Former FEMA director Michael Brown is testifying today before the Republican-controlled House committee investigating the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and he has an explanation for just about everything that went wrong: He should have worked harder on media relations, and he couldn't get state and local leaders to do their jobs in the "dysfunctional" state of Louisiana.
"I very strongly personally regret that I was unable to persuade Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together," Brown said. "I just couldn't pull that off."
Arguing that FEMA's response worked well in Alabama and Mississippi but not in Louisiana, Brown said that the "only variable was the state government officials involved." The governors of Alabama and Mississippi are Republicans; the governor of Louisiana is a Democrat.
Brown and the House Republicans on the committee have a fine line to walk here. Democrats in Congress are pushing for an independent, 9/11 Commission-style investigation into Katrina; Republicans have refused so far and used their majority power to force an in-house investigation that the Republican majority can control. Although several Democrats are participating in today's proceedings, most are boycotting the investigation to keep up the pressure for an independent panel. If Republicans don't hand it to Brown hard today -- if he comes across as looking too chummy with them -- the Democrats would have more ammunition for their argument that the president's party shouldn't be investigating the failures of his administration. That's not what's happening inside the hearing room. The Republicans are kicking Brown while he's down, and Brown is kicking right back -- all while questions that might pin the blame higher up go mostly unasked and unanswered.
Republican Rep. Christopher Shays tells Brown that it's obvious he "wasn't capable of doing the job." Brown snaps back: "So, I guess you want me to be the superhero, to step in there and take everyone out of New Orleans." Shays responds: "What I wanted you to do is do your job and coordinate." Brown says he was removed from the job in New Orleans because the media was "spreading lies" about him. Shays says he was removed because he was "clueless." Brown says he doesn't think he's "clueless." The sniping goes back and forth, and but it remains tightly focused on Brown, the Bush administration official who has already been thrown overboard.
While Brown has put some of the blame today on the Department of Homeland Security, which he says deleted some of his budget requests, it's clear where his allegiances still lie: During the course of questioning a few minutes ago, Brown acknowledged that he's still being paid as a consultant to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff.