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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 27, 2005
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland
4:12 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: I came back here, one, to update you on the consultation process for the Supreme Court vacancy. As of about 12:00 p.m. today, we have consulted with nearly 70 senators, and that includes, as I mentioned earlier, 17 of 18 of the Judiciary Committee members. It's well more than two-thirds of the Democratic Conference.
And those consultations were continuing. We are on track to match the level of consultation we did for the first vacancy. The President believes the consultation -- consultative process is an important part of the nominating process, and we have been listening to the views and ideas from members of the Senate. And the President will take those into account as he makes a decision on who should fill that vacancy.
Secondly, you all were of course with us all day, so you were able to see and hear much of what occurred. One of the main reasons the President visited the region today was to make sure things are getting done that need to get done. We want to make sure that the immediate needs of the people in the region are being met, and we want to make sure that the federal, state and local coordination efforts are going as well as possible.
And the President was able to hear from state and local officials whose communities have been impacted by Hurricane Rita, as well as, in some cases, Hurricane Katrina. And this is in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Rita, so many of the resources -- the critical resources that they need are still coming into the area. Obviously, you can't get some of those supplies into the region until after the storm has hit and passed. And we're doing all we can to assist the state and local officials get the supplies -- like food and water and ice and MREs -- that they need.
We're also working to address the issues of getting the power back on, getting generators into the communities. One of the local officials in Texas, during that meeting, mentioned one -- what the President thought was an important lesson that's already been learned from Hurricane Rita, and that was that, in their local preparedness plans, this local official indicated that many of them didn't have the technical specifications for the kind of generators they might need for the critical infrastructure, like hospitals or other critical infrastructure. There are a lot of generators that we're working to move into these communities, to get power back up and running at places -- to hospitals and nursing homes and gas stations. Of course, you need to make sure that the electricity is on, but you need to make sure you have the right-size generator to power the facility. And so that was one issue that was discussed.
Obviously, fuel is something that is a concern right now. It's in the immediate aftermath that they need to get. So we're working with state and local officials to get fuel into the area. National Guard plays an important role with helping with the distribution of some of these supplies. The President had good discussions with the state and local leaders. He knows that this is a time period that they're in right now where they're trying to respond as best they can to the needs of the people, and they need our assistance, and that's what the federal government is there to help with.
He also enjoyed having the opportunity to thank the search and rescue teams from Tennessee and Ohio and Nevada and some from elsewhere that have been working round the clock to save lives. You all were there to cover that while he was shaking hands with a lot of those individuals. I think it really helps to lift the spirits of people who are the first responders that are doing amazing work to save lives.
Anyway, with that, I'll be glad to get into questions, if you have any.
Q Has he been watching or been briefed on Michael Brown's testimony before Congress today, and does he have any reaction to it?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he hasn't really caught any. He's been visiting with senators and congressmen on board the flight. I talked to him briefly about some of the hearings that were going on, and I think maybe Joe Hagin did, as well. But, you know, just very briefly.
Q He's blaming Louisiana officials for the slow response to the storm. Do you agree with that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Washington tends to focus on finger pointing. The President is focused on problem solving. That's why he's been visiting the region today, he wants to make sure that things -- as I said, he wants to make sure things are getting done that need to get done. We're focused on working together with state and local officials to get people who have been affected what they need.
And it's important that Congress move forward and do a thorough investigation of what went wrong and what went right, and look at lessons learned. We want to fix what went wrong, so that we can make sure we've done our part to prevent some of what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from happening again. And so Congress is having hearings to gather the facts. It's important to be able to step back and gather those facts, so that we can apply the lessons learned from this catastrophe.
The President talked -- you all covered one of the meetings he had the other day, at Randolph Air Force Base. One of the lessons learned that the military has already learned, as the Air Force General pointed out, is that we need to have more effective coordination of air assets in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, so that you don't have five helicopters coming in to rescue one person. There were a lot of resources surging into the area to provide critical help to people who are in need. So we're already learning lessons and applying some of those lessons learned. And we support Congress' investigation, and the President wants to make sure it's a thorough investigation. But those hearings are just getting underway.
Q Does the President think it's appropriate that Michael Brown is doing consulting work for FEMA?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that's a question probably to ask to the Department of Homeland Security; I think that they've responded to it. I think he's only on that for about a 30-day period from the time that he announced his resignation.
Q Does the President think that's okay, that 30 --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President supports Secretary Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security, and I think they're probably in the best position to answer any questions about it. I'm not sure that you can just simplify it into just a broad statement.
Q Any specific reaction --
MR. McCLELLAN: One of the things that they said that he's focused on is helping them with lessons learned.
Q Did you hear the President express any particular reaction to some of the scenes we all saw from the helicopter, that one town, Cameron, seemed to be pretty much obliterated. Did he have any reaction to any of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I was in the second helicopter. The Governors and Senators were traveling with him in the other helicopter. I saw the same thing from where I was, and, certainly, when you came into the Cameron, Louisiana area, there was a lot of devastation and flooding. We saw some of the damage along the Texas border region and the Sabine Pass area. So it's another reason the President came to the region today, so he could see first-hand some of the damage and assess some of it from his own standpoint. That's why we're working closely with state and local officials to meet the needs of the region and meet the needs of the people.
Another issue that this region that was impacted by Hurricane Rita is going to have to be dealing with in the coming days and weeks is debris removal. And we, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, working with Mississippi officials and others, we were able to simplify the process for debris removal. And I think that's working well, and that's something we'll carry over when it comes to debris removal along that Louisiana-Texas border area and in those communities.
The President heard from the President of the Cameron Parish, and that is an area that was hit particularly hard. Much of it is essentially wiped out. And this is a very difficult period in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane like Rita. And the President assured these leaders that a better day was ahead. He recognizes this is a very difficult period right now, having been through these type of natural catastrophes before.
And what we're here today to do is to -- partly to let them know that, look, we're committed to cutting through the red tape and the bureaucracy. Chief Paulison was there, Admiral Allen was there, General Honore, and in Texas you had Admiral Hereth and Chief Paulison and General Clark. They all are committed to fulfilling what the President has told these leaders, that we're going to work with you and streamline the process and cut through the red tape as much as possible, to help you get back up on your feet and rebuild your lives and your communities.
Q Can you help those of us who don't know what an offshore oil rig normally looks like? Was that one damaged?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that one had much damage. I looked at it, and from what I could see, I don't think it had much damage. It was just to give the President a good view of the region, and so they went offshore for a minute.
Q Has the President ever heard during all these meetings over the past several days, you know, with all due respect, Mr. President, it's great to see you, but your visits are disruptive; some of our leaders here are being pulled out of other key meetings they could be attending. Has anybody ever expressed that kind of concern to him?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. These local officials, state officials are all very appreciative of the President coming down, because one thing the President can do is make sure that we're very focused at the federal level, and that we are cutting through bureaucracy and cutting through red tape to get state and local officials the help that they need. And so I think all the officials were very appreciative of the President coming down there.
And one thing that this does, too, is to bring everybody together, all the different local communities, the governor, the federal officials who are in charge, and enables us to sit down and talk about the concerns that they have, areas where things could be working better, and resolve those issues, or at least start the process of resolving those issues, because when the President says, "we need to get this done," I can assure you that the federal officials who are in charge of our response efforts on the ground are going to follow up and get things done.
We've got a great team that is working on the ground, both in Texas and Louisiana and Mississippi, and these are good discussions to have, not only to help these local officials solve some of their problems, but also for the President to hear what those problems are, and make sure that we're addressing them at the federal level, from our standpoint. Our role is largely to assist the state and local efforts.
Q Who is the one senator on the Judiciary Committee you haven't contacted?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have reached out to the individual.
Q They're not being snubbed.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that -- oh, no, no. But I think I'll avoid getting into names. I don't want to single anybody out for any reason. But I'm sure we will have contact with that individual soon.
END 4:26 P.M. EDT