Guest: Dee Dee Myers, Lawrence Kobilinsky, Tony Blankley, James Lee Witt, David Vitter
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Good evening.
Tonight‘s top headline: New Orleans will rise again. There‘s no way to imagine America without the Crescent City, so says President Bush, who tells the nation tonight he is prepared to spend more than $200 billion to rebuild that city and the entire Gulf region. But will the American people be ready to pay the bill?
Welcome to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “Katrina:
Crisis and Recovery.”
Less than an hour ago, the president of the United States addressed the nation from New Orleans‘ historic Jackson Square.
Let‘s go live now to New Orleans and Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News.”
Brian, good evening.
You have followed this president for quite some time. You are down there on the ground. How do you think he fared this evening?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: Well, Joe, I am going to point to the analysis of others, as I always try to stay out of the opinion business.
I can tell you how strange it was being on the ground in a desolate American city. Our camera crew here reported the lights came on in this section of downtown 30 minutes before the president‘s motorcade drive by. A lot of notable buildings got power back tonight. The helicopters are overhead, yes, but we can also hear alarms from the building that got power back. It‘s kind of left over from the onset of the storm.
To be in this city, where people died in the United States for a lack of food and water, while the president spoke from this city words of hope and contrition was a very strange and extraordinary feeling. Remember, we have got a curfew. The streets are still under de facto martial law. You see Humvees full of soldiers, heavily armed, drive by, along with police every so often. It is still very eerie here, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Brian, talk about it. This has been—not to personalize this too much, but it has been a personal journey for you. You have been on the ground from the very beginning, like you said, reporting from a major American city where young children died of dehydration out on sidewalks.
And now you have got the president of the United States delivering a speech to the nation from Jackson Square, an area largely untouched by Katrina‘s devastation. Did you find that an ironic choice?
WILLIAMS: I will say some of us in the media were chattering about the choice of backdrops, not that you want perhaps total devastation, but maybe a midrange desolation behind the president.
This was—if we were coming here to New Orleans to do a “Nightly News” centered around the city, that might have been one of the locations we chose as, in the parlance of our business, a beauty shot. There are few better-looking backdrops in this city. It‘s their candy store. It‘s their president. They chose the backdrop for a message presumably of hope.
I can say, Joe, this. We decided to come cover this hurricane. The difference about this storm was, it was headed right for here. And this is a bathtub, and we can look out at the Mississippi at ships at or above, as you know, eye level.
We rode out that storm that day with those people in the Superdome. Not all of them lived. And I have said this before on the air. I hope the lesson of this is not that my son and daughter at home have been assigned a different value as humans in the United States than their equivalents here in New Orleans. I would certainly like that not to be true about the country I was raised in, that I have prospered in, and that I love.
SCARBOROUGH: It‘s been such a disturbing, I think a disturbing journey for all of us. But, again, Brian, you have been down there on the ground from the very beginning.
I remember watching that first night when you were going into the Superdome. And my wife turned and looked at me and said, what is he doing there? And she said that, because everybody on the Gulf Coast knew that this was something that was going to happen eventually. It was going to be extraordinarily dangerous.
But, now you have had a view of this place that millions and millions of Americans can‘t even begin to imagine. Can you tell us, three weeks later, how New Orleans is faring, compared to that night, what it went through while you were down there, and what you saw upon your return?
WILLIAMS: Well, that‘s a great question. It could take me the rest of the night. And I know we have to run some commercial spots to pay the lighting bill.
WILLIAMS: I will tell you, that night, we used the words shelter—we used the words shelter of last resort. We didn‘t know how true we were, did we, that night about the Superdome.
Those were mostly absolutely wonderful, peaceful people who sat in a lot of groups, took care of each other, kept moving peacefully as the roof opened and they got rained on in this indoor stadium.
Of course, gangs, you had a bad element in there, as you would with a gathering, a super-hyped-up gathering of 14,000 people. Came back here tonight, interstate highway strewn with mattresses, the detritus of a de facto refugee camp on the interstate that they are planning on opening in, what 24 to 48 hours.
The mayor is giving out zip codes, where people are going to start coming back this weekend. They were reading them aloud on local television tonight by zip code. French Quarter is a week-and-a-half, two weeks away from opening up, according to the mayor.
I don‘t see it right now. I am not a civil engineer. I am not the mayor. I am not with Homeland Security. I do know I saw what I saw. A lot of our memories and a lot of our videotaped images, we are not going to share, because they don‘t belong at the dinner hour or any hour in American homes. You can guess the rest.
But I will tell you, there‘s a lot of toxicity in what entered this city. Every gasoline tank and every car has been emptied, underground oil tanks. Every transformer contains PCBs. They went over. You name it, it‘s in that water. That‘s a big problem here in this city, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: And I am afraid it is going to take years for this city to recover.
You know, we got hit by Ivan a year ago, and we still have—have places that are reduced to rubble in, again, a very small area, nothing like New Orleans.
Final question. Again, I know that you don‘t run an op-ed page, like I do here. So, I don‘t want you to give your opinion on it. But I am curious. Any initial reaction from the people there that watched the speech that know New Orleans, residents, how this speech, how the president‘s approach, will sell, the people from St. Charles Street that he brought up, St. Bernard‘s Parish, which was so ravaged by this storm?
WILLIAMS: Cynical view is, the people who needed to hear the speech the most won‘t see it. Their homes have been wiped away. Some of them are living outside this region with relatives, and perhaps they will.
David Gregory pointed out tonight, contrition is a new language for the Bush White House, a point he has made twice before on “NBC Nightly News.” Remember John Dickerson‘s famous question about the president‘s regrets that went unanswered. I think people here don‘t want to lose the bayou neighborhoods. They don‘t want to lose the kind of—the Cajun neighborhoods. Remember, that‘s where the music and the spirit start. If you can make it there, then you make it at the Quarter.
If you are good, then you go into the brand-name bars and become famous some day. So, perhaps that would be the tragedy. I hope we can pay the bills for this massive, massive rebuilding effort. And I don‘t think we Americans have any idea how large the scope of it is yet.
SCARBOROUGH: I think you are exactly right.
NBC News‘ Brian Williams, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
We really appreciate it.
WILLIAMS: Joe, thanks.
SCARBOROUGH: Now I want to turn to Louisiana Senator David Vitter. He has been with us throughout this crisis. He joins us now live from New Orleans.
David, I don‘t know where to begin with this speech.
SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: Yes.
SCARBOROUGH: When I was talking to you three weeks—well, three weeks ago, I was complaining about how the feds and the state and the local government couldn‘t deliver water to these people.
Now the president is laying out an approach that I think would make Lyndon Johnson jealous. What are your thoughts tonight as a representative of the state of Louisiana that wants to see renaissance in your state, but, at the same time, a fiscal conservative that knows a $200 billion bill is going to be extraordinarily difficult to pay?
VITTER: Well, first of all, I was very glad to see a firm commitment toward a major reconstruction effort.
But now the hard work is to begin. We need to roll up our sleeves and get it done, and the devil is in the details. I think there are ways to do it, leading with the private sector. And that‘s important to get jobs and businesses back, because if you rebuild, but don‘t have those jobs and businesses, people aren‘t going to return. So, the devil is in the details, and we do need to lead with that sense of entrepreneurship that the president talked about and lead with the private sector.
I also think it‘s very important that we have full transparency and accountability and get control of the spending, so that, at the end of the day, we have something real and lasting to show for it. Right now, the burn rate is so amazing. And all it is, is the immediate short-term relief effort. Now, of course, that was necessary. I am not arguing otherwise.
But we need to have something permanent, medium, long term, to show for it, and we need that sort of transparency and accountability to make sure we get that.
SCARBOROUGH: Senator, the president was talking about how the state government and the local government should be in control of this money. Again, the price tag will probably end up being around $200 billion.
I said earlier, I wouldn‘t trust the governor of your state or the mayor of New Orleans with rearranging the socks in my sock drawer, let alone spending $200 billion. Do you agree with the president that the federal government should just write the check and then back off?
VITTER: Well, I am not sure he said that. If that‘s what he meant, I absolutely disagree.
Clearly, the federal government has to be a major player at the table, not just to write checks, but to be involved and be a leader in the planning process. That doesn‘t override local decisions—mean override local decisions. That doesn‘t mean override state decisions. But it needs to be a major presence and a major force at the table in partnership with the state and the locals.
SCARBOROUGH: Senator, right now, we are looking at a picture—and let‘s go to it live for one minute—a picture of Air Force One taxiing on the runway in New Orleans. The president stood before microphones just an hour 10 minutes ago, delivered a speech to the nation. Again, this really is a historic speech, and really a historic speech coming from a conservative president, a self-described conservative president, about a plan for the federal government to step in and rebuild an entire region.
The president talked about racism, poverty, inequality, handled a lot of different topics tonight that I am sure surprising a lot of observers.
Senator Vitter, I want to go back to you. How do you think the president‘s speech will play in Louisiana? How will it play in New Orleans? How will it play in the parishes most impacted by Hurricane Katrina?
VITTER: Well, you know, I think everybody who has been devastated by the storm is pretty skeptical now, and that‘s not a comment about President Bush in particular vs. other politicians. It‘s just a general state of mind, given everything that has happened.
So, I think, clearly and understandably, there‘s going to be a lot of skepticism. That‘s why I say the important work is before us. We need to roll up our sleeves. We need to get it done, and the devil is in the details. I welcome—even as a conservative, I welcome the bold and the grand vision that the president laid out. But the devil is in the details, and we need to lead with entrepreneurship and the private sector. That‘s what will get jobs back. And we also need to lead with strong accountability and transparency, to make sure we get something lasting out of this project.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Senator David Vitter, as always, thanks for being with us. We really appreciate it.
VITTER: Thank you, Joe. Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, I want to go—I want to go back to the picture of Air Force One, if we can put it back up, the president of the United States taxiing, getting ready to take off in New Orleans.
Again, this is a speech I believe historians will be talking about for some time. The president talked about an unprecedented crisis. This is an unprecedented federal approach, friends. When you talk about $200 billion, which the White House has been talking about throughout the day, you are talking about an amount that will actually eclipse the price tag for the entire Iraq war, at least the Iraq war as we have spent now.
And there you have Air Force One, again, taking off, leaving New Orleans, about an hour 15 minutes after the president delivered his speech, going back to Washington, D.C., and leaving one crisis zone and heading into a political crisis zone that the White House has been for quite some time. My gosh, his approval rating is at its lowest level, less than a third of Americans believing that this country is headed in the right direction, very, very difficult times for the president of the United States in the coming weeks and months.
Now, we have got a lot more to come tonight. Coming up next, we are going to bring in our panel of experts to get the real deal on tonight‘s speech. Did the president go far enough to satisfy the victims of this disaster?
And, later, we go live to New Orleans, get the very latest on a city still struggling. There‘s talk of it reopening, but is it too soon?
Stay with us in this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “Katrina:
Crisis and Recovery.”
SCARBOROUGH: The president delivers a speech to America, but how will it play in the parishes and Peoria?
We will address that when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The system, at every level of government, was not well coordinated and was overwhelmed in the first few days. It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment‘s notice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Let‘s go live to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, right now, and bring in former Director of FEMA James Lee Witt, who was brought in by Louisiana Governor Blanco to help manage the recovery.
Mr. Witt, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
I want to ask you specifically about that clip we played before you came on about the president saying the federal government needs more power, and he wants to see the military more engaged.
Will that work in these type of emergency recovery operations?
JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Well, you know, I don‘t think that‘s necessary.
I think each community and each parish and each state has their responsibility to the citizens of that state. And I think that they need to be as prepared as they can be to meet the challenges that they face. I don‘t—I think—you know, when I was director of FEMA, the DOD was a valuable resource for us, under the DOMS program at that time.
And we did call on them for support many times, but they are a resource, and they should be used in a way that is going to benefit and also not tax them too much, because they have a lot of other duties they have to respond and take care of.
SCARBOROUGH: So, you still believe tonight, even after Katrina, that the local government, the state government should be the primary first-responders and that the federal government should just play a supportive role?
WITT: Absolutely. And, you know, it worked for eight years that I was there.
And, you know, we didn‘t come in to try to take over the response from any state. We—I would call that governor or that mayor and I would say, you know, tell us what you need to help you. We want to make sure we have all the resources there for you. And—you know, and that‘s when we what we tried to do. And, in the long-term recovery efforts, we tried to max all the different programs and the different federal agencies, too, from housing to small business loans, as a resource to help those communities to recover. And I think that‘s what the federal government‘s role is.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thank you so much, James Lee Witt. As always, we really appreciate you being with us tonight.
WITT: Thanks, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, the water continues to recede, only to reveal the scope of devastation in New Orleans, I will tell you, and, right now, a lot of America is talking about the president‘s response to that crisis.
We want to go right now to NBC‘s presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
Michael I have got to tell you, I was taken aback by this speech, the president delivering a program that may cost up to $200 billion. It sounded—really sounded more like Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson than Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. What was your initial take?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I am not so sure, because, if Ronald Reagan would had been presented with the greatest natural disaster in American history, who knows what—how he would have responded.
I think this thing, Joe, has become so much a test of George Bush‘s leadership, that, unless he is seen as in the forefront of getting New Orleans back on its feet, it‘s not going to help him.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, four years ago, obviously, this week, you had the president standing on the rock pile at ground zero, 9/11. And you compare the way he carried himself during that crisis with the way he has carried himself during this crisis, there seems to be a disconnect. Can you talk about that?
BESCHLOSS: I think that‘s right. And, in a way, it sort of responded, 9/11 did, to a lot of George Bush‘s strengths.
There was a somewhat definable enemy. There was a chance to show that the presidency should—could be strong again, and he really found his voice. This caught him by surprise, as 9/11 did, but it happened at a time when he is in a very different stage of his presidency. The war in Iraq is getting more unpopular, at least at the moment, by the day. His numbers were already down, and he knows that, if he is going to go through three-and-a-half more years and be effective in Congress, have any chance of winning next year‘s congressional elections and perhaps have some influence on who his successor as president is going to be, to put it a crass way, he knows he has to get those numbers up.
SCARBOROUGH: I was just going to ask you about that. Obviously, he‘s in his second term, but the president‘s numbers dipping in some polls into the 30s. Pretty soon, he may be in Harry Truman range.
How much does it matter? Does it matter for next year‘s elections? Does it matter on what he gets through Congress? What has been the historical impact of numbers slipping to the low 40s, high 30s?
BESCHLOSS: Well, you were in Congress, Joe. You know what happens to members of Congress if they begin to feel that the president of their party is a liability and unpopular. They begin to distance themselves. That doesn‘t help if the president is going to Congress and saying, you know, make a sacrifice for me, vote for a bill that might hurt you in your district, but do me a favor.
SCARBOROUGH: Exactly. All right. Thank you so much, Michael. We greatly appreciate you being with us.
SCARBOROUGH: Got to tell you, what—Michael reminds me of 1994, when I was running for Congress the first time. President Clinton at the time was so unpopular that a congressman, a Democratic congressman, from the Midwest remarked that, if President Clinton tried to come to his district to speak, he would be on the first plane out of town to run away from him. That‘s the big question tonight.
As the president‘s numbers keep dropping, if they keep dropping, because, of course, these type of speeches sometimes help the president‘s poll numbers rebound, but if they don‘t rebound, what will the political impact be on Capitol Hill? Will it stall legislation? Will it stop the president from getting what he needs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and across the country? Will it impact—and let me tell you something. It all works together, friends. Will it impact the president‘s ability to get his next Supreme Court justice nominee through the U.S. Senate?
A lot of questions that we can get answered as we bring in our all-star panel of political experts.
With us tonight, we have got former Press Secretary under President Clinton Dee Dee Myers. We have got Tony Blankley from “The Washington Times” and the author of “The West‘s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?” and also the host of MSNBC‘s “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON,” Tucker Carlson.
Tucker, let me begin with you, because I want to ask you, as a guy, as conservative that saw this president run in 2000 as a conservative, what was your take on this speech tonight?
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”: It was not a conservative speech, at all. And I think it could be problematic.
I—you know, the question is not whether it‘s going to alienate or the past two weeks is going to alienate Democrats or Bush‘s enemies. They hate them. They will hate him no mater what. And, in fact, that‘s been a great boon to Bush, having enemies who are so seized with hatred that they‘re demented. That‘s helped him a lot.
The question is whether it‘s going to alienate people who like him, conservatives. And will, at some point, they say, wait a second; this is not a conservative way to govern, to spend this much money, and to outline what he did tonight, which is essentially this utopian plan for the Gulf Coast? I love the Gulf Coast. It‘s no attack on the region to say that it‘s wrong for the federal government to guarantee that it‘s going to be a perfect place when they are done spending money down there, which is essentially what he did tonight.
By the way, I don‘t think $200 million (sic) is where it is going to end. I talked to someone in the executive branch tonight who suggested it could go a lot higher, maybe $100 million (sic) higher than that, by the time it‘s all over. I mean, he got to the point he was guaranteeing child care in the speech tonight. So, it‘s going to be hugely expensive.
And will that irritate the nine fiscal conservatives who still live in this country? Yes, probably.
SCARBOROUGH: If you know nine, I would like you to BlackBerry their names to me.
CARLSON: Well, there‘s me. I‘m sure there are others.
SCARBOROUGH: I know we have got two here, but I think that‘s it.
Tony Blankley, let me ask you. It was not a conservative speech tonight. The president talked about—quote—“the largest reconstruction effort ever.” He talked about how the federal government needed more power. He talked about how we need to rebuild the areas, the federal government, better than before. We need to confront poverty, inequality, give minority ownership, which, again, all great things.
But locals working on projects, this does sound like FDR or LBJ. How will it play with his base?
TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”: Look, the first problem the president has right now is that there‘s a crisis of confidence in his competence, his ability to lead the country, use the government to get the jobs done.
That‘s the—on Iraq, it‘s not going well. It‘s the economy. It‘s gas prices, and the final matter, the failure to respond effectively and lead the government in the opening of this crisis. As a result, the most important thing in this speech was what he did not say. He did not appoint a czar. That means implicitly he is the czar. He is going to be responsible to get the job done.
I think, if he can‘t prove to the American public, Republicans and Democrats, that he is capable of leading the government and getting the job done, then, whatever he says, whatever programs he proposes won‘t matter. He is going to fail. Now, it‘s also the case that he does have to worry about the 48 percent of the American public that votes Democrat. He has got—he has got to get back about 10 percent of the 90 percent of the Republicans who had been supporting him until a few weeks ago.
In that regard, the details are going to matter as they unfold. And I take some of what Tucker says, but I think you have to recognize that, in a crisis of this dimension and a problem of this dimension, it‘s going to cost a lot of money. Remember, when the Savings and Loan crisis finally paid off, we spent, what, $400 billion fixing that. And that was under Reagan.
So, I am not quite so worried about articulating the details of the policy now. I think it‘s most important for the president to prove he is capable of being president and leading the government.
SCARBOROUGH: Dee Dee Myers, we have got a hard break. I want to get to you the second we come back and ask you, what does a president do that faces this president‘s poll numbers right now, and, again, less than a third of Americans believing that this country is headed in the right direction?
I will ask you that question when we return in just a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: The mayor says New Orleans is open for business in a few days, but others fear that the toxic brew there could cause health threats to those returning. We will have that story soon.
But, first, here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know.
SCARBOROUGH: Let‘s bring back our panel of all-star political experts. With us tonight, former Press Secretary under Bill Clinton Dee Dee Myers, Tony Blankley from “The Washington Times,” and the host of MSNBC‘s “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON,” Tucker Carlson.
Dee Dee, 1993, 1994, obviously, President Clinton had some highs, also had some lows.
DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That‘s fair.
SCARBOROUGH: What do you do when your—when your numbers start dipping into the low 40s, high 30s? How do you turn that corner?
MYERS: Well, I think it depends on what is driving your numbers down.
And I think, for President Bush, it‘s a complex stew that makes this a very difficult situation for him. It seems clearly—the whole White House seems knocked off its game by this crisis. Not only did they underestimate the devastation of the hurricane. Their initial response was politically weak. Regardless of what you think about the federal response at large, the political response at the White House was bad.
And now they seem off balance. The speech tonight I think sounded sort of good in its delivery. The president seemed confident, but I think the half-life of it is pretty short. Who is going to like this? As tony pointed out, Democrats—or Tucker—Democrats don‘t like the president. They liked him being humble, accepting responsibility. That was something that we haven‘t heard from this president a lot.
They some of his focus on the poverty in New Orleans and some of the institutional causes of that, as Democrats see it. What we are hearing from the conservatives on this panel is that they don‘t really like it at all. And the bar for the president to make sure that the whole operation unfolds successfully is really high.
We know the devil is in the details. I think the president under sort of reported the state of chaos in New Orleans. It‘s—the zip codes are being distributed, and mail is going to start being delivered. And the water is—and the electricity is on, and the water is being pumped out. That paints a rosy scenario that just isn‘t borne out by looking at the pictures.
So, I am not sure, a day or two from now, what—how the president is going to have helped him.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, and Dee Dee, when the mayor of New Orleans says that people are going to be returning to that city, it—just, again, painting a rosy scenario that does not exist.
I want to ask you to take us all, people that have not worked in the White House, take us inside a White House in the middle of a crisis, where all the president‘s men and women, for whatever reason, take their eye off the ball. And it happens in every administration. It happened in the Reagan administration. It happened in the first Bush administration. It‘s happening in this administration.
How does that happen, where you have a fairly large crisis and there seems to be an echo chamber inside the White House, where you don‘t realize what is going on outside the walls until it‘s too late?
MYERS: Well, one of the things, it‘s just the simple human reality, that, at the end of the summer, a lot of people are on vacation. That sounds trite, but it‘s true.
People are not paying attention. They are taking a breath. They are with their families. They are doing what normal people do. So, they don‘t really—they are not with their tentacles out feeling every pulse of a disaster as it‘s building, whether it‘s a political or, in this case, both a political and a natural.
So, I think that was a big part of it and they were just caught off guard. And then I think they have often relied—and particularly in a second term, you have people that are really that—are less intimate with the president. They just don‘t know him as well. They may aren‘t as able to talk turkey with him, to tell him, hey, Mr. President, you‘re—you need to rethink this. They‘re very—they become very used to relying on his instincts.
And I think the president‘s instincts failed him. His normal sort of idea is, let‘s just stay the course. I am in Texas. I‘m going to Arizona. I‘m going to do an event in California. I‘m going to go home and talk about the war in Iraq. We are not going to shake up our schedule. We are going to stay the course and be steady.
And, many times, that‘s worked for this president. It didn‘t work this time. And there wasn‘t anybody there with the instinct, the clout, whatever it was, whatever combination of factors that takes to say, wait a minute. Stop the presses here. Get on the plane. Get home. Don‘t waggle your wings over New Orleans. Get down on the ground today, now. And it didn‘t happen.
SCARBOROUGH: Tucker Carlson, why didn‘t that happen?
CARLSON: Well, apparently, from people I have talked to who work over there, the president‘s instincts initially were to act, which makes sense. I have criticized the lack of action initially from the White House.
But I think—I buy that, that Bush wanted to act. But there are a couple factors. One, DOD, the Defense Department, the military, which is really the one part of government you can count on to do things pretty efficiently—they certainly have the money to do basically whatever they want—didn‘t want to get involved. They never want to get involved domestically. There‘s a long tradition in America of the military not bearing guns on American streets. They didn‘t want to deal with it, essentially. Rumsfeld didn‘t, specifically.
And, second, there were all these legal issues. You know, the White House just sort of famously ignores legal questions. Amen. I am all for ignoring legal questions. But, in this case, they paid very close attention. And there were these questions about, well, who has authority? And the governor of the state has to invite us in. And they were sort of dickering around with that.
Meanwhile, Bush, who I think is isolated, as all presidents are, maybe more than some, wasn‘t fully aware of how bad it was. And so, those two combined to keep the White House from really acting, which is why you had the speech today.
This was a guilt speech. This is, we screwed up. We are going to make it up to you. And the only way government ever says it‘s sorry is by doling out lots of other people‘s money. That‘s what it does. That‘s all government can do is spend money. So, this was a guilt-driven speech. And that‘s why it was bad, I think.
MYERS: It was also a “get back on your feet politically” speech.
And I think, again, they were just looking for a short-term fix to keep the poll numbers from dropping. And, ironically, the hurricane isn‘t even dragging down the president‘s numbers as much as the war in Iraq, the cost of gasoline, the failure of the president‘s Social Security initiative. I mean, there‘s a lot of other factors that are—where the president—the economy, more broadly—where the president‘s numbers are lower.
And so, even if he survives this, even as if, Tony said, if he takes charge of the rebuilding, which is an enormous project, and is successful at that, it doesn‘t guarantee they get back on their feet.
SCARBOROUGH: Tony Blankley, Dee Dee brings up a great point. You look at the poll numbers from the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, the president really has split support. About half of America thinks he has done a good job in this recovery. The other half don‘t believe that.
I think it‘s really one of the worst responses to a natural disaster we have ever seen. But I want to expand it beyond that. In the early days of this crisis, you heard a lot of commentators say that this was going to make Americans want a bigger government, a more responsive government. Do you agree with that?
Look, I mean, every side is going to break their own axes on this issue. But let me take another angle at this for a second. I was in the Reagan White House doing communications during and after the Iran-Contra crisis, when Reagan dropped to about 37 percent in approval, after having won an election with 61 -- or 60 percent—a couple years before.
I happened to do the very first rough draft of a strategic recovery plan. Now, it was changed by a lot of people about my pay grade at the time. But what I did then—that was in early December of ‘86 -- I thought forward to July 4, said, what kind of speech do I want the president to be able to deliver credibly seven months from now?
And then I sort of back-engineered a communications strategy that would have implications for policy actions. I think that‘s the way that this White House needs to think. They—if they just try to deal with the poll up and down each day and week, that‘s not going to be enough. They have to think forward six months, a year. Where do they want to be? What kind of a message, what kind of policies do they want to implement over that period of time to rebuild?
When we—when Reagan left the White House, he was at 65 percent approval, up from 37. So, it can certainly be done, but requires competence, both at the staff level, and it requires leadership and confidence at the presidential level.
MYERS: You know, one of the reasons...
SCARBOROUGH: And was this a first good step? Go ahead.
MYERS: One of the reasons the Bush White House has been successful up to this point is because they have always done exactly what Tony just said.
They have planned forward and they have been disciplined about working toward goals, like that July 4 speech that Tony described. But I think that they are not doing that right now. They don‘t appear to be.
SCARBOROUGH: I don‘t—they don‘t appear to be either. It‘s easy to second-guess on the outside of the White House, but you are exactly right.
Dee Dee Myers, Tony Blankley and Tucker Carlson, thanks a lot.
And make sure you watch “THE SITUATION,” coming up right here on
Now, teams going door to door in New Orleans, it‘s happening right now, looking for bodies. But it‘s what happens after the victims are found that could help families get the answers they so desperately deserve.
Stay with us. We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: Let‘s go live to New Orleans right now. And with us is MSNBC‘s David Shuster. Also with us, Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky. He‘s the author of “DNA: Forensic” and “Legal Applications.”
David Shuster, let me begin with you.
The mayor of New Orleans says he is going to be opening up his fair city very soon, but it‘s still a toxic mess down there, isn‘t it?
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, that‘s right, Joe.
I mean, don‘t be deceived by those traffic lights behind me, which go directly to the French Quarter. That‘s the part the mayor likes to talk about, but there are still some parts, like the University of New Orleans, which is still essentially under water.
And there were two bodies that today one reporter said he could see floating in the water. They were badly decomposed, a horrific sight. There are also reports of some rescue teams turned recovery teams who are finding some horrific things inside some of the homes, where some of the bodies have been around obviously now for 16, 17 days. And there are lots of wild animals, wild dogs in many of the neighborhoods that are hungry.
And you can imagine how horrific some of that is. In addition to the gruesome stuff with the bodies, Joe, there‘s also, of course, great concerns about the diseases and the toxic sort of sludge that is around many parts of the city. Even the parts of the city where the water has receded, the mud is pretty thick.
They are doing environmental testing. And at least the good news here in New Orleans is that it does not appear that the toxic residue is going to be permanent, but the same cannot be said about 30 miles to the east in St. Bernard‘s Parish, where the combination of the human waste, sewage, and the gasoline and oil that spilled from nearby oil refineries. They‘re suggesting that thousands of people are never, never going to be able to return to that part of the parish and that it will be at least 10 months before the 80,000 people who used to live in St. Bernard‘s Parish will even have a thought about returning.
So, despite what it may look like here, downtown and in the French Quarter of New Orleans, there are still really grim discoveries going on as we speak—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: So grim. I really don‘t know, David, how St. Bernard‘s Parish is going to be anything more than a glorified wetlands by the time this process is over.
Doctor, let me bring you in.
David—David points to a very ugly business, CSI business. Tell us what‘s going on right now, where the coroner is who going door to door through these grisly discoveries.
DR. LARRY KOBILINSKY, JOHN JAY COLLEGE: Well, that is correct.
They have what they call DMORT teams, disaster, mortuary, operational response teams, going out trying to recover bodies. What is most critical is that these bodies be brought to refrigerated trucks in order to retard the constant decomposition that is taking place. The fact of the matter is, is, now that we are more than two weeks into this tremendous mass disaster, you have bodies in advanced decomposition, which complicates the identification issues tremendously. No longer...
SCARBOROUGH: I was going—I was going to ask you, Doctor, I mean, 16, 17 days into it—and, again, remember the heat index in there over 100 degrees many days. The decomposition has to be dreadful. Is there any chance that families can ever find out if their loved ones are the ones that are floating—still, as David said, floating in waters outside University of New Orleans?
KOBILINSKY: I think that, for most of the cadavers, identification will be possible.
That can be achieved through a number of ways. In the tsunami, one of the most useful methods was dental X-rays, comparing the cadavers to known X-rays that they got from dental offices. However, at some critical point, you lose the ability to—you can‘t do fingerprinting because of skin slippage. You can‘t recognize the body from a photograph. What you ultimately resort to is DNA testing, first, in bone, and, if the DNA is really decomposed, to the point where you can‘t get that result, you have to do mitochondrial DNA testing, which means you will have to get relatives with—and those people are scattered throughout the country.
It‘s a very difficult process.
SCARBOROUGH: David, you talked about grisly discoveries earlier today. Who is making those discoveries right now? And, moving forward, do they expect the death count to rise significantly?
SHUSTER: Well, one of the teams that apparently made one of the discoveries today that was apparently pretty grisly were some of the Marines who are actually helping here.
And you have plenty of National Guard and various military forces that are assisting. And they are essentially going house to house to see if anybody is home, but occasionally they stumble upon somebody being dead inside one of those homes that they knock on or that they open the door to. Mostly, though, Joe, the grisly discoveries are sort of the people who are trained to deal with it, the recovery teams who have been pointed to:
Here‘s a home where we know there‘s a dead body. We haven‘t been able to pick up a dead body. Now it‘s time for the recovery team to circle back and grab it.
That‘s one of the reasons why they expect the body count to still spike up, because, even though the official count may be, say, around 500 for New Orleans, they still know of dozens of bodies that were first located, but have not been brought back and not been put the official—through the official coroner‘s process. And that‘s one of the reasons that the number should spike up.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, David, one final question. You have been there for quite some time. Describe the city for us tonight, the sights, the smells, the level of tension there. Is it improving every day?
SHUSTER: I would say the tension is improving.
But one of the things, Joe, that constantly sort of takes you by surprise is, just when you sort of think it‘s starting to clean up—here we are. We are downtown. Everything is fine. And, all of a sudden, the wind changes directions, and you just get this awful smell of something in one of these buildings that is rotting. Hopefully, it‘s just an animal, not a human being.
But that kind of stuff takes you by surprise literally every day. Some of the neighborhoods where, in fact, the water level is not that high, they look like, you know, the street you could go jogging down any time soon. And then you go a couple of blocks over, where the street levels sort of dip down, and the water level is four or five feet, and, again, it smells awful and there‘s sort of thick sort of sludge and ash.
And then you go inside the home, and you see that it‘s rotting away, the wood is rotting away, and that the mold is creeping up, and it‘s just disgusting. And it just goes neighborhood by neighborhood. You never quite know what to expect.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
Thank you so much, David Shuster.
And thank you, Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky.
SCARBOROUGH: Really appreciate your report tonight.
We‘ll be right back in a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: With all eyes on New Orleans, the Mississippi Gulf Coast remains in tatters.
Ron Mott is in Biloxi. And he‘s here with that story—Ron.
RON MOTT, NBC CORRESPONDENT: And good evening, Joe.
We are inside the elementary school here in wool market, one of the inland communities along Mississippi‘s Gulf Coast, doubling up tonight as an American Red Cross shelter for dozens of people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, some of them watching the president‘s speech tonight from what is now the pantry in this school.
They are fortunate, but there are still many other Mississippians who are without ready access to some of the most basic needs, adequate sources of food, things like water, clean clothes. And it‘s mostly because, not only did Katrina destroy or damage their homes, but also wiped out their transportation, leaving a lot of them on foot or on bicycles in the hot summer sun, trying to get at some of this relief.
And that has Mississippi burning in more ways than one.
MOTT (voice-over): For more than two weeks, Katrina news coverage has focused on New Orleans. But across the state line, Mississippi is a mess;
52 of its 82 counties have been declared disaster areas, cities like Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Long Beach, Gulfport, and Biloxi devastated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s downtown Biloxi here.
MOTT: Much of Mississippi is gone and now, many here argue, forgotten.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We definitely need aid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There‘s nowhere to live.
MOTT: While federal rescue and recovery teams have been pouring into Louisiana and FEMA gives this update from Baton Rouge every day, many Mississippians say the agency is hard to find.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as FEMA and all, they—they are not here.
MOTT (on camera): Just this afternoon, FEMA opened an office in West Biloxi, the sixth office in the state. But for people here on the east side of town, so many of whom have no transportation, that is still too far away.
There are other frustrations. Lionel Antoine, a 1970s Chicago Bears star, lives in a tent these days, his house totalled.
LIONEL ANTOINE, FORMER NFL PLAYER: The lines are busy. I have talked to computers. I have left messages, and I haven‘t heard anything.
MOTT: Meanwhile, Norman Bleuler cleans out his house while trying to put his life together, virtually alone.
NORMAN BLEULER, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: This is ground zero, right here, where we are at. And it seems like all the help is where we can‘t reach it.
MOTT: Dana Row‘s (ph) house is damaged, but her insurance company says not as much as she thinks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was told I would only get $7,000. I have $75,000 worth of insurance.
MOTT: Disputes like that will lead to arguments, even litigation, in the weeks and months ahead.
MOTT: And those lawsuits are well under way.
Today, Mississippi‘s attorney general, Jim Hood, filed suit against five U.S. insurance companies, claiming they are trying to duck out of making millions of dollars in payments to homeowners over the water damage so many of them suffered and whether Katrina‘s winds caused that damage or simple flooding. Most people don‘t have flood insurance—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thanks so much, Ron.
I will tell you what. Mississippi really is the land America forgot.
We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: That‘s all the time we have for tonight. Thanks for being with us. Tucker Carlson is next.
Tucker, what‘s “THE SITUATION” tonight?
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”: Good to see you again, Joe.
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