Transcript: Louisiana Sens. on 'FNS'

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday," Sept. 11, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: With the continuing human drama, we turn now to Louisiana's two Senators, Democrat Mary Landrieu (search) and Republican David Vitter (search), who's been visiting with thousands of evacuees and joins us now from outside the Astrodom (search)e in Houston. And Senators, thank you both for being with us today.

You both just saw Admiral Allen. Senator Landrieu, let me ask you first. What makes you think he'll do a better job than FEMA Director Mike Brown? And, is that enough, or do you want to see more personnel changes?

LANDRIEU: Well, clearly, he comes to this job with more credentials, and, just in the short interview that I saw, said more than the former director in just that few minutes than he did in two weeks.

So, I think he's giving confidence. His support of local officials — state and local officials — is also reassuring because, as we build a team that's going to not only keep the despair to a minimum and build up our city and our Gulf Coast region, his words of working together as a team are very, very comforting, Chris.

WALLACE: Senator Vitter, your feelings about Admiral Allen versus Mike Brown?

VITTER: Chris, I have a lot of confidence for two reasons. First of all, my general observation is that, while the bureaucracy — state and federal — has responded very poorly, the military is on the other end of the spectrum and has responded extremely well with a very positive, can-do attitude.

Secondly, I've personally met with the admiral. I was with within Thursday, with the vice president, and got a full briefing. And there, in terms of that briefing and that overview, he was extremely impressive, and had a great command of the situation.

So, for those two reasons, I consider his appointment as a big, big positive step.

WALLACE: I think it's fair to say that both of you have been very tough on the federal response in the first days after Katrina hit.

Senator Vitter, you gave FEMA an "F" and then, you have this to say — and let's put it up on the screen: The agency "has been completely dysfunctional, completely overwhelmed."

Senator Landrieu, speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, you were even tougher. Let's look.


LANDRIEU: And I intend to find out why the federal — particularly the response of FEMA — was so incompetent and insulting to the people of our states.


WALLACE: Senator Landrieu, I want to ask you — and I'll ask you both, but let me start with you — about the local response.

Was it incompetent and insulting for Mayor Ray Nagin to order a mandatory evacuation, but then to leave buses — and we have a picture of them — hundreds of buses idle, so that they could be flooded, instead of using them to get people out.

LANDRIEU: Well, Chris, I was there, as you know, through the whole ordeal with state and local officials, and was right there with Louisiana Democrats and Republicans, city council members, police chiefs, mayors, the governors, and could watch what Haley Barbour was doing and Governor Riley in Alabama.

I am not going to level criticism at the local level. These people did...

WALLACE: But I'd like you to answer, if you could, this one specific question.

LANDRIEU: Well, I will. I will answer it. I am not going to level criticism at local and state officials. Mayor Nagin and most mayors in this country have a hard time getting their people to work on a sunny day, let alone getting them out of the city in front of a hurricane. And it's because this administration and administrations before them do not understand the difficulties that mayors — whether they are in Orlando, Miami, or New Orleans — face.


LANDRIEU: In other words, this administration did not believe in mass transit. They won't even get people to work on a sunny day, let alone getting them out...

WALLACE: But Senator, there were hundreds of buses sitting in that parking lot. Can I just ask the question?

LANDRIEU: You can, but let me finish, if I could, please.


WALLACE: Well, look in the picture here. There were hundreds of buses in parking lots. The city and the state.

LANDRIEU: That is underwater. Those...

WALLACE: It wasn't underwater before the...

LANDRIEU: Those buses were underwater. Those buses...

WALLACE: They weren't underwater on Saturday; they weren't underwater on Sunday.

LANDRIEU: We had two catastrophes. We had a hurricane and then we had a levee break. When the levee broke, not only did New Orleans go underwater, but St. Bernard when underwater and St. Tammany Parish went underwater.

WALLACE: But they weren't underwater on Sunday.

LANDRIEU: And Plaquemines went underwater. And because the mayor evacuated the city, we had the best evacuation between Haley Barbour and Kathleen Blanco of any evacuation I've seen. I'm 50 years old; I've never seen one any better.

WALLACE: But there were a hundred thousand people left in the city.

LANDRIEU: They did a hundred thousand people left in the city because this federal government won't support cities to evacuate people, whether it's from earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes. And that's the truth.

And that will come out in the hearing.

WALLACE: Let me bring David Vitter in. Was it incompetent and...

VITTER: Yes, Chris, I have...

WALLACE: If I might ask you another question, sir. Was it competent and insulting for the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security — I'm talking about the state, not the feds — to tell the Red Cross and the Salvation Army that they couldn't go into the city in the middle of the first week, when they said they were ready to go; they had the provisions to go; and it was the state that kept them out.

VITTER: Yes, it was, Chris. And I guess I have a different take than Mary. When I made those comments in the first week, I gave the entire big government organized relief effort a failing grade, across the board. That certainly included FEMA, obviously. But it also included the state bureaucracy and some elements at the local level.

And so, I think we, in the hearings that will come — we need to ask a lot of pointed and tough questions to a lot of different people, certainly including the feds and certainly including FEMA, but including many, many others to get a true understanding of all that went wrong and what we need to do differently.

WALLACE: Senator Vitter, do you think it was — and I'll get you in this in a moment, Senator Landrieu — do you think it was incompetent and insulting for Governor Blanco not to bring in the federal guard — or, the National Guard, rather — into the city of New Orleans in force until Friday of that first week?


WALLACE: Senator Landrieu?


WALLACE: Yes or no?

LANDRIEU: Well, let me add something about our Guard and Reserve: we have 3,000 Guards men coming back from Iraq after they've served, sometimes twice. Our General Landreneau (ph) has said that he's giving them a break.

Thank God we have such a good leader. They need a break. They need to get with their families — many of them, their homes are destroyed. I read in the paper this morning, alarmingly, that the Mississippi governor is not going to allow the Mississippi Guard, or whoever is making that decision. And I'll plead for the Mississippi, for the Alabama Guard, and for the Louisiana Guard: please give these guys a break. They're carrying the weight of the world, literally, ion their shoulders.

And we cannot continue to burden the Guard and Reserve. Now, some of them can volunteer; that's great. But we have to be very careful about putting that burden on them. And let me say one thing I do agree with David about — and we agree with many things; he and I have worked very closely together this week — everyone will be held accountable. The president himself will be held accountable. This administration; I will be held accountable; Senator Vitter will be held accountable; and all state and local officials.

Now is not the time for finger-pointing. Now is the time to rebuild.

So, I'm asking the White House to stop sending out press releases blaming local and state officials.

WALLACE: But, Senator — I'm sorry. This works better if I get to ask some questions here.

LANDRIEU: I know. That would be fine.

WALLACE: OK, thank you. But you're the one who's done the finger-pointing. You were the one who, on the Senate floor, talked about the federal response being incompetent and insulting to the people of Louisiana. You were the one — if I might — and, I want to ask you, also, because you've also pointed the finger at the Bush administration for failing to spend enough on flood control.

Here's what you said this week on the Senate floor. Let's take a look.


LANDRIEU: They gambled that no one would notice if Louisiana's critical and vital role in our national economy was threatened. And Washington rolled the dice and Louisiana lost.


WALLACE: But here is what the Washington Post found in an article this week, Senator. And let's put that up on the screen if we can: "The Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton Administration's for its past five years."

And, Senator, the article went on to say that Louisiana politicians, in too many cases, were involved in pork, rather than in trying to protect the city of New Orleans. And let's go back to the article. Let's put up another part of it: "For example, after a $194 million deepening project for the Port of Iberia flunked a Corps..." — that's an Army Corps of Engineer — "... cost-benefit analysis, Sen. Mary Landrieu tucked language into an emergency Iraq spending bill ordering the agency to redo its calculations."

So, question, Senator: Is it just the president who gambled and lost or, frankly, did a lot of Louisiana politicians, including you?

LANDRIEU: The president gambled and lost, and I'll tell you why, if you'll let me answer this question. Number one, it is true that the president gave slightly more than Bill Clinton. But what is also true is Bill Clinton was running the largest deficit created by the Reagan administration before him and the Bush administration before him.

President Bush was running a surplus. Yet, when he had a surplus, he didn't invest it in levees and flood protection for people from Miami to Orlando to New Orleans to Biloxi or to Mobile. He had other priorities.

And I have a letter I will submit to Fox Network.

Number two, on the issue...

WALLACE: We've only got about 30 seconds left.

LANDRIEU: OK. On the issue of that project: I'll tell you what that project was, that project of two ports in Louisiana. We have oil in Louisiana. My guys can't build the fabrications because they're being built in Korea and Indonesia. So, I thought: If you're taking our oil, for God's sakes, give us the jobs.

So, I put that in for the people of my state, so they could build the oil rigs that take the oil out of the ground. I will make no apologies for it and the Washington Post is wrong.

WALLACE: Senator Vitter, Senator Landrieu. We want to thank you both. We're going to have to leave it there. And our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of your state. Thank you so much.

VITTER: Thank you, Chris.