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Hastert Forges Ahead

Democrats Balk at ‘Sham’ Panel

House Republicans pushed forward Wednesday with a select committee on Hurricane Katrina, naming a slate of GOP lawmakers to serve on the panel and preparing for high-profile hearings that will likely be attended by at least two Democrats.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) announced the full Republican membership of the panel, which is named the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina.

In addition to Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee roster will include GOP Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Hal Rogers (Ky.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Henry Bonilla (Texas), Steve Buyer (Ind.), Sue Myrick (N.C.), Mac Thornberry (Texas), Kay Granger (Texas), Chip Pickering (Miss.) and Bill Shuster (Pa.).

In announcing the membership, Hastert reiterated his argument that the panel “follows long established precedence from similar investigations under both Democratic and Republican majorities. The Select Committee preserves minority rights and ensures public scrutiny with a fair and balanced investigation of the facts regarding Hurricane Katrina preparation and response.”

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continued her criticism of the committee and her refusal to name any Democrats to the roster.

“The Speaker is not listening to the American people,” Pelosi said. “They have unequivocally said they want an independent commission to find out the truth. They do not want a partisan whitewash of what went wrong in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I will not appoint any Democrats to participate in this sham.”

Davis said Wednesday morning that if Pelosi does not name any Members to the committee this week then he will extend an invitation to the three Democratic lawmakers from the region affected by Katrina — Reps. William Jefferson (La.), Charlie Melancon (La.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) — to attend next week’s hearing with former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown.

“I’m not trying to embarrass anybody,” Davis said. “I just want to give them the opportunity” to attend.

Taylor said he would definitely attend the committee’s hearings if he is invited by Davis and that he had already discussed the issue with Pelosi.

“I told her that I understood where she was coming from, but I thought it was really important someone who saw the mistakes first-hand” be at the hearing, Taylor said.

As for whether other Democrats should attend the hearings over the objections of their leadership, Taylor said, “They’ve got to make that call for themselves.”

Melancon said he would be similarly receptive to an invitation from Davis.

“I’m going to entertain sitting on [the committee] because I’d be remiss not to,” Melancon said, though he added that he currently was more focused on the recovery than on the response.

A Jefferson spokeswoman said Wednesday evening that she had not yet discussed the issue with her boss.

Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said the Minority Leader would not seek to prevent lawmakers who “represent constituents from the affected area” from sitting on the committee, though she is fighting to ensure that those Members have “the strongest possible voice” in the panel’s proceedings.

Crider did not say whether Pelosi would try to block other Democrats from joining the committee if they seek to do so.

In explaining his decision to press forward absent the cooperation of the Democratic leadership, Davis stressed that it was crucial to begin investigating the Katrina response while the evidence was still fresh.

“We can’t wait for the leadership to agree to something when the American people demand action,” said Davis, who promised that the hearings would not be “a partisan sham.”

“I’ll bet my reputation on that,” he said.

Davis dismissed the idea that the select committee would function best if it had equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, comparing it to the often-dysfunctional Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

“We have one equally divided committee in the [House] and I don’t think they’ve had a meeting yet,” he said.

Davis conceded he would have preferred to simply hold the hearings under the auspices of the Government Reform Committee, but “I wasn’t given that option.”

Though no bicameral sessions have been scheduled yet, Davis said, “We’re in communication with the Senate on this and we’ll do some joint hearings.”

Davis’ panel is not the only one in the House pressing forward with a Katrina response investigation.

On Wednesday, the Appropriations Committee announced its own slate of oversight hearings on the subject. The subcommittees on Defense; Homeland Security; Energy and Water; and Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development will all hold hearings next week examining various aspects of the hurricane response effort.

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