In a Republican presidential debate during the GOP primaries on June 13, 2011, Mitt Romney was asked by moderator John King of CNN how, as president, he would handle the federal response to natural disasters. Romney responded by suggesting that he would consider reducing the role of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the point where it's no longer effective as an agency:
The most crucial point of this video was when King asked Romney how he would handle disaster relief. Romney replied,
"We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."
To boot, Romney also called federal disaster relief "immoral" on grounds that it would further raise the deficit, while ignoring the fact that human security is one of the most fundamental and important jobs of the federal government.
With Hurricane Sandy having wreaked havoc on the east coast, Obama and his allies will likely use Romney's statement against him in the tight presidential election. Many critics like Mother Jones and the Huffington Post have attacked Romney for being callous in his statements, and have rebuked him for dodging questions on his statements regarding FEMA and disaster relief.
Though there has been no overt signals that this will happen, but Obama has made an effort to highlight the role of FEMA during his press conference on Hurricane Sandy on Monday.
In his remarks, during the press conference, Obama noted that FEMA was part of the broader federal effort to provide relief and aid to the east coast after the high degree of damage done by Hurricane Sandy. It's not known if the statement at this conference was intentional; however, it could be used at a later time to score points for the Obama campaign.
The attack may highlight the video from the GOP primaries and suggesting that Romney would have left the people hurt and/or negatively affected to fend for themselves using Romney's words. As a result, Romney would seem more callous than what's already present in the media and the web:
If nothing else, Obama can look good on camera (see his White House press conference video above) and look presidential in how he handles the relief effort for the affected areas of the east coast. So far the White House has authorized $7 billion in disaster relief for FEMA to use in helping states from Virginia to Massachusetts, and may spend an additional $11 billion with congressional approval.
To be fair, Romney's statements could also be spun as an effort to reduce the federal role in disaster relief and provide a chance for states' to meet the needs of the situation — kind of like what he did for health care in Massachusetts. He'd let states tailor their emergency response based on their individual needs rather than a federal solution that employs a one glove fits all approach.
Whatever happens, Romney will get hurt by his own statements. Though Obama has ponied up big bucks for the relief effort, he'll get points with viewers who are affected by Hurricane Sandy one way or the other, because he looks like a strong and caring leader on video.
The effect of Romney's poor choice of words, and Obama's post-Sandy response remains to be seen, but it may prove decisive in the final days leading up to Election Day on November 6.