This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," September 8, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Lawmakers are moving to help victims of Hurricane Katrina (search). The House today approved nearly $52 billion in emergency aid, $52 billion. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Thursday night.
Joining us now is Sen. Joseph Lieberman. The Connecticut Democrat is ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
So, Senator, is $52 billion enough or is it going to be more?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, D-CONN.: Unfortunately, it is going to be more. But the fact that we are appropriating this amount of money that quickly shows how unprecedented a natural disaster this was and how eager we are to do whatever we have to fix that area.
And there's no opposition to it. We know we have got to do it. It is part of our responsibility. And we will do it.
GIBSON: So, I have not really got a lot of reaction from our audience, who writes, writes e-mails all the time. But you are giving every hurricane-victimized family a $2,000 debit card? That could run into some real money pretty fast, couldn't it?
LIEBERMAN: It can.
I guess, from experience, John, we talked to a gentleman on our committee Thursday who was the operations director at FEMA (search). There are certain standards you have got to meet to get to that point. And then, obviously, there are records that are kept of how you spend it. And they are checked.
But, over a lot of time, they have figured out that this is the best way to help people get the money that they need to get up and running again. Incidentally, one of the things that some of us have begun to talk about is, in addition to the generous impulse we have to help the people in the area and the communities, we have got to make sure somebody is watchdogging how the money is being spent because when you spend money quickly, as we found out after 9/11 (search) in the case of TSA, the Transportation Security Agency, sometimes, a lot of public taxpayer money gets wasted.
And we are going to figure out a way to do the best we can to make sure the money gets to people who need it, but that it is not wasted.
GIBSON: What about New Orleans? And we have been looking at this flooding and this wreckage. Do you have the sense that vast areas of this city are going to have to be bulldozed, carted away and rebuilt?
LIEBERMAN: It is hard from this distance not to reach that conclusion.
I must say that I have talked to others, like our colleague Sen. Mary Landrieu (search) from Louisiana, who has gone over New Orleans in a helicopter. And she said it is just hard to believe. Most of the city is still under water. Of course, it is toxic. Houses, offices have been flooded to a point where they are going to be very hard to use.
I am afraid that exactly what you say is going to have to happen. This is going to be the reconstruction of most of a major American city. And here's where we have got to do some good planning about how we bring together public money and private money, which ought to be on the table here, to invest in rebuilding New Orleans and some of the other communities. And we have got to do it in the right way. Some have talked about...
GIBSON: Are you still in favor of rebuilding it under water?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I think we can't turn our backs on New Orleans. We have got to rebuild it. But we have got to drain the water out. We have got to figure out...
GIBSON: No, but I mean, the city exists below water level.
LIEBERMAN: Ah, ah, under water level.
LIEBERMAN: Look, I am not a scientist, but I think we have got to listen to the scientists, figure out if we can build the levees this time strong enough to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, should that, God forbid, ever come. And, if not, we have got to figure out how to raise the sea level there a little bit. That is a layman's reaction to a different way to rebuild a great city.
GIBSON: Senator Lieberman, you almost were the vice president. And we are watching him right now.
Where are you on the blame game here? Some of your colleagues on the Democratic side are — I hesitate to use this word, but I think it is accurate in some cases — literally shrieking trying to blame the president. Where are you on this?
LIEBERMAN: I don't like the blame game.
I think we ought to be on fixing the problems here. You know what? Democrats are blaming the president. Republicans are blaming the mayor and the governor, who happen to be Democrats. That is ridiculous.
The hurricane wasn't partisan. Our response to it shouldn't be partisan. How federal officials acted is no more a reflection on the Republican Party than how the mayor and governor acted are reflections on the Democratic Party. This is a human catastrophe. And I do fear that we are beginning to see it being politicized, made partisan.
If there is anything we can do to further lower the confidence of the American people in their government, that would be it. And I hope we will break away from it and do what is necessary to fix the problems.
GIBSON: Always a reasonable guy, Sen. Joe Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: Thanks, John.
GIBSON: Senator, thanks. Good to talk to you. Appreciate it.
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