Senate Democrats

Reid: Frist’s Proposal Fails the Critical Test of Independence

Washington, DC — Democratic Leader Harry Reid today wrote to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist informing him that the proposal to establish a select committee to review the nation’s preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina fails the critical test of independence and non-partisan review. Reid expressed continued support for an independent commission to investigate the response to Katrina and to provide Americans with answers independent of politics.

A text of the letter is below:

September 15, 2005

The Honorable William Frist
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C.

Dear Leader Frist:

Thank you for providing me with your proposal to have the Senate establish a select committee to review this nation’s preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina. Like you, I believe it is vitally important that we learn why our government’s leaders failed to perform one of their most essential and basic tasks – protecting the American people from natural or man-made disasters and swiftly coming to their aid when such incidents occur. The survivors of this tragedy and all Americans have a right to expect that their leaders will make every effort to understand what went wrong so that we can identify and implement the steps necessary to ensure that what we witnessed this past month in the Gulf Coast never happens again.

As you know, under regular Senate order, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs would take the lead in any investigation of the government’s actions on Katrina and other disasters. This committee has both the authority under Senate rules and the demonstrated expertise to conduct such an investigation. At the outset of our discussions about the best way for the Senate to proceed on this matter, I expressed my preference for letting this committee handle the Katrina investigation. I also said I would be willing to consider departing from regular Senate order to establish a select committee if I was confident such a committee could do a better job of providing the survivors and the American people the answers they deserve.

Unfortunately, after closely analyzing the proposal you presented to me earlier this week, I have concluded it fails that critical test for one very simple reason. As currently drafted, I do not believe your proposed select committee will conduct an independent, non-partisan investigation that will take a hard look at actions by both the Bush Administration and this Congress. As a result, your proposal will not provide the American people the assurances that we have learned every lesson from this tragedy and have developed the corrective measures necessary to make our country more secure in the future.

Consequently, I will continue my push for an independent, blue ribbon commission similar to what we established in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Democrats and, ultimately, Republicans agreed that approach was the best way to help the American people understand why their government failed them that awful day. And the commission’s findings were broadly supported and embraced by the American people and leaders of both parties because they understood that, unlike any congressional body, the commission was uniquely capable of asking tough questions of both the Administration and the Congress.

Senator Clinton has proposed that we follow this proven model in the case of Katrina and I have yet to hear a compelling why we should not. At the same time, I will also continue to support the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s efforts to investigate Katrina. Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Lieberman have worked well together in a bipartisan manner in the past and I confident they will continue to do so in the future.

I remain hopeful that you will eventually agree to work with me to establish a truly independent commission to provide the American people answers about why their government failed them and what steps can be taken to ensure it never happens again. The survivors of this tragedy and the American people deserve no less.


Harry Reid
United States Senate