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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 6, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:18 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President has had a very busy morning, as he has continued to spend most of his time focusing on the Katrina response efforts and making sure that people in the region are getting the help that they need.

This morning he participated in an overall update on the hurricane with Secretary Chertoff and the Homeland Security Council. Andy Card and Joe Hagin were in attendance, as well. Secretary Chertoff talked about the immediate priority areas and how we're working to address those priorities. The Secretary also updated him on his visit to the region and his assessment of how things are going.

The President, following that, participated in a briefing on energy issues relating to Katrina. He received an update on the progress that's being made to address the problem areas and what challenges remain ahead. As he talked about last week, we've had a temporary disruption of our energy supply, but there has been some good progress made. Major pipelines are up and running, two are fully up and running and two others are near capacity. He heard about the efforts to repair refineries and to address the electricity issues to get power back on in Mississippi and Louisiana, and the gasoline issues that we've been working to deal with, particularly in that southeastern region.

And then the President chaired a Cabinet meeting. As you heard from the President, this was very much an action-focused meeting. The President called this meeting to make sure that we are on top of the immediate needs and that we are moving forward on plans to address the long-term response. The President wanted to make sure that we are identifying and working to solve problems -- and if things are not working as they should, that we are fixing them and making them work. People continue to work round-the-clock. The President is appreciative of all the efforts that are ongoing. And where things are right, we're going to redouble our efforts; where they're wrong, we're going to get them fixed.

Secretary Chertoff, at the Cabinet meeting, went through all those key priority areas for the immediate needs, and he talked about the forward headquarters that has been set up in New Orleans, where you have all the federal agencies that are involved down there working together with state and local authorities and the military, as well.

The military -- in fact, Secretary Rumsfeld talked about the latest update in terms of the military response and how the military is working in support of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. There are now some 60,000, and this number is increasing -- I know Secretary Rumsfeld is going to be briefing here shortly so he may have an updated number -- some 60,000 active duty and National Guard troops that are in the region helping to support efforts on the ground.

The President also heard about the various departments that are involved in government assistance programs and getting benefits to people in need. With so many people who have been evacuated or otherwise displaced, we need to make sure that those benefits are getting to the people who need them. You heard the President talk about the Social Security checks. Another area that was talked about was unemployment insurance and getting aid to people for temporary work efforts. A lot of the Department of Labor has moved forward on national emergency grants to help people in Mississippi and Louisiana with some temporary work projects.

Secretary Leavitt talked about the public health issues and the health care issues, and he talked about the health care that's being provided to people right now, as well as the long-term public health challenges. And Secretary Leavitt is actually coordinating some of the -- or coordinating the response efforts, in terms of getting benefits to people. The President talked at length about how we need to make sure that we're getting the benefits to the people. They're not able -- or many of them are not able to actually come and get the benefits. We've got to make sure that they're getting to them where they are. And so people talked about the plans that they have in place for moving forward, and how they're working to address those issues.

He also heard from Secretary Spellings about assistance to students, including waivers for loans and other student aid programs, as well.

Then this afternoon -- or later this morning, the President met with community and faith-based organization. The President is continuing to call on the country to support these community and faith-based organizations who are helping people in need. He met with a diverse group of faith-based and community groups, including the representatives from the AME Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the United Way, the YMCA, Catholic Charities, and a number of others were present, as well. These are the armies of compassion that are bringing love and hope to the people who have been affected, and they're helping to feed, clothe and house those who are in need.

This afternoon, the President will be meeting with Secretary Spellings to talk further about some of the efforts to assist students who have been displaced, and then he looks forward to meeting with the bipartisan leadership to talk about our response going forward to the Katrina efforts and where things stand.

And one more thing. Tomorrow the President will be participating in the funeral of Chief Justice Rehnquist. The President will pay tribute to Chief Justice Rehnquist in remarks at the funeral. The Vice President will also be in attendance.

And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.

Q Scott, what did the President mean when he said, "I will lead an investigation into the federal government's response." Literally, does he intend to take the lead role, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: What he's talking about is we're going to have a thorough analysis of the response efforts. He made it very clear that we need to look at the federal, state and local efforts to respond to this major catastrophe. This is a -- one of the largest and worst natural catastrophes in our nation's history, and the President wants to know the facts. He wants to know what went wrong and what went right and how we can learn lessons from a catastrophe like this that occurred.

And right now we remain focused on the most immediate priorities, and that is continuing to help those who are in need and continuing to make sure they're getting the assistance they need and continuing to solve the ongoing problems. There are people working round-the-clock. There is a lot of progress that has been made, but there are ongoing challenges and ongoing problems. The President is not satisfied, and we've got to remain focused on the task at hand. But he made it clear that he wants to know what happened and how the response went and what the facts are. And we will do that at the appropriate time.

Q Who will do that? I mean, who will lead that -- will it be an outside investigation, or White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I think you heard from the President that we've got to remain focused on the task at hand. We've got to remain focused on getting help to people in the region. There will be a time to do a thorough analysis, and he will lead an effort to make sure that there is a thorough analysis. Now is not the time to do that. We've got to make sure all our energies and all our resources are focused not only on the short-term priorities, but making sure that we're planning for the long-term response efforts. That's why the President chaired the Cabinet meeting today, to make sure that everybody had their plans in place to assist people. That's why he met with faith-based and community organizations, to make sure we're calling on all Americans to do what they can to support those groups who are helping people on the ground in the region.

Q One more. There are people who are calling for, like, a czar to be appointed to lead the federal recovery efforts, like a Giuliani, a Colin Powell, a Tommy Franks. What's the President think of that idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, this is a time when we are focused on making sure we're doing all we can to address the ongoing problems. The President is interested in solving problems. And we're looking at a lot of ways that we can do that. I'm not getting into ruling options out. The President is considering a lot of ideas as we move forward to help the people who have been displaced.

As he said, these are not displaced people, these are not refugees, these are Americans. And we all have a responsibility to help, all of us at the federal, state and local level and all of us as Americans have a responsibility to help people in this difficult and trying time.

Q Scott, the reality at hand right now is that the President said that we still live in an unsettled world. This is an administration that has told us since 9/11 that it's not a matter of "if," but "when" that we could be struck by a terror attack and, obviously, other disasters that are the result of Mother Nature. So at this point, where is the accountability? Is the President prepared to say where this White House, where this administration went wrong in its response to Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: You know, David, there are some that are interested in playing the blame game. The President is interested in solving problems and getting help to the people who need it. There will be a time --

Q Wait a minute. Is it a blame game when the President, himself, says that we remain at risk for either another catastrophe of this dimension, that's not manmade, or a terrorist attack? Isn't it incumbent upon this administration to immediately have accountability to find out what went wrong, when at any time this could happen again?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a massive federal response effort that we have underway. We've got to stay focused on helping those who are in need right now and help them rebuild their lives and get back up on their feet. It's a time of many challenges, enormous challenges. We've got to stay focused on the task at hand. That is what the President is doing.

Now, in terms of addressing threats, we've made a lot of progress since the attacks of September 11th. And one of the most important things we're doing is staying on the offensive abroad. There are important priorities that we have to continue to address and we are working to address those priorities, too. But we have a major disaster that has occurred over a 90,000 square mile [sic] here in the United States. There are people --

Q Right. And there are people who want to know why this government couldn't respond --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. There are people who are suffering, and we've got to respond to their needs, and that's what we're going to keep our focus.

Q So no one is prepared to say what went wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: We will look at back at the facts and we will get to the bottom of the facts and determine what went wrong and what went right. But right now --

Q Will the President support an outside investigation, or does he want to do it himself?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- but, David, right now, we've got to continue helping the people in the region.

Q Will he support an outside investigation --

Q But, Scott, more concretely, an officer of the Northern Command is quoted as saying that as early as the time Hurricane Katrina went through Florida and worked its way up to the Gulf, there was a massive military response ready to go, but that the President did not order it. It could have been ordered on Sunday, on Monday, on Tuesday -- the call didn't come. Why not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Bill, let's point out a couple of things. There were a lot of assets that were deployed and pre-positioned prior to the hurricane hitting. And you have to look back --

Q These assets were deployed, but the order to use them never came. The Bataan was sitting off behind the hurricane.

MR. McCLELLAN: I know these are all facts that you want to look at and want to determine what went wrong and what went right. I'm not prepared to agree with your assessment just there. There is a much larger picture here that we have to take a look at, and --

Q It's not mine, it's an officer in the Northern Command.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- in terms of the President, the President issued disaster declarations ahead of time so that we could make sure we're fully mobilizing resources and pre-positioning them. But this was a hurricane of unprecedented magnitude.

Q Right, but the military can't go into action without his order.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to talk to you about it, but I've got to have a chance to respond to --

Q One more, one more. Did the President have -- call Mayor Nagin personally or through intermediaries to urge him to evacuate the city?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has stayed in close touch with Mayor Nagin. In terms of --

Q Did he suggest to him that it was time to evacuate?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to go back and look at the facts during that time. There was close coordination going on between DHS, FEMA and the state and local authorities. And, of course, you have to look at the track of where the hurricane was and when the determinations were made that it was turning and heading towards the specific area, the specific region. That's why he pre-positioned assets, to get them in place so that they can quickly -- wait -- so they can quickly deploy to the area that is actually hit and the areas that are hit the hardest. You're not sure several days out exactly where that hurricane is going to hit.

But those are all issues to look at in part of the after-action analysis. Right now we've got to stay focused on the immediate priorities and the long-term response efforts that are underway.

Q There is a story that says the President personally called Mayor Nagin to suggest that it was time to evacuate.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me double check that. The President was in touch with officials leading up to when the hurricane occurred, but I don't know what report you're referring to. But I'll be glad to double check and look into it.

Q I have two questions. One, will the President withdraw his proposal for --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he may have -- I think you may be talking back to the time when the President was in touch with some officials on the ground, Governor Blanco and others, ahead of the storm, in talking to them about their request and so forth. So I think that might be what you're talking about. But I think there is a point where he was certainly encouraging people to take steps, but those are steps that were made by the officials there on the ground.

Q In view of the national crisis, will the President withdraw his proposal for this tax cut for the richest people in the country? And, also, my second question is, why did we turn down foreign help?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I'm glad you brought that up. We have not. We have made very clear -- I made clear last week, the State Department made clear last week that we are going to take people up on their offers of assistance from foreign countries. There are some 94 nations and international organizations that have made offers of assistance -- whether that is cash support or I think water pumps from places like Germany or other areas. We said that if this can help alleviate things on the ground, we're going to take them up on their offers of assistance and we appreciate the compassion from the international community and their offers of assistance.

Q And how about my first question?

MR. McCLELLAN: Your first question?

Q Biggest tax cut, permanent tax cut for the richest people in the country -- in view of the national crisis, in view of the deficit --

MR. McCLELLAN: The highest priority for this administration right now is the ongoing response and recovery efforts --

Q No, no, I'm asking you a question.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm responding to your question. The highest priority right now for this government is the ongoing Katrina response and recovery efforts and helping the people who need the help. There are other priorities, too, and we'll be working to address those, as well.

Q Has he made up his mind about that, the tax code, changing the tax code?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's made clear what his views are on other priorities.

Go ahead, Terry.

Q I just want to follow up on David's questions on accountability. First, just to get you on the record, where does the buck stop in this administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President.

Q All right. So he will be held accountable as the head of the government for the federal response that he's already acknowledged was inadequate and unacceptable?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President's most important responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. He talks about that often. That is his most important responsibility. Again, there's going to be plenty of time to look at the facts and determine what went wrong and what went right and how the coordination was between the state and federal and local authorities. Right now we've got to continue doing everything we can in support of the ongoing operational activities on the ground in the region to help people.

Q Well, the President has said that this government can do many things at once: It can fight the war on terror, it can do operations in Iraq, and aid and comfort people in Louisiana. Can it not also find time to begin to hold people accountable? It sounds, Scott, as if the line that you're giving us -- which is, you don't want to answer questions about accountability because there's too much busy work going on --

MR. McCLELLAN: Wrong. No, wrong.

Q -- is a way of ducking accountability.

MR. McCLELLAN: You don't want to take away from the efforts that are going on right now. And if you start getting into that now, you're pulling people out that are helping with the ongoing response, Terry. Not at all. The President made it very clear, I'm going to lead this effort and we're going to make sure we find out what the facts were and what went wrong and what went right. But you don't want to divert resources away from an ongoing response to a major catastrophe. And this is a major catastrophe that we -- and we must remain focused on saving lives and sustaining lives and planning for the long-term. And that's what we're doing.

Q And there are people in Louisiana and Mississippi who are doing that job very well. Your job is to answer the questions.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I have.

Q By saying you won't answer.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, by saying that there's a time to look at those issues, but now is not the time, Terry.

Q Harry Reid says it could cost $150 billion to recover from the hurricane. Where are you going to get the money for that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we appreciate Congress moving forward very quickly in a bipartisan way on the request that we made last week of an initial supplemental of $10.5 billion. As we made clear last week, this was a stopgap measure to make sure that there was no disruption in the short-term, immediate areas of response. And we also made it very clear that we're going to continue working closely with Congress; we're going to continue assessing what the needs are; we're continuing to look at how that money is being spent, how quickly it's being spent to meet the needs on the ground. And we're going to stay in touch with Congress as we move forward to work in a way to make sure that there's no disruption in supply -- or no disruption in the resources.

Q Does that figure sound right to you, $150 billion?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not in a position right now -- I think that the long-term assessment is something that's still ongoing. Our focus right now is to make sure that the needs are being met and that the resources that we need are getting to the region. And we want to make sure there's no disruption in those resources, and we're continuing to look at what those needs are, continuing to look at how those resources are being spent and how quickly. And we will be working with Congress to make sure that the needs on the ground are met going forward.

Q Scott, a question about the "plenty of time" assertion that you make -- would it not behoove the efforts to, in fact, save lives and secure property if the people and procedures that are responsible for the inadequates before are excised as quickly as possible? That is to say, should the accountability be determined immediately and that part be removed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, what should be done immediately is that we get help to the people who need it, and we continue to do that. We have been doing that; we're continuing to do that. I know some just want to engage in the blame game. There will be a time to talk about all these issues. We've got problems to solve, Bob --

Q But --

MR. McCLELLAN: Bob, we've got problems to solve and we're going to stay focused on solving those problems and helping those who need it.

Q But don't you -- the question would be, don't you want to have your best resources available and best people in place to solve those problems?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're speculating about things at this point. I'm not going to engage it that. There will be a time to look at all those issues.

Q But the President, himself, said that the response was not adequate. It was run by certain --

MR. McCLELLAN: For those who were waiting on assistance and didn't have it, absolutely, it wasn't adequate. We made that clear last week. There were some people who needed help yesterday and they were still waiting on assistance. That's why we -- when we identified those problems, we made sure they were getting fixed. That's why we've moved quickly to resolve the issue at the Convention Center in New Orleans. And now you have -- a tremendous amount of progress has been made on the evacuation of people. You have some 700 shelters that have been set up -- maybe a little bit less -- with some 230,000 people who are in those shelters, and that includes states around the country. We appreciate all those who are responding and meeting those needs.

Q One last question. The person who says that he found out about the Convention Center seeing it on the media -- that is to say the FEMA Director -- is still in place. Is that satisfactory that somebody would have responded like that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is getting into -- we're somewhat engaged in a blame game. We've got to --

Q It's not a blame game. That's accountability --

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, we've got to --

Q It's accountability.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q Is "Brownie" still doing a "heck of a job," according to the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've got to continue to do everything we can in support of those who are involved in the operational aspects of this response effort. And that's what we're going to do. There will be plenty of time --

Q If he fails at it, he's not going to be good at it going forward. That's what Bob is saying.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are people working round-the-clock with FEMA. The Secretary, the FEMA Director and many others who are working round-the-clock. And we've got to do everything we can in support of their efforts to make sure people are getting what they need.

Q Does the President really believe we could respond to a terrorist attack with any -- amount of weeks, months?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've actually done a lot of exercises, David, to prepare for possible attacks, but --

Q Do you think most Americans agree, based on --

MR. McCLELLAN: But the most important thing we've got to do is focus on --

Q You mean exercises for Hurricane Katrina.

MR. McCLELLAN: We've got to focus on prevention, and that's what we're doing by staying on the offensive.

Q Well, let's talk about it. Are you saying the President is -- are you saying that the President is confident that his administration is prepared to adequately, confidently secure the American people in the event of a terrorist attack of a level that we have not seen? And based on what does he have that confidence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and that's what he made clear earlier today, that obviously we want to look and learn lessons from a major catastrophe of this nature.

Q Yes, but you're telling us today there will be time for that somewhere down the road. Well, what if it happens tomorrow?

MR. McCLELLAN: We can engage in this blame-gaming going on and I think that's what you're getting --

Q No, no. That's a talking point, Scott, and I think most people who are watching this --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's a fact. I mean, some are wanting to engage in that, and we're going to remain focused --

Q I'm asking a direct question. Is he confident --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to remain focused on the people.

Q -- that he can secure the American people in the event of a major terrorist attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are securing the American people by staying on the offensive abroad and working to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Q That's a talking point. That's a talking point.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's a fact.

Go ahead.

Q No, it's not. And you think people who are watching this think that's -- from what does he derive that confidence, based on the response --

MR. McCLELLAN: David, I'm interested in the people in the region that have been affected and getting them help. We can sit here and engage in this back and forth --

Q The whole country is watching and wondering about some --

MR. McCLELLAN: The time for bickering and blame-gaming is later. The time for helping people in the region is now.

Q How soon can we look for the start of this investigation? I mean, are we talking about weeks, months? How far down the road --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the first thing we've got to do, Mike, is make sure that we're continuing to save lives and give people help that they need, that we're addressing the flooding issues in New Orleans. We are. There's a lot of progress made on the levees, and they're starting to pump water out of there now. We've got to make sure that we restore central services. We've got to continue the search and rescue missions. And we've got to make sure that the plans are in place for the long-term response that is going to be needed.

The long-term -- this is a long-term project that will be needed to help rebuild the flooded and shattered cities, places like Biloxi and New Orleans. And so that's where we're going to keep our focus.

Q So at what point in this --

MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, you're asking me to put a time frame on it. I don't think you can do that at this point. There will be a time to do that, and we will do so.

Q I need to follow up on that, though.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Ann.

Q To follow up on that, why isn't it more pressing to figure out what went wrong in the first few days?

MR. McCLELLAN: The most pressing needs right now are for the people in the region. That's why.

Q Can you also say -- who's in charge -- without looking backward, looking forward, who is in charge of the effort from here on out? Who is the one person responsible for restoring --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of operational activities, the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of that.

Q But what person? What person is in charge?

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Chertoff is in charge of the operational activities. He chairs the interagency task force under the -- and the National Response Plan. And then the FEMA head is underneath the Secretary, helping with the operational activities on the ground. And in terms of the -- this is a coordinated federal, state and local effort that is ongoing.

In terms of security issues, the law enforcement matters are something that the state is overseeing in places like Louisiana and Mississippi. The National Guard are dispatched by the military, but they're under the authority of the state adjutant generals who are under the authorities of the government.

Q But is there no one who's running the entire refugee -- sorry, the displaced people, or whatever they are now, there's no one person in charge of the entire operation now? There's no one person --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the operational activities, like I said, the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of that from the federal government's standpoint, working with state and local authorities.

Q So what does that say about Vice President Cheney's role as of today? Is he not going to be the point -- how does that fit in with his role now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Vice President is going to be visiting the region later this week and looking -- or getting a good assessment of things on the ground from his perspective and talking to people on the ground and hearing what the needs are and making sure that we're meeting our goals that have been set out and that we're solving problems. That's why the President is sending him down to the region this week, to do some further assessment of the needs on the ground.

Go ahead, Mark.

Q There have been suggestions that the initial White House response was delayed somewhat because a number of key people were on vacation last week. During that critical 24-hour period after the levees were breached Monday, who in the White House was in charge of crisis management?

MR. McCLELLAN: Andy Card is the chief of staff, and he was in close contact with everyone. And the President is the one who's in charge at the White House.

Q Scott, the President on Saturday referred to the problems of bureaucracy. It's now Tuesday. The Vice President heads down there on Thursday to deal with it. Can you cite for us a specific bureaucratic impediment that has been identified and corrected today?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in terms of the specifics, that the Secretary -- Secretary Chertoff, or FEMA Director Mike Brown can provide you the operational aspects of the specifics of what have occurred on the ground today. They'll be doing a briefing later today. But there continues to be good progress made when it comes to evacuating people.

Like I said, most of the people have been evacuated. I think there's a relatively small number. All those that were sent to places where people were evacuated, I think have been evacuated out of New Orleans. The levees, those are getting repaired.

Q Were those bureaucratic impediments that have been corrected? Or was that a --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the bureaucratic impediments that the President is referring to is about getting assistance to the people who need it. Yes, there are a number of agencies that are acting, but they have issued waivers to rules and regulations. The President wants to cut through the red tape in the bureaucracy and make sure that the assistance is getting to the people. One thing that he talked about in the Cabinet meeting today at length was, look, we've got to make sure that there aren't rules in place that are preventing assistance from getting to those who have been displaced, or have been evacuated, who are no longer in a home of their own, they're in a shelter. And we've got to take that assistance to them.

So, yes, that is part of -- all that is part of cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, there's words that James Lee Witt had said, that -- people who had been there within three hours after everything broke loose. Why was Mr. Brown not on the ground?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was, prior to the hurricane.

Q Well, why didn't he bring in the troops? Why didn't he deploy all the necessary assistance that was needed?

MR. McCLELLAN: There were -- disaster medical assistance teams were deployed. Search and rescue teams were deployed ahead of the hurricane.

Q But why didn't he -- but why weren't teams deployed to the Convention Center? Why weren't teams deployed to the Superdome? Why were people without water, without food? Why was there looting in New Orleans for survival? And you're talking about zero tolerance. Why did these things happen over a period of days, and you start seeing Mr. Brown on the air talking about he didn't know about the Convention Center and other things. Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, you're getting into all the after-action analysis, and I can't tell you all the --

Q And you're saying there is not a blame game, but you open the door to the response --

MR. McCLELLAN: I can't tell you that everything you said is factually correct, and they've got -- we've got to look at all the facts. We've got to determine what worked, what didn't work, and apply --

Q Well, what's not working? What's not working in your view right now?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and apply lessons from that.

Q What do you see that's not working right now? What is not working? Because these people are dying from dysentery now --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, last week --

Q -- infection now; they're displaced, homes are gone. Does anyone in this administration know anyone that's down there --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to talk to people on the ground --

Q -- beyond Trent Lott?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- people on the ground who have --

Q Does anyone in this White House know anyone that's there, beyond Trent Lott, that's lost a home, that has lost family, that's displaced?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President visited with a number of those who have been affected by the hurricane. We went down to Mississippi and Louisiana on Friday. The President visited with a number of people in the Biloxi area who have lost everything they had. The President saw firsthand --

Q Does anyone in this administration know anyone personally who's been affected by the devastation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, the President has talked about those, and the President has visited with people who have lost everything they have. I know people that have been displaced, friends of mine. And it's terrible when you go and see the devastation on the ground. We've seen the devastation on the ground. We've seen the homes that are no longer there. We've seen the flooding that has covered a large portion of New Orleans and that has taken lives. There are people who continue to suffer and we need to get them help. And that's why our focus is on getting them help.

Q Scott, is the President going to New Orleans any time now that the safety situation seems to be under control?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was just in New Orleans on Friday.

Q Is he going back now that the water has receded --

MR. McCLELLAN: I suspect he will continue to visit the region.

Q -- and be on the ground?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was on the ground in New Orleans. Go ahead. In fact, he visited with a number of people who have been affected by the hurricane in New Orleans.

Go ahead.

Q Did anyone take him to the Superdome? Does anyone want to take him there?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Superdome has been evacuated, is my understanding.

Q But is anyone going to take him there so he can see what happened there, to see the aftermath?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, one thing we don't want to do is disrupt ongoing response and recovery efforts, April, and there are still issues being addressed on the ground in New Orleans. There's the flooding. We're going to have a very ugly scenario once all the water is pumped out of New Orleans and we start to recover even more bodies and we start to address health issues that could come about because of all the massive flooding that occurred in New Orleans. We've got a lot of concern about health issues.

Q -- dysentery is on the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think you ought to talk to the health officials. Secretary Leavitt provided an update to the President about --

Q Scott, you're not up to date with what's happening there. Dysentery has already started --

MR. McCLELLAN: April, I'm going to move on, because I don't think --

Q But it sounds like you are not up to date.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think you have all the facts correct --

Q No, I have enough facts.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and making broad statements is one thing, but --

Q I'm not making broad statements. The people have infection and dysentery already.

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Leavitt and the CDC and others can provide you -- yes, they can provide you with those health issues and how they're addressing those health issues.

Q Scott, can we go back -- hang on one second -- can we go back to the timeline on the investigation? You just ticked off three things that need to happen when the President's investigation starts: addressing flood issues in New Orleans, referring --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't put it -- I didn't put a timeframe on it.

Q What I'm saying is, your own Army corps is saying it could be a month or months until you get all the flood water out of New Orleans. Do we have to wait that long for the --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the question was asked about putting a time frame on it. Right now I know that there are still immediate needs for people in the region, and that there's long-term planning that needs to be put in place and implemented. And we can't divert resources away from those ongoing efforts. There will be a time to do a thorough analysis of this, and we will do a thorough analysis.

Q -- what the situation needs to be for you folks to decide, okay, now we can? Does it need all the flood water needs to be out of New Orleans? Every evacuee has to be taken care of? What is your scenario for --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're asking me to put a time frame on it, and right now, with all the ongoing needs on the ground, we've got to remain focused there.

Q But what are you going to tell --

MR. McCLELLAN: And if you look back at other disasters or other attacks, I mean, those investigations were conducted at a much later time, so it didn't take away from resources to address the problems that were going on. We've got problems to solve, and we're going to solve them.

Go ahead.

Q But what are you going to tell members of Congress who are --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. Richard, go ahead.

Q Scott, is the President considering going on TV and making a national address to the American people?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of the President's schedule, there's a lot of flexibility built into the schedule. The President has been talking to the American people. The President, as the leader of the United States, has a responsibility to help bring people together during this time. That's what we're working to do. I mean, there's some here that want to look at what went wrong and what went right. There's going to be a time to do that, but we've got to stay focused on bringing people together, working together to solve problems and to get things done on the ground for the people who need it.

And that's exactly -- and that's exactly what we're doing. But in terms of the President's schedule, there's a lot of flexibility built into it to make sure that we are able to address the ongoing needs.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, two questions. Louisiana's Senator Landrieu announced on network television, "I might likely have to punch him, literally." And my question, since "him" is the President, and both punching and threatening to punch the President is a felony, has her qualifying words might likely saved her from arrest and prosecution? And what was the President's reaction --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, a couple of things. One, we know that this is a very difficult and trying time for a lot of people. That's why I just said that the President is focused on continuing to bring people together to get things done.

He had a very good visit with members of the Louisiana delegation last week and this week, as well. And he's continuing to stay in contact with those officials as we work together to help people.

Q Is it possible to ask one foreign question or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's stay on Katrina. Go ahead, Mark.

Q Can I come back to the cost and follow up on Helen's question? As you know, Senator Frist has postponed the vote on the estate tax. Does the administration still want the tax cut made permanent?

MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, there are other priorities that we remain committed to. Right now our highest priority is on the response and recovery to Hurricane Katrina. But we've talked at length about the importance of making sure we keep our economy growing, and we remain committed to the priorities we've outlined.

Q But even with the -- just to be clear, though, you're saying that Katrina, if you need to spend the money on Katrina, that comes first, and tax cuts would have to wait?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Mark, I'm saying that there are a number of important priorities. First and foremost is helping the people who have been affected by Katrina. And there are other priorities, too, and we're going to address those priorities. And you can do -- you can do those -- all of those priorities.

Q So they'll have to wait?

Q So there will be --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, in terms of the -- you're asking about the congressional timetable. Congress -- the Senate has come back into session, the House has come back into session this week. The Senate has put out what their schedule is for this week. Right now they're focused first and foremost on Hurricane Katrina, and also on addressing some of the appropriations needs. And they've already put out their schedule, and so you ought to look at that schedule.

Q Scott, given the failure of leadership in the first days of this crisis, and given your reticence to get rid of any of the people associated with that leadership --

MR. McCLELLAN: Those are your words, not mine.

Q -- wouldn't it be more appropriate to follow the suggestion of appointing somebody as the coordinator, overall coordinator for the relief effort who is not associated with that failed leadership? Probably a former retired military person who could more easily coordinate the logistics and the coordination between the military --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we're going to continue to work in support of those who are overseeing the operational activities, and we appreciate the job that the Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Chertoff and all those at FEMA are doing to address the ongoing problems.

Again, this is getting into trying to finger-point and play the blame game. This is not the time for that. There are people who are really in need. Terry was down there in the region. He saw what has happened to the people on the ground and how they have lost everything --

Q I think they might want some answers, too.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and how they have lost everything they had.

Q In addition to help, they might want some answers, too.

MR. McCLELLAN: And they're going to get them. But now is not the time, Terry.

Q No, it is the time, Scott.

Q Scott, a follow up.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead --

Q The people who have been displaced -- a follow-up -- it seems that because of the chaotic situation, they're being dispersed all over the country. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to use some of those military bases, many of them which have been targeted by BRAC, and to set them up as temporary housing for the people, most of whom want to find out what happened to their relatives, want to remain in area, and probably want to --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're trying to get me to limit options up here. These are all issues we're looking at. These are all issues that we were discussing in the Cabinet meeting earlier today, that we were discussing in meetings that week that the President with his Homeland Security and Department of Defense team. These are all issues we're looking at.

One of the most important priorities right now is the temporary housing situation. We've got people in shelters right now. That addresses immediate need of making sure that they've got food and water and clothing and medicine. But we've got to look at the temporary housing needs and the long-term housing needs. There's going to be a large number of people that won't be returning to their homes for quite some time, and those are all issues we're working to address.

Q Scott, a follow-up on that.

Q Scott, my turn. Welcome back.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

Q In all due respect, when you start your investigation, could you try to answer three questions: Could the military have evacuated before the hurricane hit? Could food and water have been dropped by helicopters right after the hurricane? And, thirdly, is it wise to rebuild New Orleans again --

MR. McCLELLAN: And those are all issues that will be looked at, Connie, and we will look at all those issues in the context of investigating the overall response effort.

Go ahead, Ken.

Q Scott, can you tell us exactly what the administration proposed to Governor Blanco by way of federalizing response efforts, and what the response was from her?

MR. McCLELLAN: The overall efforts? Ken, I think that this goes back to talking about how it's important that everybody works together and that we're fully mobilizing our resources. That's what the President has been doing, making sure that we're fully mobilizing the resources of the federal government to respond to the needs of the people who have been affected. We've been in close contact with Governor Blanco, the President has been in close contact with her for some time now, and we're focused on ways we can work together to solve the problems that continue.

Q She said today that the -- administration she found complex and needed 24 hours to study it. Exactly what was the proposal?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of challenges that we continue to work to address. There were challenges last week that we we're working to address -- we were talking to state and local officials about. There were communications problems on the ground. There were -- that's why deploying more active duty military helps address some of that, because they've got full communication capabilities when they move in. Deploying active duty military is to help with the humanitarian side. Deploying the National Guard is to address the law enforcement issues.

There were concerns about security. As you're aware, there was concern about the people that were at the Convention Center. The situation was not secure last week, and there were supplies that were ready to get there, but they couldn't get there because of the security situation in New Orleans, specifically in that area. And that's why we worked to continue to dispatch National Guard troops. We stayed in touch with the Governor and the Mayor to figure out how we could get that problem solved right away. That became a very high, if not the highest priority when it came to the people of New Orleans.

Q Did the administration seek to federalize control of assets --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's a broad term. I mean, certain terms of security issues, we did, and continue, to keep options open. We did look at a lot of options for addressing the security situation. We had discussions with Governor Blanco, with the Mayor about those issues, to talk about how we can address the law enforcement problems on the ground. And there was a dispatch of additional National Guard troops over that period of time. We've continued to dispatch additional National Guard troops to the region, as well.

Q Did the Mayor or the Governor turn down any requests made by the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think from this podium that we want to stay focused on ways we can work together, so I don't think it helps any situation to get into all those internal discussions that are going on, on issues of that nature. This isn't a time when people are trying to look at who's to blame, or try to shift responsibility. This is a time when we're all trying to work together to get things done.

Q But that hasn't stopped you from suggesting pretty subtly that the local and state officials bear some responsibility.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you for your comment. I'm trying to get to other questions here.

Q Scott, the National Response Plan that was adopted by the administration back in December 2004 contains proactive federal response protocols which get around some of what you've just been talking about, in terms of liaising or asking permission from the state, and make it very clear that in an emergency you can just go in and take over. Was this implemented?

MR. McCLELLAN: The National Response Plan was implemented last week, and as you're aware --

Q What about the proactive federal response?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the Department of Homeland Security is the umbrella for all the federal agencies and departments that are involved in the National Response Plan. And they're the ones who can talk about exactly what was implemented in terms of the National Response Plan.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

Q But the proactive federal response protocols, themselves, you don't know if they were implemented?

MR. McCLELLAN: The National Response Plan was implemented last week. The Secretary designated this an incident of national significance, and so all the federal departments and resources came under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, so that we could make sure we're fully mobilizing those resources, and that we're addressing the situation on the ground.

Thank you.

END 2:00 P.M. EDT