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Saturday, September 10, 2005
 

Bush dismisses emergency response chief

President Bush was in perhaps the deepest political trouble of his White House tenure: He had been excoriated for his response to a deadly tragedy; he was facing unified Democrats; and he was watching gas prices reach record highs as his poll numbers sank to record lows. Yesterday, he hauled Michael Brown, the federal official who became the public face of the government's response to the tragedy, back to Washington. Bush stopped short of sacking Brown, as his critics have asked, despite recent reports that Brown had embellished his resume. Brownie will keep his job and is still charged with preparing the nation to respond to catastrophes. But removing Brown from the front lines was part of a broader effort by the White House, which is desperately seeking to stop a political slide that may be threatening to much of the president's second-term agenda. Surveys suggest that Bush's presidency has suffered. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released yesterday indicated that only 39% of Americans approved of Bush's handling of his job, while 65% say the country is on the wrong track. Katrina and gas prices fueled that opinion. In the days after the hurricane, Brown quickly became a focal point for critics of a stumbling federal response that even the president said was unacceptable. As New Orleans spiraled into anarchy, Brown said in several TV interviews that he had been "surprised" to learn that tens of thousands had been stranded in the convention center in stifling, unsanitary conditions without food and water. Democrats have blasted Brown as an unqualified patronage hire; before joining the administration, he worked on Bush's campaign, and his last job was as a top official with the International Arabian Horse Association. Yesterday, Time magazine reported that Brown had exaggerated his credentials. Despite the criticism, Bush stood behind Brown at first, using his nickname and singling him out for praise Sept. 2 at a briefing in Biloxi, Miss.
"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job"
But as the news reports of despair, death, and chaos in New Orleans continued, the performances of Brown and FEMA drew widespread fire: Democrats demanded that Bush fire Brown, world leaders questioned the president's leadership, and even some Republicans called for investigations into the federal government's preparedness and response. Yesterday, Democrats praised Brown's removal from the scene but said Bush stopped short.
"It is not enough to remove Mr. Brown from the disaster scene. Mr. Brown simply doesn't have the ability or the experience to oversee a coordinated federal response of this magnitude."
Michael Chertoff sidestepped questions yesterday over whether his key deputy had been forced out. As FEMA director, he must be ready to respond to potential threats posed by storms and terrorists, and the mission of Katrina relief is too big a job to allow distractions. Brown has been FEMA director since 2003, after two years as the agency's deputy director and general counsel. Time Magazine reported yesterday that Brown had contended to have been "an assistant city manager with emergency services oversight" from 1975 to 1978. He was an assistant to the city manager with no oversight duties. Though Brown is the main target, comments Bush made himself have contributed to the damage. On Thursday, Bush announced that he was cutting red tape to ensure that disaster victims could receive $2,000 debit cards, even as storm victims standing in line to get the cards at the Astrodome in Houston were shown complaining about delays. Bush drew withering criticism when he said in a TV interview that the breach of levees was a surprise, despite years of federal reports, scientific analyses, and newspaper articles predicting that it would happen in a storm of Katrina's strength. Democrats continued yesterday to call for an independent panel to investigate the government's preparedness for the disaster. In addition, they called for a new agency to coordinate federal, state, and local reconstruction efforts. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, recommended a "Gulf Coast Regional Redevelopment Authority" modeled on the New Deal-era Tennessee Valley Authority. Kennedy said he is working on legislation for such an entity. FEMA director says media made him a scapegoat - 'Atta-boy' out of there as new questions arise - New York Times - CBC News - MarketWatch.
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