HANNITY: Joining us on our newsmaker line, is the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld with us. Sir, how are you?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm excellent. How are you?
HANNITY: I'm good, thank you. Let's start.
I saw you with the president today, and -- as he was having a meeting -- and he said -- the president that is -- bureaucracy is not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people. And he said this is not a time to talk about all the different failures or successes, but it's the time to help people. Do you think there's been too much criticism?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. I suppose it's kind of par for the course. But what he was talking about was that there's just a good deal of work that we've got to do, the federal, state and local officials, and he is determined to see that -- at the federal level that we -- that that work gets done, and that bureaucracy is set aside. He has teams of people and interagency groups of Cabinet officers working on various problems. He's sending the vice president down on Thursday to get -- come back with a report. And he's determined to do the proper priority of things -- first, to save lives; and second, to sustain those lives -- before getting to the task of recovery and reconstruction.
HANNITY: Mr. Secretary, I think probably the most reassuring sight after the hurricane, after the break in the levee, after the scenes that we saw at the Superdome and elsewhere, was when the military finally made it in on Friday. Is their any way in your estimation that potentially the military could have gotten in there sooner?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, of course you need to -- you need to be invited, and you need to have a plan. And the Department of Defense is not a first responder. The Department of Homeland Security is organized, and by statute has the responsibility, to work with the first responders at the state and local level. And then as they began to make requests of us, obviously we filled them as rapidly as humanly possible. And indeed I would go so far as to say we were leaning so far forward that we were actually moving things and prepositioning things well before we were ever asked for them.
And I can well understand your comment about reassurance. I feel the same way. When I saw General Honore and his team of people and the terrific National Guardsmen doing what they're doing down there -- we now have something like 60,000 military personnel in the distressed areas, and by tomorrow evening I'm told there will be close to 70,000. There are 21 navy ships that are at the area or headed into the area. There's 355 helicopters, active and National Guard helicopters, that are working. There's just an enormous effort going on down there.
HANNITY: Well, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has come under some criticism, but as even The Washington Post reported this week, that FEMA's standard emergency plan, quote, "advises state and local emergency managers not to expect federal aid for 72 or 96 hours." Now maybe when the time ultimately comes I guess maybe that will be reevaluated, but they have got to have their own preparedness efforts in place. And it seems in many ways, considering the full and complete knowledge of the potential here for a disaster that had been written about for decades, you would think a better local plan would have been put in place. You would have thought that the 2,000 buses, school buses that sat in the yards, would have been used to help those people that were incapable of getting out on their own, but none of that had happened locally.
I want to ask you this, because it didn’t really take long for some of the media to suggest that we'd had, you know, quote, "too many National Guardsmen in Iraq," et cetera, which is why they weren't available to go to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I want you to address that, as well as why the military also had to evacuate the area before turning to conduct the rescue missions.
SEC. RUMSFELD: The fist thing I'd say is that -- you mentioned the first responders and the responsibility at the state and local level. That's all true. However, it's true from a matter of the fact that we have a Constitution, that we have a federal system, we have statues that assign responsibility. But the reality is that these first responders at the state and local level, with a natural disaster the magnitude of this, were in fact victims themselves. They were people whose families were killed and their properties lost and their communication systems taken out. So the idea that the principle of the federal system, having the first responders be the people in the path of the natural disaster, is kind of an unrealistic one with something of this magnitude, which of course was unprecedented.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Second, with respect to the issue of our troops, as I mentioned, we've got something like, oh, 60,000 active duty and National Guard troops there. I think it's about 42,000 National Guard and about 17 or 18,000 active duty. We have 1.4 million men and women in uniform, and we -- and in the Guard and Reserve we have another 600,000. So we do not have a shortage of capability. Today there are, you know, hundreds of thousands of Guard and Reserve people who are still available and aren't being used in this. Indeed, there is some areas where we, today, may very well have excess capacity, and we may have to make some adjustments in that as we go forward. So whoever's raising that question about the fact that because we are involved in Iraq or Afghanistan or doing whatever else we're doing that we didn't have the capability I think is just -- doesn't really understand the situation.
HANNITY: Well, I want to get focused on this very specifically because there -- because I do believe there has been some politicizing of all this, which I guess shouldn't surprise anybody because everything in this day and age is. But there have been people that seem to think that the president of the United States can simply just order in 82nd Airborne, start parachuting into New Orleans. But Congress over the years has prevented the military from acting on its own within the United States in such a way. And isn't it true, for example, that the Nation Guard, under our Constitution part of the state militia, that it's a governor that has to take certain steps to request their deployment? Correct?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes. Indeed, the National Guard that are currently deployed there, are deployed under the authority of the governors of the various states. Your earlier reference, of course, is to a statute that's I think called Posse Comitatus, which says that the United States military, except as directly ordered by the president, should not be involved in law enforcement activities. So when people talk about security and law enforcement and those types of things, you properly point out that that's something that has to be done under the state authority by the National Guard under the state authority, as opposed to by active-duty forces under the control of the president of the United States.
HANNITY: Yeah. Well, because one of -- I think as we eventually will go back and analyze a lot of this, they waited until Tuesday to order, for example, New Orleans evacuated. And as I said, we now have discovered that there were 2,000 school buses that were not utilized that were, again, under local mayor control, and that the president himself had actually had to call the governor and urge the governor to force an evacuation, and even at one point for 24 hours she apparently turned down the president's suggestion on that deal. But maybe that's Monday-morning quarterbacking; I don't know.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah, I don't, either. We'll have plenty of time to sort through those kinds of things.
It's interesting, however; I was told this morning that on Tuesday, August 30th, some of the headlines in the press of the United States said "New Orleans Spared From Storm's Fury;" "New Orleans Spared Straight Shot;" "New Orleans Escaping Feared Knockout Punch." So all the press was reporting -- and of course, if you remember, New Orleans did escape the terrible wind damage that hit -- and the wave damage that hit Mississippi. What New Orleans' problem was, was that the levees did not withstand the flooding, and the city of New Orleans was flooded.
HANNITY: So we really had three tragedies. We had a Category 4 hit fairly directly, although not as directly as originally anticipated; you had the break in the levees; and then, of course, you know, mayhem, lawlessness, looting and criminal activity that took the limited resources away from search and rescue and moved them into a criminal control matter, right?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, certainly there were a sequence of things. And I would add that in Mississippi -- I was over there, I guess, Sunday, and if you look at what's happened, apparently a 20- to 30-foot-high wave of water literally cleaned those houses off their concrete bases, their foundations, and in for a sizeable distance. And it was not so much the wind in many of those instances as it was the power of that water just destroying them and taking down everything, just cleaning them right down to the ground.
HANNITY: It's just such a devastation. Do you know we're now told there are reports, Mr. Secretary -- and if you're just joining us, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's with us -- that New Orleans alone is a possible -- are you getting these confirmed reports and estimates 10,000 may be dead?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I have heard all kinds of numbers, and the truth is anyone who's using those numbers probably would admit that they just don't know. You look at the devastation in Mississippi and I am -- I just don't know even now how successful the evacuation there was. In New Orleans, it remains to be seen. There have been a relatively few -- in low hundreds -- numbers of bodies that have been found. So there's clearly has to be a house-by-house search for remains at the appropriate time, which should be starting pretty soon.
I have been very pleased with the work of the Corps of Engineers, working on the levees, and it looks like the water's now receding. If we can have some good fortune and not get another storm or a lot of rain, why, the water ought to recede and people ought to be able to begin that house-by-house search for -- to see if there's any people who are still waiting to be rescued, and certainly to see whatever they'll find with respect to remains.
HANNITY: Well, and the other good news, too, is the pumps have started in New Orleans, and they're beginning to pump out some of that water, too, now that they've got a hold of the levees there.
But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, it's always a pleasure. Thank you for being with us, and we appreciate your time today.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you. It's good to talk to you. Bye.
HANNITY: Thank you, sir.
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