On the eve of the first presidential debate, the conservative website The Daily Caller Tuesday circulated previously unreported clips of a five-year-old speech in which then-Senator Barack Obama praised his controversial former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and suggested the federal government discriminated against the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"I've got to give a special shout-out to my pastor. The guy who puts up with me. Counsels me. Listens to my wife complain about me. He's a friend. And a great leader," the president said of Wright in an address to the Hampton University Annual Ministers' Conference in Hampton, Va., in June 2007 in video posted by The Daily Caller and first aired on Fox News.
ABC News ran that clip in a March 2008 piece on "World News Tonight with Charles Gibson." At the time, prepared remarks of Obama's speech were released by the campaign and a local newspaper posted a nine-minute edited video of the address. What ABC News and many others, including The Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson, covered at the time was based on that edited video and the prepared remarks.
As ABC News reported at the time, Obama implied the Bush administration had ignored what he called "quiet riots" in the United States - serious instances of poverty and hopelessness that had gone unaddressed by the federal government.
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But the full version of the speech, posted on The Daily Caller website this evening, shows Obama taking that argument a step further, suggesting the federal government overlooked the needs of residents of New Orleans suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as opposed to victims of other disasters in other parts of the country.
"Down in New Orleans, where they still have not rebuilt 20 months later," Obama says, "there's a law, federal law - when you get reconstruction money from the federal government - called the Stafford Act. And basically it says, when you get federal money, you've got to give a 10 percent match. The local government's got to come up with 10 percent. Every 10 dollars the federal government comes up with, local government's got to give a dollar.
"Now here's the thing, when 9/11 happened in New York City, they waived the Stafford Act - said, 'This is too serious a problem. We can't expect New York City to rebuild on its own. Forget that dollar you got to put in. Well, here's 10 dollars.' And that was the right thing to do. When Hurricane Andrew struck in Florida, people said, 'Look at this devastation. We don't expect you to come up with y'own money, here. Here's the money to rebuild. We're not going to wait for you to scratch it together - because you're part of the American family.' … What's happening down in New Orleans? Where's your dollar? Where's your Stafford Act money? Makes no sense. Tells me that somehow, the people down in New Orleans they don't care about as much."
Carlson told Fox Tuesday night the clips were evidence the then-candidate was "whipping up race hatred and fear. Period."
The clips, which were hyped online throughout the day by Fox News and conservative blogger Matt Drudge, were billed as something the "left wing press has been hiding since 2007."
"That is racial rhetoric designed to make people fearful," Carlson told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "This is the opposite of what a uniter does, this is what a demagoguer does, and it's wrong."
At a different point in the speech, Obama suggests there was no racial animus afoot when it came to how the government responded to Hurricane Katrina.
"People ask me whether I thought race was the reason the response was so slow," Obama said. "I said, 'No. This administration was colorblind in its incompetence.' But everyone here knows the disaster and the poverty happened long before that hurricane hit. All the hurricane did was make bare what we ignore each and every day, which is that there are whole sets of communities that are impoverished, that don't have meaningful opportunity, that don't have hope and they are forgotten. This disaster was a powerful metaphor for what's gone on for generations."
In response, the Obama campaign said the release of the clips are a "transparent attempt" by "Mitt Romney's allies" to change the subject from the GOP nominee's secretly recorded comments that 47 percent of voters are dependent and believe "they are victims."
"The only thing shocking about this is that they apparently think it's wrong to suggest that we should help returning veterans, children leaving foster care and other members of Mitt Romney's 47 percent get training that will allow them to find the best available jobs. If the Romney campaign believes that Americans will accept these desperate attacks tomorrow night in place of specific plans for the middle class, it's they who are in for a surprise," campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a written statement.
Then-Sen. Obama throughout 2007 criticized the federal government for not waiving the requirement of 10 percent matching funds for FEMA dollars for Gulf Coast states.
In July 2007, he said before the Senate Environment And Public Works Committee, "Before last summer, the Stafford Act, I think, was just an abstract law for many of us. We had had some experiences, obviously, with hurricanes or with tornadoes and floods in Illinois, but nothing compared to what happened on Aug. 29, 2005, when Katrina made landfall. So now it is our responsibility to determine what we can do to insure that the Stafford Act and the agencies that implement it have the flexibility and resources they need to respond to the next Katrina.
"I just completed my first trip to New Orleans last week and was astonished by what I saw," he continued. "No matter how many times you hear about it, no matter how many times you see it on the news, no matter how many times you meet folks who have no home to return to, nothing prepares you for the terrible reality and scope of the devastation.
"I asked the folks there how we in the Senate can help," he continued. "They had had almost a year to think about it. They had some good answers. One thing that they asked was that the Stafford Act establish a magnitude of disaster above major disaster level. They suggested a catastrophic disaster designation that could provide the long-term resources and assistance that such a disaster would require. They asked for an increased federal share in paying for emergency work, work such as the clearance and removal of debris and temporary restoration of essential public services. After Katrina, homeowners were forced to pay for debris cleanup because FEMA wouldn't foot the bill. They asked for changes in housing assistance. Clearly, FEMA was not equipped to address the housing needs of the displaced. We need to fix that problem in any reauthorization of the Stafford Act."
- Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce