Sen. Cleo Fields, a Democrat from Louisiana, and Republican Mayor Matthew Avara of Pascagoula, Mississippi, played Hardball with MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews. The officials discuss what went wrong in the response to Hurricane Katrina and how to proceed from here.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: You had the privilege of meeting with President Bush yesterday. How would you describe his commitment to your part of the country now?
MATTHEW AVARA (R), MAYOR OF PASCAGOULA, MISSISSIPPI: Well, first of
all, thank you for having me.
I had a good visit that lasted a little over an hour. He expressed his commitment from his office to the people here on the Gulf Coast. I found him to be a truly dedicated man to the people, putting aside all politics. He recognizes the suffering that our people are going through right now and enduring right now.
This storm was so massive, and I think it took all of our governmental agencies by surprise. So, he reiterated his commitment from the federal government. And that's what it's going to take to rebuild my community. I can only speak for my community. I have not left, except for
this morning, to go to Biloxi to meet with some other officials. But I can sense his dedication.
He asked — I had requested that the president come. He started off the meeting and asked for me to say — he said, you called this meeting. Why don't we get started? And I choked up a little bit and said that my people were suffering. And I looked over. And I was not the only one in the room that had a tear in his eye. The president had a tear in his eye.
But his commitment is very strong to my community and to this entire region.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, how do we keep control of the money? This price tag, as you know, Mr. Mayor, could go to lot more than the $60 billion the president talked about by the time Congress is through with this. How do we make sure the money just doesn't sift into the sand, that we don't see the real construction and help to the people that $150 or $200
billion should produce?
AVARA: Well, you know, in my city, I can only speak for my city and the people that are suffering down here.
You know, it's going to take tight regulations. One of the things I asked the president was to help us do away with some of the red tape that is prohibiting these assets and resources from hitting the ground. The governor of my state, Haley Barbour, and the president have been working very close together.
I think that, at the end of the day, we're going to reduce some of the red tape to get the assets and the resources on the ground. But it's going to require close scrutiny. And there are a lot of people down here in my region that are suffering, sleeping on their slabs, not in their homes, sleeping on their slabs where their homes used to be.
And our people are very resilient. We're going to rebuild. And, as far as the money coming in, that's something that will have to be regulated. But we have got to get the money down here first. We have to get the assets and the resources on the ground to get the support for the
people. But there are a lot of good people in the federal government who are trying very hard to bring us assistance.
Initially, it was slow. I told the president that. I told him that there were a lot of people here with badges on and shirts that had FEMA and other agencies on them that didn't know what to do. But those resources now are beginning to come into our city. We have got trailers
beginning to come in. And we're going to be OK. We have endured a lot and we're going to be OK.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Mayor, hold on for a second. Let me go to Senator Fields.
State Senator Fields, let me ask you this. A lot of people who have been displaced, I should say, to places like Houston, don't want to come home. They have had a bad experience with the levees in New Orleans. They don't want to come back and risk their lives again. Should they get the same level of relief and help that the president has promised to the people who come back?
SEN. CLEO FIELDS (D), LOUISIANA: Oh, no question about it. I think any person who has been displaced must get the same level of relief. But I think those people from New Orleans are coming home. First of all, we didn't have a plan to move people out. I think the plan that was used — and I think all levels of government was irresponsible in that respect — was really unconscionable, to just put people on planes and just move them all across the country.
The people who were displaced should have been displaced right here in Louisiana and not outside of Louisiana. But we thank the people across the country who have taken them in with open arms. But people will come back to Louisiana. But we have got a lot of work to do on a local, state and federal level. This should have never happened.
This became a major, major catastrophe because we weren't prepared for it. And we should have been prepared. We knew the storm was coming. We knew his name, her name. We knew her face. It was a Category 5. And we failed to take the necessary precautions to make sure that people were out of harm's way.
But for the people who are sleeping on cots all across this country, New Orleans will be rebuilt. I just think they will be back. But the important thing now is reuniting families. We have got too many divided families all across this country. I am calling upon the Red Cross and FEMA
to put these families back together.
And you talked, Chris, about the money that's going to be spent. I think the first priority ought to be given to the people who have been displaced. Small businesses and individuals, they ought to have the first opportunity, opportunities at these jobs, so that they can get a
head start and get their lives back together.
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