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Former FEMA Director Michael Brown on Obama's Response to Oil Spill

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," May 3, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, ANCHOR: Almost three weeks since the slick began, is this president getting a slick deal that President Bush never got himself?

Welcome, everybody. I’m Neil Cavuto.

The administration all but dismissing criticism it has been slow to react to this Gulf oil spill, instead laying blame solely on British Petroleum, better known as BP — but not Brownie. Michael Brown took the brunt of the blame for Katrina — Remember that? And who now says this president didn’t act fast enough and is playing politics with the spill.

Michael Brown, the former FEMA director, joining us now.

Director, always good to have you. Thanks for coming.

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Thank you, Neil.

CAVUTO: Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, says the differences are night and day. Where do you see the similarities?

BROWN: I think here are the similarities, Neil.

First of all, you have a disaster occur, and the Coast Guard shows up immediately. That’s their job. In Katrina, FEMA showed up immediately. The president is off in San Diego strumming the guitar. Obama is back East going to the White House Correspondents Dinner. You’re now nine days into the storm — into the disaster, and actually now, only now is the president appearing to be engaged.

And I think the delay was this: It’s pure politics. This president has never supported big oil. He has never supported offshore drilling. And now he has an excuse to shut it back down.

You’ve already heard Bill Nelson, senator from Florida, talking about offshore drilling is DOA. They played politics with this crisis and left the Coast Guard out there by themselves doing what they’re supposed to do.

CAVUTO: So, Michael, you don’t take him at face value when he says a temporary halt in offshore drilling is just that, a temporary halt?

BROWN: No, no. Look, Bill Nelson — and, you know, they don’t say these things without it being coordinated. And so now you’re looking at this oil slick approaching, you know, the Louisiana shore, according to certain — NOAA and other places, if the winds are right, it will go up the East Coast.

This is exactly what they want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, "I’m going to shut it down because It’s too dangerous," while Mexico and China and everybody else drills in the Gulf. We’re going to get shut down.

CAVUTO: But leaving aside what our future exploration plans are, he said early on he relied on reports coming out of BP, remember, when all those guys were injured and 11 went missing, that BP said that it had it relatively contained, and that those were the early reports he relied on. How is that different than the argument your former boss made that local authorities on the ground felt that, ahead of the disaster, things were relatively contained?

BROWN: Here’s what is different, because we were actually on the ground also. We knew what was going on and how bad it was and kept reaching back to the White House, saying, we need these things. We need X, Y, and Z.

I’m assuming — and I grant you, it’s an assumption — I’m making an assumption that, even though BP may have been telling the Coast Guard and others, we’re doing everything we can, EPA should have been there themselves verifying whether that’s true or not.

And I think they just dropped the ball. I don’t think they care.

CAVUTO: But, Michael, what’s to say we didn’t have and don’t have guys like you in this administration now, the dirty little secret, despite you taking the bludgeoning you did during Katrina, is that you had warned that the response wasn’t adequate and might not be adequate, given the likely severity of something in the New Orleans area?

We learned after the fact that your warnings were largely unheeded by both parties. Having said that, how do we know that there isn’t a guy like you making similar warnings now?

BROWN: I hope there is.

And I hope that that person, that man or woman, whoever has been making those warnings, will do what I failed to do. And I have admitted this is a mistake. I should have walked away, found Neil Cavuto, walked up to his camera, and said, Neil, I have been saying for weeks this is not working and we need help.

Now, Bush would have fired me anyway, but at least we would have gotten the attention we needed right away. And I just hope there’s somebody out there now that will do what I had failed to do.

CAVUTO: All right. But it wasn’t as if you failed to try.

So, I guess what I’m asking here is, the media...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Oh, no, we — don’t get me wrong.

CAVUTO: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: We were there.

CAVUTO: But now what I’m asking — now what I’m asking is whether you think the media, then, is giving this president a pass on this handling, and, to be fair, because the media still can’t grasp the dimensions of this, so it is holding back?

BROWN: Well, Neil, with all due respect to you, come on. The media...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: I’m being fair and balanced, Michael. I’m being fair and balanced.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: I know. I know. But I don’t have to be.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: The media has been ignoring it for two weeks. You don’t think that there were — look, they could have gotten on helicopters. They probably were on helicopters. We had other reconnaissance images from there.

But we only started to see them when it started to approach the Louisiana coast. And, then, oh, my God, look, we got to do something. I just — I think the media sat back. And I would not be surprised if the White House said, you know, we might be able to, guess what, do what? Use this crisis to our advantage. Let this crisis get really bad, and then we will step in. We will be able to shut down offshore drilling. We will be able to turn to all these alternate fuels.

And I think the problem they have right now is, they waited too long.

CAVUTO: So, by constantly referring to this as the BP still, the BP leak, the BP disaster, that there’s a method to that, right?

BROWN: Oh, absolutely.

Did you ever hear during Katrina anyone asking Ray Nagin or Governor Blanco the questions about why didn’t they evacuate, why did they choose the Superdome, how did you let people into the Convention Center? You heard none of that.

CAVUTO: That’s a good point.

BROWN: And, so, the media’s responsibility right now is, where was the EPA? Why was she out talking to David Letterman, instead of down on the Gulf Coast? She went to New Orleans. She talked to community organizers.

CAVUTO: All right.

Michael, thank you very much. Good seeing you again.

BROWN: Thank you, Neil. Same here.

CAVUTO: Michael Brown, the former FEMA director.

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