President Bush delivered his weekly radio address from the Rose Garden of the White House on Saturday. Photo: NY Times/Dennis Brack
President George W. Bush has exhausted his political capital and his challenges have exceeded his competence, White House observers are saying after the President's dismal day-late-dollar-short performance to Hurricane Katrina.
Meanwhile, 10 of the 20 people who had managed to survive until Saturday died in a hospice in New Orleans Sunday, an emergency medical technician told CNN this afternoon, as rescuers found them too late. The 10 will be added to the thousands of corpses that are believed to still lie undiscovered throughout the city that drowned in the aftermath of calamitous levee breaks the day after Category 4 Hurricane Katrina slammed into the city with scouring 140mph winds.
Perhaps the best expression of the depths of anger and distress felt by Louisiana residents came from the President of Jefferson Parish, Aaron Broussard, who appeared this morning on NBC's "Meet The Press":
Many people were still angry about how long it took to mobilize the relief effort. Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, south of New Orleans, began to cry on NBC's "Meet the Press" as he related the story of a rescue official's mother who called repeatedly asking her son for help but died Friday before crews could get to her.
"We have been abandoned by our own country," Broussard said. "It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now."
Officials from the Bush administration came to the region again to oversee the federal operation. Chertoff, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited with residents and relief workers in Louisiana and Alabama. [end excerpt]
The Federal government's slow response has created a huge crisis of confidence for the Republican Party and President George W. Bush, the New York Times reported today, and the 2006 Congressional elections are now thought likely to reflect widespread voter distrust of the President's party, the Times suggested:
As White House Anxiety Grows, Bush Tries to Quell Political Crisis
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
and ADAM NAGOURNEY
Published: September 4, 2005
WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 - Faced with one of the worst political crises of his administration, President Bush abruptly overhauled his September schedule on Saturday as the White House scrambled to gain control of a situation that Republicans said threatened to undermine Mr. Bush's second-term agenda and the party's long-term ambitions.
In a sign of the mounting anxiety at the White House, Mr. Bush made a rare Saturday appearance in the Rose Garden before live television cameras to announce that he was dispatching additional active-duty troops to the Gulf Coast. He struck a more somber tone than he had at times on Friday during a daylong tour of the disaster region, when he had joked at the airport in New Orleans about the fun he had had in his younger days in Houston. His demeanor on Saturday was similar to that of his most somber speeches after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities," said Mr. Bush, slightly exaggerating the stricken land area.
Unlike rapper Kanye West, who on Friday's night's NBC fund-raising concert told viewers "President Bush doesn't like black people," senior Republicans in Congress and the Senate have told the President that the problem is not his image - because he is a lame duck - but in the huge losses the party's elected officials may suffer as a result of the failure to anticipate and plan for Katrina's destruction.
Many are now mulling over who should be the first to make an open call for the resignation of Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff - who has overall responsibility for the response to the evacuation, FEMA Director Mike Brown (whose agency has been folded into Chertoff's), and possibly even of the President himself, whose failure on Katrina is believed to lend credence to the 9/11 Commission's report that he and his senior advisors also ignored warnins of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
In the President's defense, administration officials point out the President was only the latest to ignore the possibility that levees would break and drown the city, a situation whose potential was seen decades ago. However, the Presdent took tens of millions from the current budget slated to strengthen the levees, his critics say, so he has some direct responsibility for the disaster. A full repair of the levees would have cost $14.5 billion, the White House responds, while the disaster caused by their failure will cost $100 billion or more, according to latest estimates. The Los Angeles Times also explored the topic:
Despite Warnings, Washington Failed to Fund Levee Projects
To cut spending, officials gambled that the worst-case scenario would not come to be.
By Richard A. Serrano and Nicole Gaouette, Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — For years, Washington had been warned that doom lurked just beyond the levees. And for years, the White House and Congress had dickered over how much money to put into shoring up century-old dikes and carrying out newer flood control projects to protect the city of New Orleans.
As recently as three months ago, the alarms were sounding — and being brushed aside.
In late May, the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers formally notified Washington that hurricane storm surges could knock out two of the big pumping stations that must operate night and day even under normal conditions to keep the city dry.
Also, the Corps said, several levees had settled and would soon need to be raised. And it reminded Washington that an ambitious flood-control study proposed four years before remained just that — a written proposal never put into action for lack of funding.
What a powerful hurricane could do to New Orleans and the area's critical transportation, energy and petrochemical facilities had been well understood. So now, nearly a week into the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, hard questions are being raised about Washington officials who crossed their fingers and counted on luck once too often. The reasons the city's defenses were not strengthened enough to handle such a storm are deeply rooted in the politics and bureaucracy of Washington.
With the advantage of hindsight, the miscues seem even broader. Construction proposals were often underfunded or not completed. Washington officials could never agree on how much money would be needed to protect New Orleans. And there hung in the air a false sense of security that a storm like Katrina was a long shot anyway.
As a result, when the immediate crisis eases and inquiries into what went wrong begin, there is likely to be responsibility and blame enough for almost every institution in Washington, including the White House, Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers and a host of other federal agencies.
For example, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the Corps commander, conceded Friday that the government had known the New Orleans levees could never withstand a hurricane higher than a Category 3. Corps officials shuddered, he said, when they realized that Katrina was barreling down on the Gulf Coast with the vastly greater destructive force of a Category 5 — the strongest type of hurricane.
Washington, he said, had rolled the dice.
Rather than come up with the extra millions of dollars needed to make the city safer, officials believed that such a devastating storm was a small probability and that, with the level of protection that had been funded, "99.5% of the time this would work."
Unfortunately, Strock said, "we did not address the 0.5%."
Corps officials said the floodwaters breached at two spots: the 17th Street Canal Levee and the London Avenue Canal Levee. Connie Gillette, a Corps spokeswoman, said Saturday there never had been any plans or funds allocated to shore up those spots — another sign the government expected them to hold.
Nevertheless, the Corps hardly was alone in failing to address what it meant to have a major metropolitan area situated mostly below sea level, sitting squarely in the middle of the Gulf Coast's Hurricane Alley.
Many federal, state and local flood improvement officials kept asking for more dollars for more ambitious protection projects. But the White House kept scaling down those requests. And each time, although congressional leaders were more generous with funding than the White House, the House and Senate never got anywhere near to approving the amounts that experts had said was needed.
What happened this year was typical: Local levee and flood prevention officials, along with Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), asked for $78 million in project funds. President Bush offered them less than half that — $30 million. Congress ended up authorizing $36.5 million.
Since Bush took office in 2001, local experts and Landrieu have asked for just short of $500 million. Altogether, Bush in his yearly budgets asked for $166 million, and Congress approved about $250 million.
These budget decisions reflect a reality in Washington: to act with an eye toward short-term political rewards instead of making long-term investments to deal with problems.
Vincent Gawronski, an assistant professor at Birmingham Southern College in Alabama who studies the political impact of natural disasters, said the lost chances to shore up the levees were a classic example of government leaders who, although meaning well, clashed over priorities.
"Elected politicians are in office for a limited amount of time and with a limited amount of money, and they don't really have a long-term vision for spending it," he said.
"So you spend your pot of money where you feel you're going to get the most political support so you can get reelected. It's very difficult to think long-term. If you invest in these levees, is that going to show an immediate return or does it take away from anything else?" [end excerpt]
In an effort to control the political damage, the Presdent and federal officials are trying to shift the blame for failures associated with the relief effort to state and local officials who are Democrats, the Washington Post reported today:
Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting
White House Shifts Blame to State and Local Officials
By Manuel Roig-Franzia and Spencer Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 4, 2005; Page A01
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 3 -- Tens of thousands of people spent a fifth day awaiting evacuation from this ruined city, as Bush administration officials blamed state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a failure of the country's emergency management.
President Bush authorized the dispatch of 7,200 active-duty ground troops to the area -- the first major commitment of regular ground forces in the crisis -- and the Pentagon announced that an additional 10,000 National Guard troops will be sent to Louisiana and Mississippi, raising the total Guard contingent to about 40,000.
Authorities reported progress in restoring order and electricity and repairing levees, as a hospital ship arrived and cruise ships were sent to provide temporary housing for victims. As Louisiana officials expressed confidence that they had begun to get a handle on the crisis, a dozen National Guard troops broke into applause late Saturday as Isaac Kelly, 81, the last person to be evacuated from the Superdome, boarded a school bus.
But there remained an overwhelming display of human misery on the streets of New Orleans, where the last 1,500 people were being evacuated from the Convention Center amid an overpowering odor of human waste and rotting garbage. The evacuees, most of them black and poor, spoke of violence, anarchy and family members who died for lack of food, water and medical care.
About 42,000 people had been evacuated from the city by Saturday afternoon, with roughly the same number remaining, city officials said. Search-and-rescue efforts continued in flooded areas of the city, where an unknown number of people wait in their homes, on rooftops or in makeshift shelters. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the flooding -- 250,000 have been absorbed by Texas alone, and local radio reported that Baton Rouge will have doubled in population by Monday. Federal officials said they have begun to collect corpses but could not guess the total toll.
Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.
A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.
Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.
"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."
Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.
Bush, who has been criticized, even by supporters, for the delayed response to the disaster, used his weekly radio address to put responsibility for the failure on lower levels of government. The magnitude of the crisis "has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities," he said. "The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable." [end excerpt]