Video: Blaming Bush

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updated 9/14/2005 3:45:27 PM ET 2005-09-14T19:45:27

President Bush says the buck stops with him.  In a speech yesterday, he told reporters, "I take responsibility" for the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

But will his comments be enough to silence his critics?  One fellow Texan says accountability is necessary to progress.  Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee talks to "Live and Direct" host Rita Cosby about the political finger-pointing in Katrina's wake, the issue of poverty in the relief effort and how Congress can improve.

RITA COSBY, 'LIVE & DIRECT' HOST: The first batch of criminal charges are coming down, 34 counts taking place against this nursing home that you‘re seeing right here.  This is St.  Rita‘s nursing home in St. Bernard‘s parish, basically saying that they allowed 34 elderly patients to drown.

Are you happy, obviously, to see that there‘s a focus?  And do you think this is just the beginning, Representative?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: I‘m going to send my deepest sympathy and concern to the families of those who lost their lives, particularly this heinous and horrific situation.  The allegations are such that there was a possible abandonment.  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  I‘m

convinced that the situation needs addressing. 

Accountability is an absolute must.

I do want to acknowledge the great charity and generosity of Americans, Houstonians, Texans, and certainly, people who are working in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, and certainly to the media.  I thank you all so very much for exposing to us the hardship of people, but also, this tragedy.

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I truly believe that we must hold these individuals accountable.

COSBY: Absolutely.  And I‘ll tell you, it has been very hard seeing some of the folks, just see who‘ve lost so much here, Congresswoman.  You know, President Bush is obviously speaking out.  He made some comments a few hours ago.  I want to show them and have you react.  Here‘s the president.  Congresswoman, what‘s your reaction to what the president had to say?

LEE: A couple of days ago in Houston, I apologized to a group of survivors.  I‘ve been spending a lot of time with them since they arrived in our community almost two weeks or 10 days ago.  And frankly, I think the president is right on the mark.  I‘m sorry that we didn‘t start out that way, not because an apology heals all, but it does begin us to start afresh and it also acknowledges that we do need a full investigation.  We need to know the particulars.  And I think the point is well taken.

As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, we absolutely need to know the facts on behalf of the American people.  The Homeland Security Committee was put together for the purposes of saving lives, to be proactive, to be in front of the tragedy, in front of the horrific act, whether it‘s man-made or possibly a terrorist act, to thwart the terrorist activities.  And certainly, if it‘s a man-made disaster, sometimes those are surprises.  But certainly, the natural disaster, where we‘re on notice, we should have deployed troops.  We should have had assistance for the local government.  We should have engaged state and local government to be more effective.

And even though criminal charges are being pressed against the owners of the nursing home, the lives could never be brought back.  Who knows what would have happened if resources had gone in earlier and on time, in a more organized fashion.  That is a job that we‘re going to have to do with an independent inquiry, which I support enthusiastically.  But at the same time, we have the needs of the people that have to be addressed, and particularly, Rita, might I note, the 300,000 to 400,000 homeless children whose needs have to be addressed long term.

COSBY: Yes, I know there‘s a lot of kids.  I‘ve seen a lot of them even here, Congresswoman.  This certainly is hurting the president, where it counts.  I mean, if you look at the poll numbers — let‘s take a look at some of the new polls.  This is “The Washington Post” poll.  Overall job approval is 42 percent.  And in terms of Katrina response, how the public feels about that, 44 percent.

What do you make of the president‘s role?  And do you believe race?  You brought up, you know, a lot of them are African-American.  I‘ve seen so many of them are.  They‘re from the poor communities.  Are you happy with how he‘s responded in terms of race?

LEE: Well, I think, Rita, a picture is worth a thousand words.  We‘re never going to get away from the question that is in the minds of so many Americans, African-Americans and others, about whether race played a part.  As I said, as a member of the Homeland Security Committee, I am frustrated and disappointed because it impacts all of America.  I don‘t think many people realize that in Houston, we have thousands of Vietnamese who we‘re now addressing their needs, thousands of Hispanics who‘ve come from New Orleans and other places in the stricken area.

This is both multi-cultural, but I think what it does speak to is the question of poverty and those who have less resources to be able to help themselves.  The government has a special responsibility.  The poll numbers are reflective of Republicans and Democrats alike who are frustrated and disappointed that America did  not rise to the challenge, particularly after the focus of 9/11 and the kind of leadership that was shown locally and seemingly by Washington in this instance.  They wanted to see something better, and we did not give them something better.

We have to go back to the drawing board.  We have to know how to better coordinate with local and state government.  And might I say that one of the chief responsibilities we have is the long-term response.  I‘m convening in Washington this week I hope a good 10 dozen or so or more child advocates from around the country, and particularly here in Washington, D.C., to begin on craft an agenda for the thousands upon thousands of children.  The victims‘ assistance fund must be considered, bankruptcy relief.

So we have a long way to go.  And the president is right to take responsibility today. I hope that responsibility will translate into action on behalf of the Congress and, of course, the administration.

Watch Rita Cosby's special coverage of President Bush's address to the nation with MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews on Thursday, September 15 at 9 p.m. ET.

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