Political Impact of Katrina Hearings, Sept. 11 Commission Report

Renee Montagne talks to News Analyst Cokie Roberts about pending Congressional hearings on the response to Hurricane Katrina and the release of the Sept. 11 Commission's final report card on the government's response to its recommendations.


Joining us now is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: These documents were released as Congress is preparing to investigate the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, three months since the storm struck. Where do things stand?

ROBERTS: Still a sense that basically nothing is happening in the area. Still a very strong sense that there's been a failure at the federal level. The FEMA people who were going in to try to help are often the objects of a great deal of displeasure on the part of the residents. And, you know, you still have in New Orleans about two-thirds of the city dark. The governor has just canceled the mayoral elections or postponed them for next year and I think it just all contributes, Renee, to the sense that the federal government can't keep the country safe and that's a big problem.

MONTAGNE: Now the Katrina investigations will begin as the commission set up to investigate the September 11th attacks is going out of business, finally. Today those commissioners, they're issuing a report card on the government's response to that commission's recommendations. And I gather the grades are not good.

ROBERTS: No. Same problem. The commissioners are saying that the federal government is not doing enough to keep the country safe and they're saying that in very harsh terms, that this is the first duty of government and that the government is now less safe than it was four years ago when September 11th happened and Lee Hamilton, the vice chairman of the commission, said on television yesterday that the terrorists will strike again. Now he and the chairman, Thomas Kean, blame both the president and Congress for failure to act and one of the things they point out is that there's no special radio band where first responders can talk to each other. So going back to Katrina, they were unable, between the Pentagon and fire departments and FEMA and all the various responders, unable to communicate because Congress has not passed the legislation necessary. They also blame Congress for sending the money for security to the wrong places and a few other things. So it's this whole sort of picture here that the federal government just simply isn't doing enough to protect the country.

MONTAGNE: And turning now to Iraq, the White House last week unveiled its plan for victory and the basic message was that pulling out now would make America less safe. Is the public buying that argument?

ROBERTS: Well, there we go again. Apparently not. Time magazine has a poll out today that follows on the president's plan for victory speech last week in Annapolis and in it 60 percent of the people say they disapprove of the president's handling of the war in Iraq, and 45 percent say it is because of his handling of the war in Iraq that they disapprove of his presidency, which more than a majority do. So you really have the administration trying now to figure out a way to sell this war to the American people. One high-level administration official said to me over the weekend that their friends in the Congress and around the country have said, `You've got to get out there more.' So the president is now--that speech in Annapolis last week was the first; he's going to give several more speeches. Talking about what the plan for victory is in Iraq, but also talking about the good news in Iraq.

Now, Renee, the problem for that is that every time there does seem to be some sort of progress, there's another news story about something going on in Iraq that seems to be a problem for the United States and particularly for the United States as a country trying to export its values. And the most recent, of course, is the revelation that newspapers in Iraq are getting paid by the military to run favorable stories. And we know now that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Europe answering questions about secret CIA jails and that, of course, comes after all the allegations of torture which are hard to put behind because the Senate is still in a debate about cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners, which the administration is not signing on to a bill forbidding that. An administration official said to me over the weekend, you know, `The bad guys shoot us in the head and we shoot ourselves in the foot.'

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much.

NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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