Wild Card of Musical Chairs

By Al Kamen
Friday, September 9, 2005

The on-again, off-again rumor that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is moving to be secretary of the treasury to replace John Snow appears to be on again. The timing, though, seems somewhat odd, what with the priority now on Katrina recovery efforts -- both actual and political.

Card, after all, is likely the most experienced person inside the administration on these matters. Loop Fans will recall that he was point man during Bush I for the much-criticized Hurricane Andrew relief operation in 1992, an effort some believe helped give the nation the Clinton era.

The question the last time the rumor bounced around was who would replace Card, with the oddsmakers suggesting either Office of Management and Budget chief Josh Bolten or Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Problem then was said to be a need to await resolution of the investigation into Rove's role in the Valerie Plame leak to the press. That investigation is supposed to be concluded next month.

Misunderestimating Readiness

Speaking of the Katrina relief effort, FEMA Director Michael Brown, had this to say to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security just six months ago: "Our nation is prepared, as never before, to deal quickly and capably with the consequences of disasters and other domestic incidents."

Brown, formerly FEMA general counsel and a longtime head of the International Arabian Horse Association, is under vicious, even bipartisan, attack for being in over his head. He's being blamed for all manner of miscues -- our favorite was for the plane Tuesday with New Orleans evacuees that landed in Charleston, W.Va., instead of Charleston, S.C.

Will Spin for Food

FEMA, realizing the need to shore up its public image, has issued a call for help on the spin front. Butch Kinerney of the FEMA headquarters public affairs office has asked flacks at agencies around the country for help, "especially folks with emergency management backgrounds who can travel quickly to DC and/or to affected areas."

Right now, "FEMA will pay for all of your transportation and lodging, but we can't pay your salary," Kinerney said in his e-mail, adding that perhaps "your agency [might be] willing to donate your time and pay your salary."

Your options, he said, would be to "work in relatively comfy FEMA headquarters and stay in a hotel. Or you can sleep in a tent and work out of the trunk of a car in the most stricken areas."

Blame Game With Dollar Signs

The predictable political warfare over the Katrina recovery kicked into high gear this week, though the battle lines were a bit obscure.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) apparently issued the first salvo Tuesday when he opined that the costs for government relief efforts might go as high as $150 billion.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), perhaps seeing this as a thinly veiled attack against further estate tax cuts, blasted Reid's math and accused him of playing politics. Asked about Reid's comment, DeLay said: "I don't think anybody knows, and anybody trying to know is just playing political games."

But then Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) weighed in and upped the ante, saying the bill might be as high as $200 billion. So maybe it's a bipartisan political game?

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