Congressional Action: Senator Frist on Katrina

On September 1, Senate Majority Leader gave the first speech as the Senate reconvened on account of Hurricane Katrina:

Mr. President, on behalf of my colleagues and fellow Americans, I come to the Senate floor to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and to reassure the thousands of families suffering from this tragedy that we are committed to providing all of the relief and support necessary to get through this terrible and ongoing crisis. It is unprecedented, and it is unfolding before our eyes. Thus, this is a highly unusual emergency session we are conducting tonight.As the President has said, our first priority is saving lives. At this very moment, relief organizations and faith-based volunteers are working valiantly to provide food, shelter, water, and medical care. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has delivered essential sustenance and supplies. It has supplied and continues to supply generators and thousands of cots and blankets and has deployed over 1,800 personnel to save lives and render medical assistance.

Our action, coupled with the House action tomorrow, will ensure that all necessary funds are immediately available to respond to this ongoing crisis.

The Army, Navy, National Guard, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Air National Guard are hard at work conducting rescue operations and providing aid. Twenty thousand guardsmen are on the ground right now. Thousands more are on the way.

Volunteers from my home State of Tennessee have been on the front lines all week. I think of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, a ministry of 3,000 Southern Baptist Tennessee churches. They are working around the clock on rescue missions, at relief stations, cooking thousands of meals and providing emergency care. And they are offering something else, something desperately needed in this time of tragedy: the hope and the love and the compassion of a Nation–of all of us pulling together as one.

As Norma Jones, a 63-year-old volunteer from Indian Mound, told a newspaper, “Most of the time, the rescue survivors just want to be hugged.”

Hundreds of storm victims have found refuge in Nashville and middle Tennessee. Many are staying with relatives until it is safe to return, which, as we all know, may not be for months.

The ongoing crisis has become a crisis of refugees, a crisis of refugees the likes of which this country has never seen. In Memphis, TN, actually a long way from the gulf, there are 10,000 refugees as we speak, and over the course of tonight they are expecting 4,000 more refugees in that town alone.

On the television, we see families wading waste-high for dozens of blocks in search of food or dry land or clean water. We see those families marooned on those rooftops, as floodwaters swirl past, writing, inscribing with whatever they have available: “Need insulin.” “Diabetic.” “Please help” — reaching out for hope, reaching out to be saved.

Our very own colleague and friend, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, lost his family home in this disaster. He returned recently — about 2 days ago — to his family home and found nothing. Our deepest sympathies go out to him and his family as they face this difficult time and to so many others in this body and, indeed, all around this country who face these personal challenges.

Towns, cities, communities, and shorelines have been decimated and reduced to rubble, to debris. We have a public health crisis that is just beginning, an ongoing crisis, but one that will increase almost with certainty over the coming days and weeks.

New Orleans, one of America’s most vibrant cities, will take years to recover. Hundreds of helpless people remain trapped on highway overpasses and in the city center with nowhere to go, no food, no water, no sanitation, and security has been tough, as we have all seen over the course of the day.

Most of Mississippi is without power, without electricity. Towns, villages have been totally destroyed.

The darkness of the night will be not just dramatic but, as we heard over the last several hours, haunting underneath those bridges, in rural areas with no lights for blocks, for miles, just human suffering.

Our rescue teams are working hard, and we see that. We are so proud of them, and they deserve our praise–our enormous praise–for their courage, for their boldness, for their dedication. People are still stranded. They are reaching their breaking point, and they need our help now. That is why at 10 o’clock tonight we are acting. That is why we are convening tonight in this urgent session for an emergency supplemental, operating by unanimous consent. FEMA needs additional funds now to continue their relief efforts and to continue the recovery.

Over the course of the last several days, we have had numerous calls with President Bush, and the Democratic leader and I just several hours ago received a call from President Bush requesting these funds. We applaud President Bush. He moved early to get emergency supplies prepared and ready to go. We have been in constant contact. He and his administration have been working tirelessly to meet this daunting challenge.

We all recognize we have much to do. There are many frustrations that have bubbled up over the course of the last several days to do more or things are not going well, and we feel those frustrations. We feel that pain. We feel that suffering. Again, that is why we are here tonight–to support, to deliver, to answer those challenges.

I also thank our State and local leaders for their tremendous dedication and commitment. We, this body, our Federal Government, stand behind them 100 percent. Helping the victims of this hurricane disaster is our highest priority.

Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath is, as we now know, one of the worst catastrophes this country has ever seen. But this is America, and in America we face our toughest challenges together as one, united and lifted up by our compassion and our strength.

Even in our darkest hour, our humanity shines through, millions of citizens, millions of Americans committed to one another, to the care and well-being of all.

Inscribed in this very Chamber just above the Presiding Officer is “E Pluribus Unum,” out of many, one.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Note: “Congressional Action” is a blog feature highlighting an official activity undertaken by or in Congress, very often chosen at random, to provide an educational snapshot of our Congress at work. Opinions and facts represented in this feature do not necessarily represent the views of Amy Ridenour or The National Center for Public Policy Research, nor is this feature intended to express an opinion on any measure under consideration by the Congress.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.