This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," September 15, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... so many victims of the hurricane the flood are far from home and friends and familiar things. You need to know that our whole nation cares about you. And in the journey ahead, you're not alone. To all who carry a burden of loss, I extend the deepest sympathy of our country. To every person who has served and sacrificed in this emergency, I offer the gratitude of our country.
And tonight, I also offer this pledge of the American people. Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us live in Traverse City, Michigan, is former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (search). Welcome, sir.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good to be with you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Speaker, in your opinion, was that speech perfect?
GINGRICH: Well, I don't know if I would use the word perfect. That's a pretty high standard, Greta. But you know, as somebody who went to Tulane University (search) and whose younger daughter was born in New Orleans, I thought the scene of the president there with Andrew Jackson's statue in the back, with the cathedral behind him, that evoked the New Orleans that I think all Americans want to see reborn and renewed.
And I thought that the president did a very solid job of communicating the concept of the "Gulf opportunity zone," the concept of urban homesteading, so all those poor folks who had been trapped in that bad public housing would have a chance to work with organizations like Habitat to build a better future — I have to say, on balance, this was a pretty good speech by the president and I think a pretty — very solid speech, and it moved the country back towards healing and towards building, and I think that's an important step. He got it done tonight when America wanted their president to get done.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think that the evacuees, the people who were actually evacuated, that many of them even watched the speech, or even had the opportunity, since many are still in shelters?
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I don't know how many — I suspect 80 percent or 90 percent of the people who'd been evacuated are not in shelters now. They're in homes. They're in churches. They're in rental property. And I suspect that for almost everybody — and I say this having spent a lot of time talking and e-mailing with friends from the New Orleans area. I think that when the president indicated the firm commitment that nature would not defeat America, that we would help the Gulf Coast come back better and more prosperous than ever — I think there are an awful lot of folks who've been evacuated felt awfully good to see their president committing their country to helping them recover and have a better life.
So I suspect for those who did see it, this was a very reassuring speech. Doesn't undo the mistakes of the past, and you know, the president was pretty honest about the fact that it didn't work the way it should have, and that's his responsibility, in the end.
VAN SUSTEREN: In fact, what the president did say from his speech, is he says, "When the federal government fails to meet such an obligation, I, as president, am responsible for the problem and for the solution." Mr. Speaker, you know, we've heard a lot of people sort of pointing in the direction of the president. What exactly is the president talking about as his failure?
GINGRICH: Well, I think he makes quite clear that we're going to have to change federal law to allow the military to intervene faster and more effectively. He indicated pretty clearly he's asking every single cabinet officer to review what went wrong and to report back. He's indicated he's going to cooperate with the Congress in investigating exactly what happened.
I think he made a pretty strong commitment here to an openness and rethinking things. He's asking the Department of Homeland Security to take this problem and this challenge and go out to every major city in the country and work with local officials and with the governors to see, Are the plans inadequate? Are we going to have another disaster like this? What do we have to change?
And I think that just as he was deeply moved by 9/11, that in President Bush's deep personal sense of himself as the leader of the American people, that he feels in his heart tonight a real burden to help this country and to get this federal government and the state and local governments working more effectively in these kind of situations. And I found that, frankly, after two weeks of confusion, very reassuring, that he had come down firmly on the side of changing things, fixing things and getting it all out in the open. I think that's very encouraging.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, take it away from the president. I'm going to take it into sort of a collective we, meaning the American people, everybody, you know, in Washington and media and everything else — Why didn't we learn a lot of those lessons in 9/11? Have we been lax and looked the other way and let this community suffer? I mean we were supposed to learn things from 9/11. We were supposed to learn about evacuation, how you get people out in national emergencies. Did we just simply not learn, have we just gone stupid, or what's the problem?
GINGRICH: Well, I think we had a first cut at trying to fix things. We created a Department of Homeland Security. We tackled some of the war on terror. We did a few things that were right. And they're not small things. And we created a director of national intelligence.
But I think it's only beginning to sink in, after the failure of the New Orleans crisis, that the changes we're going to need to transform our government, particularly the civilian side, so that it is effective, accountable and can actually meet the challenges, are going to be so much deeper and so much more thorough that anybody would have guessed the week before the hurricane, that I think — at least, in my talking with senators, with House members, with the White House, I think there's a much deeper appreciation that whatever we thought we'd accomplished in the first four years after 9/11, we have dramatically more work to do, and it's more fundamental work in intelligence, in homeland security, in having electronic health records and preparing for a possible pandemic if avian flu crosses over, in being ready for the next hurricane.
There's a lot to do to fix government, and I suspect the president tonight has a much deeper sense of the inadequacies of the federal system than he did three weeks ago.
VAN SUSTEREN: There are a lot of companies down there that now can't operate in New Orleans. I mean, if they move their operation, let's say, to Texas, which isn't an unattractive place — there's no state income tax there — what in the world would ever motivate those companies, once moved, to move back to New Orleans? Why not stay in Texas? And isn't that a real economic problem this community faces?
VAN SUSTEREN: Nobody wants to go back there.
GINGRICH: Well, I mean, first of all, I'm not going to say anything bad about companies that decide they like going to Texas. But I will say, on behalf of Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, where I spent a number of years of my life, when we get this fixed, when we get the clean-up done, when we have solved the problem of the levee, with the president's commitment to a Gulf Coast opportunity zone, if the Congress will pass the right kind of tax incentives, the right kind of opportunities to encourage people to invest, my prediction is there's a pretty good quality of life down there along the coast.
And a lot of folks are going to say, Gee, I want to go take a look, and maybe I want to put a factory or maybe I want to put my business right down there again because the truth is, as anybody can tell you who has ever lived there, it's an awfully nice place with an awful lot of advantages.
And I think that's part of why people feel so emotionally, and that's why I thought it was actually very powerful for the president to be broadcasting from Jackson Square and to have that backdrop that so many millions Americans have been to and seen and spent time in and to have the cathedral right behind him to remind us that this is a great and historic city.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Mr. Speaker. Thanks. Always nice to see you.
And coming up, Jesse Jackson tells us what he thinks of the president's plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: President Bush gave the nation's plan to rebuild the states that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Joining us here in New York with reaction is Reverend Jesse Jackson (search), the founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition (search). Nice to see you, sir.
Reverend, the fact that the president says that a lot of people are seeing this on television, that there is all this poverty — a lot of people don't just see it on TV.
REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Where has he been? The issue of race, poverty and class are very real issues. Fifty million Americans have no health insurance. While we're focused on the Gulf necessarily, a coal miner dies in Appalachia every six hours. And poverty rate is increasing. We've simply put the focus on tax cuts for the wealthy and prosperity gospel in our churches and the war in Iraq, and we've left the poor behind. And it took this disaster to make the president, it seems, begin to back into a war on poverty. But this issue of poverty is not in the Gulf region...
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, so what do we do? I mean, there's this huge, ugly sore. There are a lot of people in this country who are suffering, who are poor, and discrimination still does exist. How do we move forward and look to the future and fix that which has...
JACKSON: You know, the war on poverty by Lyndon Johnson began to lift people out of poverty, had better childcare for the first time. We began to break the cycle because we invested in it, in breaking it up. And one of Dr. King's reasons for being against the Vietnam war was the war in poverty was going to the war in Vietnam. And what's happening in New Orleans is that at crunch time, between tax cuts for the wealthy and the war in Iraq, we didn't have enough resources to invest in our infrastructure — our levees, our schools, our hospitals and the working poor.
This speech to me, at one level, is a kind of wake-up call for the nation and for President Bush. But also, it was a federal bailout on states' rights conditions. We're going to bail you out, but let's suspend Davis-Bacon, let's suspend prevailing wages, so you can bring in cheap labor to undercut the market. And the first contracts go to who? Bechtel and Halliburton, $100 million contracts to do the clean-up.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I've talked to some people in Louisiana who are quite disturbed that any contract could be rewarded to people outside of Louisiana. People in Louisiana, at least, want people in Louisiana to do the reconstruction.
JACKSON: The people there have the capacity to do clean-up. Why would you give five no-bid contracts to these corporations and not the right to return home with priorities on job training, jobs, and contracts is essential. Why should you have people dispersed, Greta, in 34 states when they could, in fact, be living in unused military bases or using state parks? Should not Louisianans, taxpayers, have the first option of evacuation in their own state...
VAN SUSTEREN: How do we go forward? How do we organize this? What's your plan? I mean, if you were in charge of this, what would you do, sir?
JACKSON: The first is to incentivize people returning home. Provide for them on these unused military bases plans to have trailers and module cities to get them closer to home. Even those unused hotel rooms could be used for workers to come home and be working their way out of poverty, working their way off of Welfare for the first time, or getting job training.
Secondly, there are 150,000 people still living on these floors in these relief centers, contracting diseases, becoming a health hazard.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I will say one thing. I'm extraordinarily proud of what I've seen in these shelters. I mean, I've been in these shelters and they're...
JACKSON: I'm proud, but they can't last long.
VAN SUSTEREN: I agree. I agree. You can't stay in there forever. Right.
JACKSON: For example folks in Jackson, Mississippi, were told last week they got to get out because it's time for the fair to come. They've been very generous, but it can't last but so long. We're asking for privatized housing and churches to bail people out. But no federal plan in light of an impending disaster that we were warned about for rescue and relief and relocation and family reunification and reconstruction? I want the reconstruction monies to prioritize the persons who live there and incentivize those who have gone to come back home.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you convinced that that won't be done? I mean, because we're really sort of at our infant stage, in terms of trying to figure out how best to dig ourselves out of a horrible situation we've...
JACKSON: Well, when the money came down last Friday, two suspensions. Suspend Davis-Bacon, suspend prevailing wages, and import cheaper labor. So people who even do work cannot work their way out of poverty. And suspend the smaller minority and the disadvantaged businesses and therefore allow big business to come in with no-bid contracts.
VAN SUSTEREN: So who, in your theory, benefits from this? The out-of-town contractors that...
JACKSON: Well, Halliburton and Floor and Bechtel get these $100 million no-bid contracts, so the poor get a hurricane and the rich get a windfall. The affected people in the region, they should be protected from insurance predators, should be a moratorium on foreclosures and should have priorities and incentives to return home with job training, jobs and contracts.
VAN SUSTEREN: In the president's speech tonight — I sort of understood from the president's speech that he was looking for answers, looking for opportunities, and that it wasn't necessarily — you know, the things that you propose, other than the outside contractors, was not necessarily excluded.
JACKSON: Well, I think the president tonight began to send some sense of the urgency, some sense of the pain and maybe even the embarrassment. After all, he never went to ground zero at New Orleans in height of it, nor did a member of his cabinet, nor even did the Red Cross. So you have an abandoned body of American citizens, for a while called refugees until we kind of caught up on ourselves on that stuff. And so now here we are trying to catch up a long time.
I think he made a step in the right direction, but I'm going to come right back again — the workers deserve prevailing wages, and the displaced people should have priority, with incentives to return home for job training, jobs and contracts.
VAN SUSTEREN: I've been to Ground Zero. I've never seen anything like that, Ground Zero.
JACKSON: I saw the Armenian earthquake. I never quite saw anything like this before. And what was amazing to me is the lack of response. Unlike the tsunami, unlike 9/11, we had preparation. We saw it coming. This is a federal disaster, and the emergency preparedness was not prepared for the emergency.
VAN SUSTEREN: I don't think there's anyone that doubts that we failed a lot of people. And I don't think there's anybody in this country who doesn't want to take, you know, as quick and as effective steps and fair steps as possible.
JACKSON: But 150,000 are in relief centers even tonight. About 2,000 children are lost even tonight. And there's no federal plans to house them, and there's no commitment yet to incentivize. And every contract should have an incentive for people to return home on the best conditions.
VAN SUSTEREN: Reverend, always nice to see you, sir.
JACKSON: Thank you very much.
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