  Is the president preparing us now for the worst? 
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.
New Orleans tonight is a ghost town, a place of filthy water, giant rats, countless human bodies and thousands of them marooned.  The word from the Bush administration is that the worst news is yet to come.  Under fire from critics, the president spent Labor Day in the hurricane-ravaged region of Louisiana and Mississippi. 
He took time this morning to nominate John Roberts to succeed William Rehnquist, who died late Saturday, as chief justice of the Supreme Court. 
Let‘s begin tonight with NBC News correspondents on the ground for the rescue and relief efforts, starting with Michelle Hofland, who is in New Orleans. 
Michelle, you‘ve been reporting with such passion all week.  What do you see coming in the future?  Here we are Monday again, Monday after the hell.  Looking ahead, what do you see us discovering in the days and weeks ahead? 
MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, let me explain to you what some of the people around here have told me in regards to what people do in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana when a hurricane comes. 
They say they‘ve been through so many hurricanes.  They‘ve heard the warnings before and so many of them just stayed behind, because they thought that they were safe.  They rode out other hurricanes.  This one should be fine. 
What was described to me is, they start on the first floors.  As the floodwaters come up, they go to the first and the second floor, then into the attic.  And they wait in the attic.  Chris, it has been seven days now.  The temperatures out here have been 90, 100 degrees.  If they‘re trapped in the attic, what the people here are feeling, if they didn‘t take an axe and break through roof, that, once they start going into these homes, they‘re going to find numerous bodies inside the roofs of these homes. 
Already, we have seen a number of bodies floating in the water throughout the area.  And, as the waters start to drop, they‘re going to find more and more bodies.  And late this afternoon, our crews were going around with some people, some federal officials, as they were going home to home to look for bodies.  Now, this was just a few blocks away from here, Chris.   
And they were going in those homes, no water around those homes.  They‘re finding families dead inside of these homes.  In one house alone, there were nine bodies. 
MATTHEWS:  Amazing. 
Give me a sense, Michelle.  What percentage of the city is like the picture we‘re looking at right now, that woman pushing the shopping cart waist deep?
HOFLAND:  Are you referring to—I‘m sorry?
MATTHEWS:  How much of the city is waist deep in water at least? 
HOFLAND:  You know, at this point, I think it is far less. 
We have noticed that the waters have been dropping.  It is started at about 80 percent.  I believe it is perhaps down to closer to 50 percent of the waters.  I spent a lot of time in the French Quarter today.  And that area really didn‘t get much water.  But, on part of it, there was about a couple feet of water.  It was in the Garden District.  In some areas, it went from a couple feet to 20 feet deep.  But, already, in that area, the waters are receding in those parts of town.  It is getting better, but, as the water recedes, then the smell and the contamination and the dead animals, it‘s—it‘s—it doesn‘t look good. 
MATTHEWS:  Does it look good for rebuilding in the long run?  Do you think that people—I have been hearing today that people say you have to rebuild the whole city, start from scratch.  Is that what really they‘re looking at down there in New Orleans? 
HOFLAND:  Well, it depends who you talk to. 
Folks down in the French Quarter, they say, we‘re fine.  In fact, that area really didn‘t any problems, except for some wind damage and a little bit of looting.  All they need is some electricity and some cleaning up and they‘ll be fine.  Other areas, like you can see behind me, that building probably will have to come down. 
And it just depends where you were.  The Hyatt, for instance, all the windows were lost in that building.  So, that building is going to have extensive renovation.  And, remember, we have no idea when these folks are going to be able to come in here and start cleaning up.  So, these buildings have had rain water.  They have had wind damage.  And the longer that it goes before they start actually cleaning it up and getting the mess out of there, they‘re going to have mold and all sorts of problems in these buildings. 
MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I have been hearing that. 
Thank you very much, Michelle Hofland.  Great reporting. 
As tensions run high between the federal government and local officials in Louisiana, the governor of Louisiana has hired James Lee Witt, the FEMA director during the Clinton administration, as her adviser. 
James Lee Witt joins us now from Baton Rouge.
James, you know, I guess the talk in Washington here so far away—we‘re all dry up here—is that the president, President Bush, needs to look ahead and forget about all the finger-pointing and all the carping—and it‘s all justified, I think—but move ahead to, can he pick a man, put him on the ground down there, make like MacArthur in war-torn Tokyo or Lucius Clay in war-torn Berlin, and say, damn it, you‘re in charge, federal, state and local; I want to you call the shots on relief and reconstruction of that city and bring it back in the next six months?
Can he do that? 
JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR:  Well, there‘s a lot of mitigating factors. 
MATTHEWS:  James Lee?
WITT:  Yes.  Can you hear he? 
MATTHEWS:  Yes, I can, James Lee.
WITT:  Hello?
MATTHEWS:  Can you hear me? 
WITT:  There‘s a lot of—yes, I can. 
There are a lot of mitigating factors here that needs be considered.  You just can‘t go in there and rebuild the city without going there and do the things that you have to do before you do that.  And so, President Bush came down today, and Mrs. Bush and Secretary Chertoff.  And it was a very good visit with the governor and all senior staff here. 
And I think a lot of things were accomplished.  So, you know, we‘re working really hard right now.  And within the next two days, we are going to have an incident command system and an organization in place.  We are going to have a joint operations center.  Mike Brown and I have had a really good visit. 
And we have got to get the organization streamlined, so that the people here in Louisiana knows that both federal and state government is joined at the hip and is going to make this happen for them.  And that‘s what we‘re working on. 
MATTHEWS:  Well, who is going to be the boss? 
WITT:  Well, you know, the governor is the boss of Louisiana, but—so, I take my orders from her. 
But the joint operations center will be manned by incident commanders both from FEMA and also from the state.  And this is going to be a seamless operation.  So, Mike Brown and I—and I talked with the president—I said, you know, I said, Mr. President, we have got to do this. 
People in Louisiana and these other states, you know, it has just got to be a true partnership.  And he agreed 100 percent. 
MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess you‘re not answering my question, but let me go back to an earlier question that other people have. 
Governor Blanco, who you work for now, of Louisiana has been criticized for not moving quickly to make the state under a martial law, in other words, get the control of the looting under way right away under control.  And she didn‘t do that.  And one of the horrible scenes we have seen, in addition to the loss of life, are people just on rampages of mayhem down there, poor people desperately grabbing stuff.  Is that a fair criticism of your boss? 
WITT:  No, I don‘t think so. 
I want to tell you why.  You know, the governor couldn‘t federalize her National Guard, simply for the reason, if she did, then she would lose her law enforcement side of it.  They went in there with their guns and they did get control of it.  And they have control of it now.  And I know just this morning, we had a meeting with the commissioner on getting cell service back up in New Orleans. 
They identified the cell sites.  They got power to the cell sites.  They‘re going to have cellular communication all across New Orleans.  They now have the power grid line already hot.  And we‘re having 1,000 firefighters come in to augment with the New Orleans Fire Department to make sure that when the power starts coming back on, in the next few days, that there will be no fires and they‘ll there be to take care of it. 
So, you know, the governor needed her authority to make sure things happen.  And it is happening.  And I want to tell you something.  These National Guard folks down there did a whale of a job, I will guarantee you.  I know you see everything you see on television, but I was down at the Superdome yesterday.  I didn‘t have any security.  I walked all through the Convention Center and everything.  And it went well.
And it‘s going to (INAUDIBLE)
WITT:  ... start improving every day, every day, even more. 
So, we‘re going to get over the hump and then we‘re also starting to
plan for short-term housing and long-term housing.  All of these buildings
and all of the sewage treatment plant, the water treatment plant—the EPA
· Secretary Leavitt was here last night.  And I talked to him today.  They got CDC.  They got everybody here to test everything to see what contamination is there, so that we can honestly start the cleanup and getting people back. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe, James Lee, that New Orleans can be salvaged? 
WITT:  I do. 
I think President Clinton said something on “Larry King” the other night.  He said, you know, the skeptics don‘t believe that New Orleans can be rebuilt.  But, you know, you have to think about the 200-year history of New Orleans.  I will guarantee you, New Orleans is an important city to this country and this state.  And New Orleans will come back and will shine. 
MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s great having you on.  Thank you very much, James Lee Witt.
Cleanup is well under way in Mississippi, but the death toll there is expected to climb, as well in New Orleans.
NBC‘s Ron Blome is in Biloxi now with the latest.
Ron, tell us about what we‘re learning about the full ravages of this disaster. 
RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, let me begin with an illustration, because you see all this destruction.
But someone who was in the second floor of a building right next to this explained it to me.  A week ago at this time, just after 7:00 p.m.  Eastern, the sea water in downtown Biloxi was just about above the level of this house.  Then the winds died down and the water started rushing out just as the tsunami went rushing out and sucking everything with it. 
And what you see before you is what was left behind by it, amazing destruction.  It goes on for 85 miles along the coast.  They are beginning to do some of the cleanup here today.  We‘re seeing more heavy equipment and we are seeing more relief. 
But here‘s where we stand.  The search-and-rescue is over.  It‘s now search-and-recovery.  They‘re going in with urban search-and-rescue teams and getting back into these areas where the homes were just flattened, looking through the debris where the dogs have indicated they may be some indication that maybe there are some more victims in there. 
So, they are re-searching for victims, because they still have the missing.  They‘re going also where people say, hey, I know a person who was in that house when it was flattened and we still haven‘t seen any sign of them.  So, that‘s causing the re-search. 
But that‘s an 85-mile stretch of the coast.  So, that is going to take a while.  Electric service is coming back up.  They have got about 44 percent restored.  But there‘s 12 percent that is not going to be restored for months, because that‘s this area that we just painted over and showed you.  That‘s this just kill zone along the water in terms of buildings and infrastructure. 
But they‘re building up to that.  There was a concern here earlier today that they might be running out of the FEMA-supplied ice and water.  They had about 50 or 60 trucks of each, but that had to cover 60 counties. 
So, they wanted to get more in.
If you are a resident here and you wanted to get gasoline, you‘re still waiting in lines of four to six hours, sometimes with a five-gallon limit.  They need more fuel in.  They say they‘re going to get some fuel tankers from the state of Illinois to come in, but they have got a problem.  There‘s not enough diesel fuel here to put in the trucks that are bringing in the supplies or the emergency rescue equipment or the construction equipment. 
So, the Navy is bringing in a tanker ship; 1.6 million gallons of diesel should be steaming into Biloxi Harbor area by tomorrow, as the Navy pitches in, all of this part of this cumulative effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast.  They don‘t have that problem in New Orleans, where it‘s still underwater, but what they have is, they‘re still under debris.  And that is going to take a while to pick up—Chris.
MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Ron Blome, who is in Biloxi. 
Many of the evacuees are finding refuge in Texas.  But officials there say they‘re reaching full capacity. 
NBC‘s Janet Shamlian is at the Houston Astrodome.
Janet, thank you.
MATTHEWS:  Tell us, is the end of the—this is the end of the welcome mat for Texas? 
JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, we are—they‘re still welcoming people, but they‘re saying Texas is a big state, but it is filling up fast. 
This state has absorbed a quarter-of-a-million evacuees from the hurricane.  And this city, Houston, has taken most of them.  So, they‘re looking for other solutions now, including airlifting them to other cities that have offered to help. 
Then there‘s the financial challenge, Chris.  To that end, former Presidents Clinton and Bush were here today at the Astrodome.  They went around and visited with people who have taken up shelter here.  And they announced the formation of a national campaign, much like they paired up for the tsunami relief last year, to raise funds for victim of the hurricane.  They say they will try to do what they can, but their efforts are just part of the solution. 
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I guess I should say on behalf of all of us that nothing we do can be an adequate response to the agony that we have seen, the suffering of the people of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. 
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is going to take all of us working together, the public, the nonprofits, the private sector, to accomplish our goal.  The job is too big and it‘s too overwhelming for any one group. 
SHAMLIAN:  Reverend Jesse Jackson here also meeting with evacuees today.  It is a big job.  And, Chris, part of that job right now is reconnecting families.  There‘s a lot of people here looking for other family members, who may just be a building away—Chris.
MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, NBC‘s Janet Shamlian at the Astrodome.
Up next, the mayor of Kenner, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb, who says things are improving, but says the federal government still isn‘t doing enough. 
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the mayor of one Louisiana town says the federal government isn‘t doing enough to help and he wants heads to roll.
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 
Because federal and state assistance has been focused primarily on New Orleans, other coastal areas of Louisiana are still waiting for help.  But the city of Kenner in Jefferson Parish has pulled together and launched its own recovery effort. 
Phil Capitano is mayor of Kenner.  He joins us now by phone. 
Mayor, thank you very much for joining us.  Are you happy with the way this relief effort has gone so far? 
PHIL CAPITANO, MAYOR OF KENNER, LOUISIANA:  No, not at all.  I‘m quite disappointed in it. 
MATTHEWS:  Who do you think—is there a lack of unified action?  Is there nobody, one person in charge?  What is the—how do you put your finger on what‘s been wrong with it? 
CAPITANO:  I can tell that you it is a failure to understand.  When the president of the United States calls an emergency before a hurricane is coming, everyone knew that these hurricanes and the fact that the city of New Orleans and all of its surrounding areas below sea level is going to be a major catastrophe. 
It was told to people from day one.  It was told to our congressmen, to our senators.  And we have asked and our senators and congressmen have asked for funding to help build our barrier islands and our coastal areas.  They haven‘t done that.  Then the hurricane hits and they‘re sitting there.  I don‘t know what they‘re doing, but they‘re certainly not focusing on trying to get relief. 
Heck, the Wal-Mart was doing a better job.  And I told some folks this morning that I really thought that the folks with FEMA or some of these other government agencies ought to take and go over to Wal-Mart and find out the logistics of how to get food and water to people, because they don‘t know how. 
MATTHEWS:  What do you think of Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security?  Is he the right guy for the job? 
CAPITANO:  I think the gentleman—homeland security is OK.  And maybe that‘s an issue that he can help. 
But when it comes to trying to bring relief to people, I don‘t think that they or any of the other federal organizations seem to understand how to move product and get relief to people in a way that‘s meaningful and allow them to address the needs of communities. 
MATTHEWS:  What about Michael Brown, head of FEMA? 
CAPITANO:  Fire him. 
MATTHEWS:  You know, let me ask you a more general—that‘s a pretty good answer.  I like quick answers on HARDBALL. 
Let me ask you this.  During the hell of 9/11, the one good thing about it was—well, we had a president who seemed to be in charge, but we also had somebody on the ground, Rudy Giuliani, who seemed to be the guy who was there every day standing on the street corner, answering questions.  You got a sense that there was one person taking the heat, being accountable, being authoritative and being authentic. 
I still don‘t see a face of this relief effort.  I don‘t see one person.  Would that help?  Or am I being naive, one person standing there saying, I‘m in charge of relief and reconstruction right now; I will make the calls?
CAPITANO:  I think you‘re absolutely right, Chris. 
I think that they do need someone who is in charge, someone that everybody can coordinate through.  I haven‘t seen that one person step up and take charge yet. 
MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the future of this thing.  When you look to the future of New Orleans and that region you‘re in right now, do you think it is going to work?  I mean, I‘m going to be blunt with you.  We‘re looking at all the housing in New Orleans has been underwater, most of it.  You‘ve got mold.  You‘ve got rats.  You‘ve got undermined construction. 
You have got foundations that may be undermined by mud now and you have a foot of guck left over after the whole thing drained.  Is it a feasible job, to get this city back on its feet? 
CAPITANO:  Absolutely, it is feasible. 
Listen, over 100 years ago, there was one of these types of floods that wiped out the New Orleans area.  And they came back.  This is a very proud and rich folks that are in this area.  And I tell you that we are going to come back.  You can bet on it, Chris.  This community is not going to be put down by any hurricane or any federal lack of effort. 
We, just like we have done here in the city of Kenner, will grab our bootstraps, pull them up.  And we will set to work of rebuilding our city.  Now, we would like to have the federal government come in.  And I hope they‘ll do a better job at giving that type of relief than the relief they haven‘t given us in water, food, and those essential items that people need each and every day. 
But they do want to complain about looters.  Well, shucks, if you don‘t have food and water, you‘re going to do your best to feed your family so that they can survive. 
Thank you very much, Mayor Phil Capitano of Kenner, Louisiana. 
Joining me now is Bruce Dunagan.  He‘s the police chief of Biloxi, Mississippi. 
Chief, thank you very much for joining us. 
You guys have a very tough—I hate to use the phrase, but I will use it—kick-ass governor down there.  Is that the spirit of the state, to be very, very tough on looters and not to accommodate even the needs of families? 
BRUCE DUNAGAN, BILOXI POLICE CHIEF:  No.  That‘s not entirely correct, Chris. 
The needs of the families—and we have two types here.  We have the looters that everybody is referring to that are taking the television sets out of the stores and so forth.  And then you have the people just trying to survive last week, getting needs for the families.  And those are more, what we‘re calling foragers. 
And then, when we follow that out and check on that and find out that‘s exactly what they‘re doing, we‘re not arresting those people or charging them.  We‘re getting that real one-tenth of the 1 percent of the sorry part of the human race.
DUNAGAN:  And we are dealing with those. 
MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, the opportunists who have been waiting for a chance to commit a crime, I understand that. 
How is it going in the state of Mississippi generally?  Do you sense you have got calm there now? 
DUNAGAN:  I can‘t really tell you for the state, because I‘m here in Biloxi.  And the only information I‘m getting is talking to the reporters on the outside.
But we‘re busy right here in Biloxi trying to do what we can.  Last week, we were pretty self-sustained.  The storm ended about this time Monday and we were on our own until really probably about Friday, having to improvise, having to get things for the citizens in the shelters.  We were in the—trying to save lives all through that week, getting fuel.  Whatever we had to do, we were doing. 
MATTHEWS:  Do people have to guard their own property at gunpoint down there now in Biloxi?  Or can the police do it? 
DUNAGAN:  I haven‘t heard of any reports of people having to guard their property at gunpoint.  However, I know there‘s going to be people that do, do that. 
But that‘s what we‘re there for, the law enforcement community.  And we have arrested a numerous amount of looters.  I‘m not saying that we have gotten them all, but I would prefer they don‘t guard their property at gunpoint. 
MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Chief, Chief Bruce Dunagan down in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Up next, President Bush picks John Roberts to be Supreme Court chief justice now.  But his confirmation hearings are going to be delayed for a while.  NBC‘s Pete Williams will join us with an update.  What a big development that would be, if it weren‘t for this even bigger story.
And, later, much more on Hurricane Katrina, including how to change the smell of death into the smell of construction.  That‘s the big challenge ahead in New Orleans.
And tomorrow on HARDBALL, I will be joined by the President of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, who issued the angry cry for help just yesterday on “Meet the Press.”
AARON BROUSSARD, JEFFERSON PARISH PRESIDENT:  Nobody is coming to get us.  Nobody is coming to get us.  The secretary is calling us.  Everybody is calling us.   They‘ve had press conferences.  I‘m sick of the press conferences.  For God‘s sakes, shut up and send us some money.
MATTHEWS:  Well, we can take a couple minutes relief now from the horror. 
Welcome back to HARDBALL. 
Today, President Bush—big news—nominated John Roberts to succeed William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court.  In light of the nomination change and Justice Rehnquist‘s death, the Senate has decided to postpone Roberts‘ confirmation hearings, which were supposed to start tomorrow, until later this week or early next. 
NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams joins us now. 
Pete, normally, this would be the biggest story of the country.  It would be at the top of the front page. 
MATTHEWS:  Sadly and tragically, we have got worse news. 
But it was a quick move.  How do you explain the quick decision-making of the president, in light of all these other stresses right now, to just say, OK, this guy Roberts looks pretty good; I will make him chief?
WILLIAMS:  I think the answer is that this is something the White House had been thinking about all along, that if the chief justice—they knew he was in declining health—if he chose to step down over the summer, then they would be ready to go with Roberts. 
This is assuming, of course, that he—that Rehnquist would have made his choice before Roberts was confirmed for associate justice.  But the White House is making no secret about the fact that the president had thought about this.  And if you go back to the initial announcement of when he announced John Roberts to succeed Sandra Day O‘Connor, he talked about his leadership skills even then.  So, it is not something that they—that suddenly occurred to them over the weekend. 
MATTHEWS:  Do you think they could have finessed it if Rehnquist had hung on there and not died over the weekend and they had gotten the confirmation they wanted, and then he died?  Would they have then turned him around and put him back up again?  Do you think they might have done that?
WILLIAMS:  I don‘t know.  I mean, that‘s an excellent question. 
If he had been on the court for two months, three months, would he then suddenly say he wanted to make him chief justice?  I think that‘s a harder sell to the Senate, but it‘s certainly not impossible.  It would be very unusual, though. 
MATTHEWS:  OK, question of the day, how did we get into this locution?  Everybody is saying this now.  I wonder where these phrases come from.  To pick the next associate justice now, to replace Sandra Day now, Sandra Day O‘Connor, the president has to pick either an Hispanic or a woman.  Who comes up with phrases like that?
WILLIAMS:  I have always suspected you. 
WILLIAMS:  I don‘t know.  I think...
MATTHEWS:  An Hispanic or a woman.  You know, it is like, what is this about?  So, obviously, he can pick Gonzales, his attorney general, our attorney general.
MATTHEWS:  Or he can pick one of the women who are—pretty conservative women who are on the appellate level. 
WILLIAMS:  I think—here‘s my guess. 
The woman comes up because he‘s replacing Sandra Day O‘Connor. 
MATTHEWS:  Right. 
WILLIAMS:  There was great pressure on him the first time around to do that.  He chose not to.  Even O‘Connor herself said she liked John Roberts.  She‘s disappointed he is not a woman. 
MATTHEWS:  Right. 
WILLIAMS:  So, that is where that comes from. 
As for Hispanic, ever since Bill Clinton was president, Hispanic groups have been saying, you know, now is our turn. 
MATTHEWS:  Right. 
WILLIAMS:  And this president especially has been sensitive to that constituency.  He is from Texas.  He was popular with Hispanic voters there.  The Republicans have been courting them.  I think that‘s where—that‘s where it comes from. 
MATTHEWS:  I have another theory.  He‘s been tough on the border issue and he doesn‘t want to be that tough.  This might be a way of softening up that tough approach on the border issue by naming an Hispanic or a Latino to the Supreme Court. 
WILLIAMS:  Well, and, of course, it‘s a whole different calculus now.  Yes, they can look at the same list of people that they looked at when Sandra Day O‘Connor stepped down.  And we know that they will.  We know that they are doing it. 
But having done that once, and having decided to go with John Roberts, who everyone believes is qualified, although he is a white male, it seems to increase the pressure on the president now to go for someone who is not another white male.  At least that‘s the theory.  The president can do whatever he wants.  And I suppose, politically, he‘ll have to fight it out no matter what. 
MATTHEWS:  OK.  A white—an Hispanic male or an Anglo female. 
MATTHEWS:  Anyway, this is interesting.  It‘s like a New York Democratic ticket balance here. 
WILLIAMS:  Exactly. 
MATTHEWS:  But thank you.  Thank you very much, Pete Williams. 
When we return, who is in charge?  Each level of government, local, state and federal, is saying the other failed in response to Hurricane Katrina. 
Plus, how do they concentrate their effort to rebuild now, looking forward?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 
MATTHEWS:  Over one week now since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and the federal government has taken a beating by those who say relief came too late.  Many critics are singling out the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its director, Michael Brown. 
NBC senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers has more on the man who runs FEMA. 
Embattled FEMA Director Michael Brown and his boss both under fire for the chaotic relief effort.  But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says, for now, the focus must be on saving lives, not recrimination. 
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  In due course, if people want to go in and chop heads off, there will be an opportunity to do it. 
MYERS:  That amid new questions about whether Brown is qualified to run the largest relief effort in history.  This was his biggest job before joining FEMA, supervising the conduct of judges and stewards as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association. 
Though Brown held that job for nine years, it is not listed in his official biography. 
(on camera):  Association officials tell NBC News that Brown resigned under pressure from the horse show job and that many who worked with him were stunned when he became director of FEMA. 
CHUCK MANGAN, ARABIAN HORSE ASSOCIATION:  Certainly, what he did with the Arabian Horse Association was nothing what he does with FEMA. 
MYERS (voice-over):  Brown was brought into FEMA by his college roommate, Joe Allbaugh, President Bush‘s first campaign manager and FEMA director.  Brown‘s only prior experience in emergency services was in a suburb of Oklahoma City in the ‘70s. 
JOHN COPENHAVER, FORMER CLINTON FEMA OFFICIAL:  I have a hard time understanding how experience with an Arabian Horse Association would translate into the capability to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 
MYERS:  This former FEMA manager says Brown failed to act decisively. 
COPENHAVER:  His lack of experience in emergency management may have played a role. 
MYERS:  The day after widespread television reports of thousands stranded at the Convention Center, Brown said this. 
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY:  The federal government just learned about those people today. 
MYERS:  Still, the man who matters most has praised Brown. 
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job.  The FEMA director is working 24... 
MYERS:  An administration official says Brown‘s public role is being diminished, as other, more reassuring figures take a more visible role, hoping to build confidence and quell the outrage.  
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
MATTHEWS:  A new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll shows, while Americans say the government should have been more prepared for Katrina at all levels, fewer are blaming the president personally. 
Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, sits on the House Committee for Homeland Security.  And he wrote the president a letter today asking why it took so long to declare a national emergency.  Bob Livingston is a former Republican congressman from Louisiana. 
Let me go to Congressman Thompson. 
What do you want to accomplish with this letter to the president today? 
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI:  Well, we are trying to make sure that we put the necessary assets in place, so that we can help everybody affected by this devastating hurricane. 
MATTHEWS:  Do you want the FEMA director fired? 
THOMPSON:  Well, I think you‘ve talked to local officials all over.  Nobody is happy.  When a person does not perform a job correctly, you get rid of them. 
MATTHEWS:  Do you think that the president would be well served to name one person to be in charge of this whole operation now on the site and especially in Louisiana? 
WILLIAMS:  Well, when you talk to any of the local officials who are working with this hurricane, they are desperately crying out for    someone in charge who can make decisions.  We‘re not there yet. 
MATTHEWS:  Right. 
Congressman Livingston, you love that area.  You grew up there.  That‘s your home.  Do you think we should have somebody like a Rudy Giuliani or a Colin Powell, some big shot on the site who says, I will make the big decisions at federal, state and level right now?  Somebody is in charge.
BOB LIVINGSTON, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Well, Chris, I think that you can always point the fingers. 
MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m trying to point to the future.  Would we be better off with one person in charge, instead of all these levels of government fighting with each other? 
LIVINGSTON:  Yes.  I think you could fix up the government and hone it down, absolutely.
But this was a Category 5 hurricane.  And we planned for a Category 3 hurricane.  It was bigger than anything that has hit the coast of the United States in—practically in our history.  There have been houses, like Trent Lott‘s house in Mississippi, that was—were around for 150 years, that were wiped out.  They‘re gone now. 
LIVINGSTON:  And we just didn‘t anticipate anything this big.  And we weren‘t ready for it. 
MATTHEWS:  But what happened in New Orleans wasn‘t the hurricane being beyond expectations.  It is that the levees broke. 
LIVINGSTON:  Well, the levees broke.  And then we also didn‘t get attention in there quickly enough.  And when we did get attention in there, there were snipers shooting at our people. 
And it wasn‘t the Mississippi River levee.  We have been beefing up the Mississippi River levees for years and years and years.  And they held.  Unfortunately, it was the river—the levees around the lake.  They were less strong.  And I don‘t think that we paid as much attention to those levees. 
MATTHEWS:  Is it logistically possible as an engineering feat, I should say?  Can we have a secure, dry New Orleans in the future? 
LIVINGSTON:  Absolutely.  You know, we rebuilt Hiroshima.  We rebuilt Dresden, Germany.  We rebuilt Warsaw, Poland, as humankind.  We will rebuild New Orleans.
MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at this one guy operating this tractor.  And I keep thinking—I have been watching this guy all day now.  He‘s the—he is the rebuilding effort, this poor guy.  Is that going to work, what we‘re looking at right now?
LIVINGSTON:  That‘s the beginning. 
MATTHEWS:  Is that going to hold once the water recedes on one side and it has to hold back everything? 
LIVINGSTON:  Well, you have got to take a first step. 
LIVINGSTON:  And it is going to take lot of... 
MATTHEWS:  Congressman Thompson, is this an historic event, the way in which this government has failed or has been—let me leave it open to you...
THOMPSON:  Well...
MATTHEWS:  ... has handled this matter?
THOMPSON:  Well, Chris, DHS made this an incident of national significance, which, under our regulations, is the first time we have ever done it.  It makes the federal assets available at that moment. 
And we failed to make the assets available in a timely manner.  So, clearly, I‘m glad that former Congressman Livingston understands also that the federal government was late in responding.  Somebody has to be made accountable and held accountable.  What we have to do is get the job done, but, in the process of getting the job done, we need to make those individuals in charge accountable for their failures. 
MATTHEWS:  Does anybody at the state, local or federal level deserve a gold star for their performance this past week in relief? 
THOMPSON:  Well, all of those men and women who have been there under insurmountable odds deserve all the gold stars we can give them, because, had we supported their heroic efforts, we probably could have saved a number of individuals, especially in the Louisiana area. 
THOMPSON:  Because help was just too long in coming. 
MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope you guys keep us informed as the months pass by.  We can‘t drop this story.  We want New Orleans back.  We want that part of the country saved. 
Thank you very much, Congressman Benefit. 
Thank you, former Congressman Bob Livingston.
Up next, two United Airlines pilots who flew the company‘s first relief flight to New Orleans. 
And, later, MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough, our colleague, tells us what it has been like for him as a local down there in Biloxi, Mississippi.  He‘s from the Panhandle, obviously, of Florida.  But it is close to home for him and how he has felt doing this the last week, telling us what is going on down there.
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS:  Coming up, corporate America comes to the rescue.  We will talk to two United Airlines pilots flying relief missions.  And back to Biloxi and MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough.
HARDBALL returns after this. 
MATTHEWS:  Last week, commercial airline were put into service, flying emergency supplies into New Orleans. 
Let me tell you what‘s happening here.  This tells you what is going on.  See this red roof building here now?  There‘s a man in there.  It‘s a grocery store.  He is now being—he‘s trying to get out of there.  He‘s marooned there, as you can see, by the water around him.  We have got a Coast Guard helicopter hovering above him.  We‘re trying to get that in the picture right now.
This is the kind of thing that is going on in New Orleans right now.  This rescue effort continues.  It is not yet even—it‘s not a relief effort completely now.  It is still a rescue effort.  We‘re watching a Coast Guard—there it is hovering above the building.  They‘re attempting a rescue now of a fellow.  I guess he has put in a Mayday.  He‘s asking for help to get out of there.  He is stuck in that building with the red roof on it. 
Now, watch this.  Watch the personnel in the helicopter getting ready to try to get him up there at some point.  Let‘s watch it happen.  This is live. 
You‘ve heard a lot about the Ninth Ward of Louisiana.  This is a poor area.  I believe it is where Fats Domino, actually, the great blues musician, lived and was found alive. 
Now we‘re watching this tricky operation here to save this guy.  We‘re going to bring in our other guests and tell you this other very, very gratifying story here.  But we‘re going to get back to you in a minute and tell you how that‘s going.  You will be able to see it here on MSNBC. 
As I said, the commercial airlines were put into service flying emergency supplies into New Orleans this week and evacuating victims of Hurricane Katrina back to the Texas. 
Captain Dennis Taylor (ph) and first officer Halli Mulei flew the first relief mission for United Airlines.  And this evening, they join us from Chicago. 
Now, by the way, we are going—we keep going back to this live story. 
Hold on, fellows.  Hold on here.  We‘re watching a live rescue here in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.  We‘re watching the basket being dropped from the Coast Guard helicopter to pick up a person there, a male grocer in his grocery store who has asked for help in evacuating him from a place he can‘t get out of otherwise. 
He is obviously, as you can see, surrounded by pretty deep water.  And that basket will be filled, we believe, in a few seconds now by someone who is trying to get out of that window right there, as they position that basket more successfully.  It is going up again with nobody in it.  We‘re watching this live right now in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, an attempt to rescue this person, a single person, we believe. 
By the way, you can see the water around this building.  This is for real.  This is what‘s going on now.  A lot of us got the idea this tragedy was receding.  It is clearly not receding yet in this part of town, a very poor part of town, the Ninth Ward. 
Let‘s watch this operation over.  They‘re trying to save—see the baskets come down from the helicopter.  It is stretching on a long cable down to that left side of that red roof building there, having a problem finding a place where this fellow can step out a window into that basket.  And this is in apparently a swift current around here as well.  You can see with the water below there. 
I don‘t know how long this operation is going to take.  We will be following it for a couple minutes and see what happens.  This gives you a good idea of what‘s going on down there.  This relief effort to get people water and food is part of the challenge, but also to save the lives of the people still who are under physical threat of death. 
Here we go.  We‘re hoping there‘s good communication between the fellow inside who has called for help and the helicopter, which has come to his rescue.  But, apparently—you know, you don‘t see—you don‘t see somebody—well, that window doesn‘t open, I don‘t think.  I‘m looking around.  I don‘t know which one of these he‘s going to come out of. 
Our camera is obviously trying to find that place, as well as the pilot is trying to find it, where to put the basket, where to position it, so that this person can be rescued.  It‘s just possible that the person inside that red roof building doesn‘t know that the U.S. Coast Guard is trying to save his life, as we‘re watching this. 
Keep your eye on this picture.  We want to get this interview under way here, because it is a fascinating, positive powerful story in a very bleak backdrop. 
United Airlines Captain Dennis Taylor (ph) and first officer Halli Mulei, thank you both for joining us.
Tell us, what have you been able to accomplish for mankind—and I mean that—down in New Orleans—Captain, you first—in the last couple of days?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, United has had many relief flights in the last few days. 
We have pulled about 1,000 people and gone to Chicago.  On our flight alone, we had 101 people that came on our flight, could have taken more.  But you can understand down there, back on Thursday, a lot of people still didn‘t want to leave their loved ones and to get on an airplane and come to Chicago.  So, we could have taken more, but that‘s all that wanted to get on at that time. 
MATTHEWS:  First officer Mulei, tell us your feelings about the work you‘ve been doing getting relief supplies into New Orleans and people out of New Orleans?
HALLI MULEI, UNITED AIRLINE PILOT:  It‘s been incredibly gratifying. 
We have taken about 100,000 pounds of food down there from America‘s second harvest here in Chicago and just to be able to help.  I mean, everybody in the country wants to help.  And we‘re so grateful we had the opportunity to do something. 
MATTHEWS:  What do the people feel like you‘ve been getting out of town there, out of New Orleans?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would think most of them were traumatized, I would say. 
They—a lot of them had just been lifted by helicopter off their roof and taken to the airport, where then they got on our aircraft.  So, just like what you‘re seeing right now with the rescue in progress, a lot of the people on our plane had just experienced that. 
MATTHEWS:  Did you get a sense that those people had been hesitant to leave town?  A lot of them are poor people that were afraid to leave behind everything they had.  Or what was their sort of attitude towards the trip, first officer Mulei? 
MULEI:  Absolutely.  They didn‘t want to leave town, the older people especially.  It was more the people in their 20s and 30s that were encouraging the older people to leave town.  The older people seemed to be in denial that they could go home.  And I remember one man, about 30, grabbed his mother and said, momma, New Orleans is gone.  You can never go home.  It was heartbreaking. 
MATTHEWS:  Oh, God.  Well, thank you very much, Captain Dennis Taylor.
And congratulations for the country, what you‘ve been able to do, in terms of getting supplies to the people and also getting them out of town. 
And, first officer Mulei, thank you for joining us. 
What we‘re still watching right now, this live rescue effort.  And what we have heard about is, there‘s a man inside that red roof building down there, surrounded by deep, fast-moving water with the current.  Look at the current moving past there.  And he‘s—well, you see where he is at.  You see what situation he is in.  He‘s in there somewhere.  He‘s called for help and he seems to be unaware of this chopper coming to his rescue. 
But that‘s what we know about it so far, the U.S. Coast Guard in service there and an attempt to try to save a life. 
I‘m joined right now by Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC‘s “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”  He‘s been covering Katrina from Mississippi since last week.  He joins us now from Biloxi.
Thank you, Joe. 
MATTHEWS:  Joe, I want to—you know, I don‘t know if you have a TV set there, Joe, but we‘re watching live right now this rescue of this person down in this red roof building down in the Ninth Ward, which is a poor part of New Orleans.  We‘re looking at the personnel, the Coast Guard personnel, two of them now in helmets.  One guy looks like he‘s ready to go down the rope here with the basket to rescue somebody who can‘t apparently get into the basket on their own. 
This is the kind of heroic stuff—I am so impressed, Joe, aren‘t you, by the Coast Guard and what these guys have been doing? 
SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s no doubt about it. 
I mean, the Coast Guard has just performed remarkably and going into these areas where these poor people, most of them—and a lot of Americans asked, why did they not evacuate?  As you know, Chris, about 30 percent of New Orleans is just—people live there in extreme poverty, always have.  My wife and I were there a week-and-a-half ago and were just commenting on what would happen actually if a hurricane came in. 
And, of course, so many of those people did not have cars to get out. 
And, also, quite frankly, whether you‘re rich or poor, black or white, if
you live in the Gulf Coast long enough, you‘ve had enough false warnings,
people saying the hurricane is going to come and it is going to destroy
your home and the water is going to rise, that, after a while, especially -
· I have had it with my parents.  They say, you know what?  We‘re not evacuating and the storm never hits. 

We were saying that in Florida from 1978 until last year, when Ivan hit.  In fact, I was an idiot, told my wife we didn‘t have to even board up our home.  Oh, hurricanes never hit.  Of course, Ivan came in and destroyed large swatches of Northwest Florida.  The same thing happened in New Orleans, Chris. 
We have been talking about how New Orleans was going to be flooded like this for the past 30 years, 40 years in the Gulf Coast. 
MATTHEWS:  Right. 
SCARBOROUGH:  And so a lot of people just didn‘t believe it would ever happen.  That‘s why these people are still stuck in their house right now. 
MATTHEWS:  Joe, we‘re watching this guy.  This is so great.  I mean, this is heroic. 
SCARBOROUGH:  Isn‘t the remarkable?
MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a guy getting on a slippery roof.  It‘s a red roof.  It is aluminum siding, it looks like, and he‘s kind of hold—trying to get his grip here, got to get some purchase on the roof as he goes down.  He has got good shoes.  He‘s moving around down.  He‘s winding—he‘s taking his—look at this guy.  This is a good guy. 
And he is going down to the edge, over to the rain spout now.  He is going to try to get down.  That is going to be a tricky maneuver, to get down.  I don‘t think he can get down beyond the rain spout, climbing back down to the peak of the roof.  I think they‘re going to try another side now with less of a pitch in the roof. 
I think they might be trying the other—it‘s not—our cameraman, of course, for MSNBC is trying to catch this action in the action.  This is a really—example of what‘s been going on now for a week, Joe, the Coast Guard coming into these poor areas and being like the arriving U.S. cavalry in a way to save these people. 
And it‘s not clear to us, Joe, the report we have got, whether this person inside knows they‘re being saved even or maybe they‘re unable to move out of there.  It could be. 
SCARBOROUGH:  Chris, you know, these guys... 
MATTHEWS:  The man‘s wife apparently made the call.
SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, these guys will do anywhere between 20 and 30 of these missions a day. 
They come out of Mobile, Alabama, Pensacola, Florida, all across the Gulf Coast.  And they literally fly over from Alabama or Northwest Florida.  They go in, save these people, drop them off at the Louis Armstrong Airport.  And they just keep going all day.  And, really, what they do is, they have saved so many people. 
There are so many things that, unfortunately, I have seen on the ground that the government has gotten wrong, tragedies that could have been averted.  These guys really are—and women really are the one really positive story out of this storm right now. 
MATTHEWS:  Let me check with you while we‘re watching this.  I want to talk to you about some politics here.  And I don‘t mean negative politics.  I mean getting things done. 
MATTHEWS:  You know, during the 9/11 tragedy, we had at least a face on the ground.  We had a face in the White House, the president‘s, obviously.  And we had the face on the ground, Giuliani.
To really make this relief effort work and this reconstruction effort work in the next several months and years, even, does the president have to name one person as sort of a man in charge, a woman in charge, who is out there and says, look, state, federal and local, come to me; we are going to make this thing work?
SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it. 
MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m sorry, Joe. 
MATTHEWS:  We have to hold you, Joe. 
SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Go ahead.
MATTHEWS:  Hold up for a second.  We‘ll be right back.
I‘m joined right now by Petty Officer Paul Taylor (ph).  He‘s a Coast Guard rescue swimmer who came from Cape Cod and worked today in New Orleans. 
Joe, can you explain to me what we‘re watching right now on television, how this operation is being conducted? 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Actually, I don‘t have access to a television... 
MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re watching a copter.  We are watching a U.S. Coast Guard copter hovering over a building down here on the water.  It is surrounded completely by surging water.  And they‘re apparently trying to get access to the building to save somebody. 
What they‘re probably—I can‘t really.  I‘m looking at a TV right now.  I can barely see it. 
MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to come back.  We are going to be covering this.
Joe Scarborough, do we need one man in charge down there, do you think? 
SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, we certainly do. 
I spent a good—a good time...
SCARBOROUGH:  As you know, I have been here since last Tuesday and been trying to figure out what has gone wrong.  
MATTHEWS:  OK.  Got to... 
SCARBOROUGH:  In Florida, we had Jeb Bush, Lawton Chiles.  We had one person in charge...
MATTHEWS:  Got to go.  Joe, thank you.  Got to wrap.  Thank you, Joe
Thank you, Paul Taylor (ph).
I will be back again tomorrow night at 5:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
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