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Frist’s efforts weren’t intended as a slam at President Bush, who has taken a pummeling in the media from Democrats in Congress, their operatives, and cooperative journalists who were willing to set facts aside for the opportunity to create a political fire storm around the Republican president.
Instead, Frist’s call for an investigation sent many Democrats running for cover. “If you look at the history of appropriations and funding of federal dollars, no delegation served their state and major cities better than Louisiana,” says a Senate staffer. “In the end, if the Democrats want to place blame, they know the behavior of their party members, for a generation really the only party in power in New Orleans and Louisiana, is damning, and they don’t want to draw any more attention to the issue than the media wants to.”
Senate Appropriations Committee staff late last week were drawing up statistics on just where the hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for New Orleans over the years, on everything from community support, federal policing dollars, emergency preparedness, and levy control and modernization.
“Let’s put it this way,” says an Appropriations staffer. “There is a fair degree of certainty up here that dollars that should have gone for projects and programs that might have been helpful in New Orleans’ time of need was never used for those purposes. If I were a local politician or a state or local bureaucrat down there, I’d be nervous about now.”
Further lost in the aftermath of Katrina’s furor was the fact that neither New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin nor Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco had wanted to order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, a city of 485,000 people. Both politicians had been avoiding the issue until Saturday, August 27, when President Bush called both Democrats and, according to congressional and White House sources, essentially demanded that a mandatory evacuation be ordered. The order was made on the 28th.
At a news conference announcing the evacuation, Nagin also went on the record predicting that the storm’s surge would top the city’s protective levees, yet in the aftermath, Nagin was quick to place blame for the levees on Washington.
“There is absolutely no question that federal support should have been put into place sooner and that we were caught flat-footed,” says a Homeland Security Department staffer. “But when everything is said and done, nobody is going to want to be in the way of the political fallout that comes from a thorough investigation of what happened down there. And that includes Democrats.”p>By late Sunday, what had emerged was a picture less to do with Washington, and far more to do with incompetence on the state and local level. Federal emergency preparedness officials were poring over Louisiana’s and New Orleans’ emergency plans. “There is a very good reason everyone down there has clammed up about beating on the President,” says the Homeland Security staffer. “The only people who continue to do it are the likes of [ Tim ] Russert