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Pelosi: Compassion No Substitute for Food, Water, Shelter, a Job, Education for Children

Location: Washington DC

September 02, 2005

Pelosi: Compassion No Substitute for Food, Water, Shelter, a Job, Education for Children

Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held a news conference in the Capitol this afternoon after the House held a special session to pass a $10.5 billion emergency supplemental spending bill for disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Below are a transcript of her opening statement and a partial transcript of the question and answer session:

"Our prayers and thoughts and condolences are with so many of America's families who have lost their loved ones or who have loved ones missing in this terrible tragedy. So many Americans have had their lives just completely turned upside down in terms of losing their shelter, their place of business, the education of their children, and the prospects for good health.

"Americans across the country are shocked and saddened by the images coming from the Gulf Coast.

"Today, Congress took the first step to address this crisis and we will do more in the weeks ahead to provide additional relief and to cut the red tape for the people in the region.

"I have some experience in the area of natural disasters, representing California in the Congress. I experienced our own Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and then followed a few years later by the Northridge earthquake. I know firsthand what it means to a community to have that uncertainty. And as terrible as those earthquakes were - as appalling as it was for me to see buildings burning in my neighborhood and understanding the loss of life and jobs - all of that, as huge as it was, really is small compared to what is happening now.

"This is unusual to see a period of emergency assistance that lasts days. Usually an event occurs, you have the immediate emergency assistance, and then you move on to recovery. But this is a tragedy that continues.

"We have to ask ourselves in any after action review: how could things have been different in terms of ending the emergency relief part of it and moving on to recovery? What could have been done to prevent the magnitude of this tragedy? These are questions that Congress should legitimately ask.

"I had hoped that we could have had this special session earlier in the week to bring the great knowledge and judgment that so many Members have on subjects that relate to public health, to energy, to education, to housing. But in fact we were only able to get this session today. Now it will be sent to the President.

"I hope that I can join with the Speaker in quickly appointing a bipartisan Hurricane Task Force that will bring all of the jurisdictions together - the Chairs and the Ranking Members and other significant and knowledgeable Members of Congress together to address the urgency of Hurricane Katrina. I expect an answer soon from the Speaker as to whether this is a way that he would want to proceed. I hope it is, because I think what has been lacking this week is the sense of urgency, the judgment, and the action needed to save lives and to remove uncertainty from the lives of people.

"I especially want to say something about the children. This is when they are supposed to be going back to school and instead they are going into a time of great uncertainty for them and for their families. It's traumatic for everyone, especially so for children. So I hope in whatever we do as we go forward, it will be with the recognition that unless the children are cared for, we haven't even begun to address the tragedy.

* * *

Q. The President just said moments ago, "I'm satisfied with the response; I'm not satisfied with the results." Do you share that assessment?

Leader Pelosi. "No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. Certainly I associate myself with the second part - I'm not satisfied with the result. But the response? How could the President be satisfied with the response?

"What is needed in a response like this is one that minimizes death and disease, which minimizes the frontal assault that this makes on the livelihood of the American people. Now if there is any lesson to be learned, it's that this response was not appropriate.

"I think we have a problem if the President thinks that this response is satisfactory. That's why Congress has to exercise its role, and this has nothing to do with partisanship. I don't care who the President is, if he said that, I would criticize him, Democrat or Republican. This is not a satisfactory response.

"Let's not call it that; it's an insult to the people who are in hospitals, doctors, health professionals, nurses, and the rest who are making enormous sacrifices. They needed much more to be done sooner.

"What speaks more clearly to that is that we are here on Friday. We're here on Friday for something that we should have been doing four days ago because they didn't have a clearer evaluation of what the needs would be. So in order to do these things you have to observe, judge, and act. Clearly, the urgency of this situation was not judged to require the action that was needed days ago. So either we don't know what we're doing and this is the best that we could do, which would be a sad testimony, and I don't subscribe to it.

"So, no I completely reject the President's characterization and I'm sorry that he made it. Because there are people out there who are suffering who need hope, and to say that this is a satisfactory response lowers the standard for excellence of the American people - of their generosity, their compassion, behooves us to do better. And this compassion, the President, I heard him talking about compassion. Compassion is great. It's a wonderful thing; we should all have it. It's no substitute for food, water, shelter, a job, education for children. So let's not hide behind compassion.

"Let compassion be an emotion, a virtue that we act upon. But not let it be any comfort to us that is a substitute for doing an effective job. Martin Luther King talked about the 'fierce urgency of now,' and we've got to inject some of that urgency into what we are doing instead of complacency in calling this response one that that is satisfactory."

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