Political Impact of Katrina Report

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Renee Montagne talks to Cokie Roberts about the political fallout of the Katrina report.


Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Rene.

MONTAGNE: So, as we've just heard, the House report on the response to Katrina describes a litany of failures. What's the political fallout likely to be?

ROBERTS: Well, I think this is a very serious problem for the Bush Administration, because essentially, what it says is that nothing has happened since September 11th to make us more safe, and the safety has been the president's great selling point. The anti-terrorism, safety against our enemies, but if you look at the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which was done explicitly for this purpose of making us safer, it is the place that comes under the most criticism in this report. And it's very similar, Renee, to the whole situation surrounding the September 11th commission, which then found all kinds of problems there, and it doesn't seem to have been anything that's changed to make people able to avoid total disaster.

And, you know, with Katrina, we're still talking about thousands of people missing. You're talking about at least as many people in dire straits as happened after September 11, and so I think that this is very, very damaging for this administration, given the fact that safety has been its selling point.

MONTAGNE: And then, President Bush faces growing skepticism within his own party on another matter, warrantless eavesdropping. He's been defending the program before big groups of Republicans. Has it helped?

ROBERTS: Well, he is certainly trying to get Republicans back behind him, even as there are people who are calling for new legislation on this inside of his own party. He went to a retreat of Republican House members last week where he told them, reportedly, there were no press in the room, that if he watched his poll numbers, he would lie in a fetal position on the floor. So, he's trying to go forward with his program, but he seriously needs to get Republicans behind him, and he is speaking this week to the Senate Republicans, to the Florida Republicans, to the Republican National Committee, clearly feeling that he's gotta get his own party behind him before he worries about anybody else, and he is not having an easy time with that.

And one of the things that you can see happening already is Republican officeholders reaching out to other Republicans, Republicans who might be running in 2008. So, John McCain is suddenly very popular with these people. Senator George Allen of Virginia is showing up on all kinds of campaign appearances. I think you're going to see that with the president having less and less power, partly because of the fact that he can't run again, but partly because his own poll numbers are just so low.

MONTAGNE: Over the weekend, Senators from both parties said that Vice-President Cheney should be investigated if it turned out he directed anyone to leak secret information.

ROBERTS: Well, that refers to the whole business of leaking the name of Valerie Wilson to members of the press to try to discredit her husband, Joe Wilson, and Scooter Libby who has been indicted under that leak investigation, has seemed to imply that the Vice-President directed him to do so, but that is not clear in what Libby has said, and Senators are saying if that's true, then Cheney's office should be investigated. But it was a tough weekend for the administration, Renee.

Pictures of the President with Jack Abramoff, the convicted lobbyist, showed up in several publications, something that the White House has been trying to avoid, and the Vice-President trying to just have a fun hunting trip in Texas, had an accident where he shot totally accidentally, obviously, shot the man that he was hunting with, and the Vice-President's hunting companion is still in the hospital. And so, it has just been a tough time for them to get any sort of traction.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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