MINNEAPOLIS--Barack Obama told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday's edition of "360" that he has more executive experience than Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. He compares his national campaign organization to Palin's stint as a mayor of a small town and ignores that she is a governor.
On CNN's "360" Obama "also countered critics who suggest that he has less executive experience in this situation compared to Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin saying, "...my understanding is, is that Governor Sarah Palin's town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We have got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. So, I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years.
And, certainly, in terms of the legislation that I passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina of how we handle emergency management, the fact that many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place as we speak, I think, indicates the degree to which we can provide the kinds of support and good service that the American people expect."
Transcript at click.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Senator Barack Obama was in Wisconsin, where he joined me for an interview. I spoke to him earlier, when I was still in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, standing in front of some of the debris that is still in the Lower Ninth Ward from Hurricane Katrina.
COOPER: Senator Obama, in the last several days, I know you have talked to officials at the federal, state and local level. How do you assess their response to this storm?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, clearly, we have learned some lessons from three years ago.
You were there three years ago, and you remember the heartbreak and tragedies that we saw unfold. Every conversation I have had indicates that the state, the federal, and local municipalities have coordinated them -- themselves well.
We have seen the evacuation of two million people, with relatively few glitches. So, I'm pleased, so far, in terms of the response. I just got off the phone with Secretary Chertoff. He indicates that they are now in the process of doing aerial surveys. They are in the process of activating search-and-rescue for people who may not have observed the evacuation order.
But it appears, at least, that so far, we have been doing what we need to do. And I'm very pleased that, so far at least, we're not hearing reports of loss of life.
COOPER: One of the biggest problems last time around was -- was FEMA, the federal government response. Are you confident? Do you believe that the Bush administration has in fact acknowledged and learned the mistakes of Katrina?
OBAMA: Well, the key is that they started planning early, which is something that, obviously, they did not do last time. So, you started seeing buses and -- and evacuation plans in place well before the storm hit.
I was proud of the fact that some of the changes that we made in Congress -- for example, I passed a bipartisan bill on family locator systems -- that was activated during Gustav -- that we had put in place
assurances that we would have plans for evacuating people with special needs. That was put in place.
So, a lot of the front-end planning that was done, I think, clearly paid off. But it's a little bit too early to tell whether or not the back end of the crisis, in terms of housing, in terms of dealing with flood damage, if there is any, whether small businesses and homeowners are getting the relief they need right away, whether that's being dealt with.
And -- and the other thing that I think we have got to once again look at is, how are we doing on things like wetland restoration? We can't be going through these kinds of crises every year or every two years.
COOPER: I'm coming to you tonight from the Lower Ninth Ward.
Behind me, there is storm damage from Hurricane Katrina. The storm damage folks are seeing behind me now, that's not from this storm. This is from three years ago. It's still sitting out here in the Lower Ninth Ward. It used to be a vibrant community, not a rich economy community
-- rich economically, but rich, as you know, culturally and socially.
There were a lot of folks here who are still spread around the United States who would like to come back. Do you think New Orleans has been forgotten, and what would your administration do differently?
OBAMA: Well, I -- it hasn't been forgotten by me, because one of the pledges that I have made when I was a senator, and one of the pledges that I intend to keep as president, is to make sure that we rebuild New Orleans and its vitality and its place in American culture.
There's nothing like New Orleans. And the truth is, is that we have been too slow. There was a report today -- or maybe it was yesterday -- in "The New York Times" indicating that the Road Home program, hundreds of millions of dollars that had not ended up being utilized just because of red tape and bureaucracy.
The American people are generous, and they understand that, during moments of crisis, we need to come together and provide people help.
But what we haven't seen are the kinds of efficient programs that get to the people that need help right away.
And one of the things that all of us have to recognize is that a government can't do everything, but one thing it can do is help communities recover after a flood, whether it's in Iowa and Des Moines or whether it's in New Orleans and Louisiana.
And that is going to be one of my highest priorities, making sure that we respond immediately after a storm, but, also, that we're putting in the levee systems and the pump systems that are necessary to survive a Category 5 hurricane, that we're dealing with wetland restoration, and that we are helping people rebuild their homes and their businesses, so that these communities can get back on their feet. We have been waiting too long. The time is now.
COOPER: John McCain was here on Sunday in Mississippi, looking over preparations for this storm. You chose not to come in advance. Why did you choose to do that? And do you have any plans to come in the days ahead?
OBAMA: You know, our experience -- this just happened when the flooding in Iowa and along the Mississippi River occurred.
With the Secret Service operation that we have around me these days, what happens is, is that, when we land anywhere, it -- there has to be coordination with local law enforcement officials. And it ends up drawing away resources from people who need to be doing the kind of job that they're doing to help folks on the ground.
So, what I didn't want to be is a distraction just for a photo-op.
What we're going to do is examine, over the next couple of days, the severity of the damage, how we can be most helpful. If I can be helpful by going down there, I will be down there in a hot second.
If it turns out that what local officials and those in charge recommend is that we do our work through our Web site and through activating volunteers and donors, that's what we will do. The main thing is to get help to the people on the ground.
COOPER: And, Senator Obama, my final question -- your -- some of your Republican critics have said you don't have the experience to handle a situation like this. They in fact have said that Governor Palin has more executive experience, as mayor of a small town and as governor of a big state of Alaska.
What's your response?
OBAMA: Well, you know, my understanding is, is that Governor Palin's town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees. We have got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year.
You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month.
So, I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years. And, certainly, in terms of the legislation that I passed just dealing with this issue post-Katrina of how we handle emergency management, the fact that many of my recommendations were adopted and are being put in place as we speak, I think, indicates the degree to which we can provide the
kinds of support and good service that the American people expect.
COOPER: Senator Obama, thank you for your time.
OBAMA: Great to talk to you, Anderson.