Senator Blocking Obama's FEMA Nominee
May 5, 2009 - 5:25 PMHurricane season starts in just a few weeks, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency remains without a leader as a Louisiana Republican senator is blocking the White House's nominee over lingering concerns from Hurricane Katrina.
Sen. David Vitter said Tuesday he is standing by the hold he placed on President Barack Obama's choice to lead FEMA. Vitter says he has been waiting for more than two months for the agency to tell him how it will proceed with high-risk flood zones that will affect rebuilding. He also wants responses on rebuilding several community facilities in the small barrier island of Grand Isle, La.
"They need to get this done," he said in an interview. "This is a really important issue for our recovery that they have been dragging their feet on essentially for almost four years. I brought this to their attention months ago."
Obama nominated Craig Fugate to head the agency two months ago. Fugate, a former chief of emergency management in Florida with broad experience handling hurricanes, has bipartisan support and had been expected to win quick confirmation.
Groups such as the International Association of Emergency Managers and the American Red Cross are urging quick action.
"It is critical that FEMA leadership be put in place swiftly," a group called the Stafford Act Coalition wrote Senate leaders this week. "Currently, our nation is addressing the H1N1 flu and the response and recovery for multiple other disasters involving flooding, severe storms, tornadoes and wildfires."
Any senator can place a hold on a presidential nomination. Vitter alone can't block the nomination, but he can delay confirmation by forcing time-consuming votes.
Louisiana's other senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, has said she shares Vitter's concerns but thinks the issues can be resolved after Fugate is confirmed.
"It is counterproductive to hold this exceptionally qualified and experienced nominee to head FEMA, particularly when hurricane season starts next month," she said. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
Vitter declined to say how long he would hold out or how he would react if he doesn't like the answers FEMA provides.
"I haven't thought about that because I expect a response very soon," he said.
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