Pelosi on Bush: "Oblivious. In Denial. Dangerous"
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina's unprecedented death and destruction, Washington's Democrats are fired up. The party's been effective in launching an orchestrated attack on President Bush and administration officials over the government's dreadful rescue and relief efforts and its overall lack of disaster preparedness.
To stanch the onslaught, the GOP has unleashed its own "Blame Game" campaign, hatched no doubt by Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett and hammered home by Press Secretary Scott McClellan (who used the term "Blame Game" eight times during yesterday's press briefing), to deflect the criticism and instead accuse the Democrats of politicizing the tragedy. But Democrats, for the first time in the Bush presidency, are winning the war of words. On the Hill this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) raised the intensity level: "Instead of unconscionably blaming others, President Bush must take charge and take responsibility, and must get it right, and that is my concern and the message that I will bring to the President: 'Mr. President, you should have taken charge and you should have taken responsibility.' And yesterday Pelosi racheted it up another notch in describing Bush's overall leadership this past week: "Oblivious. In denial. Dangerous. Americans should now harbor no illusions about the government's ability to respond effectively to disasters."
Joining the chorus were several other key Democrats including Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who said this week: "The controlling philosophy in Washington now is to dismiss community and place all the responsibility on the individual."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (NV), in a letter this week to Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Liebermann (D-CT), Homeland Security Committee Chairman and ranking member respectively, heading a sub-committee on government oversight, highlighted several failings of the Bushies during the initial hours and days of the catastrophe in the Gulf, among them: "Absence from Washington of the President and key officials. How much time did the President spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation? Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C. have any effect on the federal government's response? When it became apparent a major hurricane was days away from striking the Gulf Coast, why didn'tt President Bush immediately return to Washington from his vacation and why didn't he recall key officials and staff members back from their vacations? Would the presence of key officials in Washington have improved the response?"
From former and future presidential John Kerry (D-MA): "It's a summary of all that this administration is not in touch with and has faked and ducked and bobbed over the past four years. What you see here is a harvest of four years of complete avoidance of real problem solving and real governance in favor of spin and ideology."
And the media has been no less dogged in its pursuit of answers accountability. The Democrats' new hero, NBC's David Gregory, who scored no points with the White House earlier this Summer with relentless questioning of McClellan over the Rove/Plame scandal, was equally harsh during yesterday's briefing, at which he sparred with McClellan over Bush's support of FEMA head Michael "Brownie" Brown and Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff. The actual exchange is riveting:
Q Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and
Secretary of Homeland Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, see, this is where some people want to
look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving
problems, and we're doing everything we can --
Q What about the question?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're doing everything we can in support --
Q We know all that.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.
Q Does he retain complete confidence --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort
that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to
help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the
blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage.
Q Okay, but that's not at all what I was asking.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play.
Q You have your same point you want to make about the blame game, which
you've said enough now. I'm asking you a direct question, which you're
MR. McCLELLAN: No --
Q Does the President retain complete confidence in his Director of FEMA
and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered the question.
Q Is the answer "yes" on both?
MR. McCLELLAN: And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of
Q There's a lot of criticism. I'm just wondering if he still has
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and blame-gaming. What we're trying to do is solve
problems, David. And that's where we're going to keep our focus.
Q So you're not -- you won't answer that question directly?
McCLELLAN: I did. I just did.
Q No, you didn't. Yes or no? Does he have complete confidence or
McCLELLAN: No, if you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing
and blame-gaming, that's fine --
Q Scott, that's ridiculous. I'm not engaging in any of that.
McCLELLAN: It's not ridiculous.
Q Don't try to accuse me of that. I'm asking you a direct question and
you should answer it. Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA
Director and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?
McCLELLAN: Like I said -- that's exactly what you're engaging in.
Q I'm not engaging in anything. I'm asking you a question about what the
President's views are --
McCLELLAN: Absolutely -- absolutely --
Q -- under pretty substantial criticism of members of his administration.
Okay? And you know that, and everybody watching knows that, as well.
McCLELLAN: No, everybody watching this knows, David, that you're trying to
engage in a blame game.
Q I'm trying to engage?
Q I am trying to engage?
McCLELLAN: That's correct.
Q That's a dodge. I have a follow-up question since you dodged that one.
Does the White House feel like it missed opportunities to alleviate or head
off some of the damage in the New Orleans area, flood damage? Did it miss an opportunity to head any of that off?
McCLELLAN: In what way?
Q In responding to requests to make structural improvements, or other
improvements to alleviate flood damage, and so forth?
McCLELLAN: Maybe you ought to look at what General Strock said, because
General Strock briefed on this the other day and he talked about the design
issues relating to the levees and how that was a design issue. And he talked
about that. And we provided, I think it was some $300 million in additional
funding over the course of the administration for flood control in the
Southeast Louisiana area. But General Strock talked about that and he talked
about some of those issues. And any suggestion that it would have prevented something, that there could have been action that would have prevented
something, I think he dismissed because of those reasons.
Q So if the President still has confidence in the FEMA Director, how is
it that the FEMA Director is suddenly invisible? No briefings, nowhere
out front, it's all gone to Secretary Chertoff.
McCLELLAN: I think he's going to brief later today. I think he's briefing
Q Brown is?
McCLELLAN: Yes. And, again, that's clearly now just an attempt to try to
engage in this finger-pointing, and we're going to continue focusing on
Q He's been the focus of an enormous amount of criticism. You know that,
and yet, you choose not to respond.
McCLELLAN: I just talked about how there are over 75 -- no, that's not
true. There are over 75,000 people that are involved in all the response
and recovery and law enforcement when it comes to Katrina. And we
appreciate the efforts of everyone. We appreciate the efforts of Secretary
Chertoff and Undersecretary Brown and all those at FEMA who continue to
work round-the-clock to get things done and to identify problems and fix
Wow. I've got chills. It's great to see the media's spine returning and
the Democrats' passions ignited. While the Bushies can play the blame
game, or call us obstructionists, or call us anti-American, in the end
it's all about accountability. This is starting to look like Democracy's
finest hour. Andy