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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?

This Will Go on His Permanent Record

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell says the famous U.N. speech in which he cited the threat from Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction would forever stain his reputation.

Powell, in an interview with ABC News reporter Barbara Walters to air tonight on "20/20" said he felt "terrible" when he learned he had been misled. "The intelligence system did not work well. There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me."

Asked whether this would be a permanent "blot" on his record, Powell said: "Of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."

What if Dewey Defeats Truman?

Seems yesterday's Egyptian presidential election wasn't promising to be a cliffhanger, judging from State Department spokesman Sean McCormack's comments at Wednesday's news briefing.

"During this campaign, President [Hosni] Mubarak went out and spoke to the Egyptian people," McCormack said. "He made promises to the Egyptian people. And we would expect that he follow through on those promises, one of which is the lifting of the state of emergency."

"You say that you hope that President Mubarak will make good on his promises," a reporter said. "Does that mean that you're assuming that he's going to be reelected?"

"Well, we will wait to see what the final results of the election are," McCormack said.

Could be a shocker.

Twice Gun-Shy

Lawrence T. Di Rita, the Pentagon's top spokesman whom Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had recommended to the White House to be undersecretary of the Army, has withdrawn his name from consideration.

This is the second time Di Rita has removed himself from the running for a Pentagon job requiring Senate approval. The previous occasion was when he was up for assistant secretary for public affairs. This time, Di Rita is citing "personal reasons" for his withdrawal.

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