CNN Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees - Transcript
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
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COOPER: Officials are trying to decide what to do with the Superdome. There is so much damage it may get torn down.
(on camera): A lot of people who were here I think are concerned about is that they don't want this to be forgotten. They don't want this place just to be cleaned up and everything swept away and the memories swept away. What happened here is horrific. And the people who were here want it remembered because they never want it to happen again.
(voice-over): The Superdome, long a symbol of this city, is now a symbol of something far worse, of flooding and failures, of promises made and people let down.
Well what happened at the Superdome has stirred up a lot of emotions in this country, of course. And a lot of questions about what exactly went wrong, how it happened? How could local, state and federal authorities let this debacle happen? Who should ultimately get the blame?
There's also been a question of race. Would relief have come faster if this disaster happened in a mostly white community? Many questions tonight. We are trying to get some answers.
Joining me now from Washington for an exclusive interview is Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
Sen. Obama, thanks very much for being with us. Today, you asked for the president to appoint a watchdog to oversee federal spending in the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. Why do you think this oversight is needed?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Well, look, we just voted for $60 billion worth of funding to go down to the Gulf Coast. And I think that one of the good things about this past couple of weeks, in the midst of this tragedy, is seeing how generous the American people are. They don't begrudge spending that money, but they want to make sure that it's spent well.
And right now, we've got $50 billion of that funding going to FEMA, the same agency that did a less-than-impressive job right after the disaster. It would be 12 times their existing budget. And so we've just got to make sure that this money is well spent helping the victims of this tragedy, as opposed to lining the pockets of contractors.
COOPER: Some critics, though, will say, look, you know the important thing is to get aid fast, quickly. And we all know, you know, that has been an issue these last two weeks. So the people who will oppose this will say, you know, isn't this just adding another layer of bureaucracy?
OBAMA: Well, no, there's no layer of bureaucracy. What we're doing is we're putting a CFO, a comptroller in the White House that is overseeing how this money gets spent. That CFO then has to report to Congress on a monthly basis, simply to let us know how are we devoting our funds? Is the money going directly to the victims? Is it well spent?
Let me just give you a story from the last hurricane, Hurricane Francis in Florida where we had FEMA pay for 30 funerals of people who didn't even die. They put money into Miami-Dade County, which was 100 miles north of where the hurricane hit. And then, of course, we've got the situation in Iraq where we're still missing $9 billion worth of spending.
So we want to make sure the money is going where it's going to do the most good, but we're not talking about setting up an entire separate bureaucracy. This is something that would work part and parcel with those departments that are charged with reconstruction.
COOPER: Wanted to return to hurricane response for a moment. A recent CNN-"USA Today" poll, when asked if efforts were slow because the victims were African-Americans there is a glaring disparity between the way African-Americans in the United States and white Americans in the United States see this. Twelve percent of whites say yes, 60 percent of African-Americans say yes. Why is there still that huge divide that still exists?
OBAMA: Well, listen, there was, obviously, a lot of anger and anguish across America among whites and blacks, but it was particularly acute in the African-American community. Some of the response, I think, has to do with the anger and concern of what happened.
But I also think part of it is a definitional problem. Because in the African-American community, there's a perception that even if there was an active malice on the part of these various agencies, there seemed to be a general indifference towards how people without automobiles, people who did not have the ability or the resources to check into a hotel, how they would get out.
And I think that in the African-American community, at least, there's a perception that inner city communities have generally been abandoned. This is just one more bit of evidence about indifference. And part of what I think our task is...
COOPER: But let me...
OBAMA: ... is to rebuild the trust. And that is something that I think the president still has the opportunity to do.
COOPER: It's interesting, though, because you're focusing on the federal government response saying that you know they thought people were detached from the realities of the inner city and thought people had SUVs and could just go check into a hotel.
COOPER: But the mayor of New Orleans...
OBAMA: Anderson, I'm not focusing on the federal government. I think the perception, generally across the board, is the government failed them.
OBAMA: And you know one of the things that...
COOPER: But the mayor...
OBAMA: One of the things...
COOPER: I'm sorry, go ahead. Go ahead.
OBAMA: One of the things I'm not interested in doing is necessarily fixing blame. I am interested in fixing the system. And I think that's what all Americans, African-Americans, as well as whites, as well as Hispanics, want to see happen is making sure we're prepared for the next time out.
COOPER: But some who will listen will say, well look, the mayor of New Orleans is African-American. He knew there were a hundred thousand people in this city, in his city who didn't have access to automobiles, and yet didn't really have a plan in place to get the buses that they had to pick up people and get them out of town. I mean, I know you say you're not about pointing blame, but should he share in that in -- I mean, do you think he's cut off from the realities of the African-American populations in his city?
OBAMA: Well what I can say is is that local, state, federal officials working together did not seem to have a good plan to get those folks out.
One of the things that we've done, I introduced legislation this week to say that every state, local official working with the federal government has to have a plan to get out folks who are disabled, folks who are poor, folks who don't have access to automobiles and typically use public transportation. So I think there's enough blame to spread around.
We do have to get it right. What I was trying to explain is I think the general response that came out and the reason that there might be some discrepancies between how blacks and whites perceive the problem.
COOPER: Sen. Obama, appreciate you being on the program. Thank you very much.
OBAMA: I really enjoyed it. And you've done a great job reporting -- Anderson.
COOPER: I've been lucky to be here. Thank you very much.
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