McCarthy Goes To Maui, House GOP Will Investigate Wildfire Cause
McCarthy Goes To Maui, House GOP Will Investigate Wildfire Cause
Contrast the way that Joe Biden first responded to the wildfires on Maui (“no comment“) and then how he behaved when he went there (“I almost lost my Corvette in a fire!”), to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his visit to Maui yesterday.
McCarthy showed up on Maui after announcing that he was going to go and see things for himself.
I'm headed to Hawaii to assess the damage, response, and recovery efforts on the ground from the fire in Maui. It's clear we need answers into how this tragic fire occurred and what could have been done to prevent it from happening.
— Kevin McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy) September 1, 2023
He gave a press conference, and was accompanied by Representative Jill Tokuda, a Democrat who represents Maui in the House. Democrat House Minority Whip Katherine Clark was also along on the trip, but she was not at the press conference that McCarthy held with Tokuda.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy toured Lahaina on Saturday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and pledged continued congressional support to rebuild.
“We are going to be there for you,” McCarthy said, in a news conference following the tour.
“We want to know what went wrong and that it never happens again. We watched American lives get lost. I don’t think anyone can go there and not be moved. This is taking out a total community.”
McCarthy also met with survivors and first responders in West Maui, and reassured the state that federal funding would continue to flow toward recovery efforts. And in a nod to residents’ concerns, he stressed the importance of moving forward in a culturally-sensitive way.
During a lengthy news conference, McCarthy also noted his personal connection to Hawaii, saying he’s visited Lahaina “many times” before and was struck by the scale of the devastation.
“The responsibility as policymakers is to honor those who lost their lives and understand the heritage. Respect it, but rebuild it,” McCarthy said, adding it’s critical to “better prepare” for the threat of wildfires in the future. Among the potential mitigation measures he mentioned: Burying power lines, expanding the firefighting force and resources, and addressing dry brush “fuel.”
Tokuda thanked McCarthy for the visit and noted how important it was to see the disaster area in person. “Seeing the lack of resources and what we need to make sure we prepare,” she said.
McCarthy said it’s vital that lessons be learned in the wake of the fire.
“It’s clear we need answers into how this tragic fire occurred and what could have been done to prevent it from happening,” he said.
Given Joe Biden’s reaction and behavior in regards to photo ops around disaster areas, McCarthy showing up and putting more attention on the devastation of the wildfires – without all the hoopla that naturally accompanies a presidential visit – is probably very welcome to the people of Maui. As we have continued to cover on this blog, the scope of the devastation that has consumed Lahaina and deeply affected the whole island cannot be overstated. The number of confirmed dead continues to stand at 115, with only 55 identified, but the FBI’s missing list (which in itself is admittedly incomplete) sits at 385 people. The identities of the dead might never be known, especially if next of kin had no idea that they were on Maui or in Lahaina. Consider that on September 11th, people generally knew where their loved ones were because airplanes have manifests, people showed up and clocked in to work, and the Pentagon knew who was in the building. There is no way to know who was even present in the path of the wildfire unless someone is reported missing.
This uncertainty is definitely driving anger among the survivors, who are demanding answers from their elected leaders. Mayor Richard Bissen, for example, is still dodging questions about where he was the night of the fire, while admitting that he had no idea that people had died until the next day.
In a televised message Thursday, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen sought to defend his administration’s response to the devastating Lahaina wildfire, saying the county took quick action to deploy aid and understand the scope of the disaster.
But he acknowledged it took hours for his team to learn just how horrific the blaze was.
And in a particularly revealing detail, Bissen said he didn’t know there were any fatalities in Lahaina until the day after flames tore through the historic town. The death toll from the wildfire now stands at 115; many were killed as they attempted to flee the town.
“As the evening of the first day came, the horrific effects of the wildfire in Lahaina became apparent,” Bissen said, during his live address on public access television.
“At that time, the degree and magnitude was still unknown as the situation unfolded.”
He added that while he knew emergency crews were battling the flames in treacherous conditions, he didn’t learn until the following day — the morning of Aug. 9 — that people had died in Lahaina.
In a news conference this week, Bissen said he was “not sure” who was in charge at Maui’s Emergency Operations Center on the day of the wildfire.
He also declined then to elaborate on his whereabouts as Lahaina burned.
In his address Thursday, Bissen said he did know that Maui’s emergency management administrator was in Waikiki for a conference on the day of the wildfire. He also said that he spent much of the day at the emergency operations center.
In the light of all of this, plus Maui County suing Hawaiian Electric and Hawaiian Electric then countering that yes, they DID turn the power off, means that it really will take an outside third party to figure out exactly what went wrong here.
Enter the House GOP, who have announced investigations into what went wrong in Maui. First, the House Oversight Committee announced before McCarthy’s visit that they would be starting an investigation into the federal government’s response.
U.S. Rep. James Comer, who chairs the committee, issued a statement about the investigation ahead of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s expected trip to Maui to meet with local officials and survey the disaster zone.
“The response by federal, state, and local officials to the catastrophic wildfire in Maui raises serious questions and Americans, especially those impacted by this tragedy, deserve answers,” Comer said.
“As recovery efforts continue, the House Oversight Committee has a responsibility to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and effectively. To minimize the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars, the Oversight Committee will examine the federal government’s response in Maui and work with other committees of jurisdiction to ensure accountability.”
“Our hearts are with the people of Maui as they confront immense grief, sadness, and despair, especially for those who are still searching for their missing loved ones,” the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a letter.
“We must come to a complete understanding of how this disaster started to ensure Hawaii and other states are prepared to prevent and stop other deadly wildfires.”
“Certain evidence of a downed power line sparking dry grass in Lahaina indicates that Hawaiian Electric equipment may have been the cause. We understand that Hawaiian Electric, as well as the Hawaii attorney general, are conducting investigations into the deadly fire.”
Usually, I would not be rooting for yet another Congressional committee or investigation. But the deeper we go into what happened in Maui before, during, and after the wildfires, the more it becomes apparent that the local government was run like a local good-old-boys club, as we can see with the convenient resignation of the emergency director who got his job through political connections, and the convenient (and possibly illegal) transfer of the water deputy who was deeply hung up on water worship, not use. Journalists have been shut down because they are not being nice enough to local officials, or practicing proper “aloha.” People are dead, and the local politicians are ducking and hiding behind cultural expectations. At this point, it is going to take the power and the outsider authority of Congress to actually pry some real answers loose. The dead and the survivors deserve the truth.
Featured image: Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), cropped, official photo, public domain