WASHINGTON -- Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign, admitted on Sunday that the Obama administration is effectively responding to Hurricane Sandy, despite a torrent of criticisms from conservatives over the effort and Romney's own desire to change the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency operates.
In the past week, conservatives have begun piling on President Barack Obama for his response to the superstorm, attempting to argue that he has fallen short and should not be out campaigning in the final days before the election.
Perhaps the most pointed attack has come from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said President Barack Obama should "resign" for the failures of his presidency, including the Sandy response.
"I don't know what the heck he was doing in Nevada while people were still being discovered dead in New York," said Giuliani on CNN on Friday. "If I were the president of the United States, I sure wouldn't be flitting around the Midwest and the West. I feel pretty darn offended seeing my president floating around campaigning while people are suffering."
But in an interview on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, when host George Stephanopoulos asked whether Romney had "any quarrel with the way President Obama has handled the hurricane," Gillespie said he did not.
"Well, from what we've heard from the governors, they're working well with FEMA," he said. "There's a good working relationship between the state and the federal government."
Gillespie's comments are notable because Romney has been a critic of FEMA and federal involvement in disaster relief, saying last year that FEMA should be abolished so that states would have direct responsibility for disaster response.
His campaign later clarified that he would not eliminate FEMA.
"Governor Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” said campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”
This, however, is the way FEMA already works, as administrator Craig Fugate explained in an interview with NPR last week.
"We're a federal government; we're not a national government," he said "Disasters are local. Through state constitutions, the governors are the primary incident commanders for the entire state response in support of that. And the role of the federal government is to support the states when the disaster exceeds their capabilities. And when it's this bad, we work as one team. But we are in support of the governors, as they are in support of the local officials. It's a federal system of government."
When interviewed by MSNBC's Chris Jansing last week, Republican National Committee Communications Director Sean Spicer was unable to specify how Romney would manage FEMA differently than Obama has or name any missteps the agency has made under the president.
The most high-profile Republican to embrace Obama's response has been New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is also one of Romney's most prominent surrogates. Christie has had nothing but praise for Obama in the wake of the storm, and the two have frequently been photographed together.
On Friday, News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch said Christie needed to re-endorse Romney amid all the bipartisan boosting "or take blame for next four dire years."
But on Sunday, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who also chaired the Republican Governors Association, said he had no problem with Christie's close collaboration with the president during the storm response.
“Christie would have been a fool to poke his finger in Obama’s eye,” Barbour said on CNN's "State of the Union." “When they’re going to be your partner for years, you praise in public and criticize in private.”
White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, also appearing on "This Week," dismissed Giuliani's criticism.
"Well, Mayor Giuliani is running around the country campaigning for Mitt Romney and popping off," he said. "The people in New York and New Jersey, Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Christie, Governor Cuomo, Governor Malloy in Connecticut, Governor Tomblin of West Virginia, they are working with this president and this administration and FEMA every day.
"And really the country has been united -- Mayor Giuliani may be an exception to this -- in focus on recovery, making sure we stand by those who've lost so much and need to recover, and this is going to take a long time."
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