The president's powers in the event of disaster.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 11 2005 12:39 PM

Send in the Cavalry

The president's powers in the event of disaster.

(Continued from Page 1)

In the 1990s, despite rising concerns about a WMD terrorist attack, neither Congress nor the Clinton administration tried to clarify when the military should be called in for a domestic emergency. Sensitivity to states' rights played a role. But the main problem was that Congress and the president didn't want to face some tricky questions. What if a riot or looting broke out in the chaos after a civil disaster—in light of the limits imposed by Posse Comitatus, would troops be authorized to fire on the looters? Rather than come up with creative ways to link local police to military units, these questions were tabled. The 9/11 attacks didn't quite force the issue. President Bush responded to the attack on the Pentagon before Virginia Gov. James Gilmore declared a state of emergency—the damage to a federal facility seemed to fall clearly within the zone of federal authority. To be on the safe side, though, White House lawyers asked Gilmore to announce a state of emergency after the fact.

The 2004 National Response Plan shares the historical aversion to setting out beforehand a role for the military in the event of a domestic disaster. Even if a catastrophic incident is designated, the Pentagon's only immediate assignment is to manage "patient movement"—the transport of sick people—with the Department of Health and Human Services. Mass civilian evacuations are left entirely to the Department of Transportation.

Advertisement

At the same time, however, the NRP says that the White House has the authority to initiate a "proactive" response using all "critical resources." The Bush administration doesn't need an act of Congress to rethink the military's role in planning for the next disaster. Leavitt's bird-flu plan, when it's finished, should clarify the president's willingness to use troops in the event of a mass outbreak of a deadly virus. In the wake of Katrina, President Bush had all the authority he needed to instruct the Pentagon to send more helicopters, to use military transport planes, and to move more troops to the Gulf Coast. He didn't. He shouldn't make that mistake again.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

The Feds Have Declared War on New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Europe’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celebrity Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 6:39 PM Spoiler Special: Transparent
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?