This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 24, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: I do not think there is any blame to be cast on anyone. I think everyone is responding—the governor, the mayors, Homeland Security, FEMA, and, of course, the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: That was Dianne Feinstein today talking about the response to these terrible wildfires out in southern California. She seemed pleased. That is in contrast what her Senate colleague Barbara Boxer was saying yesterday about how the state was not getting what was needed because of the commitment to Iraq, sentiments she did not echo today.
But it is still kicking around out there. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who is running for President, put out a statement this afternoon well after Feinstein had spoken in which he says "In a Dodd administration never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq. Never again will our first responders be left without the support they need because our president failed to do what it took to keep our community safe."
So what is going on here? Panel—Bill Sammon, Senior White House Correspondent for the Washington Examiner, Mort Kondracke, Executive Editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.
What do we have here, Mort? Do we have a good response to this terrible situation, or what?
MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Yes. I think everyone here has learned a lot from Katrina. The federal government responded promptly. The president is going out there tomorrow. He is not wasting any time. He is not going to do a flyover, he is going to go visit.
Some Democrats in California are complaining that his visit will interfere with the firefighters. But they would say if he did not come out there that he was ignoring the problem.
So you can be sure that whenever there is a disaster of any kind, someone is going to try to take political advantage it for positively or negatively. But all the returns seem to be right.
One thing about Katrina, by the way, just before we finish the subject, the voters of Louisiana made it very clear who they thought was responsible for the failure of Katrina by electing Bobby Jindal, who they rejected four years ago, the Republican, and elected him governor.
HUME: By such a large margin that there was no runoff.
KONDRACKE: Yes. Kathleen Blanco did not even dare to run. So it is quite clear that they held the Democrats partly responsible.
HUME: So is the issue here that the federal government has learned its lessons and is doing so much better, or is there some other ingredient in the equation that makes a big difference?
BILL SAMMON, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think they have learned some lessons, but the real difference is that the first and second responders, that is the local and state authorities, are doing a better job in California than they did in Louisiana.
Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin fell to pieces when Katrina hit, and therefore the burden shifted to the feds. And the feds were never set up to be the first responders in natural disasters, so they looked bad.
This time around Schwarzenegger is handling it well, the local firefighters are handling it well, so it is not falling into the lap of the feds, and the feds look better.
Yes, they have learned some lessons, but it just hasn't gotten to their level yet. I think that is the difference.
KRAUTHAMMER: I think that is true that the competence of state government is extremely important. As we saw that, ironically, with Katrina itself, where Mississippi has recovered to the point where nobody ever talks about it and Katrina. It is only about Louisiana and New Orleans because—
HUME: You mean as still being a big issue.
KRAUTHAMMER: As a big issue, and in contrast to what happened in Louisiana where local incompetence was the major contributor.
And also the major factor here is nature. The Santa Ana winds have shifted this afternoon. If they hadn't, we would be looking at a disaster of Katrina proportions. It may end up as a smaller disaster. It is a very small margin of error.
But what I thought was important in what you mentioned, Brit, about Boxer and Dodd, and what we heard from Senator Harry Reid, who blamed the fires on global warming, is that the Democrats have a boundless capacity to seize whatever inanity is in the air and to make it their own.
The idea that Iraq is at fault is refuted by all the evidence on the ground, and by the statement we heard in Jim Angle's piece from the National Guard General, who said it had no effect at all. Everything is in place, and it was adequate supplies.
And troops in global warming is equally absurd. Obviously, you have had the Santa Ana winds for thousands of years, and this area is desert. So it has always happened, it will always happen.
And Democrats are always looking for a way of blaming it on the administration or on policy, and every once in awhile, they outdo themselves in their overreaching.
SAMMON: They did it in Katrina, and they found a way to blame Bush, and that has now become shorthand, that Katrina was Bush's screw up, when, in reality, the lion's share of the blame really does rest with state and local officials.
But if you look at what Bush is doing this time around, in terms of how soon he is going out there, how soon he is declaring an emergency, how soon he is signing these declarations, it is the exact same timetable as he did last time.
In fact, he declared an emergency in Louisiana two days before Katrina hit landfall, but this myth has taken root that he was asleep at the switch for weeks, and he just wasn't.
KONDRACKE: Well, the federal response, as various investigators have shown, was inadequate in the case of Katrina. But Katrina was a bigger disaster than this is. A whole city got wiped out, and nobody could have adequately responded to it.
But to the extent that anybody failed, I think it was state and local, and in this case the state and locals have stepped up.
HUME: Up next, President Bush urges the Cuban people to look beyond Fidel Castro and embrace democracy. We will discuss both the substance and the timing of that speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They know that even nightmares cruelest nightmares cannot last forever. A people who long to rejoin the world at last have hope, and they will bring to Cuba a real revolution, a revolution of freedom, democracy, and justice.
FELIPE PEREZ ROQUE, CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTER: This is another act of desperation from President Bush. He is obsessed with Cuba. But his time will and.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: Well, if President Bush is obsessed with Cuba, he has done a pretty good job of concealing it. This was the first major speech he has made on the subject of Cuba, and he made it at a time when Fidel Castro is known to be ailing and aging.
So What about this? Bill?
SAMMON: I think there is a sense that Bush may be catching up with the reality in Cuba in the sense that the transfer of power has already happened. The younger brother, Raul, has been consolidating his control over the levers of power for a year.
And Bush is trying to appeal to the pro-democracy forces in Cuba so that when Fidel's death happens, which it will, obviously, that that will be a cathartic moment that will spur people to rise up and throw off the shackles of communism.
As opposed to the alternative, where it will be an anti-climactic formality, and people will say Raul is already running things, and nobody is going to do anything.
There is a little bit of concern that it is the latter, and I think Bush is belated trying to send the message that we are still here and pulling for you guys, don't let us down when it happens.
HUME: It is interesting, Mort, the Jorge Monsantos(ph) was the head of the largest Cuban-American organization in the country, and a very important voice in this issue, was not at all satisfied with this speech.
KONDRACKE: I did not know that. It must not have been tough enough, or something.
Strangely enough, this was the 45 anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, which no one seems to have observed. I don't know if it was particularly timed for that, because the president did not mention it, and no one else has.
But I did not hear anything new in this speech. I think this was a statement—
HUME: No new policy. But he never said anything about it before.
KONDRACKE: That is interesting. And, clearly, as Bill says, it is designed to be there for the Cuban people at the point when Castro dies. But I don't see any change either in Cuba or in U.S. policy towards Cuba coming under this administration.
Now if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama gets elected, maybe we will revert to the Clinton policy, which was to reach out in small ways, which the Cubans rejected. Castro shot down an airplane and stifled that policy.
KRAUTHAMMER: It was a very cautious speech. There was no encouraging of a revolution. We have a bad experiences of Hungary 1956 and Iraq in 1991 where we encouraged and didn't help.
HUME: Not to mention the Bay of Pigs.
KRAUTHAMMER: Yes. But the idea of saying "Revolt," and then leaving people to die as we did on the beaches in the Bay of Pigs is a black mark in our history. So there was no encouragement of that.
But it was, I think, a very cautious speech because the transition has already happened. If Castro had died suddenly, you might have had a tectonic change or reaction or uprising. But that has not happened. They have actually had a successful transition of power.
He hangs on in life, but politically he is dead. His only sign of life are a few op-eds in the paper.
HUME: Well, he gets a visit from his buddy from Venezuela at some points.
KRAUTHAMMER: That's true, but a photo-op in a hospital bed is not exactly encouraging.
And so he is gone, and we are understanding that. We not have a new regime. And what the president is saying is we are not going to play appeasement here. We are going to keep our hard-line.
This guy, Raul, is not a Gorbachev. He does not deserve the lifting of sanctions. We're going to continue the old policy.
HUME: That is it for the panel, but stay tuned because Fred Thompson hit that "lazy" question out of the park in Sunday's debate. Well, now he has got a new ad. We have it, it is next.
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