MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, special coverage of Hurricane Irene as she slams the Northeast after mandatory evacuations are ordered along the Eastern Seaboard. The latest on this storm's path and strength as it now moves over New York City. Updates this morning from the ground and from the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Craig Fugate, on relief efforts and the threat that still lies ahead.
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Also with us, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on how his state is faring in the storm.
We'll go beyond the breaking news to ask some of the larger questions as well. How prepared is the country to handle disasters like this? President Obama cuts short his Martha's Vineyard vacation.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: All indications point to this being a historic hurricane.
MR. GREGORY: What has been learned from past failures, like the response to Hurricane Katrina just six years ago this weekend? And what new planning must be done to weather unanticipated threats like this week's rare earthquake on the East Coast?
Also, our political roundtable this morning on the politics of disaster response, and the new force taking over the Republican field for the presidency, Texas Governor Rick Perry.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX): Our country is in trouble, and it's got to have someone who understands how to get America working again, and I'm it.
MR. GREGORY: And former Vice President Dick Cheney's new memoir takes on the critics.
MS. JAMIE GANGEL: This book is going to make a lot of people angry.
FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: There are going to be heads exploding all over Washington, Jamie.
MR. GREGORY: With us, national correspondent for the "Today" program Jamie Gangel, columnist for The New York Times David Brooks, author and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, and the BBC's Katty Kay.
Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.
MR. GREGORY: Good morning. The worst may be yet to come as Hurricane Irene now hits New York City. It's still a critical time, and the chief concern now, flooding from storm surges. After first making landfall near Cape Lookout in North Carolina early Saturday, Irene left her mark on the Outer Banks with heavy rain and high wind. By last evening, the storm unrelenting in Ocean City, Maryland, and coastal Virginia. This morning at 5:30 AM, a second landfall in Little Egg Inlet, New Jersey. So far the storm is responsible for at least 10 deaths and power outages across nine states, leaving more than three million homes without electricity this morning. States of emergency have been declared in 10 states along the Eastern Seaboard.
Joining us now for the very latest from New York, NBC meteorologist Bill Karins.
And, Bill, do we have an actual change in what the storm is now?
BILL KARINS reporting:
Yes. As expected, it is now a tropical storm. It's really rapidly weakened overnight last night. We haven't even had any hurricane gusts in about 12 hours. So the Hurricane Center now is officially calling it a tropical storm. That really shouldn't change anything, though, with anyone that's still in its path. I'm talking specifically to everyone in New England. As we look at the storm, all the heavy rain is already in New England. There's not a lot of backside to this storm. So the weather will rapidly improve during the day New York City southwards. But, if you live in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, upstate New York, those are areas that you want to still be in the safe room with your family because we're still going to have trees falling. The soil is saturated. We're still going to have wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour, and that's what's going to cause the biggest issues out there.
Now, as far as what we're dealing with with the storm, the storm itself is going to continue to weaken, but it is rapidly moving to the north, too, though. So that's the one piece of good news that we have with this storm system. We did see peak winds overnight and during the last couple of days that were very high, especially down along the coastline of. Virginia, especially, was the worst of it. We saw wind gusts there up to almost 100 miles per hour, and that includes areas down to the south.
So the southerly winds are piling up the water. This is kind of the graphic I want to concentrate on the most. Along the Connecticut coastline and also Long Island, now through about noon is when the waves will do the most damage and all the little inlets there as we head up towards Providence and also right along the coastal Connecticut areas where the worst of it will be. The storm path itself is going to travel to the north up through New England during the day today as it continues to weaken. One thing that we will see later on today and also into tonight, the historic flooding from this storm from the rain. This isn't the coast, this is inland. Some of the New Jersey rivers are going to be close to their all-time record levels. That means we're going to have evacuations on rivers, and we're going to have rivers that are going to be going through houses as we go throughout the next two days. The river--it wasn't quite as bad around D.C., about three and a half inches of rain. But over through eastern portions of Virginia, especially as we go through the Williamsburg area to Norfolk, that was the worst of it, David. That's where we saw as much as six to 10 inches of rain.
So I guess the bottom line, Irene now a tropical storm. Still a threat out there, but it will be quickly leaving and the cleanup will begin as we go throughout the night tonight and all day Monday.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Bill Karins up in New York for us, our meteorologist. Thanks very much.
Joining me now from the Regional Operations Intelligence Center in Ewing, New Jersey, is the Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie.
Governor, good to have you here. What's your big issue, your big concern this morning?
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): Well, David, our big concern right now is flooding, not only on the coast, but inland. We have our rivers here that are swelling over their banks. We have flooding inland already, and we have over 250 road closures already in New Jersey, more than 15,000 people in 45 different shelters and that number is climbing. And we have over half a million people without power. And so what we're transitioning now towards is dealing with the flooding and the aftermath. The good thing, the good news is that we got a million people off the Jersey shore in 24 hours, and I think we would've had significant loss of life if we hadn't done that.
MR. GREGORY: Talk about that decision. You know, there's a lot of lessons learned from past disasters like a Hurricane Katrina, even the big storm earlier this year in the Northeast and the New York City area. What triggered it for you that said, "You know what, you know, conditions can change, forecasts can change, but I'm going to be very deliberate in saying you've got to get off of the coast, no question about it. It's got to be mandatory"?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, you know, David, first thing is that I think your number one goal as a governor in this situation is the saving of human life. Everything else is secondary. And so once we saw that the meteorologists, National Weather Service were really focusing in on a track that was going to have the hurricane hit where it did today, on the Jersey shore, it was my call that we just were not going to have people on those barrier islands on the coastline because if there was significant destruction, we'd have significant loss of life. And so, you know, those are never easy calls to make, but if you prioritize things the way we have, which is saving human life is the most important thing, then the rest of the decision was relatively easy.
MR. GREGORY: Governor, as you know, you just heard from Bill Karins, this is downgraded to a tropical storm. There's going to be that instinct on the part of a lot of people in your state to say, :OK, well, it looks like the worst is over. Let me go back and see what's the situation on the coast, in my home, in my area." You'd like to caution people against doing that right now.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Absolutely, David. The storm is still covering half of our state as we speak right now, and so I want folks to stay inside their homes. Stay inside their homes until it's already cleared. We have downed power wires all over the place. We have flooding of streets; 250 roads already closed and that number is climbing. And the one real problem that we've had this morning is one woman who went out in her car, she got caught in to--some flash flooding and she was carried down river now and is still missing. Those are the kind of things that can happen. Everyone will be fine if we stay in our homes, we let the storm pass, and then we wait to hear an assessment for people when they can go back out. But right now I want to make sure that we have downed power wires dealt with, we don't have people getting electrocuted, we don't have those other issues. That will just be tragic if we've gone through this storm and then lose life because we're careless on the back end. So I'm asking people in New Jersey, you know, as subtly as I do, David, please stay home.
MR. GREGORY: Safety first, as you've repeated over and over again. There will be a morning after kind of damage assessment. And this is going to be a big story, isn't it, Governor, up and down the seaboard? We already have local municipalities and states being so hard hit in this economy, what kind of cost, damage estimates are you expecting at this early point?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I've got to imagine that the damage estimates are going to be in the billions of dollars, David, if not the tens of billions of dollars. We're going to start later this afternoon as soon as the storm clears. I'm going to personally go and start making assessments of the coastline and see what the damages are like there. And, at the same time, we need to deal with this inland flooding, which may not completely subside in New Jersey until Tuesday, some of our rivers. So the damage assessment's going to be a rolling one. The coastline will be the first we'll be able to judge. But then inland we're going to have a lot of damage, too, from these river floodings.
MR. GREGORY: Any lessons you take away? I mean, this has been an extraordinary week, and not only for your state and this storm, but also an earthquake. As a Los Angeles guy, I was, I was not as freaked out about that, but now as an Easterner, I was. If you look at that and the coordination between a big state like yours and the federal government, are there lessons you take away from this week? Jobs well done, things that you can improve on?
GOV. CHRISTIE: Well, certainly we're going to have an after action, you know, program, to look at what we could do better. I know there's always things that we could've done better. But what I'm proud of is that we're coordinating well with the federal government. We have FEMA folks right here on site in the operations and intelligence center you see here. They're working incredibly hard in providing things to us that we need. Our own team at the state level has put aside everything except for saying, listen, how do we best serve--making sure that human life is safe and then trying to minimize property damage? So we'll do an after action report, David, and take a look at--I know there's always things we could do better. But here's the key: The key is that we've tried to keep people fully informed, be fully transparent, to lower fear and raise confidence. And that's what we're trying to do, and I think that's the best thing a governor can do in this circumstance.
MR. GREGORY: Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey. You've been going 24/7 in the last several days up until this storm. We really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.
GOV. CHRISTIE: David, thanks for having us. And let's everybody stay home and stay safe.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Good message, good advice.
Joining me now from Coney Island in New York is our correspondent Peter Alexander, who's been in the thick of it all morning long.
Peter, describe your situation and, and where things stand for New York City at this point.
MR. PETER ALEXANDER: David, we want to let you know that we're out at this iconic boardwalk at Coney Island with the permission of the police, who we've been communicating with all morning long, and they've been telling us what they've seen around the area as well, which is heavy flooding right now. What's remarkable now compared to an hour ago is that you can just walk a straight line very easily, the, the winds have definitely subsided in the course of the last hour. About an hour ago, here at Coney Island we got hit with the hardest winds to this point, 60-mile-per-hour gusts here, 30- to 35-mile-per-hour winds sustained. But if you see on this boardwalk, a lot of husbands hear from their wives on weekends like this in the middle of the summer to, to power-wash the deck. Coney Island's boardwalk got one hell of a free power wash courtesy of Mother Nature today.
If you look out this direction, the real concern has been, according to the forecasters, has been this tidal surge and the storm surge coming this way. They expected the seas to rise four to eight feet, and with that, five to 10 inches of rain in and around New York City. New York City, David, as we've been reporting, has more than 17 inches of rain in the month of August. That makes it the wettest month ever on record for New York City. Not August, the wettest month ever for New York City. And Robin Adams, our cameraman, if you'll pan the camera this direction, I want to give you a sense of what the winds still look like right now. You can see how they have literally torn apart these American flags. And this young lady here holding her beer and her burger, you know, for all the guests who come here on a normal weekend day is, is still holding steady at this point. But we thought we might lose her a little while earlier.
The good news is, as we see a guy jogging out here, one of the brave ones, is that we're on the back side of this now. It appears that we dodged a bullet at least here and that this ocean didn't come all the way up to the boardwalk itself. Right now, roughly 300 trees we have heard of, about, that have already been uprooted all over New York City itself, as we clean our lens for you. There are, even as we speak, still this morning warnings of the possibility of tornadoes throughout this area as well, David. So while we've seen the worst of it, there's still a lot to be concerned about, as you just heard from the governor a short time ago.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Peter Alexander, good to see the wind has died down a little bit. That guy's jogging in your camera position. We saw him twice, so he's, he's sticking to the routine. Peter, thanks very much.
We want to go now to the headquarters of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and speak to the administrator, Craig Fugate.
Mr. Fugate, good to have you with us this morning. I know that the president has convened you and others on his team to get the very latest update. At this point, what is the headline from this storm?
MR. CRAIG FUGATE: I think the big headline is power outages. You know, we got damages down in Virginia and North Carolina from flooding and storm surge, river flooding; but I think most people are being impacted across the area is really power outages right now.
MR. GREGORY: What about flooding? We're talking about surges in the New York City area and that part as you go up the coast a little bit into New England. How is that affecting everyone? Also on the New Jersey coast.
MR. FUGATE: Well, you know, as Governor Christie said, they already have a person missing, and, and that's why it's so critical people stay inside and stay off the roads. I'll give you an example down in North Carolina where Irene first came to shore. They were reporting this morning over 67 swiftwater rescues where they had to go out and rescue people and get people that were trapped or isolated during the storm. So we expect the rivers are still coming up. We may have more rescues that will be required.
MR. GREGORY: So, because you do have people who may think, "OK, tropical storm now, I can actually go back," as we look in the rearview mirror along the coast and North Carolina, other places, they want to make some assessment, at--where on the map is it OK to do that and where should people not be leaving?
MR. FUGATE: Don't go back yet. Let the local officials give you that all clear. Part of it is roads that are blocked by debris, downed trees, but also power lines down. And if we want the power back on quick, stay off the roads, let the power crews get out there and get to work. They don't need you out there sight-seeing. Stay home unless it's urgent, and don't go back until the local officials tell you it's OK.
MR. GREGORY: You know, Mr. Fugate, this picture we've got up right now, which is a live picture of Times Square in New York, which is remarkable even by Sunday morning standards. I can't see hardly anybody on the streets. There was a vigilance on the part of local leaders up and down the coast who said you don't just want to have a plan, you don't want to just be prepared, you need to get out, you need to evacuate. In New York City, of course, that decision was made for mandatory evacuations in lower Manhattan. What drove that level of vigilance? Was it events like Hurricane Katrina, even the snowstorm up in New York earlier this year?
MR. FUGATE: I think it's the, as Governor Christie said, it's the preservation of life. You know, these are forecasts, they're not going to tell us 100 percent where we're going to have damages, but you have to make decisions at a point based upon the forecast. And if you don't, you may not get people out in time. It's a life safety drives these decisions. And, obviously, if we could tell people you don't have to evacuate, we have enough confidence you won't be in danger, we'd do it. But this is a forecast. I think local officials took it to heart. They wanted to make sure people got to safety and had time, and so they ordered the evacuations.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about power because, as you said, that's going to be a big headline out of all of this. What can people expect in the storm zone in terms of restoration of power? What kind of time is it going to take for that to happen?
MR. FUGATE: Well, we were telling people before the storm, expect days or longer. We won't really know until the power crews get out there, start seeing the types of damages. I think some people will get power back rather quickly, but other people it's going to probably be days, depending upon how much damage there is to poles, transformers, and power lines.
MR. GREGORY: I mentioned just a moment ago, at the top of the program, states of emergency declared. These are requests that are made of the federal government. Explain what it means and what the federal government is now doing and in a position to do to help the states in the storm's path.
MR. FUGATE: Well, what these were is governors looked at getting ready for these storms. They asked President Obama to declare an emergency, to provide assistance, funding for protective measures that they are undertaking, calling out their National Guard, and a lot of things we're doing as well as direct federal assistance from federal teams and the military. But, you know, these can be very expensive, so this helps offset the costs with 75 percent funding from the federal government and the state and locals will match that. But we're also beginning damage assessments. Already in Puerto Rico from Irene we've declared a major presidential disaster declaration now for the rebuilding efforts. And we are starting those assessments in North Carolina, and we'll be working up the coast as conditions improve and the governors and their teams go out and start looking at the damages.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. As--damage assessment I know is just moving forward. What kind of costs are we, are we talking about for this storm?
MR. FUGATE: Yeah, I wouldn't even hazard a guess. I've been doing this for a long time and it--in these early stages, you just don't know till you get out there and start seeing what kind of damages you have, and then we'll have a better idea as we get those in.
MR. GREGORY: Is this a model for you? I know you've studied some of the past responses. Where does this rank as a model of response, federal government coordinating with state governments and down the line?
MR. FUGATE: You know, each opportunity, as Governor Christie says, we try to get better and we work harder to build this team. You really try to take away this idea that we're dealing with local government and then we're dealing with state government and then we're dealing with the federal government. We try to work as a team, bring in our volunteers, and faith-based is part of that team, and also work with the private sector. Those are the big lessons after Katrina is we all have to work as a team.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Well, Administrator Fugate, thank you very much for your time. I know you're busy all morning long, and we appreciate the time you're giving us.
MR. FUGATE: Thank you.
MR. GREGORY: I want to go up and down the storm zone here and get some quick updates from those governors who are--whose states are affected by what is now a Tropical Storm Irene. The governor of the state of Virginia is with us, Bob McDonnell. He joins us from the emergency operations center in Richmond.
Before we get, before we get to Governor McDonnell, though, we're going to go to Maryland to Governor Martin O'Malley. He's at the emergency ops center in his state.
And, Governor O'Malley, the same question to you. What's your big concern as you're watching this storm move out of Maryland now?
GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY: Well, right now it's all about recovery and restoration. I mean, we have a number of trees that have fallen on power lines. We have a record number of families that are without electricity; over 800,000, David, throughout our state. But hey, look, the good news is this: Because of FEMA's partnership, because people listened, we were able to avoid any big problems in terms of threats to public--to lives and to public safety. So Ocean City, I was on the phone with their mayor earlier today, and had a--he had a great report. The beach actually looks pretty good. We've invested a lot of money into the dunes and protecting Ocean City. The boardwalk's in good shape, and Ocean City's going to be open come noon today. So that is great, great news. Now in southern Maryland, a little harder hit than we had anticipated, and we're going to be digging out for a while.
MR. GREGORY: Governor, I'm looking at some of the, the data here: expecting about 12 inches of rain when it's all said and done and you've got nearly 800,000 without power. What's it going to take in terms of how long before you get that power restored?
GOV. O'MALLEY: Well, we don't have an estimate on that yet. But I can tell you this, David, before the big snowstorm, snowmageddon, we had--or rather at the peak of it, we had about 300,000 people out of electricity. Today, as it stands right now, we have 800,000 out. So this is going to be a long effort, and we're just going to need working at it. I do want to say, though, that Craig Fugate and the people at FEMA, Secretary Napolitano and President Obama, they have been excellent. They've been with us since day one. And, actually, before the storm arrived, they were here, and it's worked really, really well. This is a much better FEMA than the olden days.
MR. GREGORY: All right. And the olden days not that, not that old, only about six years ago. Governor O'Malley, thank you very much.
GOV. O'MALLEY: That's right.
MR. GREGORY: I want to go back to the state of Virginia. Bob McDonnell is the governor, of course. He joins me from the emergency operations center in Richmond.
Governor, let me ask you, what about shelters? What about people who left their homes? How many have sought shelter in the state? Is it more than you imagined?
GOV. BOB McDONNELL (R-VA): Well, fortunately right now it's less than we'd thought. We have about 74 shelters open, just a little over 5,000 people that are in those shelters. We were ready for as many as 100,000. So fortunately people have made either plans on their own or didn't have to evacuate.
MR. GREGORY: And, Governor, we, we heard about it from administrator Fugate from FEMA, the big story here is power outages. Virginia particularly hard hit, about a million customers without electricity this morning, right?
GOV. McDONNELL: It is. It's the second largest power outage in the history of the state. A million customers means about two and a half million people without power. So that's going to be our biggest concern, I think, going forward. And of course, in the short run, we're telling people with a lot of power lines down, please be very vigilant, take it very slow and careful today. What we learned from Isabel is about half the deaths actually occurred after the storm had passed with either over exertion, exposure to power lines. So all the crews are out now. It--but it's going to be days, perhaps a week before all the power's restored. We just ask people to be patient.
MR. GREGORY: All right. And cost estimates at this point? I know it's very early, but there can be a lot of that damage to people's homes from trees falling and the like.
GOV. McDONNELL: We're just getting preliminary estimates at this point. We had three fatalities. We've got pretty widespread damage. In fact, way away from the coast, the heaviest rains were about 50 or 60 miles inland, over 16 inches, and very high winds and very heavy rain. And half the power outages were in Richmond, which is almost a hundred miles inland. So we're still doing damage assessments. With that storm surge being 7.5 feet, one of the highest on record, we're expecting widespread flooding damage. But we're still getting those estimates in. It's still early.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Governor, thank you very much. Good luck to you and all your emergency response folks in your state. Thanks for joining us this morning.
One of the remarkable aspects of this storm is that it's been a couple of decades since major metropolitan centers along the Eastern Seaboard have been affected like this. We've talked about New York City. Joining me now is Michael Nutter. He's the mayor of Philadelphia.
And, Mayor, what did your region wake up to this morning?
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D-Philadelphia): David, we expected about seven to nine inches of rain. We have significant flooding, both the Schuylkill, the Delaware, creeks and streams, all throughout the city. Road blockages, trees down, about 297,000 people without power in the Philadelphia region. In Philadelphia, about 21,000 without, without power. PECO, our power company, our energy company, they're all over the place and getting up to speed and doing the job. But this has been pretty tough on all of us.
MR. GREGORY: What are you asking of your residents right now? Because there's going to be a temptation to look outside the window...
MAYOR NUTTER: Right.
MR. GREGORY: ...and say, "Well, this is really past and it wasn't as big as we thought, so we can get back to business as usual."
MAYOR NUTTER: Exactly. That's our concern. I've been on local news. I'm going to have a press conference very shortly. You're absolutely right. We don't want people to be deceived by what might still appear to just be a little bit of rain outside. There's more rain to come and winds of upwards of 50 miles an hour with gusts of maybe 65 miles an hour. So this storm is not over. And the aftereffect can be just as difficult as what we saw overnight. So what we're asking folks to do is to keep doing what you've been doing. Stay inside. If you don't have to be out, don't come out. Give us the time to do the cleanup. And we want you to be safe. Make good decisions, check on neighbors and senior citizens and the like. Just take it easy, you know, kind of enjoy your Sunday, and let us do our job and try to get the city back in shape.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Mayor Nutter, good luck to you...
MAYOR NUTTER: Thanks, David.
MR. GREGORY: ...as your efforts move forward. Good to get an update from you.
I want to go back to New Jersey now with the mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, who is at Newark Command Center and joins us now via Skype.
And, Mr. Mayor, talk about what you're seeing. I mean, is--we've seen reporting in places like Newark and Hoboken and the like, there's a real concern about downed lines and live electrical wires. I mean, these are the, the very realities, the real threats that are still out there.
MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D-Newark): Well, this is actually really serious. We've already had to do about 10 water rescues where we'd have to--we had to get Zodiacs to go into the water on flooded streets to get people out of their cars. We've got downed power lines and a lot of hidden hazards. High waters can obscure live power lines. We have manhole covers that have been moved aside. So even people wading through water are facing real dangers. So this is a time for everybody to be staying inside their homes. We're dealing with a lot of challenges from trees down and the like. Thank God we've had no injuries. But we've been having to move lots of people into the shelters this morning.
MR. GREGORY: You know, Mayor, I want to ask you something I asked Governor Christie as well, which I think is an important bigger question out of all of this, which is how prepared are we as a country, not just the city of Newark or the state of New Jersey, but as a country, to deal with disasters of any magnitude? On a week when you had Hurricane Irene, on a week when you also had an earthquake that is so rare along the East Coast?
Mayor BOOKER: Well, first of all, I'm proud of my president, I'm proud of my governor for both jumping in and being very, very pre-cautious by calling a state of emergency. It's much better to be prepared for an emergency and not have one than have an emergency and not be prepared. But to your point, I'm very concerned in our country that we have not been investing in infrastructure like we need to. We're seeing, in the city of Newark, lots of flooding and problems because our infrastructure is getting very aged, and we haven't had the kind of investment or the resources to put the investment into it to keep our infrastructure strong and safe. And I know this is a problem from around the country. I've talked to many mayors. We need to begin to understand that investments in infrastructure is actually going to save us money over the long term. It's going to keep people safe and it's actually going to help our economy as well.
MR. GREGORY: All right, Mayor Booker, thank you very much. More of that discussion ahead, of course, and good luck to you as you continue with your efforts for rescue and damage assessment there in Newark and the surrounding areas.
We're going to take a break here. We're going to continue the discussion.
Coming up, this really is a test of national preparedness as Mother Nature strikes twice this week, as we've been mentioning. First, a rare earthquake on the East Coast, and then, of course, Hurricane Irene barreling up the Eastern Seaboard. How prepared is the country to deal with these unexpected national emergencies? Our roundtable's going to talk about it. And of course, the politics never stop. Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks out. And Rick Perry now ahead of Mitt Romney in some new polls. Our roundtable's going to weigh in. We've got NBC's Jamie Gangel, The New York Times columnist David Brooks, Georgetown Professor Michael Eric Dyson, and the BBC's Katty Kay. We're back on MEET THE PRESS right after this.
MR. GREGORY: Coming up, our roundtable here. The politics of disaster response and the new force taking over the Republican field for the White House, Rick Perry. Joining me, they're all here: Katty Kay, Jamie Gangel, David Brooks, and Michael Eric Dyson. It's coming up next right after this brief commercial break.
MR. GREGORY: We're back now. We're going to keep tabs on Hurricane Irene, now a tropical storm. In just a few minutes, we're also going to talk to NBC's Al Roker, who is in New York on Long Island. He's going to give us the very latest on this storm.
Before we do that, though, I want to talk to my roundtable and also give you this programming note. We were supposed to have Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman this morning. He was scheduled to appear as part of our MEET THE CANDIDATES series, but due to some of his travel conditions as well as the developing news, of course, on the hurricane, we rescheduled that interview. It will happen at a later date. We're looking forward to him being on the program.
But for now, our roundtable's here. Joining me, the BBC's Washington correspondent Katty Kay; national correspondent for "Today" Jamie Gangel; columnist for The New York Times David Brooks; and author, as well as Georgetown University professal--professor, rather, Michael Eric Dyson.
Good to have all of you. Glad that we were able to, you know, get in despite--really, D.C., the story was some high wind and a lot of rain, but nothing compared to what we're seeing along the Eastern Seaboard.
Interesting, David Brooks, the, the political aspect of this storm--and there is always one, because the politics don't stop--was, "Be prepared. Be very, very prepared." Here's a look at some of the admonitions from leaders on the East Coast. We put it together.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We are today issuing a mandatory, I repeat the word, mandatory evacuation order.
GOV. BOB McDONNELL (R-VA): This is very important that people heed this warning and do it now. Tomorrow will be too late.
GOV. CHRISTIE: Get the hell off the beach in Asbury Park and get out.
MR. GREGORY: So there's that sliding scale--be prudent, it's mandatory, and get out. What, what was the lesson that was learned that was put into practice here?
MR. DAVID BROOKS: I was waiting for a, "Say last rites," "Say goodbye to your families."
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Right.
MR. BROOKS: In Washington, all the lobbyists were stocking up on Pinot Grigio, the panic was so bad. Obviously, since Katrina, the, the message for politicians is go all out, maximize the warning. And I suppose that's fair. In some parts of the country, that's fair. But in places like Washington where it really wasn't that big a storm, what's going to happen over time, if they do this every time there's a storm, is people are going to begin tuning them out. Obviously, there's an incentive to play it safe, but there are the kind of things you have to balance out. And if you go hyper every time, people are going to tune it out.
MR. GREGORY: Jamie Gangel, it's interesting, we went back looking at Hurricane Katrina and, and some of the, the response to that--and show some of those images--as a reminder of what slow decision making and poor leadership resulted in. People screaming for help in a major city, stranded, needing to be rescued. The, the damage, obvious, as the levies were breached, but the response pointed out something that was so frightening, which was the government, if it can't be there for you, who else is going to save you? President Bush wrote in his memoirs something very interesting that I thought was topical this morning. He writes, "As a leader of the federal government, I should've recognized the deficiencies sooner and intervened faster. I prided myself on my ability to make crisp and effective decisions. Yet in the days after Katrina, that didn't happen. The problem was not that I made the wrong decisions, it was that I took too long to decide." And then you fast-forward, Mayor Bloomberg in New York, he gets the idea that the storm is going to come in; 9 PM on Friday he says evacuations are mandatory starting on Saturday.
MS. GANGEL: Look, as David said, since Katrina, no politician wants to be "Katrinaed." You know.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. GANGEL: Every dog gets one bite. Every politician after Katrina was put on notice, "Not on my watch is this going to happen to me." It's interesting, though, in former Vice President Cheney's book, as opposed to what former President Bush wrote, he blames Governor Blanco, and he uses a word that when you know Dick Cheney uses this word, it's, it's a firing offense. He said the governor "dithered"...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. GANGEL: ...in asking for help.
MR. GREGORY: Well, and it's the same point. Katty Kay, we saw it in New York. I mean, we're talking about the, the response in New York City earlier this year, huge snow storm and what happens? Slow response.
MS. KATTY KAY: Right.
MR. GREGORY: You had people stranded, emergency vehicles not being able to get through, top aides to the mayor were away. Again, that idea of dithering, not being as prepared as you can be. Everybody studied that. They studied Katrina, they studied that response, and they were determined to avoid it this time.
MS. KAY: You could see Michael Bloomberg in that press conference that he held yesterday surrounded by, it has to be said, by experts. He made sure that he had all the right people out there, all the meteorologists were standing there behind him to back him up in saying, "You have to get out." And he's got to be thinking, "I remember how well Cory Booker did in that same snowstorm," you just had him on the program, and how poorly Michael Bloomberg came out of that. And the watchword is overpreparedness and not underpreparedness. But it's very different, when you've had three days warning to something like what happened in Japan, for example.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MS. KAY: Imagine that. How is the country prepared for that? If you have a seismic earthquake off probably the West Coast followed by a tsunami, you don't have that time to prepare.
MR. GREGORY: Well...
MS. KAY: Is any country really up to handling something like that?
MR. GREGORY: And before--I want to get to that point, but before we leave the activism and the preparation, we talked to Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark. This was a tweet that he sent out last night, yes, on Saturday. "Heading on a pizza run. I'm going to deliver 10 pizzas to those standing in our shelter at JFK." I mean, so if you have the contrast, Michael Eric Dyson, between President Bush regretting the fact that he didn't a flyover of the storm zone, and here's Mayor Booker personally delivering pizzas.
MR. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, probably prescription medicine, as well, if you got pushed.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. DYSON: The reality is is that I think you have to err on the side of caution and I think that these political figures did an admirable job. Obviously, we're grateful that there wasn't the kind of mass fallout that was predicted or forecast. But the reality is, after Katrina, politicians have been served notice that you have to be involved actively. You have to know your evacuation plans. I think Bloomberg came out looking very well. The only problem I would have is that there were 12,000, you know, prisoners in Riker's Island who were not planned to be evacuated with either Plan A or Zone A or B.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. DYSON: And that's pretty reprehensible because they're on--400 acres of Riker's Island are on landfill, which is the most vulnerable and low, so you've got to figure out a plan to keep them out of harm's way as well.
MR. GREGORY: Let me stick with you. There's, there's a larger point here, and I thought Mayor Booker brought it up, which is here we're having a big debate about our budget in this town, the federal budget and the deficit, and also the need for infrastructure improvements. We had an earthquake this week, which pointed up the fact that the East Coast is really not prepared for something that is rare but still happened. And then just the kind of--the damage to our infrastructure that storms like this point up. What does it do to that debate?
MR. DYSON: Well, I think it, it suggests that, A, you've got to be prepared in the sense of knowing what the weak spots are and what the hot spots are. Number two, you've to go understand that investment in infrastructure is extremely important. It does have a redounding effect on the debate about whether we invest or whether we cut spending. If you look at infrastructure spending, you've got to beef that up in order to be prepared. And then ultimately, David, I think what happens is these political figures get the sense that in the midst of the storm is not the time to be calculating what the consequences will be. You've got to anticipate that. And the upping of FEMA, by the way, under the Bush administration...
MR. GREGORY: Yeah.
MR. DYSON: ...downgraded to a kind of, you know, office within the presidency, at least in the administration that wasn't as important, political attention from the federal level to a disaster is extremely important. Infrastructure comes as a result.
MR. GREGORY: I want to--I want to turn to, to the politics of this week, too, which are pretty hot story and don't stop, especially on our beat here on MEET THE PRESS. Dick Cheney's a big story, which we're going to get to in just a minute, Jamie.
But first, let's look at the presidential field and look at the Gallup numbers this week. Rick Perry is at 29 percent, the Texas governor, another Texas governor storming his way forward. That metaphor has been used even by the Romney people who said they were hunkering down as Hurricane Perry was coming over top.
David Brooks, what does his candidacy mean?
MR. BROOKS: It means he's the front-runner now. And it, it means the Republican Party was waiting for this guy.
MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.
MR. BROOKS: If you looked at the 2008 electorate, Romney would have been perfectly fine for that electorate right now.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BROOKS: But the 2012 electorate is a different electorate. The country as a whole has moved to the right; the Republican Party has moved vehemently to the right. And what the, the core message is, "We hate Washington. We hate the Acela corridor, all those folks who just got hit by the, the hurricane. But we also have a fear of national decline. The country's losing its veer, we got to get back to our hard, sort of pioneer virtues." Here comes Rick Perry sort of personifying that. The guy's got tons of baggage, but he meets the Republican Party for the moment. So I think he's quite a serious candidate.
MR. GREGORY: Not just a summer fad, as you wrote in your column. Jamie and Katty, what's interesting about this is that there's got to be a fight in the Republican Party about what it's going to be for this election cycle. You have Mitt Romney who has hunkered down, who does not want to engage. He'll have an opportunity in this MSNBC/Politico debate coming up to engage Perry for the first time. Jon Huntsman, in an interview last week, said something that was interesting, though. He did seem to take on Bachmann and Perry and others on the right. He said, "Right now, this country is crying out for a sensible middle ground. This is a center-right country. I'm a center-right candidate. Right now, we've got people on the fringes. President Obama is too far to the left. We've got people on the Republican side who are too far to the right, and we have zero substance." That's a shot across the bow.
MS. GANGEL: It is. But I just wonder, David, how much of Governor Perry's success right now has to do, again, with the lack of enthusiasm over Mitt Romney. And also, as we know, if we look at polls of past elections at this time, the guys who got the nomination were not the guys leading in the polls.
MS. KAY: But I--if I...
MR. GREGORY: But--yeah.
MS. KAY: This...
MR. BROOKS: Let me just say one thing. I started out the week wanting to write a column saying Huntsman's going to have his day because the electorate is still there in the Republican primary. You look at the data, it's not there. Fifteen percent of the party is where Huntsman is. I think they are where Perry is. So I think he's not a Fred Thompson, who was more of a media phenomenon.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MR. BROOKS: I, I personally think he's representing what the party is.
MR. GREGORY: But, Katty, what about that fight? I mean, they're going to have to take this on and--within the party.
MS. KAY: Yeah. And, I mean, this gets to not just where the Republican Party is, as you're suggesting, but also to where America is, just how angry people are and who's best-equipped to tap into the mood of the party. Now Huntsman is hoping that there is this group of people in the middle of the country who don't like this angry tone. He's particularly looking at women voters who tend to be a little bit turned off by the kinds of language that Rick Perry has used in the past, and he's hoping that that group can sway the Republican Party to decide that he is the more electable candidate. I think the other thing, though, that Perry has in his favor is he's not a Fred Thompson. He does have a record that he can run on, and his record is tied to the main issue of this election campaign, to the economy and to jobs. And he can spin, now he's going to come under scrutiny and it's going to be examined, his Texas record and how much of it is oil and gas and how much of it is health care and government services that have expanded. But he can say, "I have a positive narrative to tell on the major issue of this campaign against the negative narrative of the White House."
MR. GREGORY: Well, and the...
MS. KAY: And that puts him in a strong position.
MR. GREGORY: ...the narrative of the White House, Michael Eric Dyson, is the jobs situation. Doyle McManus in his column in the Los Angeles Times really framed it as succinctly as you can, which is, "The central question facing Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign is this: Can the president persuade voters to let him keep his job when so many of them have lost theirs?" He has yet to really confront this in a way that lets people think he's not vulnerable.
MR. DYSON: Yeah. Well, I think that obviously this speech he's going to give after his shortened vacation by a day, the reality is is that he's got to come out strong, and I think that the White House, of course, is regrouping now to articulate a plan that is clear, that is concise, that is legible to the masses of American people. But to go back to the Republican, if you would, debacle, I, I think that what's happening here is that Mitt Romney starts off like, you know, Hurricane Irene. He's promising to have a profound effect, he's downgraded to a tropical storm, and here comes the Hurricane Perry. But I think Mitt Romney would be well-advised to do what Obama did in regard to Libya. It's not leading from behind, it's laying back in the cut, allowing the forces to fight themselves out, and then you intervene strategically. So I think, at this point, the Republicans have to figure out if Huntsman has the, the East Coast, not the Acela crowd but the East Coast, this vanishing reality of a moderate Republican. If they exist, then Huntsman has a chance and Romney has a chance. Otherwise, the right wing has captivated the Republican Party.
MR. GREGORY: Let me turn to Jamie Gangel and talk about your interview and your special coming up on "Dateline," a special tomorrow night. The former vice president, his memoirs coming out, he said in the open, as you asked him, "Heads are going to explode all over Washington." He talks about former Secretary of State Colin Powell, had some pointed words for him. This is from his memoir. "Like the president, I had believed Colin Powell would be an effective secretary of state ..." Cheney writes, "But ... I was particularly disappointed in the way he handled policy differences. Time and again I heard that he was opposed to the war in Iraq. ... But never once in any meeting did I hear him voice objection. It was as though he thought the proper way to express his views was by criticizing administration policy to people outside the government. ... When President Bush accepted Powell's resignation, I thought it was for the best." Scores are going to get settled.
MS. GANGEL: Yes. First we should say that Mr. Cheney says this is not a score-settling book. That said, I think everyone else is going to disagree. He takes on former CIA director George Tenet, said he quit when the going got tough. Goes after John McCain, goes after Powell, and is withering in his criticism of Condi Rice. There are words like a "train wreck" and "utterly misleading." I do think in the end, though, what may be most surprising are the differences that he airs with former President Bush and the fact that he went public at all. Dick Cheney is known as the man who would never write a book. So just the fact there are numerous differences between Bush's account, Cheney's account, private conversations that I think are going to be stunning.
MR. GREGORY: I want to ask, as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, an historic interview on this program that Tim Russert did with then Vice President Cheney aired September 16, 2001. And Mr. Cheney writes about it. First, I'll play you the exchange and then show you what the vice president wrote about it.
(Videotape, September 16, 2011)
FMR. VICE PRES. CHENEY: We also have to work, though, sort of the, the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the, in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.
MR. GREGORY: He writes this then in his memoir, "My comments [on MEET THE PRESS] about the `dark side' have been used by critics over the years to suggest something sinister. I don't see it that way. Only five days earlier we had lost nearly 3,000 Americans. It was true then and remains true today that defending this nation and preventing another attack require efforts that have to be kept secret and work that goes on in the shadows, sometimes with less than upstanding individuals, in order to save American lives."
Katty, we knew he'd be unapologetic about this point, this is really taking on those who have, have a darker assessment of the past 10 years.
MS. KAY: And even more specifically, when asked--when you asked about waterboarding, says, absolutely he agrees that it's still a policy and should be something that Americans are doing. Pressed on whether that's torture, carries on saying, "Yes, this is actually something that we should still be doing against our enemies." It is a remarkably unapologetic account, and he's clearly wanting--I guess it's his legacy moment to say, "The policies I advocated were the right ones. Those who disagreed with me," and it's interesting how many times he puts down people that "disagreed with me--anyone that disagreed with me was wrong." And when it comes to defending America, he's absolutely adamant.
MR. BROOKS: That's part of his problem. I thought some of his judgments were correct. In the book he talks about wanting to bomb the Syrian nuclear reactor and everybody else against it. He was absolutely right about that. Israel happened to save our bacon on that one. But I think part of the problem he had was that he thinks he's part of the national security clerisy. "We--we're serious people, we know what's going on. We don't have to worry about all those little people. They don't, they don't--the rest of the country, they don't understand what we understand." And if you don't bring the people along and if you don't pay attention to public opinion and the press, then you're going to be alone and your policy's going to be isolated, and I think that's what happened. And Condi Rice beat him again and again within the White House, and that's why he's so hostile.
MR. DYSON: And I think ultimately, obviously, that the contrast between working the `dark side' and the Obama administration's approach, I mean the proof is in the pudding, bin Laden is killed under the Obama administration's attempt to extricate information in a reasonable fashion without resort to waterboarding and torture, and the consequences pay off and the dividends pay off hugely vs. those kind of dark side--of which the consequences are still unclear.
MR. GREGORY: Jamie, quickly, there was a light moment in the interview, and I just want to play that exchange.
MS. GANGEL: During the transition to the Obama White House, you apparently gave some very sage advice to the incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. You told him?
FMR. VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, we, we had a meeting convened by Josh Bolton, our chief of staff, of all the people who had previously held that job. At the meeting, they went around the table and asked each person to give a crucial piece of advice to Rahm, who was about to take over as, as President Obama's chief of staff. And when they got to me, I said, "Look, Rahm, first thing you got to do is make sure you've got your vice president under control," which got a great laugh.
MR. GREGORY: It's funny, though, Jamie, you know, Vice President Biden has been a pretty strong vice president. Maybe not exactly like Cheney, but pretty strong.
MS. GANGEL: And Dick Cheney likes Joe Biden, by the way.
MR. GREGORY: Right, right.
MS. GANGEL: He goes on to, to say.
MR. GREGORY: Keeping the model up and running.
MS. GANGEL: Absolutely. Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to take a quick break here. As I mentioned, we'll be right back with more from our roundtable. Also, the very latest on Hurricane Irene with NBC's Al Roker from Long Beach, New York. That's coming up on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. GREGORY: We are back with our roundtable. For the latest on Hurricane, now Tropical Storm Irene, let's check in with "Today"'s Al Roker. He is in Long Beach, New York.
Al, what's the latest there?
AL ROKER reporting:
Well, the good news is, David, the torrential rains, at least here along the south-facing shores. We're in Long Beach, as you said. This is a barrier island, basically, south-facing barrier island. The strongest problem right now, the winds. As we take a look with our anemometer, we've got a sustained wind of about 57 miles per hour at this time. The sea's very angry, but high tide is over. We had a storm surge. There's flooding here. There's been some flooding in lower Manhattan. In fact, interestingly enough, it seems like the areas away from the coast have taken the brunt of what was then Hurricane Irene, now Tropical Storm Irene. New York City now having its wettest month ever, over 17 inches of rain. We've got more heavy rain in central Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, interior Massachusetts, upstate New York. The New York State Thruway is closed in places because of flooding and because of mudslides. So we're talking about a lot of activity.
But the good news is it could have been a lot worse. It started to weaken as it came up the New Jersey shoreline. As it did, it started to lose steam, and so we didn't see really much in the way of major structural damage. In fact, a little earlier there's a guard shack, a lifeguard shack that was moored in that area by that flagpole. It broke loose from its moorings, it has slammed up against the boardwalk, and that seems to be the biggest problem. There's some flooding here in Long Beach, some downed power lines, downed trees. But for the most part, Irene has caused more problems inland than it has along the coast, David.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Al Roker, thank you so much for your reporting all week and for taking this extra time with us this morning. Stay safe.
We're going to be, of course, tracking. For the very latest on the hurricane, now tropical storm, we want you to stay with NBC News and MSNBC throughout the day.
It's also an important topic on Twitter, as you might imagine. We go to our big board here, we see some of the trending topics. Irene, FEMA, and the hurricane generally, just a terrific source of information.
One thing, with just a few seconds left, David Brooks, what would be a very big story, and it still may be in the week ahead, is going to be Libya. Something the White House is tracking. Moammar Gadhafi is still at large, and that's a story that's getting ready to break.
MR. BROOKS: Yeah, though I give the Obama administration a lot of credit on this. A lot of people in this country wanted to do nothing, the Europeans wanted to do sort of a feckless no-fly zone. Obama pushed this pretty hard. They organized things pretty well with the opposition. I think they're not getting, because of the storm and other things, not getting the credit they deserve on this one.
MR. GREGORY: Yeah. Still a big question about what comes next, what the region will be like after Gadhafi. And we'll be talking about that, certainly, in the weeks to come.
Before we go here, a special programming note, as we've been mentioning, a "Dateline" special Monday night, The Dick Cheney Interview, with NBC's Jamie Gangel. She sat down exclusively with the former vice president. You can see that tomorrow night in its completion here. We've been previewing it here this morning, and she's been doing that the last couple of days. That's 10, 9 Central.
That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.