Democrats in the Senate and the House are stepping up their criticism of the federal government's handling of Hurricane Katrina -- and, in particular, the slow-footed, ham-fisted way in which George W. Bush has responded to the disaster.
In a letter to the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says an investigation into the government's response to Katrina should address, among other things, questions about the president's whereabouts as the magnitude of the disaster grew ever more clear. "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation?" Reid asks. "Did the fact that he was outside of Washington, D.C., have any effect on the federal government's response?"
Appearing on the morning news shows today, Sen. Hillary Clinton called for the creation of an independent, bipartisan panel, akin to the 9/11 Commission, to investigate what went wrong in the response to Katrina. Along the way, she brushed off White House charges that critics are playing politics or "the blame game." "You know," Clinton said, "the questions that have been raised about the competence and the effectiveness of this administration certainly are not limited to what's happened with Katrina. And every time anyone raises any kind of legitimate criticism and asks questions, they're attacked."
On the Senate floor this afternoon, Sen. Ted Kennedy struck a similar note. "This is not a game," Kennedy said. "This is not some schoolyard spat. It's about life and death. Most important, it's about getting it right the next time. We cannot delay the important task of determining what went so greatly wrong and holding accountable those responsible . . . The next disaster could be tomorrow."
The Democrats' message is being delivered now, but it's not so clear that it's getting through to the White House. Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats' leader in the House, met with the president Tuesday, and she says she urged him then to fire FEMA Director Michael Brown. His response: "Why would I do that?"