WASHINGTON — With hurricane season just three weeks away, the U.S. senators from Florida are urging a colleague to drop his opposition to the former Florida disaster guru who's been tapped to direct FEMA.
Sens. Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson on Wednesday went looking for Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is blocking the nomination of Craig Fugate to become director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Martinez, a Republican, said it was dangerous politics for a Republican from storm-ravaged Louisiana to block this nomination on the eve of storm season.
"He needs to be in there," Martinez said. "Some people utilize the (nomination) process as a way of making a point, or getting attention."
Considered a national leader in disaster response efforts, Fugate, the former emergency management chief in Florida, easily cleared the requisite committee and now needs confirmation by the full Senate. But Vitter has put a "hold" on his confirmation in hopes of gaining leverage in a long-standing dispute with FEMA over emergency housing in southern Louisiana.
"I'm trying to talk him out of it," Nelson said.
Vitter declined to comment when stopped in the hall. A spokesman later said Vitter plans to maintain the hold until FEMA addresses his concerns.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Martinez said he had found Vitter in the Capitol, and pressed his case. "I think this is going to resolve itself in another few days," Martinez said.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday he didn't know if President Obama had spoken with Vitter about the impasse but "we expect that he'll be confirmed quickly." He said the best way for Vitter to get resolution is "to get somebody of the utmost regard at the helm of FEMA to make progress."
Wes Allison can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 463-0577.