Sunday, September 18, 2005


This morning, Sen. Barack Obama appeared on CBS News' Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: And we turn now to Senator Barack Obama from the state of Illinois. He's in Chicago this morning.

And, Senator, let me ask you about something, first, I had really not thought about, but I found very disturbing. When the admiral said, 'Look, we're still worried about these levees, and if there's another storm, those levees might give way.' Are we putting--or are the officials putting too much emphasis on getting people back into New Orleans so quickly?

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Well, I think it's understandable, Bob, that people want to see the Crescent City rise as quickly as possible, but I think Admiral Allen was exactly right. We want to make sure that we get it right this time, that people are safe, that the situation there is secure, that we have basic infrastructure in the event that there was another hurricane. We're still towards the tail end of hurricane season. So I think that Admiral Allen's caution is appropriate. I'm glad to see that people who have businesses in New Orleans are able to get in, start making some assessments, start making preparations for the rebuilding process.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, there is no question that this hurricane exposed us to a racial divide very much in the same way that the O.J. trial did. African-American people just saw it one way, and it seems that white people saw it another, especially on the slowness of the federal response. Do you believe that racial discrimination played a part in that? The president tried to confront that the other night, and I guess the question I would ask you: Do you think he made any headway in turning that around, that perception?

Sen. OBAMA: Well, I've said before I think that the incompetence in the federal response was color-blind. And I think that what you had in terms of the immediate aftermath of the hurricane displayed an unwillingness to acknowledge that some people can't load up an SUV, fill it up with a hundred bucks' worth of gas and drive and check in to a hotel. So there seemed to be a lack of awareness with respect to poverty and the isolation that many folks experience in a place like the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

I do think there was a broader racial element. The fact is in this country that issues of poverty and issues of race have always been tied together. The president acknowledged this, I think, for the first time, that I can recall, in his presidency, when he gave his speech from New Orleans. And the question now is whether, in fact, there's been an awakening on his part, and his administration, to that intersection of race and poverty, and whether we're finally going to see the compassion in the compassionate conservatism that he announced when he was first running for president.

SCHIEFFER: What do you think the first thing is he ought to do on that front?

Sen. OBAMA: Well, there are a couple of things that I think are a priority. We've already allocated in Congress $62 billion so far to the reconstruction effort. And one of the heartening things about this tragedy has been the enormous wellspring of donations and support from the American people across the board. They also don't want to see that $62 billion or $200 billion wasted. And so this past week, for example, I worked with a Republican colleague, Tom Coburn, to try to institute a CFO, a chief financial officer, to oversee this $62 billion. Make sure that that money is well-spent.

The second thing I think we have to prioritize are putting people in the region back to work. We should be training them to do the environmental cleanup. We have an opportunity to take folks who didn't have skills before and potentially have them participate in the rebuilding of their own communities. And I think that's going to be absolutely vital. And then I think we have to have a long-term plan to think about how do we create better schools than existed before, how do we create greater economic opportunities than existed before? And, you know, one of the things that I've said is that Democrats should not presume insincerity on the part of the president. I think we should, you know, hold out a hand to him and say, 'We're willing to be partners in this process.' But...

SCHIEFFER: Well, on that front, let me just ask you what I think is a key question here. The president says he can do all of this, and he's promised to do everything that it takes without raising taxes. Do you think that's realistic?

Sen. OBAMA: Well, this is where I think the problem comes in. You can't fight a war in Iraq that's costing upwards of $200 billion and rebuild New Orleans and respond to the aftermath of Katrina and try to deal with all the other domestic needs that we have and then cut taxes for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. I mean, there was talk right immediately after the hurricane that the Republicans in the Senate were still going to push forward with the repeal of the estate tax, which is mind-boggling, I think.

We need some adult supervision of the budget process and we need to take responsibility for this process. That's something that we need from the president as well as our congressional leaders.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, thank you so much.

Sen. OBAMA: Thank you very much, Bob.
The transcript in PDF format.

UPDATE: Archpundit points out that Crooks&Liars has the video.

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