The House select committee examining the federal response to Hurricane Katrina recently released a 600-page report criticizing all levels of government for the disaster. Democrats had refused to be involved in the committee officially, but a few participated informally and released their own supplementary reports. We speak with Georgia Congressmember Cynthia McKinney, one of the participating Democrats. [includes rush transcript]
The report titled "A Failure of Initiative" blames the government for "an abdication of the most solemn obligation to provide for the common welfare." The report assigned blame to all levels of government for the failed response to the storm. But Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff and President Bush’s staff drew the heaviest fire. The report says Chertoff should have moved two days before Katrina hit — when the National Weather Service issued dire warnings about the storm and that the Homeland Security Department should have done more to help the Gulf Coast. It states "the failure of complete evacuation resulted in hundreds of deaths and severe suffering for thousands." The report goes on to say that "if 9/11 was a failure of imagination, then Katrina was a failure of initiative."
The committee that prepared the report was comprised of eleven Republicans. Democrats refused to be involved officially because they feared a whitewash. However, two Democratic Louisiana Representatives —- William Jefferson and Charlie Melancon— participated informally in the committee’s activities. Georgia Democratic Representative Cynthia McKinney also participated. All three Democrats released their own supplementary reports and said that the official House Committee report did not go far enough especially in addressing the needs of thousands of hurricane victims who remain homeless. They also called for Michael Chertoff to resign.
- Rep. Cynthia McKinney, (D — Georgia)
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Congress member Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, who did participate in the Select Committee, though most Democrats did not. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Congress member McKinney
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Good morning, Amy. And it’s so good to talk to you again. I want to say thank you for calling me and thinking about me.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we watched you yesterday as the Select Committee on the Response to Hurricane Katrina released their report. Can you talk about the results, also why you participated, and your response to the report?
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Thank you very much. Let me just say that I am particularly pleased to read in The Hill newspaper, which is a newspaper up here on Capitol Hill, that some Democrats are now having second thoughts about the work of the Katrina panel, which they had previously called the "sham panel." Now, I’m hard-pressed to explain to the Katrina survivors and to the communities that have welcomed them why the Democrats would boycott a panel and judge its work product before it actually produced any work, especially while holding the 9/11 Commission up as an example of the type of panel that should explore Katrina. Everyone knows, in actuality, that the 9/11 Commission was what was actually a sham.
And yesterday, in public open session the House Armed Services Committee heard testimony about Able Danger, and from three witnesses who testified, they said that if they had been allowed to do their work that that work could possibly have prevented 9/11. And this is the same team of people whose work was called historically insignificant by Dr. Zelikow and whose work Louis Freeh said that if he had had that information, could also quite possibly have saved this country the trauma of 9/11. Now, Dr. Zelikow made a judgment to bury the work of the Able Danger team. And so, for the Democrats to hold the 9/11 Commission up as a model is quite honestly ludicrous. What the American people know after the 9/11 Commission is that they can’t trust that particular independent commission to tell them the truth.
But as a result of the work that the Katrina panel did, we at least know more now than we knew before. And what do we know? What’s on the congressional record now as a result of the work of the Katrina panel is that President Bush was on vacation at the Texas ranch; Vice President Cheney was fly-fishing in Wyoming; Condoleezza Rice was in New York City where she took in a play, went shopping, and played tennis with Monica Seles; Donald Rumsfeld was at a San Diego Padres game; and Michael Chertoff, the man whose job it was to manage our country’s resources and organize the response to this horrific hurricane, didn’t even know he was in charge and decided to stay home. Yes, I call for his resignation, too.
AMY GOODMAN: The Republicans on the Select Committee did not call for his resignation. Is that right?
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: The Republicans pointed a fair amount of blame at Secretary Chertoff, because it was clear. In many of the proceedings, everything went back to the Department of Homeland Security. And it’s not sufficient to say, "Well, I extended authority to the FEMA chief." There is some point at which the secretary has to come out of his house and decide that saving the Gulf states is important. And quite frankly, I have to say to you that the mental gymnastics that the American people are watching now, with Secretary Chertoff trying to defend the indefensible, is fatiguing. And so, what needs to really happen, so that the administration can get a clean break on this and start all over again and do justice to the people of the Gulf states who are still suffering and facing the onslaught of another hurricane season, is for him to leave and let the administration start all over again.
AMY GOODMAN: So what do the Democrats do now? They didn’t participate, except for the three of you, in this Select Committee Response to Hurricane Katrina. What happens now?
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, that’s a question that’s better posed to Nancy Pelosi, who made the decision that Democrats shouldn’t participate. But one of the things that we must do is there is an omnibus piece of legislation that the Congressional — members of the Congressional Black Caucus have introduced. That legislation ought — the Democrats ought to push for hearings in every one of the ten or eleven committees that the legislation has been assigned to, push for hearings in each one of those committees. The debacle that we’ve seen with FEMA putting people out of hotel rooms needs to be stopped. And we need an important voice. We need the Democratic voice from the leadership on this issue to make the people whole again.
FEMA is saying that it will take them two years to produce maps that will tell people where they can and cannot live in the effected regions. That means that the 300,000 people who are no longer in New Orleans can’t come back until FEMA tells them where they can rebuild. This means that people are going to be in limbo for the two years.
Democrats need to make sure — and I would commend — it’s not that Democrats have done nothing, because there’s some Democrats who have been very active and very vocal on this issue and have pushed legislation. And I want to commend those, particularly in the area of housing. Congressman Barney Frank, Congresswoman Maxine Waters have worked hard and actually went to the Gulf area in a hearing with Congressman Ney from House administration — formerly of House administration. So, it’s not that Democrats aren’t doing anything. But this is an opportunity to get important information on the congressional record and to make Congress move. Even Governor Haley Barbour came before the Katrina panel and begged congress to move. And that’s what all of the Democrats ought to be doing and pushing and pushing and pushing to pass legislation and to get dollars into the hands of people so that they can make their lives whole again.
AMY GOODMAN: I have just a quick question that might sound off topic, though perhaps it’s right on topic, and that is, you are a long-time Congress member from Georgia, you lost your seat for a term and then came back; where do you stand, in terms of seniority, since you’ve returned?
REP. CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Thank you for asking that question. There were three former members, who were in my returning class, sworn in in 1995. There was Dan Lundgren from California, who had been out for 16 years. When he came back, the Republican leadership gave him back his seniority as if he had not missed one day. There was Bob Inglis from South Carolina, who had been out for two years. When he came back, the Republican leadership gave him his seniority as if he had not missed one day. The Democratic leadership, Nancy Pelosi, refused to give me back my seniority, even though I asked for it, and so I returned as a returning freshman.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress Member McKinney, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Democratic Congress member from Georgia. Thank you.