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Last week, Donald Trump announced the nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen, currently deputy to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security. Nielsen was also deputy to Kelly when he was chief of DHS, leading us to wonder if Nielsen would be a rubber stamp for Trump’s deportation the way Kelly was. But not much is known about Nielsen herself, besides her resume and roles within previous Administrations.
Rachel Maddow last night shed some light on one of those previous roles, namely Nielsen’s time in the Bush Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Senior Director for Prevention, Preparedness, and Response. The problem? She was in that role during Hurricane Katrina, and the results were ugly. Maddow’s story is brutal. Watch it below:
As Maddow reminds us, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 flooded New Orleans and killed 1800 Americans, and was made much deadlier due to the “disastrous, tone-deaf, late, inept response by the federal government.” Even though the National Weather Service correctly forecasted the brunt of the storm, the Bush Administration could not figure out its response, did not understand the magnitude of the damage, and consequently failed to get people to safety. While New Orleans drowned, George Bush went on vacation, Dick Cheney went fly-fishing in Wyoming, and former DHS head Michael Chertoff flew to an avian flu conference in Georgia.
Maddow pinpoints a very specific occurrence that led to Katrina becoming a disaster: on Monday, August 29, after Katrina had made landfall in New Orleans, a FEMA official climbed onboard a helicopter and visually confirmed that the city’s levees had been breached and that New Orleans was flooding. The information was relayed up the chain — but then disappeared. DHS was, for some reason, unable to process the critical information, the Administration was not properly notified, and the federal government took no action. A report from the Republican-led House of Representatives later made clear that “any delay in the confirmation of levee breaches would delay evacuation” — yet DHS failed to handle this confirmation. Thousands of people died as a result.
And again, who was in charge of prevention, preparedness, and response at DHS? Kirstjen Nielsen. A Washington Post story specifically said that “Nielsen’s team was widely criticized for its passive and clumsy response” to Katrina.
Maddow reminds us that if confirmed, Nielsen would take charge of “DHS, FEMA, all of it, at a time that already feels like deja vu.” She was referring to the post-hurricane disaster currently happening in Puerto Rico, which 27 days after the storm continues to resemble a post-apocalyptic landscape (and among millions of others, is affecting America’s Voice’s own Maribel Hastings). There is no power on the island, different companies are tasked with getting the power grid back up, and a medical ship has been left unused due to lack of coordination efforts. The Puerto Rico relief effort, Maddow said, “is a failed effort in terms of who’s running it, the allocation of resources, and the flow of information.” Is Nielsen the person to handle this kind of job? Past performance suggests not.