Sunday, September 4, 2005

Politics is on the minds of many as the federal government comes under fire for not responding fast enough to the devastation caused along the Gulf Coast last week by Hurricane Katrina.

One veteran Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, suggested that recent Republican gains in Louisiana, a state President Bush carried in 2004, could begin to erode.

“If a vote was taken in Louisiana today, I think we’d all be in the tank,” he said, pointing to the perception that the Bush administration was slow to provide help to New Orleans

Congressional Democrats have begun to point fingers at the Bush administration, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying Friday that Mr. Bush displayed a “failure of leadership” in the early days of the crisis.

“What is needed in a response like this is one that minimizes death and disease, which minimizes the front assault that this makes on the livelihood of the American people,” the California Democrat said. “If there’s any lesson to be learned, it’s that this response was not appropriate.”

Other congressional Democrats also criticized the administration’s handling of the catastrophe.

“The slow response to the needs of the people in the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina is inexcusable,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat. “We had several days’ advance notice that the hurricane was coming, but where was the preparedness? Is this an example of the administration’s idea of homeland security?”

Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, said the administration’s response “is nothing short of a national disgrace.”

A senior Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Bush’s reaction was “not adequate” and that he might suffer politically.

“You only have to turn on the TV to understand significant problems facing much of that region,” he said, noting that Mr. Bush’s first public statements on the tragedy from the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday “fell flat.”

Another Democratic aide said the federal response “has been woefully inadequate, bordering on embarrassing.”

“I think most Americans do not believe this could be happening in our country,” she said, pointing to the looting and chaos that was rampant for days in New Orleans. “This response looks worthy of the Third World.”

The aide said she was not sure whether dissatisfaction over the rescue efforts would reflect poorly on all Republicans, but she thought Mr. Bush would find himself in trouble.

“I do think this will drag down the president some more,” she said. “One of his claims to fame is being an effective leader in times of crisis, and he has totally dropped the ball.”

A top Republican leadership aide said it is “really disappointing” that Democrats have “already politicized” the disaster.

“We knew Democrats were obstructionists, but we had no idea they were this cold-hearted,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to help, and they are trying to figure out how is the best way to win votes.”

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