Mood Turns Against Federal Katrina Response

Unquestionably, the signal political development of the last 24 hours has been the coalescing of a consensus view among elites that the federal response has been inadequate.

The images and the tone of the network TV coverage are problematic for the political leadership at all levels.

But the national media are focused -- fairly or not -- on the Washington response.

Even the Bush administration overnight stepped back from fully defending the quality of the effort, with White House aides telling at least one news organization that the president is angry over the slow response -- a sure sign that the administration realizes that it needs to "turn the page" on the perception that it hasn't done enough.

"The results are not acceptable," said President Bush to reporters before departing the White House for the region. He added that he was "looking forward to assure people that we'll get on top of this situation and we're going to help people that need help."

Clearly, Bush officials (and congressional Republicans) hope that today's Bush visit to the region and a stepped-up arrival of federal aid will erase memories of a slow start.

This is now political -- the 9/11 model of the parties coming together in national crisis is NOT happening here.

But without public opinion polls and in the midst of a summer holiday, the political class doesn't have a clear handle on what the public thinks. Still, they see the television pictures and they know there is trouble.

Conservative Snipes

Some conservative voices have turned in whole or in part against the Bush effort:

The Washington Times, in a scathing editorial: "We're pleased [the president] finally caught a ride home from his vacation, but he risks losing the one trait his critics have never dented: His ability to lead, and be seen leading." (LINK)

The New York Post complains about the federal government's failure to restore order. (LINK)

Democratic Response

Democrats to a person are substantively critical of the Bush response and "hopeful" that the perception of mishandling will hurt the president and the Republican Party politically. But most of them are still being publicly quiet.

The Washington Post gets two key exceptions, both Democratic senators up for re-election next year in states the president won twice:

" 'It is hard to say, but it is true: There was a failure by [Bush] to meet the responsibility here,' said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. 'Somebody needs to say it.' "

"Is the National Guard 'depleted because so many Guard are in Iraq that we don't have the opportunity to activate civil control?' asked Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. 'That question has to be asked.' " (LINK)


The New York Times gets a Bush official to push back politically:

"White House officials, already sensitive that Mr. Bush is suffering the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and under pressure to manage a catastrophe of what they called biblical proportions, reacted with frustration."

"'Seventy-two hours into this, to be openly posturing about this, to be attacking the president, is not only despicable and wrong, it's not politically smart,' said one White House official who asked not to be named because he did not want to be seen as talking about the crisis in political terms. 'Normal people at home understand that it's not the president who's responsible for this, it's the hurricane. This will get better, hour by hour and day by day.'" (LINK)

The Democratic National Committee's summer meeting, which was supposed to start next week, has been indefinitely postponed.

The Appropriations Process

From the Los Angeles Times: "Congressional aides familiar with the appropriations process said there would probably be another injection of funds for immediate relief efforts in two or three weeks, followed by a massive reconstruction aid package once the damage is calculated."

"With the cost of reconstruction expected to far exceed the $14 billion the federal government spent in Florida last year after a series of hurricanes, some congressional analysts were predicting that Bush's efforts to curb federal spending and overhaul Social Security would be dashed." (LINK)

The Wall Street Journal says: "Senate Appropriations staffers warn business lobbyists are maneuvering to tack on special-interest amendments."

This is very key:

From the Los Angeles Times: "This is a serious matter that calls into question all sorts of things," said Steve Bell, chief of staff to Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of a subcommittee that will handle much of the relief funding. "Do you think we're going to be able to pass substantial Medicaid cuts and Social Security reform in the middle of this? You can't put that much on the plate."

Impacting the congressional agenda: So far, Republicans are saying that the Roberts hearings and the estate/death tax vote in the Senate are both on target for Tuesday. Democrats, having gotten the special session, are still not so sure those won't change.