During the 9 a.m. ET hour of the May 9 edition of MSNBC Live, NBC News correspondent Charles Hadlock reported that following a severe tornado that hit Greensburg, Kansas, on May 4, "Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas had said that [because of National Guard deployments to Iraq] there is a lack of manpower and equipment to deal with emergency disasters in her own state." He added: "The White House has said the state has not asked for any more equipment other than FM communication radios. If they need more equipment, we'll send it." But Hadlock's report was based solely on comments White House press secretary Tony Snow made on the morning of May 8. Hadlock did not report Snow's acknowledgement during the White House press briefing later that day that Sebelius had actually asked for much more than just "FM communication radios."
From the May 8 White House press briefing:
Q This morning you said the only thing the Kansas Governor requested was FM radios. Has she, in fact, requested more now?
SNOW: I believe so. Let me take a quick look. I think there are a couple of other items that have been requested and supplied. Let's see, the state has requested a mobile command center, an urban search and rescue task force, a mobile office building, 40 two-way radios, and coordination calls between Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, to determine if they need extra Black Hawks; Kansas has six, Texas and Oklahoma have offered to make available another five to six if necessary. So those are the things that the state has requested, that FEMA has provided.
A May 8 Associated Press article explained the change in Snow's position over the course of the day:
White House press secretary Tony Snow fought back aggressively [against complaints by Sebelius].
In an approach reminiscent of the blame game played by the White House with another Democratic governor, Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, after the federal government's botched response to Hurricane Katrina, Snow at first said the fault for any slow response would be Sebelius'. He said she should have followed procedure by finding gaps and then asking the federal government to fill them -- but didn't.
"If you don't request it, you're not going to get it," he told reporters Tuesday morning.
Snow said no one had asked for heavy equipment. "As far as we know, the only thing the governor has requested are FM radios," the spokesman said.
Well, not exactly.
At Snow's second, midday briefing with reporters, he offered that it turned out that the state had requested several items that the federal government supplied -- those radios, and also a mobile command center and a mobile office building, an urban search and rescue team and coordination on extra Blackhawk helicopters.
Snow recounted a telephone conversation on Tuesday between Sebelius and Bush's White House-based homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, in which the governor said she was pleased with the federal performance on the tornado and had everything she needed.
According to MSNBC.com's First Read, Sebelius' office issued a statement on the evening of May 8:
"Let me be clear: With the equipment we have, the men and women of the Kansas National Guard have the initial response to the Greensburg tornado under control. I have said for nearly two years, and will continue to say, that we have a looming crisis on our hands when it comes to National Guard equipment in Iraq and our needs here at home. The equipment shortage will likely slow long-term efforts to recover and rebuild in Greensburg. We can only hope that we not have another significant natural disaster in Kansas. That would put our Guard, and the people of Kansas, in a real bind."
"I appreciate the President's help, quick response and concern in dealing with the tornado damage in Greensburg. But I will not back down on the issue of replacing our National Guard equipment throughout the country. As Governor and a commander-in-chief, I have a solemn responsibility to protect the people of my state and provide for the men and women of the Kansas Guard."
Moreover, as the weblog Think Progress noted, Sebelius highlighted the need for additional National Guard funding and equipment on several occasions:
- On January 21, 2006, The Kansas City Star reported: "In a Dec. 30  letter to [then-]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Sebelius urged the return of Kansas National Guard equipment shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan. 'The Guard was critical to responding to recent blizzards and floods in Kansas, yet its ability to respond to similar situations is being diminished by a lack of equipment,' she wrote. She said Rumsfeld had not responded."
- On June 29, 2006, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Sebelius provided Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey with a list of equipment the state of Kansas lost to the Iraq war, noting, "Sebelius and other governors have said the loss of equipment leaves states vulnerable in emergencies or natural disasters."
- On September 5, 2006, the AP reported "Kansas' congressional delegation, Sebelius and governors from around the country have been lobbying the Pentagon for increased funding to replace National Guard equipment that has been left in Iraq or damaged beyond repair after repeated use in war."
- On February 27, 2007, Sebelius' office issued a press release, stating: "The reliance on National Guard troops and equipment in Iraq is leaving states vulnerable. ... Sebelius expressed strong concern that sending the National Guard on repeated tours through Iraq compromises states' ability to respond to natural disasters, terrorist acts, and other threats to public safety."
From the 9 a.m. ET hour of the May 9 edition of MSNBC Live:
AMY ROBACH (host): President Bush will see what little is left of Greensburg, Kansas, when he visits there later this morning. While he's there, he's expected to meet with survivors of the massive tornado that devastated obviously this small town and killed 11 people.
NBC's Charles Hadlock is on the ground in Greensburg. He joins us live. So Charles, what are we expecting from the president today?
HADLOCK: Good morning, Amy. The president is expected to arrive here at about 10:30 local time. He will meet with the governor of Kansas, also his FEMA director, David Paulison, along with local authorities, here, who have been on the ground here since the tornado hit late Friday night. The city administrator here says that the federal government has sent to this town everything that they have asked for.
The president will meet with the administrators of the city and he will also tour this town to see the devastation that this tornado has caused this town. You know, this is the most powerful tornado to strike the United States during the Bush administration. The most powerful storm on record was back in Moore City, Oklahoma, back in 1999, eight years ago this week. So, this is the most powerful to storm to hit the United States during the Bush administration. The president is here to see the devastation first-hand, Amy.
ROBACH: And Charles, you just mentioned that we are hearing from officials there that the Feds have sent everything that they have asked for, yet, there was still a lot of controversy about whether or not there was enough equipment and manpower there to deal with the aftermath of this storm because so much had been deployed over to Iraq. What are you seeing? What are you hearing?
HADLOCK: Well, the Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas had said that there is a lack of manpower and equipment to deal with emergency disasters in her own state. The White House has said the state has not asked for any more equipment other than FM communication radios. If they need more equipment, we'll send it. That has been the White House's response.
And the local response here has said -- has been that we've received all the equipment we need. Now, there is a need for some heavy equipment to move some of this debris out of the way of utility corridors to get the utilities up and running. That's needed before any of the FEMA trailers can come in and the National Guard is here to do that.
ROBACH: All right, Charles Hadlock. We appreciate it.