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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 7, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:23 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President remains very engaged in our efforts to make sure we are getting assistance to those in need and meeting the immediate priorities while putting in place plans for the longer-term response and recovery related to Katrina.
There is a massive federal response that continues. There has been some good progress. There are ongoing problems, though, that need to be solved, and the President is not satisfied. We've got enormous challenges ahead of us and it's important to continue working together to address those challenges.
The President held a daily meeting this morning with Secretary Chertoff, Andy Card, and some others here in the Oval Office. Then he chaired a meeting of some Cabinet officials and White House staff that was relating to our plan that we're putting in place to help people get back on their feet when it comes to government benefits. The delivery of government benefits and services for people in the -- for people who have been evacuated is a high priority for us. This includes immediate cash assistance; it includes Medicaid benefits, other health care benefits; it includes child care, food stamps. Secretary Johanns announced yesterday the card that was being provided for some initial help for people to be able to purchase some food and supplies. Housing needs, unemployment insurance, national emergency grants that were announced by Secretary Chao earlier this week -- or I think last week -- to provide some temporary work for people relating to the response and recovery of workers that have been displaced.
This is an effort that's being chaired by -- or overseen by Secretary Leavitt, and it includes Health and Human Services, HUD -- the Housing and Urban Development -- Agriculture, Labor, Education and Veterans Affairs, I believe. And we're going to be announcing more on that plan soon. But this was a meeting on some of the efforts that are already underway, as well as what we're going to be doing going forward.
As I mentioned earlier, there are nine working groups that have come out of the White House task force that was created. These working groups are focused on areas like housing -- that would include temporary and long-term housing needs. It's focused on economic development priorities, the restoration of essential services, continuity of benefits, which I just mentioned, and environmental cleanup, as well.
A couple of updates. Momentarily here, the EPA and Centers for Disease Control will be doing a press conference to talk about some of the initial results of flood water samples from New Orleans. At 2:00 p.m. there's going to be a Health and Human Services conference call -- this is relating to mental health issues that are arising from Hurricane Katrina, including counseling and warning signs and resources. And then I believe FEMA has another briefing from the region at 5:00 p.m.
Our priorities remain focused on lifesaving search and rescue operations, medical care, the remaining evacuation of people, although that number is relatively small at this point, and making sure that people have the shelter and food and water and other necessities that they need, and that we continue to keep that flow going, as well as restoring essential services and repairing the levees and drawing back the water from New Orleans.
Just to give you the latest update, this is some numbers from late yesterday. There are some 559 shelters in place, and more than 180,000 people housed in those shelters. You've had 11.3 million MREs provided to people in shelters. You've had 18 million liters of water provided. And there are more than 75,000 response, rescue -- rescue, recovery and law enforcement personnel that continue to work around the clock to get critical assistance to people in need. Those numbers are from yesterday, so they probably will be updated later today.
Our military continues to provide great humanitarian assistance. We now have more than 60,000 active duty and National Guard personnel on the ground or aboard ships that are supporting the relief operations; some 20 U.S. Navy ships are in the operational area. You have 360 helicopters, 93 airplanes that are involved in this. The Department of Defense has provided extensive search and rescue, evacuation and medical support. And the Corps of Engineers has closed that 17th Street Canal levee breach and begun pumping water out from that area.
Let's see -- one other update on some of the relief efforts. The Bush-Clinton -- this is the former Presidents -- Katrina Fund has raised over $2.5 million online. That's online donations alone as of -- this was as of last night. And they've raised some $60 million overall. Some of that is still in pledges. And the fund estimates that over 10,000 people have made donations through their website alone. And that website is BushClintonKatrinaFund.org. And we appreciate the continuing generosity of the American people.
And finally, I want to make an announcement on the supplemental request. We are sparing no effort to help those who have been affected by Katrina and are in need of help. Last week, Congress moved quickly to approve the President's initial request of $10.5 billion for immediate needs of people in the Gulf states that were hit by Katrina. We have been consulting with congressional leaders and intend to request a second installment later today. This will provide additional resources to continue meeting the needs on the ground. This will be for ongoing search and rescue operations, food, water, medicine, and actions to address public health issues that may arise, among other things.
The President today will request $51.8 billion in additional funding for the immediate needs of the people affected by Hurricane Katrina. This is, as I said, in addition to the $10.5 billion. And the White House will be issuing the formal request later this afternoon. And I expect that our OMB Director, Josh Bolten, will conduct a conference call for reporters to talk further about the details.
At this point, I can tell you that $50 billion of the supplemental request will go to FEMA; $1.4 billion will go to the Department of Defense; and $400 million will go to the Army Corps of Engineers. There will be more to -- more that will be needed to cover the longer-term response and rebuilding efforts, and we continue to work on assessing those needs. We appreciate Congress' willingness to move ahead quickly on this additional supplemental to make sure the needs of those who have been affected continue to be met on the ground.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, recently, top Democrats in Congress, they had some tough words and some questions about President Bush. Congressman Pelosi says that -- said that "the President was obviously in denial," because she said she talked to him yesterday about Mike Brown and said that things were going wrong, and he said, What's gone wrong?" What hasn't gone right? And I'd like to ask you if you know if that's an accurate portrayal of the conversation.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's not, because they discussed a lot of other things. And I think the President was just wanting to know what she -- what she was most concerned about.
Q So it wasn't as if he knew -- he didn't know, wasn't aware that things had gone wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, I just updated you on the President's day; I updated you yesterday. You all are well aware of how engaged this President is in the response efforts and making sure that we're meeting the immediate needs. The President has been participating in Cabinet meetings. He's been participating in meetings with key staff and Cabinet officials, and the President has been working to make sure that we have all the resources needed dedicated to this effort, and that the needs on the ground are being met.
We are focused on bringing everybody together to help the people in the region. And the President continues to act to make sure that we're addressing the ongoing problems. The President, very clearly to you all, over the last few days has talked about how he is not satisfied. I just said at the beginning of this how he is not satisfied. There are ongoing problems on the ground, and that's why we're working to address those issues. That's why the President held a meeting earlier today to talk about our plan for moving forward to deliver benefits to people who have been evacuated out of the area.
Q And then Senator Harry Reid is questioning whether the President's Texas vacation impeded any kind of relief efforts.
MR. McCLELLAN: The Senator -- the Senator must not be aware of all the updates that we were providing you all, because I cannot imagine that he would engage in such personal attacks if he did. You all, or your colleagues were covering us during that time. We were providing you regular updates on the President's participation in our efforts to prepare for what was then a tropical storm off the coast of Florida, and then we continued to keep you all updated over the course of the next several days about the President's participation in the preparations for what was coming.
And the President, if you'll recall, on Sunday morning, was in touch with Governor Blanco. He was in touch with Governor Barbour. He was in touch with Governor Riley and Governor Bush, as well, even later in the morning. I know he spoke to that Sunday morning -- he spoke to Governor Blanco around 9:00 a.m., had a good conversation with her about some of the things that needed to be done ahead of the hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast. So you all were well aware of what the President was doing and his involvement during that time.
Q Scott, can I follow up on what Terry was saying? One of the things that Harry Reid did say today was, why didn't President Bush immediately return to Washington from his vacation, and why didn't he recall key officials and staff members back from their vacations? And then he asks, would the President -- would the presence of key officials in Washington have improved the response?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, we are focused on getting things done and solving problems on the ground. And again, I go back to what I was just talking about, the President on Saturday, Saturday night issued -- this was Saturday night before the hurricane hit, which I believe was early Monday morning -- the President issued an emergency disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana. Then the next morning, he issued declarations for Mississippi and Alabama. So we were focused on the preparations that were being made prior to Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf Coast region.
Q So your answer to the Senator would be that the presence of officials in Washington would not have improved the response?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that my answer is that you all are very well aware of what we were doing in terms of preparations for Hurricane Katrina. And I'd just assume that he is not informed of everything we were doing and all the updates that were being provided at that point.
Q Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, see, this is where some people want to look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving problems, and we're doing everything we can --
Q What about the question?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're doing everything we can in support --
Q We know all that.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.
Q Does he retain complete confidence --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage.
Q Okay, but that's not at all what I was asking.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play.
Q You have your same point you want to make about the blame game, which you've said enough now. I'm asking you a direct question, which you're dodging.
MR. McCLELLAN: No --
Q Does the President retain complete confidence in his Director of FEMA and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered the question.
Q Is the answer "yes" on both?
MR. McCLELLAN: And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger-pointing.
Q There's a lot of criticism. I'm just wondering if he still has confidence.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and blame-gaming. What we're trying to do is solve problems, David. And that's where we're going to keep our focus.
Q So you're not -- you won't answer that question directly?
MR. McCLELLAN: I did. I just did.
Q No, you didn't. Yes or no? Does he have complete confidence or doesn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, if you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and blame-gaming, that's fine --
Q Scott, that's ridiculous. I'm not engaging in any of that.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's not ridiculous.
Q Don't try to accuse me of that. I'm asking you a direct question and you should answer it. Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said -- that's exactly what you're engaging in.
Q I'm not engaging in anything. I'm asking you a question about what the President's views are --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely -- absolutely --
Q -- under pretty substantial criticism of members of his administration. Okay? And you know that, and everybody watching knows that, as well.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, everybody watching this knows, David, that you're trying to engage in a blame game.
Q I'm trying to engage?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q I am trying to engage?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.
Q That's a dodge. I have a follow-up question since you dodged that one. Does the White House feel like it missed opportunities to alleviate or head off some of the damage in the New Orleans area, flood damage? Did it miss an opportunity to head any of that off?
MR. McCLELLAN: In what way?
Q In responding to requests to make structural improvements, or other improvements to alleviate flood damage, and so forth?
MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe you ought to look at what General Strock said, because General Strock briefed on this the other day and he talked about the design issues relating to the levees and how that was a design issue. And he talked about that. And we provided, I think it was some $300 million in additional funding over the course of the administration for flood control in the Southeast Louisiana area. But General Strock talked about that and he talked about some of those issues. And any suggestion that it would have prevented something, that there could have been action that would have prevented something, I think he dismissed because of those reasons.
Q So if the President still has confidence in the FEMA Director, how is it that the FEMA Director is suddenly invisible? No briefings, nowhere out front, it's all gone to Secretary Chertoff.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's going to brief later today. I think he's briefing later today.
Q Brown is?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And, again, that's clearly now just an attempt to try to engage in this finger-pointing, and we're going to continue focusing on solving problems.
Q He's been the focus of an enormous amount of criticism. You know that, and yet, you choose not to respond.
MR. McCLELLAN: I just talked about how there are over 75 -- no, that's not true. There are over 75,000 people that are involved in all the response and recovery and law enforcement when it comes to Katrina. And we appreciate the efforts of everyone. We appreciate the efforts of Secretary Chertoff and Undersecretary Brown and all those at FEMA who continue to work round-the-clock to get things done and to identify problems and fix those problems.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think she was making a personal observation on some of the comments that people were making that she was running into. I'm not sure that that's exactly what she said, but --
Q I have it right here if you need it.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- what we're focused on -- what we're focused on is helping these people who are in need.
Q Does he agree with his mother?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think that the observation is based on someone who -- or some people that were talking to her, that were in need of a lot of assistance, people that have gone through a lot of trauma and been through a very difficult and trying time. And all of a sudden, they are now getting great help in the state of Texas from some of the shelters.
Q "It's scary that they're all coming to Texas."
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think you can look at her comments.
Q That is what she said, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I appreciate you wanting to get into some of the factual tick-tock questions and things of that nature. I think we were keeping you updated throughout that time period, and if you remember, there were a number of people that, Monday, felt that the initial storm, which was the hurricane hitting the coast and then hitting the New Orleans area and Mississippi and Alabama and parts of Florida, that at that point, that New Orleans may be -- well, the flooding had not come at that point. And many people were talking about how --
Q You're the federal government -- if you want to get into tick-tock, the Army Corps of Engineers knew Monday morning that the 17th Street flood wall along that canal had given way. My question is different, it's about getting prepared for that.
MR. McCLELLAN: A lot of the media reports coming out --
Q When did the President know that Katrina was the kind of hurricane that could overtop the levees?
MR. McCLELLAN: A lot of the media reports that were coming out Monday, Monday night, Tuesday morning were expressing that it had missed the massive flooding that some had projected in a worst-case scenario.
Q The President of the United States was getting his information about this major disaster from the media?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, I'm just pointing out -- because you're trying to point out some things and I'm trying to point out, back to that time, if you'll recall, and just put that in perspective. The President was getting regular updates from people in the region and from people here in Washington, D.C.
Q But you can't tell me when he was -- was he told by Max Mayfield or others on Saturday or Sunday, Mr. President, this is the big one, this could really flood New Orleans. When did he hear that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, Terry. He got on the phone with Governor Blanco at 9:00 a.m. -- I think it was around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. And if you'll recall -- in fact, let me pull back up some of what the President said at the time, because maybe you weren't there covering him at the time, but some of your colleagues were. And the President specifically addressed this issue when he said that -- let me have one second here and I'll get it for you -- Sunday morning, in his news conference, "We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to the Gulf Coast communities. I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first, by moving to safe ground. Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials." At 9:00 a.m. that morning, he was on the phone with Governor Blanco. Governor Blanco even talked about it at her briefing later that day, I think it was early afternoon, and said, the President urged me to take steps to evacuate the people in New Orleans.
Q If I could just look forward for a second. The plan to get government benefits to people who have had to leave their homes, since they've been dispersed -- some of them are in shelters, some have gone with relatives, some have been taken in by good Samaritans -- will it be incumbent on people who have had to leave their homes to register with the federal government? How are you going to get in contact with what may be a million people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Those are all very good questions -- I mean, some of those questions that the President has been asking during these meetings and discussions of developing the plan. And the point that the President emphasized very strongly to members of his Cabinet yesterday and to people even before that, and then again today, was, we need to make sure that we're delivering those benefits to the people where they are, because in some instances people can't actually move to the centers or the locations that have been set up to distribute those benefits. And so that's what we're working to do.
There is -- I think that FEMA can probably talk to you more about there are some debit cards that are being delivered to locations as we speak, or they're on the way to them, at least, to provide some immediate cash assistance to those who are in shelters, those that were evacuated. Does that answer your question?
Q Well, but -- not quite. Do you know -- if you're someone who is entitled to a Social Security check or some kind of government benefit, will you have to find the government to get it?
Q The Social Security Administration has actually already been acting and they've been issuing replacement checks to people who have been displaced. You might want to talk to them a little bit more about some of what they're doing. I believe they have an 800 number, as well, for people to call, so that they can issue those replacement checks. And that's why I was talking earlier that the meeting earlier that the President was involved in today was really focused on this very issue. And we're going to be announcing very soon the overall plan for the delivery of those government services and benefits to the people who have been affected. That's a high priority for us right now.
Q Scott, in the conversations that the President had with Governor Blanco, was there any moment where Governor Blanco had asked, prior to the storm hitting, that they begin to dispatch either National Guard troops or federal troops in New Orleans?
MR. McCLELLAN: If you go back to that time period, we were in close contact with governors and local officials. And if you recall, that the request for -- and the disaster declaration is issued by the President, but it comes at the request of the state. And that's why we were consulting closely, and I think we mentioned this at the time, with the governors. And Governor Blanco got a request into us ahead of time so that we could issue that disaster declaration.
Now, in terms of the National Guard troops, I think that General Blum and the military have talked about how things were pre-positioned in the region, and I would leave it to them to describe the deployment of military troops and the requests that were made. I think they've been briefing on that the last couple of days and --
Q My question, though, I think was, did Governor Blanco ask the President for the dispatch --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of that, David, and I don't want to try to get into going back through every single detail of this. I mean, we're going to look at all this. Right now we're trying to stay focused on what's ahead, not what's passed, because we need --
Q We're trying to stay focused on what's ahead and what's passed.
MR. McCLELLAN: But it's important -- and stay focused on the here and now, and helping people here and now, and making sure that we've got plans in place to address what is coming in the days and the weeks and the months ahead. Because we're not going to disappear from this effort; we are going to remain focused on this for quite a long time, well beyond when the media coverage stops.
Q And then a second question along those lines -- there was a choice made at some point that the unit -- some of the regular military units that were closest, some of which were planning to deploy to Afghanistan in January, not be used so that they would not be interrupting their training for Afghanistan. Was the President involved in that decision?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to talk to the Department of Defense, and they can talk to you about that. But I think Secretary Rumsfeld briefed yesterday and said that we're meeting all our needs.
Q He talked about the choice. My question was, was the President involved in that decision.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and Secretary Rumsfeld is the one who can provide you latest update. I don't have any additional information to share for you on that. The military is making the decisions about the -- in consultation with the President. The President -- I mean, if you all want to go back and look -- sets the overall directions and asked a lot of questions last week about, do you need additional resources. He was asking that of General Honore. He was asking that of Admiral Keating and Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers in meetings that were occurring last week. And the President announced the decision that we were going to deploy an additional 7,000 active duty forces to help with the humanitarian efforts, and help with the response. And I think that I'll leave it to Defense to talk about how they came about to select the troops and where they came from.
Q Defense can talk about the selection. What I'm asking you to talk about was, was the President involved in this decision about training for Afghanistan versus using troops that were the closest?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I don't have anything for you on that.
Q Can you see if you can get back to us on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll see, but I --
Q Whether he was involved --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I'm trying to say, that he sets the overall direction and directs certain steps to be taken. I think the military is the one. They can probably talk to you a little bit more about that.
Q They'll talk to us about a lot of things, but not what the President was involved in, and that's your job.
MR. McCLELLAN: They talked at length the other day, so --
Q Scott, you talk about looking ahead, and on that point, why should the American people have confidence? If another disaster strikes and they hear you from that podium say that the federal authorities, FEMA is working closely with state and local officials to address all the concerns on the ground, why should the American people have confidence in that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's, first of all, hope that nothing like this ever happens again in our lifetime. This was a major catastrophe that is unprecedented. The response has been unprecedented, as well. It has been a massive federal response to the efforts that are underway. Our hearts and prayers continue to be with all those who have been affected by this natural disaster. This is one of the largest and worst natural disasters in our history. And we are going to continue working around the clock to respond to the needs of the people and make sure that we're saving lives, and that we're continuing to sustain life. That's where our focus is going to remain.
Q But you're talking about response. I'm talking about preparedness and the current team in place and how prepared they were, how prepared they are --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is trying to -- you're trying to look at --
Q But what would you say to them --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're trying -- well, the President is going to lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong. The President made it very clear yesterday that we are going to look at these issues. There were certainly some people that are in need of assistance, and were in need of it quicker than they were getting it. And that's unacceptable to the President. But there have been a number of people working at the federal, state and local level to get help to people. We've provided a lot of resources over the last few years to states and local first responders to help prepare for some of these situations. And the federal government is here to help support and work closely in partnership with all those to address these issues. And that's what we'll continue doing.
Q But has there been any kind of tangible change? Anything --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you're speculating and making certain assumptions, Elaine. And I think that right now we all should remain focused on how we can work together to help the people who need it. That's what they need. Getting into blame-gaming or finger-pointing isn't going to get them the help they need right now. We do need to take a thorough look at what went right and what went wrong, and we're going to do that. The President made that very clear yesterday. We're going to investigate this response effort.
Q Doesn't the President have a conflict of interest leading the investigation since what he did and did not do --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's -- I don't think that's what he was saying, Terry. I think he was going to say he's going to lead the effort to make sure there's a thorough investigation of things.
Q Scott, if the President is going to lead this investigation, he certainly knows what he, himself, did or didn't do. What could he have done to have made sure that the results were not unacceptable?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's getting into all the after-action analysis, Ed. We're going to remain focused on solving problems right now and supporting the work that's ongoing to help people in need.
There are people in the region that are in continued need of assistance. There are major issues that we have to address. There are real challenges on the ground. We've got to remain focused on that, and keep our resources focused on that. There's going to be a time to do a full assessment, and we will.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Ed, this is continuing to try to get ahead of where we need to keep our focus right now.
Q -- mistakes won't be repeated while lives are still on the line.
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to keep our focus where it belongs, on the people who have been affected. If you want to look at those other issues, that's fine. That's for you all to do, and we want you all to do that, and we're going to do it, and we are going to do it. The President made it clear yesterday, Ed, but we're not going to divert resources from the region when people need help.
Q Scott, during tsunami, thousands of Americans opened their hearts and pockets for the millions of tsunami victims, and now I think many tsunami victims are doing the same thing for Katrina. India mobilizing for --and also raising funds for millions --
MR. McCLELLAN: What's your question, Goyal?
Q The question is that also I understand that Prime Minister of India spoke or wrote letter to President Bush. What India is helping, in which way --
MR. McCLELLAN: There have been -- there have been 95 countries and international organizations that have offered assistance, and we're greatly appreciative of that. There's been -- there's a number of countries that have already provided that assistance. Germany and others have provided MREs; the United Kingdom and Italy, they provided a large number of MREs so that people have food and have the assistance. Canada and Singapore have helicopters helping with the response and recovery efforts. And there are a number of other offers of assistance, and we're looking at how to make use of those offers. And the State Department actually had a briefing on it earlier today.
Q How do you --
Let me go to Mark. Let me keep going. We've got something that we need to stop here shortly.
Q Can I come back to the supplemental? It's already -- it's a breathtaking number, and already $10 -- $10 billion bigger than what even some of the people on the Hill were saying yesterday. It's been suggested that Congress suspend the normal budgetary rules until the magnitude of what the financial need is going to be is clear. What -- do you have a view on that yet?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to ask our Budget Director. He'll be briefing on some of these issues later today. But keep in mind that the costs that we're talking about here are essentially one-time costs. They're not recurring costs. But we're going to make sure that the needs are met of those people on the ground, and we're going to continue to move forward on the budget and address our priorities there, as well.
Q Obviously, there are spending bills that are working their way through the mill in Congress, and doesn't it make sense to tell -- to agree with lawmakers who have said, hey, before we approve any more spending on these other things, we've got to figure out exactly how much this is going to cost?
MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, I think they can move forward on both. I mean, Congress is moving forward on appropriations. Now, this is going to have a short-term impact on the budget, because as I said, these are one-time costs you're talking about. In the budget you're talking about recurring costs, and you're talking about setting clear priorities, and there are priorities that need to be met. And that's why it's important to continue moving forward on the appropriations process, which is the budget process.
Let me go over here. Go ahead.
Q Scott, Governor Blanco in July had invited the President to come down and take a look at the Louisiana coast, to indicate to him how seriously the erosion had been and how serious the situation was for New Orleans. Why couldn't he go?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that our Council on Environmental Chairman has been very involved in some of those issues and worked very closely with people in the region on some of those issues.
Q Can you tell me also, with regard to the proposal of Harry Reid, he's also talking to her about creating a Marshall Plan, not -- relief is one thing, but there's also reconstruction, and the sum of $150 billion was one of the sums that had been raised.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just make clear, and maybe the President has over the last few days, but the President has made it clear to everyone that we've got enormous challenges to address, and we need to think big. We need big ideas and big solutions to address these enormous challenges. That's why we have the task force in place. That's why we have all these working groups. That's why the President is meeting regularly with key staff and Cabinet officials. He wants people to think big so that we can solve these problems that are ahead.
Q Scott, The New York Times reports that two Navy helicopter pilots who rescued 110 people, including two who are blind, have been reprimanded by a Navy commander because they were supposed to devote themselves entirely to supply. And my question: The Commander-in-Chief of the Navy will surely counter this reprimand with a presidential commendation, won't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, let me check into it. I've seen some the stories, but there are chain of command issues involved here and there are some military rules in place that prohibit us from commenting on certain chain of command issues.
Q Follow-up. World Net Daily reports that despite the devastation and suffering by so many thousands in New Orleans, there was a homosexual parade called "southern decadence." Does the President believe this is tolerable or --
MR. McCLELLAN: I want to finish on the military. The military is doing an outstanding job in search and rescue and ongoing humanitarian efforts, and we're greatly appreciative of the many men and women in the region, from the National Guard to reserve to active duty --
Q Including the ones that saved the 110 people.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- who are helping, and we're greatly appreciative of the efforts they have undertaken to save lives. There have been a number of lives that have been saved because of our Coast Guard, because of our military and others on the ground in the region that have been involved in those efforts.
Q Scott, does the President have any plans to return to the region either tomorrow or beyond this weekend?
MR. McCLELLAN: We will keep you posted on his schedule. He will continue to visit the region in the coming weeks.
Q This is not a blame game question, it's an accountability question. Has the President asked Governor Blanco why she did not release the National Guard troops days before Katrina hit, and why the Mayor of New Orleans did not have proper security and proper facilities for the people at the Superdome when they arrived?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this has been a massive response by the federal government, by the state and local officials. I mean, it's not just Louisiana who was hit -- it was Mississippi, it was Alabama, it was parts of Florida. And there's been a massive response effort going on in partnership with state and local governments. I'm not going to get into issues like that from this podium. There will be a time to look back and assess all these matters, and the President has made it clear that we're going to investigate it and we're going to get a full accounting of the facts so that we can address what went wrong and also make sure we continue to duplicate what went right.
There have been a lot of good efforts undertaken by many people. And there have been a lot of people that have come together to focus on what is most important, and that's helping the people in the region. And we're appreciative of those efforts, too. But there have been some problem areas and that's why the President made it clear what's wrong is going to be fixed. And we're going to focus on solving problems. We're not going to focus on finger-pointing or blame-game issues like that.
Q Scott, are you willing to fathom an estimate on how much beyond the $62 billion this is likely to cost?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, because -- and here's the reason why. First of all, the magnitude and the scope of this disaster are unprecedented. Our immediate federal response efforts have been extensive. It began with a -- well, it began even before the money that we had set aside, before the $10.5 billion, and then the $10.5 billion to make sure that we had the resources dedicated to continue helping people on the ground. But there are still a lot of uncertainty regarding the extent of the damage and the full cost of the ongoing response and relief efforts, the longer-term response and relief efforts.
Q Scott, you declined in this news conference to express the President's explicit confidence in Secretary Chertoff or Director Brown --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not.
Q In the past you've said anyone who serves in this administration does so at the pleasure of the President and with his full confidence.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is an attempt by some in this room to engage in finger-pointing and blame game and I'm just not going to do that. I've made it very clear --
Q Can you say the President has full confidence?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've made it very clear -- and the President spoke about them last week, and his comments stand, in terms of what he has said about the great work that they have been doing round-the-clock, 24 hours a day, to help people on the ground. There are some in this room that want to continue to engage in that. We're going to continue to focus on solving problems and getting help to people on the ground.
If you all want to continue to engage in that, that's fine. But we appreciate the efforts of Secretary Chertoff, Undersecretary Brown, and all the others at FEMA and at the state and local level that are working round-the-clock to help the people in the region.
END 2:03 P.M. EDT