MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday...
Unidentified Man: Residents of New Orleans, we're here to help you.
MR. RUSSERT: Hurricane Katrina, day 13. How goes the recovery? With us: the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin. How will the lessons of New Orleans affect future disaster planning and evacuations? And has poverty re-emerged as a critical issue in American politics? With us: the author of "Rising Tide," John Barry. And the deputy director of Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, Ivor van Heerden.
Then, tomorrow, Senate hearings begin on the nomination of John Roberts to succeed William Rehnquist as chief justice of the Supreme Court. With us, in an exclusive interview, the man who will preside over those hearings, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
But first, with us now, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin.
Mr. Mayor, good morning and welcome. We hear some good news coming out of New Orleans this morning that the city may be drained by mid-October. Can you confirm that?
MAYOR RAY NAGIN (New Orleans): I have not gotten a confirmation on that, but I always knew that once we got the pumps up, some of our significant pumps going, that we could accelerate the draining process. The big one is pumping station six, which is our most powerful pump, and I'm understanding that that's just about ready to go.
MR. RUSSERT: Some business leaders are saying they believe the French Quarter could be open in 90 days. Is that overly optimistic?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, I'm not sure. I mean, the big thing is going to be what happens when the testing comes back, the test results from the water that we sampled. If that comes back with normal levels or just a little bit elevated levels as far as health risk, we will definitely accelerate and make sure that not only the French Quarter but Algiers and some of uptown and our airport comes back on line so that we can get the city going quickly.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that New Orleans could have Mardi Gras in February of 2006?
MAYOR NAGIN: I haven't even thought that far out yet. But it's going to depend upon how much progress we make over the next couple of months. It's not out of the realm of possibilities. It's my understanding they've already had corporations that are willing to kind of sponsor the crews, if you will. I think it would be a huge boost if we could make it happen.
MR. RUSSERT: How about if both major political parties, Democrats and Republicans, pledge to have their conventions in 2008 in New Orleans?
MAYOR NAGIN: I think that would be tremendous, you know, but right now, my sense is that there's such partisan bickering going on right now in the face of this awesome tragedy, that the likelihood of that happening, I'm not very optimistic.
MR. RUSSERT: A few days after the hurricane hit, you gave an interview on the radio talking about President Bush. Let me play a part of that interview and come back and talk about it.
(Audiotape, WWL Radio interview, Thursday, September 1, 2005):
MAYOR NAGIN: I basically told him we had an incredible crisis here and that his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice. Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late. Now, get off your (censored) and let's do something and let's fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.
MR. RUSSERT: That was 10 days ago. Has the president responded?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, the president and I had a one-on-one about that, and he expressed to me that he wasn't totally sure what I was talking about, but he understood my frustration. I said look, "Mr. President, I don't mean to disrespect you, nor the governor. But if you were in my shoes, what would you do?" And he kind of understood that.
MR. RUSSERT: You had said earlier that you didn't think that race was a factor in the preparation and evacuation, and yet you had given an interview to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, and let me read it for you and our viewers.
"Definitely class, and the more I think about it, definitely race played into this. If it's race, fine, let's call a spade a spade, a diamond a diamond. We can never let this happen again. Even if you hate black people and you are in a leadership position, this did not help anybody."
Who in the leadership position hates black people?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, you know, I don't know who hates black people, but I will just tell you this, that I think the imagery that came out across the nation portrayed that this was primarily poor black people that were affected. And I don't know if that affected the response or not. But I got really upset when I heard about some of our residents walking to one of the parish lines and were turned back by attack dogs and armed guys with machine guns. Then the secretary of Homeland Security came and he asked me to meet him at Zephyr Field, which is near the Saints' training facility. And when I walked over there, I just started to pay attention to things and I saw porterlets that we didn't have. I saw ice. To this day, Tim, no one has dropped one piece of ice in the city of New Orleans to give some people relief. I saw lights that we were begging for for the Superdome and for the Convention Center that made that a horrific environment. I saw all of that sitting on the ground and not moving to New Orleans. So someone has to explain that.
MR. RUSSERT: And you think those decisions were based on race?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, I don't know, but I'm hearing all sorts of weird things right now, like, you know, they're going to build--what is it called?--a huge trailer park somewhere in the woods of mid- Louisiana and they're going to bring all the people back that have been dispersed and they're going to create this tent city, if you will. And, you know, for the most part, that would be a huge mistake because here in Texas, where I am, I have viewed these shelters and our people are getting much better care--hospital care, housing care, support--than they would in some huge tent city or trailer park that they build in the middle of Louisiana.
MR. RUSSERT: A week ago Friday, the president came down to your city and your state and stood with Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, and said this.
(Videotape, September 2, 2005):
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director's working 24...
MR. RUSSERT: One week later, the director of FEMA was sent back to Washington. Are you pleased with that decision?
MAYOR NAGIN: I just tell you, I'm not a big FEMA fan. I saw some things and some inadequacies, some inefficiencies. Regulations got in the way, promises were made. They weren't delivered on a fairly consistent basis. So I'm not sure if Mr. Brown is at fault, but I just think there needs to be a critical analysis of FEMA, because this cannot happen again. If it happens somewhere else and the same response happens, with a dirty bomb or whatever, we could lose millions of Americans.
MR. RUSSERT: Time magazine has been polling Americans about their attitudes. And let me show you a couple of questions they asked. State and local officials blaming the White House, are they right to do that? Thirty-nine percent say right; wrong, say 55 percent. And then this one, Mr. Mayor: Hurricane Katrina response by state and local government: excellent or good job, 25; fair or poor job--69 percent of Americans think that the state and local government did a poor or a fair job. And your local paper had this article on Wednesday. It began, "Let's be clear: Officials in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana are hardly blameless in this tragedy." Do you believe you've made mistakes?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, I'm sure I could have done a lot of things much better, but I will tell you this, Tim: I was there. I was among the people in the Superdome. I knew what was going on every minute. I did not have air conditioning nor shower facilities. I made decisions based upon facts and not what I thought was going to happen. So history will judge me based upon those actions. But I will tell you something: I think I did everything possible known to any mayor in the country as it relates to saving lives. And I think as this continues to unfold, history will say that we did some things to save thousands and thousands of lives. Now, could we have done things better? Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: What's the biggest mistake you made?
MAYOR NAGIN: My biggest mistake is having a fundamental assumption that in the state of Louisiana, with an $18 billion budget, in the country of the United States that can move whole fleets of aircraft carriers across the globe in 24 hours, that my fundamental assumption was get as many people to safety as possible, and that the cavalry would be coming within two to three days, and they didn't come.
MR. RUSSERT: Many people point, Mr. Mayor, that on Friday before the hurricane, President Bush declared an impending disaster. And The Houston Chronicle wrote it this way. "[Mayor Nagin's] mandatory evacuation order was issued 20 hours before the storm struck the Louisiana coast, less than half the time researchers determined would be needed to get everyone out. City officials had 550 municipal buses and hundreds of additional school buses at their disposal but made no plans to use them to get people out of New Orleans before the storm, said Chester Wilmot, a civil engineering professor at Louisiana State University and an expert in transportation planning, who helped the city put together its evacuation plan." And we've all see this photograph of these submerged school buses. Why did you not declare, order, a mandatory evacuation on Friday, when the president declared an emergency, and have utilized those buses to get people out?
MAYOR NAGIN: You know, Tim, that's one of the things that will be debated. There has never been a catastrophe in the history of New Orleans like this. There has never been any Category 5 storm of this magnitude that has hit New Orleans directly. We did the things that we thought were best based upon the information that we had. Sure, here was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can't find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans. We barely got enough drivers to move people on Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday, to move them to the Superdome. We barely had enough drivers for that. So sure, we had the assets, but the drivers just weren't available.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Mayor, if you read the city of New Orleans' comprehensive emergency plan-- and I've read it and I'll show it to you and our viewers--it says very clearly, "Conduct of an actual evacuation will be the responsibility of the mayor of New Orleans. The city of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life-saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedure as needed. Approximately 100,000 citizens of New Orleans do not have means of personal transportation."
It was your responsibility. Where was the planning? Where was the preparation? Where was the execution?
MAYOR NAGIN: The planning was always in getting people to higher ground, getting them to safety. That's what we meant by evacuation. Get them out of their homes, which--most people are under sea level. Get them to a higher ground and then depending upon our state and federal officials to move them out of harm's way after the storm has hit.
MR. RUSSERT: But in July of this year, one month before the hurricane, you cut a public service announcement which said, in effect, "You are on your own." And you have said repeatedly that you never thought an evacuation plan would work. Which is true: whether you would exercise your obligation and duty as mayor or that--and evacuate people, or you believe people were on their own?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, Tim, you know, we basically wove this incredible tightrope as it is. We were in a position of trying to encourage as many people as possible to leave because we weren't comfortable that we had the resources to move them out of our city. Keep in mind: normal evacuations, we get about 60 percent of the people out of the city of New Orleans. This time we got 80 percent out. We encouraged people to buddy up, churches to take senior citizens and move them to safety, and a lot of them did. And then we would deal with the remaining people that couldn't or wouldn't leave and try and get them to higher ground until safety came.
MR. RUSSERT: Amtrak said they offered to remove people from the city of New Orleans on Saturday night and that the city of New Orleans declined.
MAYOR NAGIN: I don't know where that's coming from. Amtrak never contacted me to make that offer. As a matter of fact, we checked the Amtrak lines for availability, and every available train was booked, as far as the report that I got, through September. So I'd like to see that report.
MR. RUSSERT: They said they were moving equipment out of New Orleans in order to protect it and offered to take evacuees with them.
MAYOR NAGIN: I have never gotten that call, Tim, and I would love to have had that call. But it never happened.
MR. RUSSERT: Since 2002, the federal government has given New Orleans $18 million to plan and prepare for events like this. How was that money spent?
MAYOR NAGIN: It's my understanding that most of the money--I've only been in office about three years. So we've mainly used most of the money that we get from the federal government to try and deal with levee protection and the coordination of getting people to safety. That's primarily what we use the money for.
MR. RUSSERT: The Superdome was established as a safe haven for people who could not evacuate the city to go to. Why wasn't there water and food and cots and security in place at the Superdome from day one? Couldn't you as mayor have guaranteed that?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, we put in place the resources that we had to provide security. There was running water at the time. There was backup systems. There was food. We encouraged every resident that was coming to the Superdome to at least have perishable food to last them about two to three days and also to have water to last them about that time. Keep in mind, we always assume that after two to three days the cavalry will be coming.
MR. RUSSERT: How would you grade the president's performance thus far, A through F?
MAYOR NAGIN: How would I rate it?
MR. RUSSERT: Yes.
MAYOR NAGIN: Oh, I don't want to get into that, Tim. I mean, I will tell you this: I think the president, for some reason, probably did not understand the full magnitude of this catastrophe on the front end. I think he was probably getting advice from some of his key advisers or some low-level folk that had been on the ground that this was serious, but not as serious as it ended up being. My interactions with the president is, anytime I talked with him and gave him what the real deal was and gave him the truth, he acted and he made things happen.
MR. RUSSERT: How about the governor?
MAYOR NAGIN: Well, you know, I don't know about that one. We fought and held that city together with only 200 state National Guard. That was it. We did not get a lot of other support for three or four days of pure hell on Earth. There were resources that were sitting in other parishes. I just don't know. I mean, and then when a group did come down to review what was happening in New Orleans, it was a big media event. It was followed with cameras and with AP reporters, a little helicopter flyover, and then they had a press conference and it was gone. So I don't have much else to say about that.
MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you don't think the governor has done a very good job.
MAYOR NAGIN: I think there was an incredible breakdown of coordination, of resources, and decisions were made to move resources and to not move resources that just don't make sense to me. And then there was this incredible dance between the governor and the president about who had final authority, whether this was going to be federalized, who was going to be in charge at the end of the day, and I just don't appreciate that kind of stuff when people were dying in my city.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, New Orleans is, in effect, a lost city. We will have the first time in the 21st century to, in effect, rebuild a new American city. Who should participate in designing and building a new New Orleans?
MAYOR NAGIN: New Orleanians, and I will be the leader of that effort, come heck or high water. There are people right now that are planning to circumvent that, and I know it. They're building tent cities and, you know, trailer parks in other parts of the state to basically deal with political issues, to try and get voters back in the state, if you can believe that. They're also trying to hire people, you know, while I'm trying to take care of my family and do those other things. But it won't work, because New Orleanians are the only ones that can rebuild. And then there's this whole debate and discussion about all of this money that's coming down: What percent should go to New Orleans or other cities in Louisiana affected even more because they are housing the survivors of New Orleans? Should we just write New Orleans off? I don't care what they do. We're going to rebuild New Orleans and we're going to make sure that we have the resources to get the job done.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Mayor, we thank you very much for joining us.
MAYOR NAGIN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And joining me here in Washington, John Barry and Dr. Ivor van Heerden. Welcome both.
Doctor, you were at the LSU Hurricane Center, and last summer you did a computer simulation, which I'll show you on the screen, a Category 3 storm building there along the Gulf Course--Coast. You called it Hurricane Pam. And then you wrote this, a long compilation, and I'll summarize it this way: "Last summer, staff from the LSU Hurricane Center participated in the `Hurricane Pam Exercise,' a 10-day event designed to help emergency officials develop a response plan should a major hurricane threaten the greater New Orleans area. ... the fictional Hurricane Pam would be a Category Three storm... The staff worked with the Louisiana Office of Emergency Preparedness, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), emergency officials from several parish, state, and federal agencies... From the simulation, officials estimate that a storm like Hurricane Pam would: -cause flooding that would leave 300,000 people trapped in New Orleans, many of whom would not have private transportation for evacuation; -send evacuees to 1,000 shelters... -require the transfer of patients from hospitals in harm's way... `A White House staffer was briefed on the exercise,' said [the Center's Deputy Director]. `There is now a far greater awareness in the federal government about the consequences of storm surges.'"
And here's a compilation of the report. FEMA was there. The White House was there. You had a CD. You gave it to them. What happened? Why the breakdown?
DR. IVOR VAN HEERDEN: I'm not quite sure, first of all, that--the report you have there was put together by a consulting company, and I think they did a very good job. But I think nobody really fully appreciated that this could happen. You know, I got a sense from a number of the officials that they thought this was a waste of time. You know, they scoffed at the concept that we would flood the city--we could flood the city. From our perspective, the signs showed that this had a very high probability of happening, and in addition, every day, as we lose more and more of our coasts, New Orleans becomes more and more susceptible. So I think perhaps the reality of what this could be just didn't quite sink in.
MR. RUSSERT: When you heard the president say, "No one anticipated the levees would be breached," what did you think?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: I didn't buy that because, you know, we had discussed on numerous occasions that a worst-case scenario would be if we had one of these major hurricanes and then we lost the levee systems.
MR. RUSSERT: Time magazine reports this: "As Katrina gained strength, researchers at LSU's Center for the Study of Public Impacts of Hurricanes," your organization, "ran the numbers through their storm- surge models. Around 7 p.m. Saturday, on the giant screen looming over the Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge, they posted the sum of all fears: New Orleans would go under. At midday Sunday, the LSU team informed a roomful of disaster officials, from FEMA and the Red Cross to the military and National Guard, that they were looking at a `significant event' with waves washing over levees in central New Orleans."
You knew it was coming. You warned it was coming. You did a simulation a year before, and now, you were dealing with reality. Why wasn't the city evacuated better, more quickly? And why weren't the resources put in place to deal with it?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: You know, I really can't answer that. The only thing I knew was that there was the potential of FEMA funding a Hurricane Pam, version two, and that version two was going to look at how to get those people out. But, I mean, we've known for years and years and years that there was going to be this problem. After the 2000 Census, we then could deduct that there were 127,000 people without motor vehicles. So, I mean, this has been known for a long time, and it just seemed like the various agencies perhaps just couldn't get it together to deal with this issue.
MR. RUSSERT: In your professional judgment, do you believe the state, local and federal government did enough?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: They should have done more to get those people out of harm's way. They knew they were in harm's way.
MR. RUSSERT: How many people do you think may die or may have died?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: It's very hard to say, but it'll be in the thousands.
MR. RUSSERT: John Barry, you've written a book, in 1997, called "Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America." And the lessons in this book are so applicable to our current situation. You summarize it yourself in an Op-Ed piece on Sunday, and I want to read that and share it with the doctor here, as well, and with our viewers.
"Before this, the flood on the Mississippi River in 1927 was doubtless the most terrible American disaster. In one obvious way, it eerily foreshadowed today's. For one thing, New Orleans officials loudly warned that a disaster was waiting to happen, and condemned Washington for ignoring them, just as last week's devastation was widely predicted. The scope of the 1927 devastation also resembled today's. Even amid that horror, as in other natural disasters, people responded by bonding together. Goodness emerged. The fault lines of race and class melted away with the levees, and the commonality of the burden that victims shared created a sense of common humanity. But as days dragged into weeks, honor and money collided, white and black collided, regional and national power structures collided. The collisions cracked open the fault lines and caused America to stagger and shift as well. As a result Americans rethought the responsibility the federal government had toward individual citizens. Overwhelmingly, they expressed a new belief that the government should help the flood victims, and by implication, other individuals in distress through no fault of their own. This represented an enormous shift in public attitudes."
Do you see the same thing happening now in terms of the re-emergence of class and race and poverty as political issues?
MR. JOHN M. BARRY: I think it's certainly possible and maybe likely. But it's obviously too early to tell. You know, this storm very violently ripped open--or ripped off the cover, and now, you can see plainly what happens with people who have no resources, the 120,000 people without access to automobiles, or who may literally not be able to afford the gas, and whether or not this does create a shift in public thinking that the government should do something more for these people.
I mean, prior to 1927, Americans did not believe the government had any responsibility for individual citizens. In 1927, almost 1 percent of the entire population of the country had their homes flooded, and 700,000 people fed by the Red Cross; not a single penny from the federal government went to feed, clothe or shelter any one of those 700,000 people. And the American people rebelled against that, and they recognized all of a sudden--it was a big change--a majority felt that the government did now have a responsibility. And I think ever since then, Americans--a majority have felt that the government has a responsibility. But we've been debating that line. We got to sort of a peak in the--probably in the Nixon administration, really, and then Carter began to move away from that. And then, of course, Reagan and Clinton sort of stopped it for a minute. But now the Bush administration has gone about as far in the other direction as we've been in a long time.
MR. RUSSERT: Doctor, do you believe that, in the future, if a president declares an impending disaster, the federal government should immediately take over the entire crisis management, including evacuation?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: Yes, I believe there should be a Cabinet-level person who runs a separate disaster-response agency, who has the ear of the president and the authority to get the military involved, everybody out, and move very, very fast. We--you know, Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5. The response was lacking. Here we are, 12, 13 years later, another major hurricane; the response is lacking. Obviously, something is wrong with the system.
MR. RUSSERT: As we try to rebuild the city, you heard the mayor saying people from New Orleans should do this; in effect, "We don't want outsiders." But it is an opportunity to rebuild the first new American city in the 21st century. How do we go about that? Who should be involved? And how do we get it right in terms of making sure the city is responsive to all its people?
MR. BARRY: Well, first, I don't think outsiders can or should dictate to people anywhere, in New Orleans or anywhere else. Obviously the money comes from outside, but there has to be some mix of this. And to go back to what you just asked a second ago about a federal agency taking over, in 1927, all the railroads were underwater. The roads were underwater. Air travel was not adequate to carry enormous freight, and yet they were able to supply these 700,000 people with fewer problems than they did today. And the one thing Coolidge did right was he put Herbert Hoover, then secretary of Commerce--and this made Hoover president, 'cause he handled it so well. Hoover was in the chain of command in the military. So Hoover could actually order the secretary of War and everybody in the military to do something and he was quite ruthless in the orders he issued, and things did get done very, very efficiently in 1927, far more so than today.
MR. RUSSERT: In order to rebuild New Orleans, we can't just repair the levees, because they could get washed away again.
DR. VAN HEERDEN: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: What has to be done in order to guarantee the safety and security of a future city?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: In tandem with rebuilding the city, we need to restore the coast. We know how to do it. There's a very good plan on the books. If you think about it this way, it's a $16 billion job to repair the coast. It's a 10-year project. If you ran that out of New Orleans, you would generate an enormous amount of jobs. Each one of those restoration dollars then gets multiplied through the economy six to seven times. So if you really want to bring back New Orleans, not only physically but economically, get the restoration project going. That's going to be the long-term protection for not only New Orleans but a large part of coastal Louisiana.
MR. RUSSERT: And in order to do this, in order to get the best minds in America and the best minds in the world, should there be creation of a federal authority, if you will, to oversee it, incorporating the views of local, state, federal experts, urban designers, engineers, the very best minds, and have someone in charge like Hoover who could put down the hammer and get things done?
MR. BARRY: Yeah. I mean, I think there needs to be some unified overseeing authority that does have the power to cut through the red tape and some of the amazing inefficiencies that we've seen this time around.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you both a Time poll on some of these questions about this. The flooded areas of New Orleans should be rebuilt with better levee system, 63 percent; should not be rebuilt, 29 percent. In terms of worried about future government response to a national disaster terror attack, 57 percent of Americans are worried. Forty-one are not worried. Fifty-seven is a high level of anxiety. Doctor, you're an expert on this. We're still in the hurricane season. What are the chances, the likelihood that a tropical storm or, God forbid, another hurricane could hit this same area?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: You know, there is a high probability it could happen. The unfortunate thing is, because the levee system is so weakened, just a tropical storm could reflood New Orleans. So it's a very, very vulnerable situation right now. We don't need another Katrina to flood New Orleans. A tropical storm that puts maybe five feet or six feet of water in Lake Pontchartrain, which is not rare, would reflood the city.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the local, state and federal governments are prepared for an event like that in the coming weeks?
DR. VAN HEERDEN: I don't think so, because right now they're really battling just to try and shore up the levees. You know, there were seven major levee breaks and it's going to take quite a lot of time to repair those, to have them engineeringly sound so they won't give way again.
MR. RUSSERT: John Barry, based on what you learned from your study of the Mississippi flood of 1927, do you believe that the city, the state, the federal government, the American people will come together and rebuild New Orleans?
MR. BARRY: I do. I think they do. I mean, Americans all over, I mean, they seem--everyone I run into says we've got to do it, and it obviously can be done properly. The city can be protected, both through the levee system and rebuilding the coastline. There's no point in building the levee system if you're not going to rebuild the coastline. And yeah, I'm confident that there'll be a massive effort to do just that.
MR. RUSSERT: A very expensive effort.
MR. BARRY: It will be expensive. It would have been a heck of a lot cheaper if they'd simply built the levees to protect against a stronger storm.
MR. RUSSERT: Doctor, I see you're wearing your LSU tie and your LSU pin. In terms of recovery, the LSU Tigers won last night 35-to-31. It shows you what can happen when people come together and rise up.
DR. VAN HEERDEN: Yeah, it's fantastic. You know, at this time of so much sadness and depression, that win, obviously, is a plus for Louisiana.
MR. RUSSERT: We thank you both for joining us and sharing your views this morning.
MR. BARRY: Thank you.
DR. VAN HEERDEN: Thank you very much.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next: What do we know about John Roberts and what should we know about his legal philosophy because he wants to go on the Supreme Court as chief justice? An interview with Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter--he'll hold hearings tomorrow--coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Judiciary Chairman Senator Arlen Specter will hold hearings tomorrow on the confirmation of John Roberts. Should he be the next chief justice of the Supreme Court? Senator Specter, exclusive, next.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Senator Specter, good morning. Last year shortly after you were re-elected, you had a news conference and made some comments, and I want to begin with those and start our conversation.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R-PA): OK.
MR. RUSSERT: The article went this way: "The Republican expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee bluntly warned...President Bush against putting forth Supreme Court nominees who would seek to overturn abortion rights or are otherwise too conservative to win confirmation. ... `When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely,' Specter said... `The president is well aware of what happened, when a number of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster,' Specter added, referring to Senate Democrats' success...blocking the confirmation of many of Bush's conservative judicial picks. `...And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning.'"
Do you believe that John Roberts would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, it's uncertain. Those are issues--that's an issue that we're going to be exploring in the hearings which start tomorrow. I think it is inappropriate to ask him head-on if he's going to overturn Roe, but I believe that there are many questions close to the issue, like his respect for precedent. He has emphasized his concern about stability, and we'll get a better idea of his views. But I think at the end of the hearings he's not going to take a definitive stand on that question.
MR. RUSSERT: You wrote in your book, Senator, "Passion for Truth": "In my judgment, the Senate should resist, if not refuse, to confirm Supreme Court nominees who refuse to answer questions on fundamental issues. In voting on whether to confirm a nominee, senators should not have to gamble or guess about a candidate's philosophy but should be able to judge on the basis of the candidate's expressed views."
So if you ask John Roberts whether he views Roe vs. Wade as settled law or whether or not he views a right of privacy in the Constitution, if he doesn't answer those questions the way you find satisfactorily, would you vote against him?
SEN. SPECTER: Tim, the quotation from my book I stand by. It talks about views and philosophy. It does not talk about answering how he is going to decide a specific question. And with respect to Roe and a woman's right to choose, the way to get at it is what he thinks about precedents, whether he agrees with Justice John Marshall Harlan, that the Constitution is a living document, that it reflects the evolving values and standards of our society. I'll be asking him what he thinks about congressional power contrasted with the court's power, not how he's going to decide a specific case, but what his views of jurisprudence are, to get an idea as to how he would approach these issues.
MR. RUSSERT: The American people have a very strong view on it, it appears. Time magazine said, "Is it important to know John Roberts' position on abortion?" 63 percent say yes, 33 percent say no. Are they wrong?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, I think they're not wrong. But it is their view, and I understand it is a popular view, but a judge ought not to have to make commitments in advance as to how he's going to decide cases or if it impinges upon his judicial independence. That is a very, very important factor for the judiciary to maintain. I don't think that there's a total understanding of the issue of judicial independence or the issue of separation of powers, and that's why we have senators to try to sort it out.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it fair to ask John Roberts whether he thinks that Roe vs. Wade was properly decided or whether he thought that Bush vs. Gore was properly decided?
SEN. SPECTER: No, I don't think so because if you ask him was Roe vs. Wade properly decided, it is very, very close to asking him if he would vote to overrule Roe, not quite the same because he could say that Roe was not properly decided but it's become embedded in the customs and mores of our society so that it has taken on a life of its own after 32 years. Chief Justice Rehnquist made that kind of a judgment, being against Miranda warnings for defendants early on and later refusing to overrule them, saying that it had become a part of our culture so that he could say he thought it wrong at the time in '73 but thinks that it's a precedent that ought to be followed now. But to say was it rightly or wrongly decided, or Bush vs. Gore, asks a little too much.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, about asking John Roberts whether he believes the Supreme Court correctly found a right of privacy in the Constitution in order to rationalize their decision in Roe vs. Wade?
SEN. SPECTER: I think that's a fair question and I intend to ask it.
MR. RUSSERT: And in terms of Bush vs. Gore, is it fair to ask what the whole issue of states' rights and whether or not he believes that Bush vs. Gore properly represents that philosophy and tradition?
SEN. SPECTER: I think it's appropriate to ask him about state rights. On the constitutional doctrines as to states controlling their own electoral processes, I think that's entirely appropriate. I think if you get into the specifics as to what happened on Bush vs. Gore, it's a little too close. Listen, these are my views. I think that any senator has a right standing to ask whatever question he or she chooses. And then Judge Roberts has the standing to respond. And my experience has been that nominees answer just about as many questions as they think they have to in order to be confirmed, a sort of--Tim, a subtle minuet, I would say.
Judge Bork answered many, many, many questions because he had a very extensive paper trail. I don't think he had any alternative. When Justice Scalia was up, I joked with Justice Scalia about this. A prisoner of war has to give his name, rank and serial number. Justice Scalia would only give his name and rank. He wouldn't even answer Marbury vs. Madison, which--to explain it to people who don't know the case, it stands for judicial word as the final interpreter. He said the case might come up again. And he was confirmed 98-to-nothing. He didn't have to answer questions. So we'll see exactly how it goes with Judge Roberts.
MR. RUSSERT: One area that you're very, very exercised about and have written letters about it, and this is how U.S. News & World Report reported it last week:
"Specter will almost certainly vote to confirm Roberts, but the nominee won't be getting any free passes from the chairman. In preparation, Specter says he has spent a lot of time reading in his den in Philadelphia, getting madder by the minute. `It surprised me how far the court has gone in deriding congressional authority. To read opinions that say that an act is unconstitutional because of our method of reasoning, how insulting!' says Specter, who takes great pride in his reasoning. `I mean, who the hell are they?'"
Senator, are you suggesting that originalists or strict constructionalists are actually being activist judges by ignoring the will of Congress?
SEN. SPECTER: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: In what way? In what cases?
SEN. SPECTER: You'd like a little aberration, Tim? Well, let me back up to a point you started with earlier, where--the report is that I intend to ask probing questions, and that is true. I believe Republicans as well as Democrats have an obligation to find out about Judge Roberts' jurisprudence, and there ought not to be a political tilt. This is not an issue for Democrats or Republicans. These hearings in substantive fact, as well as perception, ought to be for all Americans.
Now, on to your central point. The Supreme Court of the United States declared part of the legislation unconstitutional to protect women against violence because they said, "they disagreed with Congress' method of reasoning." Well, I've been in the Senate for 25 years. I was a DA before that. We have a lot of very detailed factual hearings, and there's a real point of concern on my part when they say their method of reasoning is superior to ours.
And Arlen Specter is not the only guy to take them on. Justice Scalia did in dissent. He said that the Supreme Court has put in a "flabby test," and is acting as the taskmaster of Congress to see if Congress has done its homework. And Justice Scalia says it's ill-advised. And we have a very careful separation of power, and I'm fully behind a court having the last word. But I think that we've gone outside of the balance of power when they take a very extensive record, which we have created, and say it's insufficient because of our method of reasoning. And I intend to ask Judge Roberts what he thinks about all that.
MR. RUSSERT: As you know, if John Roberts replaces William Rehnquist, it would be a conservative for a conservative, in the views of many. But then Sandra Day O'Connor must be replaced. Do you believe that President Bush should select a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, I think it would be helpful if he can find a woman whom he thinks is the right person for the job. I think that we ought to have more women on the court. Two is the bare minimum. We really ought to have more. But I don't believe in a quota system. And it may be that at this particular time, President Bush would like to have someone other than a woman. And I don't think his hands ought to be tied. There'll be another vacancy which will come up. And I think that we ought to get the best person as viewed by the president. He has the nominating power. But all things being equal, I'd like to see more women on the court.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Attorney General Gonzales would be a good Supreme Court justice?
SEN. SPECTER: I believe it's a little too soon for Attorney General Gonzales to move up. He's an able fellow, but we just went through a tough confirmation hearing and my sense is that the national interest would be best served if he stayed in that job right now.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the president should seriously consider a minority, black, Hispanic, Asian?
SEN. SPECTER: Absolutely. I think the Supreme Court ought to have balance. I think that's very important.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that the president will consult with Congress and do you believe that he will view Sandra Day O'Connor as a swing vote and therefore would be less reluctant to appoint a hard-line conservative or would he say, "This is a chance to remake the court for the next half-century. I'm going to put on another candidate like William Rehnquist, like John Roberts, who I believe adheres to rigid conservative principles"?
SEN. SPECTER: I believe, to take the first part of your question, that he will consult with the Senate and will consult with others. He did consult. He brought in Senator Frist and Senator Reid, the Democratic leader, and Senator Leahy, the ranking Democrat, to talk about the vacancy, which occurred when Justice O'Connor announced her intention to retire. My instinct is that the president's going to appoint the best person he can. He really silenced so many of his critics when he put up Judge Roberts because of Judge Roberts' extraordinary qualifications. And my recommendation to the president would be to put up someone who's the best person he can find. And people, the president, we're all going to be surprised no matter what happens on the judicial philosophy. It seldom turns out the way we expect.
MR. RUSSERT: Chairman Specter, thank you for joining us, and we'll be watching your hearings beginning tomorrow very closely. Thanks.
SEN. SPECTER: Thanks for your invitation, Tim. Nice being with you. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11th, 2001. There were many lessons that day. One of the most important was how we now redefine modern-day heroism. And this past week, all along the Gulf Coast, once again it was our first responders, the military, police and firemen, doctors and nurses, laborers and volunteers, who affirmed the singular importance of dedication, perseverance, and love in time of a crisis. New York came back and so will New Orleans, if Americans lock arms and work together, and in the words of Bruce Springsteen, "Rise Up."
(Excerpt from "Rise Up," by Bruce Springsteen)