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CNN Late Edition - Transcript

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CNN Late Edition - Transcript
Sunday, September 4, 2005


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

Keith Oppenheim reporting for us from Houston, Texas, in the Astrodome.

Joining us now are two members of Louisiana's congressional delegation whose districts were hard hit by this hurricane. Joining us from Baton Rouge, Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal, Democratic Congressman William Jefferson.

Congressmen, thanks very much for joining.

Let me start with you, Congressman Jefferson. How angry are you right now?

REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: Well, I'm pretty upset about the pace of federal support or the rescue efforts, for the coordination with our city and with our state. A lot of folks are in great danger now and a lot of folks have lost their lives.

And I think we could have made a better response. I mean, I'm confident we could have. If the president says that the response is unacceptable, I want to rush to agree with him on that.

BLITZER: Are you blaming anyone for this failure? And clearly there was a major failure here.

JEFFERSON: Well, from the Corps of Engineers, which didn't do a very good job of getting right on top of closing the breach, to FEMA which hasn't yet figured out to get the support we need to people, and to folks who are kind of volunteer people were dissuaded from coming in because they were worried about sporadic violence in town.

There are a lot of folks here that can take a hit. We're not really down here to just blame everybody. I mean, that's not my intention. But you asked the question, and we are frustrated, we are upset about it. And it could have been done better.

BLITZER: Congressman Jindal, what about you?

REP. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I share Bill's frustration. He and I both have constituents that are still trapped in their homes until very recently. We have doctors, volunteers that have rushed to help. They were trapped in hospitals without supplies, unable to do what they were sent to do. Why can I share the frustration? I think there's plenty of blame to go around at the state and federal levels.

Like him -- it's not a time to blame, it's a time to make sure somebody's in charge. It's also a time to make sure they throw the rulebooks out. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to hear that bureaucracy and red tape is getting in the way. Now's the time to ask for forgiveness later, not for permission. People's lives are at stake. I can't tell you how many times we've just run into roadblocks and bureaucracy.

Clearly, things got better in the last couple of days with the influx of National Guardsmen. I wish it had happened later. There'll be a time later to figure out who didn't do what, who didn't ask for help at the right moment. Now's a time to cut through the red tape, make sure somebody's in charge, make sure we get all these people off the rooftops, out of the water, into safety.

JEFFERSON: What we need now is a real certainty about what's going to happen, real certainty about it. A procedure, a time and place when things are going to take place. Today, we encountered as we were coming out here a lot of firefighters have come down to help. Our firefighters, 200 of them, are down there, just exhausted, working every minute of the day.

But a volunteer comes down like that, firefighters from across the country, we can't find a way to integrate them into the process to help our firefighters get relief and to go and put out some of the tragic fires that have occurred in our city. So just things like that we've got to find a way to just bring everybody into it, let everybody find a way to help, and cut through the red tape, as Bobby was saying.

BLITZER: Congressman Jindal, what about FEMA? That's the lead agency, it's part of the Department of Homeland Security. It used to be a separate entity, it's now part of the Department of Homeland Security. Do you have confidence in FEMA and its director, Michael Brown?

JINDAL: I have a lot of concerns about putting FEMA into Homeland Security. I expressed those publicly before. You know, when you go to FEMA, a lot of times you'll hear, "Well, we can't do this until the state asks for it." You go to the state and they say, "Well, we can't do it because FEMA has the resources."

Quite frankly, my constituents don't care. They don't care who's to blame, they don't care who gets credit. It's time to get beyond all the turf. We need the state, the federal government, to be working with the local officials.

Now, you're hearing a lot of frustration from Bill and me. We also want to express gratitude. There have been a lot of acts of heroism, a lot of first responders who have worked around the clock at great personal risk to evacuate people, to get people out. I've had to arrange armed escorts for doctors who wanted to go in and help patients still trapped in the city. So this is a story where there are a lot of heroes, but there's also a lot of frustration. And again, I'm looking for -- now is not the time. I'm looking forward to when we can figure out how to make sure this never happens again. Our country went through 9/11. We should have been better prepare, we should have been better able to respond to this. God forbid we should have another manmade or natural disaster of this scope, of this magnitude, but if it happens, we should have better communications.

There should be evacuation equipment there on the very first day, not a few days later. There should be security forces. One of my frustrations is that everything is being done sequentially. They say, "We've got to rescue people before we can do security. We've got to do security before we can do housing." But you can't rescue people unless you have security.

Absolutely, saving lives has to be our first priority. But if we have housing and security in place, we would have had people, we would have had places, to take these people out when we removed them from New Orleans. So a lot of frustration. But there are also some terrific acts of heroism, especially among our first responders.

BLITZER: Congressmen, to both of you and your constituents and everyone else, good luck in this horrible, horrible tragedy.

Bobby Jindal and William Jefferson, two members of the United States House of Representatives joining us today here on "Late Edition."


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