Skip to comments.Hurricane Mary still storms over Katrina
Posted on 06/05/2006 5:33:11 PM PDT by Ellesu
In the nine months since Hurricane Katrina bore a hole through the Gulf Coast and triggered cataclysmic flooding in New Orleans, Sen. Mary Landrieu has been battling for more than just cash to rebuild.
Im still in a fight to explain, the Louisiana Democrat said during an interview in her seventh-floor Hart Building office suite.
In endless meetings with lawmakers, aides, interest groups and even singer Placido Domingo, she uses color-coded charts, sweeping gestures and Cajun charm to explain the difference between the hurricane and the flood, the biblical-scale damage to her home city, coastal restoration plans, why New Orleans should be rebuilt and why further assistance should not be routed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Its important for people to understand what really happened, who is responsible, why it happened, so that we can actually fix it, she said.
For Landrieu, villains are easy to identify: President Bush and top White House officials, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Early on, Hastert suggested New Orleans should not be rebuilt.
That kind of set us off in a defensive posture when we should have been in an offensive posture, Landrieu said.
Since then, the 50-year-old senator has been the one taking swings. Last year she said on national television that she would punch the president or anyone else who berated local officials. In April, she threatened to hold up Bushs executive-branch nominees until he delivered funding for the Gulf Coast.
But her pugnacity has not stopped her from forming alliances. In March she became the first Democrat in either chamber to support a Republican-written budget since 2004 after securing a promise for more levee money.
Landrieu, now in her second term, met with Senate Republican bulls Ted Stevens (Alaska) and Pete Domenici (N.M.) in the office of Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to hammer out a deal for her vote.
She says top Senate appropriators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) have come to Louisianas rescue. She also notes the names of senators who dispatched aides to help her staff in Katrinas aftermath, and she singles out Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson for praise.
AROUND THE WHITE HOUSE Landrieu has not let up a bit in her condemnations of the White House, but she is careful to draw a distinction between the presidents inner circle and other parts of the administration, where she has found some of her staunchest allies.
I just sort of went around the White House and just went directly to their Cabinet people, and some of the Cabinet people really understand what happened and theyre really trying to help, Landrieu said. Margaret Spellings was one of the first to grasp it.
Landrieu and Spellings have found common ground in their support for charter schools, facilitating a strong alliance. Spellings did everything she could to put kids in classrooms, a Landrieu aide said.
But other agencies remain in Landrieus crosshairs, particularly FEMA, which she says should not be the vehicle for federal assistance because it is dysfunctional.
Landrieu is among those who argue that aid should move directly through other departments and agencies the Education Department, Housing and Urban Development, the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration, to name a few rather than FEMA, which has become a symbol of the federal governments difficulties in handling the problems of the Gulf Coast region.
They kept thinking FEMA could do it, FEMA could do it, Landrieu said. But even on FEMAs best day they couldnt have done it, and FEMA didnt have too many good days.
A SINGULAR FOCUS Landrieu has other responsibilities in the Senate; she is the ranking Democrat on the District of Columbia Appropriations Subcommittee and a member of the bipartisan Gang of 14 that has played a decisive role in the judicial confirmation process, and her brother just lost a hotly contested Democratic mayoral primary.
But the names of the hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, are seldom far from her lips.
When Placido Domingo visited Landrieu to discuss money for the arts, the opera star instead got a lesson on Louisianas infrastructure.
We had spent 30 minutes with this guy, and we had not talked about arts funding, a Landrieu aide said.
The next day, with the Senate out of session, Landrieu and Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) spent more than an hour interviewing local business owners at a poorly attended hearing titled An Oversight Hearing on Gulf Coast Reconstruction: Has the Federal Government Left Small Businesses Behind?
Republican and Democratic aides say Landrieu has been somewhat less involved with issues unrelated to the hurricanes since they hit.
NO APOLOGIES If one person criticizes them or says one more thing, including the president of the United States, he will hear from me, Landrieu told ABCs George Stehanopoulos in September. One more word about it after this show airs and I might likely have to punch him. Literally.
Landrieu maintains that radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and others took her line about punching the president out of context, but she says she stands by it.
I dont regret it at all, and Id say it again exactly that way, she said. As a leader, I think you should defend your people, not gloss over their faults. But Im not going to let anybody talk about the first responders of New Orleans.
The most recent twist in Louisianas battle for federal aid is a threat by Gov. Kathleen Blanco to delay drilling leases if the federal government does not give the Pelican State a share of the revenue.
Landrieu, who has said she will block energy legislation that does not include a share of federal receipts for Louisiana, supports Blancos approach but would prefer a legislative fix, according to spokesman Adam Sharp.
The entire state leadership supports getting our fair share, and each of us does what is within our ability to drive that result, Sharp said in an e-mail.
Not to worry, Sen. Landrieu, we know where the majority of blame lies.
Um.. Senator - one quick question please: Why didn't you use the data and the plans that were developed for you by Innovative Emergency Management, Inc. prior to the hurricane?"
Ok, maybe just one more question: and even singer Placido Domingo
What kind of credentials does a freakin opera singer have that qualifies him to weigh in on disaster preparedness and response????
I yield the floor.
What a freakin'puff piece this is.
Cajun charm? OMG! Who do they think they're kidding? That's like calling the Hildebeast "feminine".
Precisely, iot is just Moonbeams sprouting from a Moonbaby. But the simplest answer is the single-party state is mired in corrupt and/or incompetent RATS plain and simple. LA needs a few good leaders not political hacks and payola people.
I just drove through the affcted Miss. and La. areas on Saturday, and still there are folks living in tents while the FEMA trailers sit unused in a muddy lot.
What amazes me is that this picture of the flooded school buses has been around the world at least 12 times since Katrina and Nagin was still reelected. Whoever voted for him, deserves him.