The Political Impact of Continued Katrina Fallout

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Feb. 13, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.


GREGORY KUTZ, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE: Some cards were used for purposes that are inconsistent with the intent of disaster relief programs. For example, debit cards were used for adult entertainment, tattoos, bail bond services and to pay for prior traffic violations.


BRIT HUME, HOST: So that is part of what Congress heard today about how money that was given to Katrina victims in the form of credit anyway, credit cards, was used, at least part of it.

This on a day when word emerged that there’s a draft report from a house committee on the response to Hurricane Katrina, which reads in part, "Response plans at all levels of government lack flexibility and adaptability. Inflexible procedures often delayed the response. Officials at all levels seemed to be waiting for the disaster that fit their plans, rather than planning and building scalable capacities to meet whatever Mother Nature threw at them."

Some observations now from the syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Bob, welcome, nice to have you.


HUME: Also Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call and Mara Liasson, a national political correspondent for National Public Radio. FOX News contributors all.

Well, what about this latest fallout from Katrina? Is there any political life left in this story, any political impact left in this?

Bob, what do you think?

NOVAK: I don’t think it has got much political impact. But the thing that occurs to me is this was really a badly run thing. I’m not surprised when government fouls up. I’m surprised when they do anything right.

But on the other hand, Michael Chertoff really looks bad. Everybody knows that poor old Brown from FEMA is history. But Chertoff is a lawyer, a judge. Is he the right man in that job? Are any heads going to roll for what was really a badly run affair in the federal government?

HUME: Well, I guess, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t just the federal government, was it Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: No, it was all three levels, and this is now two investigations or three actually when you count the GAO that have been looking into this. And clearly the Department of Homeland Security did utterly flop on this thing.

Whatever you have to say about Chertoff, as a planner and as an aggressive law enforcer, when he picked Michael Brown to be his man on the scene in Louisiana, that was a horrible mistake. You know, the former head of the Arabian Horse Association shouldn’t have had that job in the first place.

And the whole structure of FEMA, as the fraud indicates, as the fact that there are still trailers that are...


HUME: There were some predictions made in this very room about fraud once the red tape got cleared away?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: And where they raised the limit on what you could charge if you were a government worker without any permission from above. I mean this was a recipe for disaster and some of that has come true.

Look, I don’t think this necessarily has political ramifications because this didn’t point the finger at any party necessarily. But it’s a really scathing report by the Republican House Committee that suggests that the government is really not ready to deal with a disaster that can’t be predicted, let alone can. And I mean that’s a terrorist attack.

KONDRACKE: You know that the Democrats are going to use this as best they can. I mean, it was a major blow to Bush’s reputation right after it occurred and these reports that keep coming out certainly don’t do them any good as far as, you know, competence is concerned.

You know, we have moved on to other things, NSA spying and stuff, on the scandal meter, but this is still pretty bad. But I think the important thing here is what happens in the future? I mean, what consequence comes from this?

And this House report doesn’t suggest that what we need is for the federal government to be able to take over when the state or the locals fail and without presumably the insurrection act having to be invoked. Maybe there’s some less than the insurrection act. But they haven’t come to terms with exactly how you do it and that’s important to be done.

NOVAK: I think what Mort says, this is a Republican subcommittee. That’s really very interesting because usually those things in recent years at least, a Republican subcommittee will pull its punches in dealing with a Republican mishap.

HUME: But it’s the Republicans at the federal level. At the state and local level of course it was Democrats all the way.

LIASSON: Right. But they didn’t pull their punches on any of the levels.

NOVAK: I think what they said was lacking was initiative. I thought that was an interesting observation. They said that one of the reports had said that 9/11 had lacked imagination, but this one lacked initiative.

And they did seem just trying to keep track of it when it was happening, they just seemed to be—everybody seemed to be mired in mud. They couldn’t move. They acted like bureaucrats, surprisingly enough.

HUME: Would we be talking about this if New Orleans had been successfully evacuated?

KONDRACKE: No. I think we wouldn’t.

LIASSON: No. We wouldn’t be talking about this if New Orleans had been successfully evacuated. However, there is another piece of this, which is the reconstruction, which is incredibly late. People still don’t have trailers.

HUME: Did you see the pictures of these trailers on the broadcast audio? It’s just acres and acres and acres.

LIASSON: Like why they can’t seem to get them to the people who need them? And also President Bush gave an incredibly soaring wonderful, inspiring address in Jackson Square, and where is the initiative? I mean, there was going to be a Marshall Plan for New Orleans, and it was going to rise again, only better. And they can’t even decide what...

HUME: Well, he didn’t say rise again and better by February, though.

LIASSON: Well, no, but very little has been done. Hurricane season is upon us, and people need to know what kind of protection they are going to get from the levees to make a decision about whether to move back or not.

KONDRACKE: You know, Chertoff did announce come changes in FEMA Monday, and I think the idea of pulling FEMA back out of the Homeland Security Department, which some people have talked about, is crazy.

HUME: Why?

KONDRACKE: Well, because the emergency response, whether it’s to a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, is essentially the same. You have got to get search capacity in there. You have got to help people. You have got to evacuate. You have got to do all of the same things. And you have got to have communications. It’s all the same system.

HUME: You mean some contract about a lone operator was in there.

NOVAK: FEMA has got to be a lot different than it’s been. Because it’s been a highly political agency.

HUME: But it was believed to be highly effective when Clinton was in there.

NOVAK: Yes, but it was still political. Nobody ever thought of it, even in the ream of the FBI or the CIA, it was a political agency. I really don’t think that it can be an independent agency when you come to catastrophes such as this.

HUME: It’s always been kind of a weak agency too. It had a lot of money.

NOVAK: It’s a money distributor.

HUME: Yes, money distributor, exactly.

KONDRACKE: But the important thing is, I mean, in a sense, it’s good. It would be good that it’s political in one sense. Because the political consequences of a flop are enormous, so you want somebody in there who is really competent, not some, you know, some political hack, and you want somebody who is really effective. And the president — it should be a presidential appointee for sure.

NOVAK: Of course, as much as we’re looking for the future in New Orleans, this report has nothing to do with a tremendous debate that’s going on there now. What is the role of the federal government? How much money are we going to spend? Is it the responsibility of all of the taxpayers of the country to give an open checkbook for the rebuilding of New Orleans?

I think those are questions that, of course, people who want them to spend say that the Republicans are losing a great political opportunity to make Louisiana a permanent red state, so those are going to be propositions that are going to be founded.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.

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