Michael Brown, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief under President George W. Bush — best known for his pivotal role in the bungled federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — said Monday night that President Barack Obama’s disaster response effort has been so quick, it might just raise questions.
Speaking to Denver alt. weekly Westword for an interview published Monday night, Brown criticized New York officials for what he called a “premature” decision to shut down the public transportation infrastructure. “I don’t object…they should be doing all of that,” he reportedly said. “But in the meantime, various news commentators…[and others] in New York are shrugging their shoulders, saying, ‘What’s this all about?’ It’s premature [when] the brunt of the storm won’t happen until later this afternoon.”
Brown added that he felt Obama’s press conference on Sunday, just one day before Hurricane Sandy barreled into the eastern seaboard, was politically driven. “My guess is, he wants to get ahead of it — he doesn’t want anybody to accuse him of not being on top of it or not paying attention or playing politics in the middle of it. He probably figured Sunday was a good day to do a press conference.”
For the disgraced former FEMA director, that’s the rub: “[Obama] probably could’ve had a little more impact doing it today,” Brown said, failing to note that Obama did hold yet another press conference on Monday.
“One thing he’s gonna be asked is, why did he jump on this so quickly and go back to D.C. so quickly when in…Benghazi, he went to Las Vegas?” he asked, trying to equate an isolated terrorist attack with the largest storm to every hit the U.S. mainland. “Why was this so quick?… At some point, somebody’s going to ask that question…. This is like the inverse of Benghazi.”
Four brave Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, were killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2011 after terrorists fired rockets at the American embassy in the midst of an angry protest. An investigation is still ongoing. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say that 7.4 million Americans were without power on Tuesday morning, and at least 33 were confirmed dead due to the storm’s inclement effects.
Brown added that he agrees with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s plan to strip FEMA’s funding and let individual states try to fill the gap. Romney said during a 2011 Republican primary debate that he believes using federal money for disaster relief is “immoral.” Although the Romney campaign has since claimed that the candidate actually wouldn’t cut all of FEMA’s funding, Brown seconded the governor’s prior position, telling Westworld, “This has always been my theory.”
Brown said in 2010 that the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, though largely blamed on him, was actually President Bush’s fault. “I really needed the president to get the attention of the entire administration,” he told The Washington Post some five years after the storm. “I needed every Cabinet secretary to be full hands on deck. If I called and said I needed X, they should have given me X. I regret not pushing harder for that. Not having him do that was a tipping point.”
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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