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The Situation: Friday, September 9

Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 3 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET weekdays.

The Morning Grind

FEMA Director Michael Brown





George W. Bush
John Roberts
Capitol Hill
Hurricane Katrina

Posted: 8:50 a.m. ET
From John Mercurio, CNN Political Unit

Katrina, 9/11 and FEMA

There are so many comparisons to draw between Katrina and 9/11, whose fourth anniversary will be observed (although, incredibly, somewhat overshadowed) on Sunday. Chief among them will be FEMA and how it responded to two very different crises, in two very different cities.

Much has been made of the '03 bureaucratic reshuffling of FEMA, from a Cabinet-level entity to an agency within the Department of Homeland Security. Dems such as Hillary Clinton and John Dingell are pushing to restore its more prominent status. And there have been emotion-laden accusations. Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, said FEMA ''has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area."

But as the nation pauses to observe 9/11, we focus on how FEMA responded to that terrorist attack, how the agency evolved, bureaucratically and systemically, and how it responded to this natural disaster.

The Washington Post reports today that FEMA Director Michael Brown and four other top agency officials received their posts with "virtually no experience in handling disasters" and now lead an agency "whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically" since Sept. 11, 2001.

FEMA's top three leaders -- Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler -- arrived with ties to President Bush's '00 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Scott Morris, the third in command until May, also had no disaster experience. Two other senior operational jobs are filled by a former Republican lieutenant governor of Nebraska (David Maurstad) and a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official who was once a political operative (Daniel Craig).

Time Magazine also weighs in on Brown's experience, of lack thereof, raising new questions about whether the White House bio for Brown mischaracterizes his work in Edmond, Okla. Time reports that Brown was assistant to the city manager in the '70's, not assistant city manager as his White House bio says, and did not have oversight of emergency services as the bio claims.

"The assistant is more like an intern," a city spokeswoman told Time. "Department heads did not report to him."

More Time: Brown's lack of experience in emergency management isn't the only apparent bit of padding on his resume. Under the "honors and awards" section of his profile at www.FindLaw.comexternal link, he lists "Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University". But Brown "wasn't a professor here, he was only a student here," says Charles Johnson at the University of Central Oklahoma (formerly named Central State University). "He may have been an adjunct instructor," says Johnson, but that title is very different from that of "professor," Time reports.

A FEMA spokesperson said the Time report was "misleading" and said Brown was unaware of what the White House bio said.

But hey, before Democrats use these stories to rail against Brown, we ask, where were they in the summer of '02, when a Democratic-led Senate easily confirmed Brown as FEMA's deputy director and chief operating officer? This information was available to them then, and no one seemed concerned about Brown at that time, when they could have done something about it.

At 1:05 p.m. today, Bush speaks at the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor ceremony on the South Lawn. Earlier, he attends a swearing-in at the State Department for longtime aide and new Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, who'll handle public diplomacy and shape U.S. image overseas. Hughes and Secretary Condoleezza Rice will discuss hurricane relief in their remarks at 10:10 a.m. EDT.

Also today, we're told, Sen. Ted Kennedy will hold a 9:30 a.m. EDT "conversation" on how to heal the communities of the Gulf Coast with NAACP President Bruce Gordon, Jim Wallis, and other members of the faith community. Per an aide, Kennedy, along with Senate and House colleagues, will discuss how Katrina shined the light on the economic disparities that plague the country, his idea for a Gulf Coast Regional Reconstruction Authority, modeled after the TVA, to rebuild the area and foster economic opportunity. Kennedy and Gordon will meet with members of the press following the meeting, at 10:15 in the LBJ Room.

* Add Rep. Richard Baker to the list of congressional Republicans who have made unfortunate comments about hurricane victims -- although he's the first we know of from Louisiana. The Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire" reports comments Baker made this week to lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Baker explained later that he didn't intend flippancy, but has long wanted to "improve" low-income housing.

* Gas prices continue their decline today. AAA reports that the self-serve regular average price stands at $3.018 - down 1.2 cents from the previous day. Gas is nearly 4 cents below the record reported on Labor Day, when it stood at $3.057.

* Also today, we're monitoring fallout from a Texas grand jury that issued indictments yesterday against a political action committee formed by Tom DeLay and a state business group linked to donations the committee made to '02 legislative campaigns. Neither DeLay nor anyone with the business group has been charged with any wrongdoing.

Sensing a political opening, however, House Democratic aides said the indictments, while not directly touching DeLay, reflect poorly on the majority leader's ethics. "It's almost impossible to keep track of how many of Tom DeLay's friends and associates have been indicted," DCCC spokesman Bill Burton told the Grind. "Texans are sick and tired of reading about Tom DeLay standing up to ethics charges more than they read about him standing up for Texas."

House GOP aides said Democratic efforts to make ethics into a campaign issue would backfire. "They're just as vulnerable as we are on ethics issues," Burton's GOP counterpart, Carl Forti, told the Grind. "If they really insist on making ethics an issue, they face the possibility of bringing down some of their own people."

Said Burton, "I find it astonishing that instead of Republicans even claiming their innocence, they instead turn around and attack. They cede the fact that they have ethics problems, instead of answering them."

Forti said that ethics, as a campaign issue, doesn't transfer from lawmaker to lawmaker. "You have to be able to indict each specific member of Congress. [Vulnerable GOP Reps.] Rob Simmons, Nancy Johnson and Heather Wilson are not going to get beat because Democrats try to link them to tom delay or FEMA. It's not going to happen. People know that. They've been through tough races, and it's going to take more than name association for [Democrats] to beat them."

One Democratic aide conceded that "it's yet to be known see whether [the Texas case] is large enough to take down a Rob Simmons or a Nancy Johnson just because of their ties to DeLay."

"What this builds on is this sense that Congress spends more time protecting their own political careers than they do on the things that matter in people's lives," the aide said.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 8:35 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

WAS THE RESUME JUICED? How well was Michael Brown prepared for the job? Since Hurricane Katrina, the FEMA director has come under heavy criticism for his performance and scrutiny of his background. Now, an investigation by TIME has found discrepancies in his online legal profile and official bio, including a description of Brown released by the White House at the time of his nomination in 2001 to the job as deputy chief of FEMA. How Reliable Is Brown's Resume?external link

"VIRTUALLY NO EXPERIENCE" AT THE TOP: Five of eight top Federal Emergency Management Agency officials came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters and now lead an agency whose ranks of seasoned crisis managers have thinned dramatically since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. FEMA's top three leaders -- Director Michael D. Brown, Chief of Staff Patrick J. Rhode and Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks D. Altshuler -- arrived with ties to President Bush's 2000 campaign or to the White House advance operation, according to the agency. Washington Post: Leaders Lacking Disaster Experienceexternal link

NO KATRINA-ROBERTS AD AFTER ALL: A liberal group indicated Thursday that one of its officials was wrong when he said it would broadcast a TV ad with images of poverty-stricken hurricane victims to raise questions about the civil rights record of John Roberts, the nominee for U.S. chief justice. The statement by Political Action came a day after Ben Brandzel, the group's advocacy director, told USA TODAY that such an ad would air next week, during Roberts' confirmation hearings in the Senate. USA Today: says it won't use evacuees in Roberts adexternal link

MOVING PAST ROBERTS: Democrats say the death of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has eased the pressure on them to oppose the Supreme Court nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. but has set the stage for a more contentious battle over the other vacancy on the court. Democratic senators and strategists say they are weighing whether to save their ammunition for the next nominee, who would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, often the swing vote on social issues.NY Times: Senate Democrats Are Shifting Focus From Roberts to Other Seatexternal link

TRMPAC INDICTED: A Travis County grand jury indicted a business organization and a political committee founded by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Thursday on felony charges of violating election laws by using corporate money to influence state elections. The indictments accuse the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee of two counts of illegally soliciting corporate money for political campaigns. Houston Chronicle: DeLay's state PAC indictedexternal link

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