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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

The Roberts Hearings; Hurricane Ophelia; Hurricane Katrina Aftermath

Aired September 14, 2005 - 08:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where news and information arrive at one place simultaneously.
Happening now, our special coverage of the John Roberts confirmation hearings and the day's other big stories.

It's just before 9:00 a.m. Eastern here in Washington, and the president's choice for chief justice is ready to face off again with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Look for frustrated Democrats to keep pressing Roberts on hot issues. Can they make him blink?

America on hurricane watch again. Ophelia, this time, looming off the East Coast, ready to bring heavy rains, strong winds and anxiety to the Carolinas.

And President Bush is set to go before the United Nations General Assembly this hour with a difficult selling job, promoting his global agenda, including the spread of democracy in Iraq and the Middle East.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome to our special coverage.

This is likely to be the last day for senators to cross-examine John Roberts extensively. And Democrats, at least, are hoping to get more out of him today than they did yesterday. Roberts carefully avoided answering some questions on issues he might have to rule on as chief justice, including abortion rights.

Our national correspondent Bob Franken is in the hearing room right now. He's watching all of this unfold.

Set the stage for us, Bob. I understand Roberts is already in the room.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's in the room. He is waiting.

The Democrats are now into their line of inquiry take two. Take one didn't go well for them, because Roberts has been very adept at proving himself to be quite the broken field runner. He fielded the questions that the Democrats had and oftentimes was able to successfully not answer them, to the frustration of all the Democrats. It boiled over one time with Sen. Joe Biden complaining that he was getting misleading answers, saying that Roberts was filibustering. So, in any case, they're going to make another stab at it. Two Republicans will finish the 30-minute rounds of questions, then 20 minutes for each senator. It's expected that the Democrats will certainly use all of their time, may demand more, may even get it. Republicans are expected, oftentimes, just to say no, we don't really need the time. The hope is at the end of the day they go into closed session to discuss the FBI report on Roberts.

Tomorrow a long day as those interest groups who love him and don't like him will have their say. And then there is an expectation that there would be a confirmation vote next Tuesday, perhaps, which is blinding speed, blinding speed on the part of the Senate.

The room is not as full as it was yesterday. You'll note that there aren't so many photographers around, because how many pictures can you take of the same man sitting there and basically swatting away the questions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob, as based on what you know, have the Democrats once again decided how they're going to divide up the subject matter? Today I take it they each get 20 minutes.

Arlen Specter, there's the chairman, he's getting ready to begin this process, but go ahead -- Bob.

FRANKEN: Well the Democrats each have sort of staked out their turf, their own fields of expertise. We got a preview of those things yesterday, and so we're going to see more of the same today. They will have had a night to think it over and maybe have come up with some creative way to try and elicit more information out of Roberts.

BLITZER: And as far as Roberts is concerned, his wife is sitting right behind him, as she was yesterday. He's got some of his advisers there, including Senator Fred -- former Senator Fred Thompson who has been helping him walk through this process. Ed Gillespie, the former Chairman of the Republican Party, as well. Give us a little bit more of the color, the flavor, what's going on inside that Hart Senate Office Building room.

FRANKEN: Well the advisers have become, in effect, part of Roberts' extended family for the last couple of months. They all sort of drift away if this goes the way they plan.

What's so interesting is if you listened yesterday, you heard a man who had what seemed to be an encyclopedic knowledge of the law. And while that may be the case, it was also the case that he had been very well prepared. These advisers have put him through every kind of rehearsal, dry runs, hostile dry runs, that type of thing, and they've been advising him closely.

Part of the advice is that he is as noncommittal as possible. He has what is a very difficult rationale to penetrate, that is that he cannot really say how he would rule on cases, because if he is confirmed, as everybody expects, then it would be undermining his credibility as a sitting judge, or in this particular case, a sitting chief justice.

BLITZER: The photographers getting their shots of Roberts.

Jeff Greenfield is here with us, Jeff Toobin is here with us, as well, as they were yesterday.

What are you going to be looking for, Jeff, as we begin this second day of questioning?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I expect to see an exercise in frustration on the part of the Democrats. I mean if they persist in asking questions 70 through 100 that Roberts deflects, I don't know that it gets them very far.

They may be trying to set at a marker, not for this confirmation, but for the next one. They know they can't beat him on this. But if Bush puts up a real hard right candidate for the court, they're trying to use these arguments to say, look, we've let this guy go or these are the questions we care about. We're really worried about justice number two.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, what are you going to be looking for?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know just to follow up on what Jeff said, I was surprised by the absence of references to the swing vote, which is the next seat that's up. You know the Sandra Day O'Connor seat, who was a moderate, as opposed to Chief Justice Rehnquist who was clearly a conservative.

I expect the Democrats may be saying some things today like you know this doesn't change the balance of the court. But if the balance of the court is in jeopardy, as it was in 1987 with the Robert Bork hearings, then we're going to look differently at a nominee. Those kind of sentiments setting the stage for the next nomination, I think that's likely to be in the cards today.

GREENFIELD: Maybe we could ask Roberts things to learn about in the things like who's your favorite Beatle, what do you think of the designated hitter rule, so you get some sense of the guy's character without having to take him at what he'd rule about.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect they're not going to ask him those questions.

GREENFIELD: Just a thought.

BLITZER: Knowing the Democratic and Republican senators as I do...

GREENFIELD: They don't display creativity in this, I must say -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Hey, Bob, who's going to be the first questioner today?

FRANKEN: Well it's going to be their two remaining Republicans. Sen. Brownback will be the one who starts. And you can expect that, to continue this baseball analogy, they're going to be throwing batting practices to Roberts, batting practice pitches. But then the Democrats are going to be throwing quite a few more curveballs.

BLITZER: All right, let's listen to Sen. Specter introduce everyone.

(THE ROBERTS HEARINGS)

BLITZER: All right, we're going to break away from this hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We'll continue to watch it, monitor it. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican of Kansas, asking questions. We'll get back there shortly.

Jeff Greenfield, this issue that they were just talking about, it's not necessarily eminent domain as a lot of people are familiar with. But the Supreme Court recently ruled you can take someone's home, in effect, and if the legislature wants to make it a Motel 6 or a mall or whatever they want to do, not for the public good, but for private good, that's OK.

GREENFIELD: It actually isn't in the area of eminent domain. And what the court said is, look, if a government thinks that a redevelopment project, this came out of New London, Connecticut, I believe, correct?

TOOBIN: Yes.

GREENFIELD: If they take a working class neighborhood, fairly stable neighborhood, not a slum, and say, well, you know there's going to be a big hotel development and it'll bring more tax revenue to the city, that's a public good. And it was a five to four decision. These -- quote -- "liberals" on the court, who kind of favor government power, said OK. But in a recent speech, Justice Stephens said, you know what, I had to vote that way, but I really hated to do it. It was a lousy policy decision, but as a judge, I had to do it.

BLITZER: All right, stand by for a minute, guys, because I want to pick this up.

We're going to have to take a quick break, much more of our coverage the John Roberts confirmation hearings.

Remember CNN is also your hurricane headquarters, and we're tracking right now Hurricane Ophelia as it lumbers toward the Carolinas. We'll have an update on its power, its path, where it's likely to strike.

And we'll also tell you what's happening now in the Katrina disaster zone. What's likely to happen next in the uphill battle to rebuild?

We'll take a quick break. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're watching lots of stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The John Roberts confirmation hearings, the president of the United States this hour scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly, but there's a hurricane brewing off the coast of the Carolinas.

Let's bring in CNN's Kyra Phillips. She's joining us from the CNN Center.

Hi -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf, good morning.

That's right, I mean just tracking this, Ophelia has switched from a tropical storm to a hurricane four times in a week. And Ophelia is now a hurricane and headed, as you know, for the North Carolina coast. Here's the radar pictures right here.

We're checking in with CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano. He is in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

Tell us the latest -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Kyra, still sustained winds 25 to 30 miles an hour. We've had a wind gust over 50 already and the center of this storm not even close to us. Winds are coming out of the east. And if I stand with my back to the wind and point left, that's where the center of the storm is, still almost 100 miles away and moving very slowly. So the key with this storm is it's just going to pound us all day and possibly all night long.

Surf obviously very angry. The wind whipping and smoothing out the beach. This is low tide. When high tide comes in around 4:00 or 5:00 this afternoon, that will be when the storm surge may very well be the greatest. Could be all the way up to about here, which is where the sand dunes kick in.

This is different from the Gulf of Mexico. And the sand dunes protect much of the Outer Banks. You need a storm surge of probably greater than 10 feet to breach these dunes. This is going to be our protection. However, the sounds, the bays beyond these dunes are already beginning to pile up what are the consistent east and northeast wind and there could be inland flooding up the rivers as far as 30, 40, maybe even 50 miles, so that's going to be an issue.

Ophelia is still very far away. Evacuation orders have been placed by the governor for six counties, not everybody leaving, as you would imagine, with a Category 1, but most folks are not taking this -- are taking this very seriously, especially in the wake of Katrina.

That's the latest from Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

Kyra, back over to you.

PHILLIPS: Well, Rob, you bring up a really good point. I mean this is what it sounded like when we were in Gulfport and we were in New Orleans, we were all saying, well, it doesn't look as bad. Well now it's getting bad and well now it wasn't as bad as we thought and then we saw what happened. So what's your gut? You're out there. You were in Gulfport. You were in Louisiana. Now you're there. I mean is it the same feel? And, obviously, we also don't know where exactly this could go. Anything could happen.

MARCIANO: Well that's true. You know folks from North Carolina are no strangers to hurricanes, so they have seen one as early as last year. Isabel came through two years ago, so they certainly take it very seriously. But this is a Category 1 storm with and the storm surge, at least right here, is not going to be enough to do the damage that they did -- that was done in Gulfport and Biloxi.

Other issue, Kyra, is that the bathymetry, which is a fancy word for saying the way the ocean bottom is shaped, is different in the Atlantic, and the storm surge typically doesn't get that far inland. So the damage I suspect when we get through tomorrow will be downed trees and power lines. Some storm surge inland across the bays and the sound, which is something you don't see in other parts of the world. So it's a totally different ballgame up here. Residents are on alert, but many of them are just weathering the storm at this point.

PHILLIPS: All right, Rob Marciano, there. We'll check in with you, of course, throughout the day.

And North Carolina in the path of the storm, but officials say get out as Hurricane Ophelia closes in. Where is it going to hit and how bad is it going to be?

Let's bring in Ed Rappaport, Deputy Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Boy, you hear evacuations, and looking back at Hurricane Katrina, Ed, you've got to -- I don't -- just looking at the situation, you would think no matter what, get out if you can.

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well this is of course a very different situation from Katrina in the Gulf Coast area. It's similar to what we had in south Florida, though, a Category 1 hurricane. There will be wind, there will be rain, power outages, downed trees and -- but we do want to make sure everybody understands, particularly along the coast, we do have a storm surge problem. Well the surge won't be nearly as high as it was in the Gulf Coast.

You can see on our graphic here, which is colorized, and here's the Outer Banks, that we will expect a storm surge of about five feet along the Outer Banks. But while the bathymetry is different, as you heard, so the surge isn't quite as high, the waves are going to be higher here than we would have for a Category 1 storm in the Gulf. So we'll have five feet of water rise and the waves on top. So we do have a problem for storm surge along the Outer Banks.

And as you heard, that surge is going to push inland as well up through Pamlico Sound, through the Neuse River, through the Pamlico River could reach heights of eight or nine feet. So we do have a storm surge problem along the eastern portion of North Carolina. And then inland we're expecting, because it's moving so slow, 10 to 15 inches of rain. So there will be a freshwater problem as well. And the combination will be affecting the rivers.

PHILLIPS: Now as you're looking at that map, Ed, and you talk about the number of feet, put into perspective you know how damaging that could be? How close would the height of that water be to structure?

RAPPAPORT: It depends on the elevation above sea level. What we're talking about here is a five-foot rise of the water above sea level for these areas and then the waves on top. So clearly for the areas along the Outer Banks there's going to be inundation that will come up to and perhaps around the homes and other structures there.

Also, as we go up the rivers, we get to somewhat higher elevations, but we have higher storm surge as well. Again, nine feet and eight feet, depending on which of the river basins we're talking about.

PHILLIPS: Ed Rappaport, Deputy Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, thanks -- Ed.

RAPPAPORT: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Now to "Mission Critical," a quick update on Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says that his city is out of cash and won't be able to make its next payroll for employees, such as police officers and firefighters. He says that officials are feverishly seeking new lines of credit.

Nagin is also calling for dry areas of the city to be reopened during daylight hours as early as Monday. And those areas could include the French Quarter, uptown and the central business district. But before that happens, Nagin says the Environmental Protection Agency must determine that the air and the water there are safe.

FEMA's new boss is vowing to help thousands of evacuees move into temporary housing. More than 129,000 evacuees are scattered across 28 states and the District of Columbia.

And as floodwaters recede, officials describe St. Bernard's Parish as -- quote -- "complete destruction." They say the levee failures around New Orleans can be measured in hundreds of feet, while those outside the city stretch for miles. What's more, that area is largely unprotected from the threat of another storm or more flooding.

And now a closer look at those EPA tests that could soon reopen several New Orleans neighborhoods.

To explain, CNN's Sean Callebs -- Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well those EPA tests. I was at that news conference yesterday when the mayor was speaking. And he said he had already spoken with the EPA and they had orally told him how things had shaped up, but he was waiting for the written information. He was smiling and said it was very good news. Obviously the concern, if you look behind me, and all around, you see some of it. This is an area in the 7th Ward that was horribly flooded. The mayor wants to open some parts of the city. But this area is a long way from being open. You see the downed trees. Just the raw sewage you can smell out here, the debris, the trash. And if you look down, some lingering floodwaters. And the constant hum of helicopters as they constantly do their work out here in the early morning hours.

But if you look at the blue sign, it's a hurricane evacuation route. It's kind of ironic, considering how many people got trapped in the city.

This is actually pumping station number three. And this is really the front line in the effort to liberate the city from all this putrid floodwater. Now this facility only became operational yesterday, and only one out of three pumps is working, and it is having problems. And I'll show you exactly why.

What happens, the nasty water comes in from the city into this canal, and then it is pumped into the station, and then goes out into the New London Canal. If you look, you can see a tree down there. Debris constantly clogs this up. Workers have to stop what they're doing, clean up the mess and then begin filtering the water out once again.

A few days ago, Kyra, 80 percent of this city was underwater, now it is about 50 percent. A lot of work has been done here, but a lot needs to be done -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Sean, we'll be talking to you a lot of course throughout the day.

Now let's get back to Washington, D.C. and Wolf Blitzer as he continues to follow the confirmation hearings -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kyra.

We're going to check back with you soon as well. We're not going to leave any of these stories. We're going to watch them all.

There's also been a dozen bomb blasts today in Baghdad. More than 150 people killed, 500 injured.

We're going to update you on that as the president prepares to address the 60th anniversary of the United Nations. He's going to be speaking this hour before the U.N. General Assembly. We'll be going there as well.

Much more of our coverage, including the John Roberts confirmation hearings, right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're monitoring several stories unfolding right now, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Ophelia now threatening the Carolinas.

We're also watching what's happening in Baghdad. More than 150 people killed in a series of a dozen bomb blasts alone today.

And of course the president of the United State momentarily expected to arrive at the United Nations General Assembly. This is the 60th anniversary of the U.N. We'll go there once the president addresses the world body.

The John Roberts confirmation hearings, meanwhile, continuing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, is asking John Roberts questions right now.

Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst, on the issue that we were discussing earlier, taking private property and giving it away to other private developers, this was a sensitive issue. It was affirmed in a five-to-four decision by the Supreme Court.

TOOBIN: It was, and Senator Brownback of Kansas was basically inviting John Roberts to attack the decision, because that decision has been attacked across the political spectrum in Congress, and Roberts had a very interesting response.

Roberts...

BLITZER: All right, here's the president. He's arriving right now at the United Nations General Assembly. He's getting ready to participate in the ceremonies involved -- surrounding the 60th anniversary of the United Nations. He's going to be signing this guestbook at the world body on the east side of Manhattan. The president shortly will be addressing the General Assembly as an president does every year, every September, and that's been going back for many, many years. Clearly a tradition.

The president will be outlining his global agenda, and we'll continue to monitor what's going on there as well. Certainly on this day when there's been a series of horrendous bomb blasts in Baghdad and Iraq, the president will have plenty to say on his international agenda, every word carefully weighed by observers around the world. The president's before the United Nations General Assembly.

I interrupted you, Jeff, as you were making your point.

TOOBIN: Well, John Roberts on that eminent domain case about taking private property for other private use, and he said, look, this is a decision by the legislatures, by the local governments to do this. It wasn't the Supreme Court that decided to take private property for private use. It was the local authority. All of the Supreme Court said that is not illegal under the Constitution, and I thought that was an interesting example of his philosophy of modesty in action, saying the court doesn't do these things. The court doesn't take anybody's property. You've got to look to the legislatures and the local governments and tell them to stop doing it if you want it stopped.

S. O'BRIEN: The other issue that Brownback has been grilling -- grilling -- questioning the nominee on is the issue of abortion, and this is a special interest to his home state of Kansas.

GREENFIELD: Well, it is, first of all, one of Brownback's most significant concerns. He's one of the leading foes of abortion. He is a presidential wannabe in 2008, and to some extent, in questioning Roberts, is an unborn baby a person under the law?

The other reason is that a lot of people who oppose abortion compare the abortion decision to Plessy versus Ferguson. Brown versus Board of Education, which reversed that, came out of Topeka, Kansas. And I found it a little interesting that Brownback talks about the proud homestate of Kansas that was the site of that decision. Now that's partly because Topeka, Kansas segregated its schools. But he meant, I think, that they now celebrate that case. But clearly, both for political reasons, and for I think reasons of conviction, Brownback has been saying, aren't you going to help us overturn Roe v. Wade, and of Judge Roberts is saying, I can't tell you.

BLITZER: And that's been a familiar refrain.

TOOBIN: Well, and also the attitude towards precedent is interesting, because yesterday was a case of dueling charts. Yesterday the chairman of the committee, Arlen Specter, had a big chart about, look how many times Roe v. Wade has been affirmed. Look at all of the precedents.

BLITZER: He said 30 times.

TOOBIN: Thirty-eight time.

And today, Sam Brownback said, look at how many times Plessy vs. Ferguson. He had a chart, was cited, was approved by the Supreme Court before it was overturned, so you know, the bottom line is the Supreme Court gets to overturn its own precedence if it wants, and it is certainly true that Roe v. Wade is hanging in the balance over the next several appointments.

BLITZER: But it's still a pretty extraordinary event, once -- I mean, it's a landmark decision once a precedent has been dramatically overturned like that.

TOOBIN: It's unusual, but not all that unusual. Two years ago in the gay sodomy case, Lawrence v. Texas, the court overturned a 1986 decision, Bowers v. Hardwick, on the precise issue. The court's makeup hadn't even changed that much from '86 to 2003, but, you know, the justices can change their minds if they want.

GREENFIELD: I will remind you of something William O. Douglas, the former Supreme Court justice once said in a moment of unusual candor. He supposedly said, look, there are enough precedents to go around. In other words, you want to do something if you're a Supreme Court justice, within limits, obviously, you can generally find a legal argument. That's why so many of these cases are five to four. TOOBIN: William Brennan, the famous justice, always used to ask his law clerks, what's the most important word in the Supreme Court, and they'd all say, is it liberty, was it freedom? And he'd say, no, it's five. With five votes you can do anything around here. And that's, you know, if they want to overturn precedent, all it takes is five votes.

BLITZER: Senator Tom Coburn, the Republican of Oklahoma, himself a medical doctor, a freshman senator, is beginning his questioning now in this. He's the last questioner in this first round of questions for John Roberts.

GREENFIELD: And if anything, more anti-abortion, or as an anti- abortion as Brownback.

BLITZER: Republican of Oklahoma, and he ran on that issue, and he was elected last November.

We're also, by the way, juggling several important stories.

Kofi Annan is speaking before the United Nations General Assembly. Right now, the president of the United States will be speaking shortly thereafter. We'll go there once Mr. Bush begins to layout his international agenda before the world body.

In the meantime, let's listen in quickly to senator Tom Coburn asking questions of John Roberts.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: ... of the United States, so help me God.

My question relates to the constitution and what is said in Article 3 that judges, both of the Supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior.

My question to you: Is relying on foreign precedent and selecting and choosing a foreign precedent to create a bias outside of the laws of this country, is that good behavior?

ROBERTS: Well, for the reasons I stated yesterday, I don't think it's a good approach. I wouldn't accuse judges or justices who disagree with that, though, of violating their oath. I'd accuse them of getting it wrong on that point and I'd hope to sit down with them and debate it and reason about it.

But I think the justices who reach a contrary result on those questions are operating in good faith and trying, as I do on the court I am on now, to live up to that oath that you read.

I wouldn't want to suggest that they're not doing not doing that. Again, I would think they're not getting it right in that particular case and with that particular approach. I would hope to be able to sit down and argue with it as I suspect they would like to sit down and debate with me.

But I wouldn't suggest they're not operating in good faith to... COBURN: Can the American people count on you to not use foreign precedents in your decision-making on the Supreme Court?

ROBERTS: You know, I will follow the Supreme Court's precedents consistent with the principles of stare decisis.

ROBERTS: And there are cases in this area, of course. That's why we're having the debate. The court has looked at those.

I think it's fair to say, in the prior opinions, those are not determinative in the sense that the precedent turned entirely on foreign law, so it's not a question of whether or not you'd be departing from these cases if you decided not to use foreign law.

And for the reasons I gave yesterday, I'm going to be looking...

COBURN: I understand that, and I respect that, and I know that you can't be in a position to make a judgment on that.

But again, for the record, I want to read what the Constitution says, that the judges, both of the Supreme and inferior court, shall hold their offices during good behavior, and that the oath that they take references only the Constitution and the laws of this country.

And, if anything, I would like to send a message that that's what their oath states. And this judicial restraint that you've spoken of, I believe, includes that oath and the definition that our founders believed when they said: Here's what you should base your decisions on; it's the Constitution of the United States and the laws.

The other thing: Yesterday, you had an exchange with Senator Feingold on a case, and I think it was the Gonzaga, and you talked about congressional intent.

And I'd like for you for a moment to spend a minute giving us your opinion. And you may refuse to do so if you care to; that would be your privilege.

But one of my observations is that, oftentimes, we don't do a very good job with the laws that we write, because we're not very clear. Sometimes we're lazy. Sometimes we are politically expedient.

But, oftentimes, the very problems that you as a court make controversial decisions over are because we've not done a good job.

And I'd just like your thoughts as to: If you were to critique things that we could do better to make your job easier and clearer, what would you have to say to that?

ROBERT: Well, sitting where I am, I'm not terribly inclined to be critical of...

(LAUGHTER)

... the Congress and wouldn't be, in any event. But a lot of what judges spend their time doing -- not always in the momentous constitutional cases that we've been talking about, but sometimes in very mundane cases -- is the effort to discern congressional intent, trying to figure out what Congress meant when it used specific words that were passed by both houses and signed by the president into law.

Now, some of that is entirely unavoidable.

BLITZER: We're going to break from this answer. John Roberts, answering questions from Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. We're getting ready to listen to the president of the United States. He's going to be addressing the United Nationals General Assembly.

Before we do that, Jeff Greenfield, these issues, they sound sort of arcane, but they're very, significant.

GREENFIELD: They -- that's exactly right, because laws written in this Latinate, fuzzy, often incomprehensible prose -- it's one of the reasons why I fled the business before I started. But they are life and death, literally, in some cases. They are how much power does the government have? Can the government take private property? Does the Constitution somehow protect a woman's right to have an abortion, or is an unborn child a person that the law should protect?

So when you parch this stuff away, even the kind of conversation that Senator Coburn is now having with Judge Roberts, don't we in the Congress write unclear laws? And even -- what he was really saying here is if a judge relies on foreign law, the way Justice Kennedy did in his majority opinion in the execution of the mentally retarded -- is that violate of the Constitution to the point where we should impeach him? That's what that line of questioning is really about. So beneath that language, there's some really hot-button stuff going on.

TOOBIN: And...

BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: It goes back to controversies that have been around for as long as there's been an American republic. You know, should America be isolationist or should we be internationalist? Should we respond to other countries or should we not listen to other countries or not let them tell us what to do? Those are really deep, powerful emotions struck in those cases, and, you know, we're seeing it live on TV today.

BLITZER: And we're going to continue to watch the John Roberts confirmation hearings. They're going to be going on all day. The first roundabout to end with Senator Tom Coburn. Each senator had 30 minutes to ask questions, then they will immediately begin round two. Each of the 18 senators will have 20 minutes to have ask questions. That will continue. They're going to wrap that up later today.

We're also watching Hurricane Ophelia right now, off the coast of the Carolinas. They there are developments on that front. We're watching that. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast.

The president of the United States getting ready to address the United Nations General Assembly. Let's set the scene for that. Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is in New York, traveling with the president.

Dana, the president's got his speech, I'm sure, carefully prepared?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And, you know, this is a speech, as you well know, that he gives annually. And it's before a body that he has had a testy relationship, to say the least. This is a time when the president has sent to the United Nations a representative that was not approved by Congress, John Bolton, in order to shake things up, in order to reform the body. And he also is speaking to them at a time where he is probably at his lowest point in terms of public approval here in the U.S.

So he's coming in to speak to them about big issues, issues that he thought would be the hallmark of his presidency, like pushing democracy around the world, including Iraq. So he's already got a very skeptical audience and he's going to be talking about a host of things that they are going to be listening to. But as I said, probably a little bit skeptically, like pushing democracy, like free trade. They're going to be listening to things, perhaps, that they won't hear, like what kind of things he's going to do for global warming and things like that.

BLITZER: And this is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, so this will take on a special meaning. I'm sure the president will make remarks about the value of the United Nations, pay tribute to the United Nations, even if there's serious criticism, especially in recent years, in what the United Nations has done.

Beyond the speech, the president has some important bilateral meetings today, Dana. Fill in our viewers on that.

BASH: Well, I should just mention to you, Wolf, before I get to that, that the president, we are told, is going to begin this speech by referring to Hurricane Katrina. And he will begin by thanking governments and people from around the world for their help, for their contributions, for their prayers for the people here.

But as to the question you asked, the president does have some important meetings. He's going to meet with the prime minister of Israel later on. And he's going to meet with his top ally and that is the prime minister of Great Britain.

So those are meetings that he has generally in and around these summits. He met last night, had a very important meeting with the Chinese president, President Hu, and he's actually going to be going to visit that country in November.

BLITZER: All right, as we get ready to listen to the president of the United States, the United States -- the United Nations General Assembly is the venue. The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is wrapping up his remarks. He's, in effect, going to be introducing the president, or at least setting the stage for the president.

Let's bring in our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield. On this day, Jeff, when we've seen another series of horrific bomb blasts in Baghdad and Iraq -- more than 150 people killed today, more than 500 injured -- I am sure the president is going to be speaking about Iraq extensively in his remarks. But this hovers over this address.

GREENFIELD: There is so much that hovers over this. This is the 60th anniversary. It was supposed to be an ambitious session to reformulate the United Nations. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had some ambitious ideas. Instead, he's mired in an oil-for-food scandal that has implicated his son and is lapping his ankles, for failure to exercise leadership.

You have the president of the United States in a situation where a lot of the world, including traditional allies, are deeply unhappy with what he's done in Iraq. And the news today is not going to make his position any better.

So you've got the president weakened at home, thanks in part to Hurricane Katrina. You have the United Nations at a kind of crossroads, certainly not where Kofi Annan hoped it would be on the 60th anniversary. And you have to say that if you're looking at the atmospherics, I mean the climate, it's not a happy day. It's not a happy day for the president or for his policies in Iraq or for the United Nations and those who once regarded it as this great hope for the international community.

BLITZER: And as important as this speech that the president will deliver momentarily before the world body, he's got another speech he's thinking about, as well, and that occurs at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night.

GREENFIELD: It's a speech in which the president has a burden. He has to now, I think, convince the country that has not been impressed by anybody's response to Hurricane Katrina that he's now in command. I think that was part of the I take responsibility for what the federal government did wrong that we heard yesterday.

BLITZER: The president's being -- going to be introduced by the president of the General Assembly. Kofi Annan has just wrapped up his remarks. We're watching the United Nations General Assembly right now. The president has a very important speech to deliver. Diplomats from around the world will be looking at virtually every word to see what they -- what the president has to say. And many of those diplomats have not necessarily been all that happy, at least in recent years, with U.S. policy around the world.

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