Shortly after noon on Wednesday, Aug 31, Karl Rove used Senator David Vitter to convey a message to governor Kathleen Blanco: she should announce that she's voluntarily turned control of the evacuation of New Orleans over to the feds, and she should:
explore legal options to impose martial law "or as close as we can get," Vitter quoted Rove as saying, according to handwritten notes by Terry Ryder, Blanco's executive counsel.
For the next three days, the White House tried to get Blanco to do what they wanted, except:
Blanco rejected the administration's terms, 10 minutes before Bush was to announce them in a Rose Garden news conference, the governor's aides said.
As others speculated at the time, Blanco had no clue on how to deal with the legalities of this:
Blanco's top aides relied on ad hoc tutorials from the National Guard about who would be in charge and how to call in federal help. But in the inevitable confusion of fast-moving events, partisan differences and federal/state divisions prevented top leaders from cooperating.
A Blanco aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the people around Bush were trying to maneuver the governor into an unnecessary change intended to make Bush look decisive.
"It was an overwhelming natural disaster. The federal government has an agency that exists for purposes of coming to the rescue of localities in a natural disaster, and that organization did not live up to what it was designed for or promised to," the aide said. Referring to Bush aides, he said, "It was time to recover from the fiasco, and take a win wherever you could, legitimate or not."
Vitter, in an interview, disagreed but acknowledged the clash.
"In my opinion, they [Blanco aides] were hypersensitive. . . . They seemed to feel there was some power play, which I don't think there was," he said. "The fact that it was [Rove] -- might that have fueled the governor's hypersensitivity? It may have, I don't know."
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) visited New Orleans on Sunday and toured the area together with Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Craig Thomas (R-WY), stopping in at a Lakeview home where he got into a candid chat with the homeowners:
"He said, 'Why would we want to rebuild these homes in an area below sea level?' and said that in Alaska, when a disaster of this magnitude occurs, they relocate the town," Stafford said.
"But people have their businesses here," [one of the homeowners] said. "People have their lives here."
Norma Jane Sabiston, chief of staff to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who arrived at the Stafford house about 5 minutes after the committee bus left, said both Vitter and Landrieu are attempting to bring as many members of Congress as possible to the New Orleans area to see the damage, in hopes of winning support for more aid for the city and support for the Category 5 hurricane protection proposal and for coastal restoration efforts.
She said the difficulty facing the state's congressional delegation is convincing senators like Stephens that there is a reason to rebuild in New Orleans.
Vitter said so-called "FEMA cities" of travel trailers are a "bad idea," though he said in some cases they might be necessary.
FEMA needs to set up any large travel-trailer parks as near as possible to devastated areas, so that people can return close enough to their homes to get back to work -- and so that businesses have an available work force.
State Sen. Craig Romero, R-New Iberia, said many people in rural Vermilion and Iberia parishes would like the opportunity to have a FEMA trailer put on their home site.
While thousands of homes are unlivable, most areas have the basic infrastructure available to make it possible for someone to live temporarily on their own property and near work -- especially with the high cost of gasoline, Romero said.
"Why do they have to be on sites?" Romero said.
Vitter said FEMA should be approving trailers for people at their own property when possible. Businesses should also be allowed to set up on-site housing for employees when needed, Vitter said.
Will Langlinais, an Iberia Parish official, said FEMA has yet to send actual decision-makers to meet with local officials, making it impossible to get answers.
Langlinais credited local businesses, volunteers and officials for a quick response in his parish.
"The Red Cross, I wouldn't give them a nickel," Langlinais said.
Red Cross and FEMA response has been inefficient, which is "inexcusable," Langlinais said.
"There's got to be a better way," he said.
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said officials here are worried that economic incentives will only be offered in the southeast corner of the state. Parishes such as Lafayette, even through spared most storm damage, anchor the area's economy and shouldn't be forgotten, Durel said.
Vitter said the more areas he tries to include in spending bills to Congress, the more difficult it will be to get the spending approved.
But Acadiana "at a minimum," should still be included with southwest and southeast Louisiana, Vitter said.
Vitter said the hurricane presents an opportunity to "push" some long-standing infrastructure needs such as completing Interstate 49 from Lafayette to New Orleans.
After Vitter left to make a meeting in Baton Rouge, Durel told the remainder of the officials that Acadiana needs to lobby for funds in Congress as a united body.
The LAT article "Lobbyists Shape Gulf Coast Rebuilding" has more on just how much say corporations got in Louisiana's rebuilding plan. Bear in mind, that article is about the state's plan, the one they want $250 billion for. See "Louisiana wants $40 billion; stuffed with pork" for previous coverage.
From the LAT:
..."I was basically shocked," said Ivor van Heerden, director of a hurricane public health research center at Louisiana State University. "What do lobbyists know about a plan for the reconstruction and restoration of Louisiana?"
Van Heerden is the first participant in any of the senators' working groups to provide such a detailed and scathing account of the process. He said he was shut out after he voiced his concerns.
The result, he said, was a lost opportunity "to come up with something innovative, something the people of Louisiana and the nation could really endorse."
Among the lobby-supported interests with a stake in the relief and recovery bill:
Energy utilities: Entergy Corp. and Cleco Corp...
...Supporters of a controversial industrial canal project for New Orleans: Among those on advisory panels were two officials of Jones Walker, a New Orleans-based firm that lobbies in Washington for the canal project...
...Highway advocates Among those on a transportation working group were lobbyists for highway projects seeking funds, including one from a firm headed by former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.)...
The AP rounds up Louisiana's plan to get billions of dollars from the feds in "$40B La. Protection Plan Sparks Debate":
A $40 billion plan to hurricane-proof the Louisiana coast has ignited a battle over how best to prevent a repeat of this year's double flooding of New Orleans.
Endorsed by the state's congressional delegation, the proposal would create a nine-member independent commission that would give Louisiana a large say in how the federal money is spent.
That's the "Pelican Commission".
The huge sums involved and the measure's plan to waive federal environmental laws underscore the dramatic steps that Louisiana lawmakers say is needed to help the state recover from one of the country's worst natural disasters.
The commission with at least five members from Louisiana would have final say over Army Corps of Engineers projects to protect New Orleans from the most potent type of hurricanes, known as Category 5, and to restore the coastline, control flooding and improve navigation.
Normal congressional processes for authorizing projects and spending money would be bypassed entirely under the proposal. Environmental laws would be waived once the commission signs off on the work plan, which the corps would have to develop in just six months.
Such an unprecedented transfer of power and money from Washington to a state usually would stand little chance of winning federal approval. Louisiana lawmakers, though, are hoping the catastrophic drubbing from hurricanes Katrina and Rita will force Congress and the White House to take a serious look at the proposal. It has been introduced as part of a broader reconstruction bill.
Translation: Our president is trying to spend his way back to some degree of popularity, so maybe we can get him to further open the wallet.
"The whole purpose is to give this a sense of urgency," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La. "We need to break out of the bureaucratic mentality where everything is studied to death."
"They're asking for a $40 billion blank check," said Steve Ellis, a vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "It is a huge amount of money that would be essentially front-ended as appropriations, and then driven independent of Washington oversight."
Because of the following, I considered putting this under 'humor' as well:
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said the proposal was "just a suggestion" and that she never intended to waive environmental laws. What is needed, she said, is a way to streamline the process so hurricane protection work can be done quickly.
"It is not our intention to loot the treasury," she said. "It is our intention to get support and help from the federal government."
You can download a copy of the legislation from Cute Little Baby Fat's site. Another download is an overview of only a couple pages and is basically all you need to know. Just look at all the dollar signs to be allocated to just about every conceivable group. They basically want to buy everyone's support.
Louisiana's congressional delegation has requested $40 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, about 10 times the annual Corps budget for the entire nation, or 16 times the amount the Corps has said it would need to protect New Orleans from a Category 5 hurricane...
...The bill, unveiled last week, would create a powerful "Pelican Commission" controlled by Louisiana residents that would decide which Corps projects to fund, and ordered the commission to consider several controversial navigation projects that have nothing to do with flood protection. The Corps section of the Louisiana bill, which was supported by the entire state delegation, was based on recommendations from a "working group" dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies and other corporate interests...
I don't think they learned this from Bush, I'm sure it's more innate than that.
"This bill boggles the mind," said Steve Ellis, a water resources expert at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Brazen doesn't begin to describe it. The Louisiana delegation is using Katrina as an excuse to resurrect a laundry list of pork projects."
Aides to Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) helped shape the bill. The governor yesterday asked for $31.7 billion in federal funds for her state's infrastructure, including $20 billion for hurricane protections -- which aides described as a down payment on the larger sum.
BTW, "Pelican" stands for "Protecting Essential Louisiana Infrastructure, Citizens and Nature". I wonder how much they paid to come up with that.
...The 440-page bill also includes $50 billion in open-ended grants for storm-ravaged communities and $13 billion for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, along with mortgage assistance, health care, substance abuse treatment and other services for hurricane victims. It also includes hefty payments to hospitals, ports, banks, shipbuilders, fishermen and schools, as well as $8 million for alligator farms, $35 million for seafood industry marketing, and $25 million for a sugar-cane research laboratory that had not been completed before Katrina...
...The coastal protection section may be the most contentious part of the bill, overturning a slew of Corps precedents, but Louisiana officials say that past practice has failed to protect their state. They say their communities do not have the money to pay the standard 30 percent local share for Corps hurricane protection, or the time to wait several years for standard Corps studies...
...Vitter and Landrieu tapped John M. Barry -- author of "Rising Tide," the definitive history of the 1927 flood -- to lead the working group on the Corps response to Katrina. Almost all the other members of the group were lobbyists from firms such as Patton Boggs, Adams & Reese, the Alpine Group, Dutko Worldwide, Van Scoyoc Associates, and a firm owned by former senator J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). There was a lobbyist for the Port of New Orleans, a lobbyist for Verizon, and three lobbyists who were former aides to House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).
Internal notes from the working group obtained by The Washington Post suggest that hurricane protection was by no means its sole preoccupation. A list of "outstanding issues" from a Sept. 15 conference call mentioned the possibility of authorizing at least six unrelated navigation projects, and included questions such as "Are there other things we can do to boost our ports?" and -- perhaps a joke -- "How much can I bill my client?"
"My concern was that the focus was not on protecting Louisiana," said Ivor van Heerden, the deputy director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center and one of the few non-lobbyists on the working group...
Maybe the $50 billion amount that their proposal exceeds the already phantasmagoric figure proposed by Bush is intended to be bargained down. Let's split the difference, eh?
Louisiana's Senators, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R), have proposed legislation to provide about $250 billion in federal aid to help their state rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. The massive, 10-year plan, contained in a bill introduced on Sept. 22, includes about $180 billion in direct federal spending, Vitter said. The rest would represent the cost of various tax breaks.
But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and several other GOP colleagues want at least some of the federal hurricane relief spending to be offset with spending cuts. Among their suggestions: a 5% across-the-board cut in discretionary spending other than defense and homeland security; and rescinding $24 billion in earmarked highway projects in the recently enacted highway and transit authorization bill...
...The Landrieu-Vitter package would draw most of its funds from federal appropriations, but they also are seeking 50% of the revenue from oil and gas leases off their state's coast. Vitter says that 50% share of lease payments recently has ranged between $3 billion and $4 billion annually. Those revenues would go for restoration of coastal wetlands and barrier islands as well as infrastructure.
The energy bill signed into law in August provides Louisiana with $135 million in oil and gas lease revenue annually for four years to be used for coastal restoration work...
The Newsweek article How Bush Blew It accuses our leader of having surrounded himself with sycophantic slags, among other sins:
...When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.
...this time "Rummy" opposed sending in active-duty troops as cops. Dick Cheney, who was vacationing in Wyoming when the storm hit, characteristically kept his counsel on videoconferences; his private advice is not known.
Liberals will say they were indifferent to the plight of poor African-Americans. It is true that Katrina laid bare society's massive neglect of its least fortunate....
Insert our standard Welfare State discussion here.
...But on Saturday night, as Katrina bore down on New Orleans, Nagin talked to Max Mayfield, head of the National Hurricane Center. "Max Mayfield has scared me to death," Nagin told City Councilwoman Cynthia Morrell early Sunday morning. "If you're scared, I'm scared," responded Morrell, and the mandatory order went out to evacuate the city-about a day later than for most other cities and counties along the Gulf Coast...
...At dusk [Monday Aug 29], on the ninth floor of city hall, the mayor and the city council had their first encounter with the federal government. A man in a blue FEMA windbreaker arrived to brief them on his helicopter flyover of the city. He seemed unfamiliar with the city's geography, but he did have a sense of urgency. "Water as far as the eye can see," he said. It was worse than Hurricanes Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969. "I need to call Washington," he said. "Do you have a conference-call line?" According to an aide to the mayor, he seemed a little taken aback when the answer was no. Long neglected in the city budget, communications within the New Orleans city government were poor, and eventually almost nonexistent when the batteries on the few old satellite phones died. The FEMA man found a phone, but he had trouble reaching senior officials in Washington. When he finally got someone on the line, the city officials kept hearing him say, "You don't understand, you don't understand."
This first encounter is also described in another article; if someone has the link please post it.
...At about 8 p.m. [Monday Aug 29], [Blanco] spoke to Bush. "Mr. President," she said, "we need your help. We need everything you've got."
Bush, the governor later recalled, was reassuring. But the conversation was all a little vague. Blanco did not specifically ask for a massive intervention by the active-duty military...
...There are a number of steps Bush could have taken, short of a full-scale federal takeover, like ordering the military to take over the pitiful and (by now) largely broken emergency communications system throughout the region. But the president, who was in San Diego preparing to give a speech the next day on the war in Iraq, went to bed...
Hit those talking points!
...By the predawn hours [of Tuesday Aug 30], most state and federal officials finally realized that the 17th Street Canal levee had been breached, and that the city was in serious trouble. Bush was told at 5 a.m. Pacific Coast time and immediately decided to cut his vacation short. To his senior advisers, living in the insular presidential bubble, the mere act of lopping off a couple of presidential vacation days counts as a major event. They could see pitfalls in sending Bush to New Orleans immediately. His presence would create a security nightmare and get in the way of the relief effort. Bush blithely proceeded with the rest of his schedule for the day, accepting a gift guitar at one event and pretending to riff like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business."
Of course, this is one of the things that the "liberals" have harped on, including faulting him for not rushing there immediately. Then, after he went there they harped on how the necessary security for his visit had delayed evacuations. Those wacky "liberals".
[...only "28 or 30" cops were available out of 120 who were summoned to the Second District...]
...New Orleans had no real evacuation plan, save to tell people to go to the Superdome and wait for buses. On Tuesday, the state was rounding up buses; no, FEMA was; no, FEMA's buses would take too long to get there ... and so on...
...Early Wednesday morning [Aug 31], Blanco tried to call Bush. She was transferred around the White House for a while until she ended up on the phone with Fran Townsend, the president's Homeland Security adviser, who tried to reassure her but did not have many specifics. Hours later, Blanco called back and insisted on speaking to the president. When he came on the line, the governor recalled, "I just asked him for help, 'whatever you have'." She asked for 40,000 troops. "I just pulled a number out of the sky," she later told NEWSWEEK.
Clearly, she was in very very far over her head.
The Pentagon was not sitting idly. By Tuesday morning (and even before the storm) the military was moving supplies, ships, boats, helicopters and troops toward the Gulf Coast. But, ironically, the scale of the effort slowed it. TV viewers had difficulty understanding why TV crews seemed to move in and out of New Orleans while the military was nowhere to be seen. But a TV crew is five people in an RV. Before the military can send in convoys of trucks, it has to clear broken and flooded highways. The military took over the shattered New Orleans airport for emergency airlifts, but special teams of Air Force operators had to be sent in to make it ready. By the week after the storm, the military had mobilized some 70,000 troops and hundreds of helicopters-but it took at least two days and usually four and five to get them into the disaster area. Looters and well-armed gangs, like TV crews, moved faster.
Yet another "liberal" talking point, including something that Nagin said over and over, was that we could send all this aid to tsunami victims, but we can't immediately send in the military. The preceding paragraph does help explain why.
In the inner councils of the Bush administration, there was some talk of gingerly pushing aside the overwhelmed "first responders," the state and local emergency forces, and sending in active-duty troops. But under an 1868 law, federal troops are not allowed to get involved in local law enforcement. The president, it's true, could have invoked the Insurrections Act, the so-called Riot Act. But Rumsfeld's aides say the secretary of Defense was leery of sending in 19-year-old soldiers trained to shoot people in combat to play policemen in an American city, and he believed that National Guardsmen trained as MPs were on the way.
...Once a kind of petty-cash drawer for congressmen to quickly hand out aid after floods and storms, FEMA had improved in the 1990s in the Clinton administration...
Everything improved on Bubba's watch!
...Bush likes "metrics," numbers to measure performance, so the bureaucrats gave him reassuring statistics. At a press availability on Wednesday, Bush duly rattled them off: there were 400 trucks transporting 5.4 million meals and 13.4 million liters of water along with 3.4 million pounds of ice. Yet it was obvious to anyone watching TV that New Orleans had turned into a Third World hellhole.
The denial and the frustration finally collided aboard Air Force One on Friday. As the president's plane sat on the tarmac at New Orleans airport, a confrontation occurred that was described by one participant as "as blunt as you can get without the Secret Service getting involved." Governor Blanco was there, along with various congressmen and senators and Mayor Nagin (who took advantage of the opportunity to take a shower aboard the plane). One by one, the lawmakers listed their grievances as Bush listened. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whose district encompasses New Orleans, told of a sheriff who had called FEMA for assistance. According to Jindal, the sheriff was told to e-mail his request, "and the guy was sitting in a district underwater and with no electricity," Jindal said, incredulously. "How does that make any sense?" Jindal later told NEWSWEEK that "almost everybody" around the conference table had a similar story about how the federal response "just wasn't working." With each tale, "the president just shook his head, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing," says Jindal, a conservative Republican and Bush appointee who lost a close race to Blanco. Repeatedly, the president turned to his aides and said, "Fix it."
If true, that would tend to place Bush in a somewhat better light than our "liberal" friends have painted him.
According to Sen. David Vitter, a Republican ally of Bush's, the meeting came to a head when Mayor Nagin blew up during a fraught discussion of "who's in charge?" Nagin slammed his hand down on the table and told Bush, "We just need to cut through this and do what it takes to have a more-controlled command structure. If that means federalizing it, let's do it."
A debate over "federalizing" the National Guard had been rattling in Washington for the previous three days. Normally, the Guard is under the control of the state governor, but the Feds can take over-if the governor asks them to. Nagin suggested that Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the Pentagon's on-scene commander, be put in charge. According to Senator Vitter, Bush turned to Governor Blanco and said, "Well, what do you think of that, Governor?" Blanco told Bush, "I'd rather talk to you about that privately." To which Nagin responded, "Well, why don't you do that now?"
The meeting broke up. Bush and Blanco disappeared to talk. More than a week later, there was still no agreement. Blanco didn't want to give up her authority, and Bush didn't press...
Well, I guess that's not a good appraisal of Blanco's leadership abilities then.
Some of the claims in this article are countered here, and please leave more in the comments.
I guess we already knew that, but the Houston Chronicle tells us again in "Louisiana governor's political future in doubt":
...Republican lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. David Vitter, were quick to criticize the immediate federal response but also took pains in television interviews to say there were problems at the local and state level as well. Conservative bloggers have been more insistent, calling for her impeachment.
Silas Lee, a New Orleans political analyst working these days at his satellite office near Washington, said it is too early to write Blanco's political obituary.
"There's enough blame to go around," Lee said in a telephone interview today.
Aside from voter satisfaction or dissatisfaction with her performance after Katrina, there is also the question of who is left in the state to vote for her. New Orleans is predominantly black and low-income, an important part of the Democratic governor's base, and most of the black and low-income population of the city was hit hard by Katrina. Many have relocated out of state and the question now is whether they will return.
"After the city returns to some semblance of normalcy, we'll have to see what the demographics look like," Lee said.
Another Louisiana political analyst and pollster, Elliott Stonecipher, agreed that a big question is who returns to the city and who doesn't. Still, without that knowledge, and in the current absence of any statewide polling data, Stonecipher said he believes it will be tough for Blanco to win re-election. He believes news accounts of her handling of state military and her dealings with the federal government do not make her look good and will be exploited by an opponent...
There's more on the demographics in "Katrina exodus could change political mix".