Hurricane Katrina: Investigation

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An investigation into determining responsibility for the various failures made by federal, state, and local governments in regards to Hurricane Katrina is inevitable. However, the form of and by whom that investigation is to be conducted is subject to debate.

Joint Review Committee Unlikely

"Congressional Republicans signaled today that they have abandoned their plan to conduct a joint House-Senate probe of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina," the Los Angeles Times Mary Curtius wrote September 20, 2005. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) said that "he could not overcome Democratic opposition to a joint investigation."

As stated below, the "Democratic leadership has refused to appoint members to a joint committee, citing the lack of equal representation of Democrats on the panel, and the lack of power to issue subpoenas that the majority opposed. Democrats also have insisted on an independent inquiry," Curtius reported.

On September 8, 2005, Washington Post staff writers Charles Babington and Shailagh Murray had reported that

  • House and Senate GOP leaders announced the 'Hurricane Katrina Joint Review Committee," which will include only members of Congress, with Republicans outnumbering Democrats by a yet-to-be-determined ratio. The commission, which will have subpoena powers, will investigate the actions of local, state and federal governments before and after the storm that devastated New Orleans and other portions of the Gulf Coast." "The announcement came a day after President Bush said his administration would conduct an investigation into the Katrina response and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) ordered the House Government Reform Committee to suspend plans for immediate hearings. Democrats denounced both actions, and they called the Frist-Hastert plan inadequate. They vowed to push their own proposals for helping the storm's victims and investigating government agencies' responses," they wrote.
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said that a "Republican-led Congress cannot be trusted to make a thorough investigation of a Republican administration. ... 'Democrats strongly prefer that the response to Hurricane Katrina be investigated by a commission of independent experts like the 9/11 commission,'" Reid said.
  • "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the new commission 'is not truly bipartisan, will not be made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, cannot write legislation and will not have bipartisan subpoena power.'"

No Bipartisan Katrina Commission

On Wednesday, September 14, 2005, Senate Republicans "scuttled an attempt by Sen. Hillary Clinton to establish an independent, bipartisan panel patterned after the 9/11 Commission to investigate what went wrong with federal, state and local governments' response to Hurricane Katrina. The New York Democrat's bid to establish the panel — which would have also made recommendations on how to improve the government's disaster response apparatus — failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Clinton got only 44 votes, all from Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Fifty-four Republicans all voted no," the Associated Press reported.

President George W. Bush Launches Inquiry, Puts Self In Charge

Frist-Hastert Plan

A "joint inquiry, launched by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) a day after the White House announced its own investigation, will wield subpoena power and is billed as a bipartisan enterprise, although Republicans will dominate the committee," the Washington Post reported September 8, 2005. "It will be the first joint investigation since the Iran-contra probe of the 1980s," Jonathan Weisman and Amy Goldstein wrote.

"With a deadline of Feb. 15, Frist and Hastert said the inquiry will examine the planning that took place before the hurricane struck the Gulf Coast and the way federal, state and local governments reacted to the disaster."

Carl Hulse, reported in the September 8, 2005, New York Times, that Democratic leader Senator Harry Reid of Nevada said:

"An investigation of the Republican administration by a Republican-controlled Congress is like having a pitcher call his own balls and strikes."

Congressional Probe



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