I haven’t read Karl Rove’s new book, so I’m going to hold off on any hard-and-fast judgements about what the Bush Administration political guru says regarding the events following Hurricane Katrina. It seems some of Rove’s reflections in the book about Katrina have lit up former Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, though, so where there’s a controversy we always like to weigh in.
Rove says two things in his book about Katrina which have made it out into the media. First, he regrets not having advocated that Bush land Air Force One in Baton Rouge the day the levees broke rather than having the plane fly low over the city so the president could get a view out of the window on the way back to Washington. This was largely a manufactured controversy, since had Bush showed up on the day after the levees broke it’s questionable whether he could have accomplished anything of value on the ground. But the visual of Bush peering out the window at the devastation below was a patently bad one, and Rove was responsible for it. He acknowledges the mistake, a mea culpa five-plus years too late…
“We shouldn’t have dropped into New Orleans, because it would have been disruptive, but we should have gone to Baton Rouge, the site of Louisiana’s disaster command center. I’m one of the people responsible for this mistake,” Rove wrote. “Our decision was right for the relief effort but wrong for President Bush’s public standing.”
The second statement Rove makes is the one which drew Blanco out of the woodwork.
Rove says the major regret he has was that the federal government didn’t sweep Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin aside and effect a federal takeover of the New Orleans situation immediately…
“Behind the scenes, the White House staff engaged in a complicated, high-stakes legal and constitutional battle with Louisiana’s governor — which had huge ramifications for New Orleans and the administration. As events unfolded, it became clear that Ray Nagin was no Rudy Giuliani and Kathleen Blanco was no Haley Barbour … their respective staffs were extremely critical of each other, which made cooperation even more problematic.”
He continues: “Our biggest mistake was that we did not seize control of the situation in Louisiana sooner. As the Air Force One meeting showed, Nagin and Blanco couldn’t even agree on who was responsible for public safety in New Orleans. The president should have ordered a federal takeover and taken the heat for pushing Louisiana officials aside.”
Well, that statement didn’t sit well with Blanco, the ex-governor who seems to show up again and again in an effort to remain somehow relevant – perhaps as a pre-cursor to another run for statewide office? Blanco blasted Rove over the weekend:
“The White House was late to the game, so they shifted the blame, and it seems Karl Rove is still at it,” Blanco said in responding to the book.
“My actions and those of my administration have been part of the public record from the very beginning, showing we responded immediately and saved lives while he lied and played games, putting lives at risk for the sake of politics.” she said. “It’s taken him nearly five years to come up with his story, it had better be a good one.”
Gannett Louisiana reporter Mike Hasten, who isn’t much of a critic of Blanco’s, points out that the former governor has documents she claims exonerate her…
Blanco spelled out what kinds of assistance would be needed, even before the storm hit, and sent letters confirming her request to the Federal Emergency Management Administration head Michael Brown and President Bush.
A FEMA representative was at the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security while Katrina was in the Gulf of Mexico, but it took considerable time before the agency actually responded to requests.
One example of the bureaucracy getting in the way is that a FEMA representative said it couldn’t provide drinking water to the survivors who flocked to Interstate 10 overpasses to escape New Orleans flooding because the agency had a contract requiring that all water had to be ordered and trucked in from California.
Some of this is true, and it’s an entirely valid point that while Nagin is no Giuliani and Blanco was no Barbour, Bush’s FEMA director Michael Brown was no Eisenhower. With Brown at the helm it’s hard to make a case that a federal takeover of the Katrina rescue and recovery effort from the start would have been significantly better than what New Orleans had. Unless, of course, the military would have been put in charge; by all accounts the military performance in the rescue effort was one of the shining moments in the entire Bush administration. Perhaps that’s what Rove is talking about when he suggests a “federal takeover” of the situation would have been the correct move.
With all that said, though, nothing in Blanco’s reaction to Rove’s book negates the fact that when Air Force One did land at Armstrong later that week and Blanco and Nagin sat down with the president it was obvious the two were not going to be able to coordinate an effective response, and whether she had sent letters to FEMA or not she did an abysmal job in both requesting federal aid with the specificity required in such circumstances and, perhaps more importantly, calling out the state’s National Guard in time to deal with the security situation in New Orleans before it got out of control. Her performance following the hurricane wasn’t exactly a secret, and it wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring…
The proper response to all this seems to be “a pox on both your houses.” It’s appreciated that Rove recognizes there were mistakes made in Washington, though perhaps a more complete explanation and/or apology – which the people of Louisiana would certainly appreciate, if for no other reason than that the administration inflicted “Brownie” on us – is within the pages of his book and just hasn’t been poured out into the media yet. But Blanco’s red-hot response indicates that she’s still trying to escape accountability and responsibility for the governmental mess that was Katrina, and that’s a disgrace.