Monday, September 26, 2005
What was the lesson?
Q: Earlier today you said the President was thinking of suggesting trigger power for the military to take over in the most severe catastrophe. My question is, would he bypass our constitutional civilian rule over the military to get that kind of authority?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are some laws that are already in place. You have the Insurrection Act, which was originally passed I think back in 1861. The President had authorities before that to quell rebellions or restore law and order if needed. But that was primarily -- the purpose of that act was really aimed at what I just said, quelling rebellions or restoring law and order. What we saw with Hurricane Katrina was a category five hurricane coming up the Gulf Coast. I think it hit as a category four. But this was a major, catastrophic event, and that's what the President is talking about, a situation like Hurricane Katrina. Is there a trigger needed, an automatic trigger for something like a hurricane five --
Q Wouldn't that be dangerous? After all, there is a --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- for something like a --
Q -- precedent, isn't there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me -- that's why I'm trying to go through this to talk to you about his views and his thinking on this because it is one of the important lessons learned of Hurricane Katrina. And the President is talking about what do we do in the event of a major, catastrophic event when we need to quickly deploy large amounts of resources and assets to help stabilize the situation. That's what he's talking about.
The military is the one organization that has the capability to quickly deploy large amounts of resources and assets to help stabilize a situation in the event of a major catastrophe.
Q But why bypass civilian control? You have instant communications, you can call the President.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we saw some of the problems from Hurricane Katrina. And this is one of the lessons --
Q Why? What --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- this is one of the lessons learned when you have a situation where state and local first responders are doing everything they can to help. But they're also victims. And to a large extent, they are overwhelmed. And so the question becomes, in a situation like that, how do you immediately or quickly establish some stability to help get people the help they need.
Q But can't you assume, then, that the President would know immediately if there was a severe catastrophe in the country?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what?
Q I said, wouldn't we assume that the President would know immediately that there was something terribly catastrophic?
MR. McCLELLAN: And that's why we need to look at this issue, because right now, the way things are set up, you have the Department of Homeland Security, which is from the federal government standpoint where you have a number of agencies under its umbrella that help assist the first responders. But it's primarily a state and local responsibility -- the initial response efforts, with the full support of the federal government.
And we saw with Hurricane Rita that there was very good coordination going on at all levels of government. And the response -- or the reports that the President was receiving that the response efforts were going well to get people the help that they needed and to save lives.
With Hurricane Katrina, you had a unprecedented natural disaster, one of a size and magnitude like we haven't seen before. It covered a very large area. And the President wants to make sure that we learn the lessons from Hurricane Katrina, and that means at all levels of government. And one of the lessons is, in a situation like this, do you need an organization like the military to come in and quickly stabilize the situation. They're the one organization that can do that, and that's what he wants Congress to consider.
Q They couldn't even reach the President during Katrina.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's false. That is absolutely false.
The cost of cleaning up after the damage caused by the broken levees (which was probably avoidable) is going to be much more than if the goverment had spend the money to keep the levees repaired and in working condition. The lesson is not to make sure other cities infrastructures are in good shape, rather the lesson is to change the rules on how quickly the millitary can get involve in the catastrophy. It looks as if the goverment trives on the catastrophies and is not interested in avoidng them in the first place.