Video: Tony Perkins

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Baton Rouge native Tony Perkins has been a fierce supporter of President Bush.  But Perkins, the president of the conservative group The Family Research Council, says he's concerned by the "bureaucratic" handling of the relief effort by the president and state officials.  To him, this management interferes with faith-based organizations' ability to help.

He explained his frustrations to MSNBC-TV's Joe Scarborough in an interview. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY HOST: I want to start by asking you to just tell the truth.  How has the federal government, how has the state government, how has the local government handled this crisis in your hometown, your home state? 

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT OF FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, not well, Joe. 

I was in New Orleans on Sunday.  As you know, I spent eight years in state government there in Louisiana.  And we had a long talk about something like this.  Of course, this disaster is far beyond the proportions we had ever anticipated.

But the city was slow to get people out to begin with.  They had a mandatory evacuation.  But this is a city, a big city, a large poor population that did not have vehicles.  They didn‘t provide transportation out.  They were stuck in there.  They didn‘t provide the necessary food and water in the shelters.

And then it took the state a couple of days to decide how they were going to start getting people out of there.  And then FEMA and their response I think has been a disaster on top of a disaster.  I think they are just now getting a grip on this, and we are over a week after this has occurred. 

If it were not for the churches and the faith-based organizations and the citizens there on the scene, and some in state government, there were some heroic efforts put forth by citizens and by some government officials that have done all that they can do.  But the stories that are going to come from this of the — I think the inept response of government — should cause us all to question what we have in place. 

SCARBOROUGH: Tony, it has just been absolutely dismal.  As you know, I am on the Gulf Coast.  I have followed these storms for 30 years.  I have seen relief efforts behind the scenes.  I have been over to Mississippi over the past week.  I have been in contact in New Orleans, and it is dismal on all levels.  And yet, Tony, I am getting lectured from Republicans in Oregon, California, upstate New York, Arizona, telling me, I need to back off the president.  I need to back off...

PERKINS: No. 

SCARBOROUGH: ... of FEMA.  I need to back off these state leaders.   You and I are on the Gulf Coast.  We know how these things are supposed to be run.  This has nothing to do with politics, does it, Tony?  It has everything to do with protecting these people‘s lives. 

PERKINS: Absolutely, Joe. 

It‘s not only government‘s responsibility.  It is all of the community to work together in disasters like this.  But what we have actually found — and I am working with a network of about 400 churches; 100 of them have shelters in their churches.  We are feeding daily about 11,000 people.  And guess what?  FEMA, Red Cross will not give us anything, because we are not approved.  We are not a part of their network. 

And, in fact, I just found out today Red Cross is going to be giving out cash payments to those in the official shelters, but the thousands of people who are living in churches or in homes of people—almost everybody I know in Baton Rouge has someone from New Orleans living in their home, in addition into their churches. 

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Tony, I want you to follow up on that.  And, again, I am going to talk about what I have seen.  I was on the ground for four days before we saw anybody from the Red Cross. 

They have got FEMA set up their evacuation center out in the sticks, at Biloxi High School, about 15 minutes away by car from the hardest-hit, poorest neighborhoods in Biloxi.  Again, it makes no sense.

And Tony, tell me if you have found this.  Other than the churches, other than the faith-based organizations, don‘t you find that FEMA and these local authorities and these big national charities are almost like rival gangs?  If you don‘t filter everything through them, they don‘t want to help the people.

PERKINS: It‘s bureaucratic, Joe.  I think there was a big mistake now, I think, in combining all of this under Homeland Security.  You have just added layer upon layer.  It took me until today to actually talk to people in FEMA to try and get some help on the ground there for these 100-plus churches.  Tomorrow, it will be one week that people have been staying in our church, in particular my home church. 

We have 100 evacuees out of New Orleans that are living there.  And if it were not for the people in the church bringing in mattresses and blankets and pillows, all of them would be sleeping on the floor.  The government, as if they say, well, we are going to deal with this.  We don‘t recognize what you are doing out there.  And we are not going to help you. 

There‘s got to be a unified effort, realizing that government cannot deal with all of these issues.  They must have the faith-based component.  But they must work with them, and they must help them.  I mean, we have moved in over 150 18-wheeler loads of food and water from across the country.  People around the country have sent it into our organization, which is prccompassion.org. 

We have actually had some of those have been seized by FEMA and federalized, as they have come into the state, and they have taken them. 

SCARBOROUGH: And that is—the people—Tony, I know that you—and we are going to—you and I are going to be talking about this for some time, I‘m sure.  People would not believe, would not believe how the bureaucracy of the government and some of these big relief organizations actually stand in the way and stop you from helping the truly disadvantaged. 

PERKINS: Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH: The people who need the water the most, the people that need the medicine the most, the people who need the clothes the most, again, they are like rival gangs.  And it‘s disgusting. 

I want to move to the president for a minute, because I think this is very important.  You know the president well.  I know the president.  I know his team.  They are very efficient people.  They ran four very efficient hurricanes last year in the state of Florida.  And I am not even talking about the mayor of New Orleans or the governor of Louisiana.  I think they are inept and in over their head. 

What I don‘t understand is, what‘s happened at the White House?  How did they take their eye off the ball?  Why didn‘t they run this emergency relief operation as efficiently as the Florida operations last year? 

PERKINS: Well, Joe, first, I think that the size of this disaster, I think, really eclipses those others.  I think there‘s a combination of factors.  I have been constantly discussing this with the White House, trying to get help navigating through the mass of bureaucracy. 

SCARBOROUGH: Well, what have you told them?  I mean, have you told them how frustrated you are? 

PERKINS: I have told them I have got 11,000 people that are sleeping on floors in churches that are outside the network of the Red Cross and FEMA, and they are refusing to be recognized that we need help. 

These churches, they are churches.  They are not hotels.  You just talked about a little bit about disease earlier.  We have had this, this is what‘s happening, Joe.  You have got local officials that have the approved shelters, which are in public facilities.  They are trying to get them out, because they want to continue business.  So, they are pushing them onto the churches, and we are gladly receiving them.

But earlier this week, a bus of special-needs elderly patients were brought to a church, patients that need 24-hour medical care.  We are not set up to deal with that.  And they leave them there at the doorstep.  That‘s all being done without any assistance from FEMA or from Red Cross or others. 

We are just saying, hey, we want to be a part of the solution.  We will help, but you have got to work with us, let us know what‘s going on, give some of the resources to do this. 

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