Hurricane Fallout: Who's to Blame?

This is a partial transcript from "At Large With Geraldo Rivera," October 1, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

GERALDO RIVERA, HOST: As the debate over who did or didn't do their duty during the hurricanes continues, we have two guests to discuss the fallout from the storms.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (search), we love her, she joins us. Nice to see you again, Congresswoman.

And the author of "How to Talk to a Liberal", Ann Coulter (search) is with me here in New York.

Rank has its privilege; Congresswoman, you first.

Is there a real assessment that's going to happen now to make it better? I mean, Hurricane Rita (search) still seemed a little halting to me — I saw the enthusiasm, I saw the commitment. I didn't see it necessarily delivered, though, with great efficiency. Do you think that we can make things better, instead of just saying it was that guy or this girl that was responsible for what screwed up in Katrina?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, D-TEXAS: Well, first of all, Geraldo, sitting here in Houston and having the day in the FEMA (search) recovery center here in Houston, Texas, I've at least got to say that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (search) — when Houston had to open its hearts and minds and resources to those survivors, we did that. And we can be certainly proud of the work that was done in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy.

But as we look at Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, in the name of the Homeland Security Committee, there's only one statement that I can make. The federal government absolutely failed, and failed in its responsibilities to organize and to be at the forefront, if you will, of the disaster.

One of the issues that we've been hearing impacting both the previous video that we just saw and heard, with the failures of the New Orleans police department was the lack of interoperability. We saw that in 9/11 and we haven't fixed it.

One of the other issues that I've heard — having gone to Beaumont, Texas and Port Arthur after Hurricane Rita — is the lack of knowing who was in charge. We faced the same here in Houston in the evacuation process — to know who was in charge.

So I am advocating several solutions. One, of course, is an independent investigation that comprehensively listens to not only those who made accusations but those who had solutions. And in the same time to establish for states across America, run a vulnerability threat assessment — what is the threat to these particular states? And of course, a plan that responds to natural disasters and unfortunately, manmade disasters like 9/11.

RIVERA: OK, Congresswoman.

Ann, generally speaking, I know that you're opposed to bigger government. But don't you think that the president may be on to something when he says the United States military is really the only entity with an organization solid enough to be in charge in the face of a catastrophe like that?

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR: No, I think that's preposterous. The military is trained, and they do one thing. They go abroad, they kill foreigners when we are at war. That's what they do, they protect the nation from external enemies.

RIVERA: You're not suggesting FEMA?

COULTER: No, the military. They are not going to turn around, and I think as we see from now wildfires breaking out in California, and a few years ago there was a terrorist attack in this city, each local area has different things to be concerned about whether it's terrorist attack, or avalanche, or hurricane or tornadoes. And obviously, the first responders are going to be the local governments.

And the federal government — you can ratchet it up or down, it says nothing about how big the federal government participation is going to be. But that's sort of an insurance policy in the background.

But I do want to say, after watching your tape — well, for one thing I think you nudged someone...

RIVERA: How funny.

COULTER: But secondly,

RIVERA: I'm going to nudge you if you don't...

COULTER: But seriously...

RIVERA: Yes, seriously. Take her seriously, folks.

COULTER: I don't want to brush over this business about the savagery. This is once again the alleged acts of savagery. This is once again an example of the Democrats using the blacks, defaming black people in order to better go after George Bush. They did it in the 2000 election saying, "Oh yeah, well, blacks were too stupid to figure out the butterfly ballot."

It was liberals who were using it to attack George Bush to say there was cannibalism, there was child rape — would they had even tried that if this had happened in Utah? I mean, they were willing to believe the law of the jungle had taken over. If the Klan had done that, there would be prosecutions now. But no, it was liberals, using defamatory statements about black folks in New Orleans to order to denounce George Bush.

RIVERA: By liberals, you mean the mainstream media? Exactly who are you speaking of?

COULTER: Many of them. Look at the Huffington Post — it's all over the Huffington Post.

RIVERA: Arianna Huffington's Web site blog thing?

COULTER: Right. I mean, you know that was coming out of the left. Savagery, Bush not coming in time. And were we to say FEMA wasn't doing its job...

RIVERA: Bush did not come there. FEMA did not get there in time.

COULTER: But in order to make that story even better...

RIVERA: So what about FEMA? Should FEMA be in charge, is my follow-up question...


RIVERA: Who should be?

COULTER: The local government should be in charge.

RIVERA: What if the local government is destroyed?

COULTER: Well, you know it is coming.


COULTER: You know a hurricane is coming. I mean, a terrorist attack is a little bit harder.

RIVERA: But there were no police left. I mean, they were everywhere, scattered here and there. There was no...

COULTER: There were police there five days before the hurricane came in.


RIVERA: While those people were rotting there, they were rotting there for four or five days.

COULTER: There was a governor there five days before.

RIVERA: So you see it as a Republican-Democrat thing?

COULTER: I see it as, there are different natural disasters that hit different parts of the country, and the people who are best positioned to know how to prepare for that are going to be the local government officials. And moreover, they at least can be voted out of office, unlike FEMA...

LEE: If I may respond in a more organized manner...

RIVERA: We'll come back. Thank you both.

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