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Lott on Miss. recovery, FEMA mistake

Mississippi Senator says 'we should never have put' FEMA in DHS
/ Source:

BILOXI, Miss. -- In Mississippi, since the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, things have been very bad.  Unfortunately the feds have still yet to arrive.  FEMA still isn't here, again, with any real presence.  The first day I came to Mississippi, I was expecting to see aid workers.  I was expecting to see the National Guard.  I was expecting to see FEMA all across this region. 

They still aren't out in full force.  And, again, all I can do is compare it to what I saw in my hometown of Pensacola, Florida, where there were troops and boots on the ground almost immediately after Hurricane Ivan passed through our region this time last year. 

Well, another person that is very concerned, upset, almost angry, about what has been going on in Mississippi over the past several weeks is Mississippi Senator Trent Lott. 

And I asked Senator Lott on Wednesday in an interview how he and his fellow Mississippi citizens were handling the crisis. 

To read an excerpt from the interview, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R) MISSISSIPPI:  Well, first of all, we are doing OK.  But, more importantly, we are concerned about the people there in Biloxi and Pascagoula and all along the Gulf Coast. 

In fact, as you go further and further west, Joe, as you know, it gets really bad.  But that point in Biloxi where you have been good enough to come -- and we appreciate the fact that you have come and made sure that the country understands that Mississippi is hurting and needs help, and we need it quickly.  And it's helped us.  And you have worked with us, working with church groups.  And they have gotten a lot of good things to the people. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, it's not-it's not time to play the blame game right now. 

LOTT:  No. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I agree with that. 

LOTT:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A lot of people have said that. 

At the same time, what bothers me is that we have seen, by getting supplies over here from our group from Florida, the best way to do it is not through governmental groups or huge bureaucracies.  It's through faith-based groups. 

LOTT:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I talked to your wife on the phone. 

LOTT:  Oh, yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  She is a real trooper. 

LOTT:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But this group that she is working in has a rule.  It doesn't stay on the floor more than three hours. 

LOTT:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is it that church groups can do this so much more effectively than our federal or state or local governments?   

LOTT:  Because that's the uniqueness of America. 

The first-responders really are always the American people.  They will rise to the occasion, any occasion.  There are trucks headed from Ohio and Illinois today to help the people there.  And, basically, they are coming through church groups, to church groups, where they are quickly moved to the people that need it.  I don't know why the federal government can't do the same thing.

But it is a problem.  And we have learned over the past, certainly the last week, we are going to try to find where the problems are by talking to the mayors, the supervisors, individuals.  Then we are going to find the solution to getting it direct to the people.  And we are going around a lot of the bureaucracy.

But the federal government is going to have to come to terms with doing a better job.  One other point.  Last night, I want to a reception to thank a group called Diageo.  It's an international company from London.  They moved a giant generator into Pass Christian, Mississippi, within 24 hours after the hurricane winds died down.  And they have been running the water system in Pass Christian ever since, private company.  Nobody told them where to go.  They came.  They did the job. 

And when I asked the chairman of the company, how can you do that, but the government hasn't been able to do it, his response was, I can't answer that, because it would incriminate too many people.  But it can be done.  And we are learning.  We are getting the bureaucracy, the wheels turning a little bit.  We made a little progress on the mobile home issue.  But we still need a lot more, and we need to get them to the people. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me ask you about the president.  I was really pleased to see yesterday he stepped up.  He said, the buck stops here.  He is going to be talking tomorrow night to America.  What do you want to hear from President Bush? 

LOTT:  I want him to, you know, show the kind of compassion that I know he feels.  I want him to reassure the people that the big part of this fight is ahead of us, and he is going to make sure that the federal government does a better job, does its part.  Look, we are all to blame to a degree.  Part of the problem, we found out, is the laws on the books that Congress passed.  We should never have put FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security. 

We went along with that.  And I guess we will have to go back and try to rewrite the history, but that should be an independent agency reporting only to the president of the United States.  We let it kind of slip off the edge of the board there, and he needs to also make sure that we understand he is going to help us in the short term, the mid term, and we are going to do some really important things to make this not just reconstruction, but renaissance, and how he is going to make sure that happens. 

I think that would buoy the spirits of the people of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and America.