Tuesday, September 06, 2005

BUSHIT resists immediate probe

BUSHIT resists immediate probe into Katrina response

His mom says "They ar better off now!"


President George W. Bush pledged on Tuesday to review what went wrong in the initial response to Hurricane Katrina but resisted any immediate probe and lawmakers launched an investigation of their own.

Partisan tempers flared, the projected cost of Katrina recovery efforts mushroomed and Pentagon leaders denied there was any delay in the military response to the relief effort last week.

After a Cabinet meeting on the myriad challenges posed by his biggest crisis since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush said he would lead an investigation into what went wrong. But he said he first wanted to save lives and solve problems before assessing blame.

"I think one of the things that people want us to do is to play a blame game," Bush said of critics of the initial administration response. "We've got to solve problems. There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right, and what went wrong."

He added: "I'm going to find out over time what went right and what went wrong."

Key senators launched an oversight review to determine how federal, state and local authorities bungled the relief effort in the first days after the hurricane struck.

"It is difficult to understand the lack of preparedness and the ineffective initial response to a disaster that had been predicted for years and for which specific dire warnings had been given for days," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), the Maine Republican who chairs the Senate homeland security committee.

Tempers flared in the driveway of the White House after congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with Bush to brief reporters.

House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, backing up Bush's position, agreed on the need for an investigation, but only after the recovery is well under way.

"There's going to be a lot of time to point fingers after we get through there," he said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California quickly approached the microphone.

"Let me just say because my colleague said I was pointing fingers too soon: You're darned right, you're darned right. We're a week behind where we should be in terms of responding to Katrina."

Pelosi said Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, "should not continue in that job unless we want a continuation of the shortcomings that we have had in the response."

With $10.5 billion already set aside, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada predicted the recovery effort could end up costing $150 billion -- a figure that could put pressure on Bush to give up some tax cuts he wants to extend.

Reid said he expected the White House budget director, Josh Bolten, to make a new emergency spending request in 24 hours that could be $40 billion to $50 billion.

The No. 2 House Republican, Tom DeLay of Texas, scolded Reid. "People that just throw numbers out, not knowing what they're talking about, I think it's pretty irresponsible," DeLay said.

With some critics pointing to the fact that insufficient troops at the outset slowed the relief effort, top Pentagon officials denied there had been any delay.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had ordered an internal Pentagon study of "lessons learned" from the disaster.

"You know, you can never be perfect in a tragedy like this," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "You'd like to be perfect and be there the moment someone needs help. But as hard as these people tried and the states tried, it's just not possible."

Much anger from Democrats and Republicans alike has been directed at Bush for a slow federal response to a catastrophe that may have killed thousands in New Orleans and along the Gulf coast.

Bush said he was dispatching Vice President Dick Cheney to the disaster zone on Thursday to try to remove any "bureaucratic obstacles that may be preventing us from achieving our goals."

With calls for an independent commission to investigate the disaster, the White House was cautious.

Asked where the buck stops in the Bush administration, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "The president." But he said to launch a probe now could divert people involved in the recovery effort from doing their jobs.


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