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Reuters News: Bush may find it hard to resist Katrina commission

From Reuters news:

The White House and Republicans may find it difficult to resist mounting pressure for an independent commission to examine government failures in the response to Hurricane Katrina, experts said on Tuesday.

Only two Democrats showed up as a House of Representatives committee began investigating the response to the devastating August 29 hurricane. The Democratic leadership argues that an inquiry controlled by the Republican majority in Congress lacks credibility and cannot be trusted to honestly probe failures of the Bush administration.

Republicans have so far rejected calls for a bipartisan commission similar to the panel that investigated the September 11, 2001, attacks, even though polls show an overwhelming majority of the public supports such a probe.

A Gallup Poll last week found 81 percent of respondents in favor of an independent investigation with only 18 percent backing a congressional investigation.

"I don't know why they are resisting so hard," said pollster John Zogby. "The public is angry and they want answers. The Republicans may have picked a fight they can't win."

The hurricane stranded hundreds of thousands of mainly black, poor, old and sick people in New Orleans for days as law and order broke down. More than 1,000 people in Louisiana and Mississippi died and television images of survivors trapped without food and water stunned the world and raised issues of race and class in the U.S. emergency response.

"It is extremely important that a commission independent of the executive and legislative branches analyzes the Katrina disaster and the events leading up to it," said Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado.

The center on Tuesday began circulating a letter calling for an independent commission to academic and other disaster management practitioners and experts.

"We need a panel of qualified experts that is knowledgeable and objective and has all the investigative and subpoena powers necessary," Tierney said.

Critics of the administration, including groups like MoveOn.org, are beginning to organize petitions around the country and have already collected 400,000 signatures. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, also strongly support an independent commission.

Some political analysts believe that ultimately the Republicans will have to give way, just as the White House, which initially opposed the creation of the September 11 commission, was eventually forced to agree to it.

Some senior Republicans have said privately they should avoid a fight on this issue, given the polls.

Republican leaders insist that Congress and the White House, which last week appointed President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, to head an internal inquiry, were perfectly capable of getting the facts.

But House Democrats planned to introduce a petition to force a floor debate and vote on creating a commission..."
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