The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
September 2, 2005

Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana

9:28 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, we'll begin by going over the President's day. I don't know if you all heard his comments before the President left, but the President began his day by meeting with DOD and Department of Homeland Security officials. This took place in the Situation Room this morning. The meeting lasted an hour, maybe slightly more than an hour. It began right about 7:00 a.m. this morning.

The meeting included Secretary Rumsfeld; General Myers; Admiral Keating, who is head of -- commander of Northern Command; General Honore, who is the commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina for the military; General Strock, who is the commander for the Army Corps of Engineers; Mike Brown; Secretary Chertoff; Deputy Secretary Jackson; White House staff -- Andy Card, Steve Hadley, Harriet Miers, Dan Bartlett and others. Secretary Rice was there, as well.

You heard from the President. The President talked about -- this morning before we left -- about how appreciative he was of the unprecedented efforts from the federal government to respond to this natural disaster. And I think you also heard in the President's remarks how deeply concerned he is about people who are suffering in the region. The President has continually been receiving updates throughout the week about the situation on the ground, about the situation in the different states that have been impacted, and about the situation in New Orleans, as well. And the President is concerned about the results. He wants to make sure that we're achieving better results on the ground.

Everybody is working hard, they're doing a great job, we've got a great team in place. But as you heard the President say earlier today, the results are not acceptable. And the federal government had -- and Admiral Keating talked about some of these priorities, Mike Brown and Secretary Chertoff talked about some of these priorities in the meeting -- there are clear priorities set by the federal government. The first priority right now continues to be saving lives. And that means focusing our resources now on the most urgent needs. And that's what the federal government is doing.

We're working very closely with state and local authorities, we continue to do so. The second priority that is going on concurrently with the first priority is sustaining life. That means getting food and water and ice and medicine to those who need it. And General Honore, in the briefing -- who, again, is the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina for the military -- talked about the plans for getting National Guard -- more National Guard troops into the area of the Convention Center. The Convention Center is something that is a high priority right now from the standpoint of the federal government. We're working to get supplies there -- food and water and ice and medical supplies. And we're working to get more National Guard troops in there. And those National Guard troops work under the direction of the Adjutant General of Louisiana.

That's an important priority. There's some 25,000 to 30,000 people who are at the Convention Center, and they are in need of help. And so there was a lot of discussion about that. One of the things the President talked about throughout the meeting and asked them was, are you getting everything you need from us, meaning to the military and to FEMA -- are you getting everything you need. And they also talked at length about the security situation -- the security situation around the Convention Center, and the security situation in New Orleans and elsewhere. And we continue to discuss a range of options for addressing some of these ongoing security problems on the ground.

And the President got an update on the evacuation efforts at the Superdome and the progress that's being made there. There's progress being -- good progress being made there, with the buses getting there and getting people out.

General Strock gave an update on the efforts to address the flooding and to fix the levees, as well, and the ongoing problem we have with flooding. Remember Secretary Chertoff talked about this yesterday, I have talked about it, as well -- that really, as the initial hurricane hit it caused a lot of damage in the whole region. And then you had the second natural disaster, which was the flooding that occurred after the hurricane hit. And so those are problems we're continuing to work to address on the ground.

But again, the President talked about how he looked forward to going to the region today to hear from those who are engaged in the ongoing efforts to provide relief to people who need it, and to hear from people in the region who have been affected. And as he said, he looks forward to assuring them that we're going to make sure we're getting on top of those problem areas and continue to get them the help that they need.

I'll come back to questions in a moment. I know you all will have some. But again, this is a massive, round-the-clock effort by the federal government, and there's a lot of great work going on. But this is also a major catastrophe that covers a lot of area, and we've got to continue to focus on the most urgent needs while also making sure we're getting people the food and water and medical supplies that they need.

Following the briefing, the President had his usual intelligence briefing, as well -- participating in those. At the White House before he departed, he made the remarks that you all have. On the plane here, he took a call from Secretary General Annan -- this was a condolence call. The Secretary General offered his condolences and his support, as well, essentially to say, whatever we can do to help, we will. The President said he appreciated the call.

Here, shortly -- the President has been visiting with Secretary Chertoff and others on board the flight. Just so you know who all is on, we have Senator Cochran and Congressman Jefferson, Secretary Chertoff, Secretary Jackson, Marsha Evans of the Red Cross, Todd Bassett of the Salvation Army, and then the White House staff who is traveling with the President, as well, today.

And shortly the President -- and he may be already, while I've been back here -- will be participating in a briefing with Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Jackson on the housing situation for those who have been displaced or evacuated, and they'll also be talking about the priorities for the short-term -- to meet the short-term housing needs and the long-term housing needs. That's something that's been discussed over the last several days and continues to be discussed.

Now, in terms of the schedule today, the schedule is -- depending on events on the ground, I mean, it could very well change. I'll go through kind of the general schedule for today, but just know it's subject to change during the day. And one of our top priorities is to make sure that as the President tours the region, we're not in any way being disruptive of the ongoing response and recovery efforts. I think you all may be aware, but anytime we go into an area, there are no flight restrictions on emergency helicopter flights or plane flights or anything of that nature -- like medical evacuation flights, or things of that nature. That holds for here, as well. We're making sure that there's no -- there's flight restrictions naturally in the region right now because the area is restricted to just the emergency, search and rescue, and the medical flights that are going on and things of that nature. But there are no additional flight restrictions that we're placing on the area as we go into the region. And I just wanted to make sure you all knew that. We're going out of our way to make sure we're not disrupting any of the ongoing efforts.

With that said, the schedule for the day: When the President lands he'll participate in a briefing on the hurricane damage in Mobile. Mike Brown will lead that briefing, and Governors Riley and Barbour will be in attendance. I expect there will be local officials there; I expect there will be -- I mean, if they can get there -- the State Adjutant Generals from Alabama and Mississippi. Following that, we're going to do an aerial tour on the way to Biloxi, Mississippi. We'll land at the Biloxi Keesler Air Force Base. And then we'll motorcade over to the Biloxi area where the President will do a walking tour of a neighborhood in Biloxi.

Q What's the name of the neighborhood?

MR. McCLELLAN: Wendell, like I said, these things are all subject to change. It's all been put together in a short amount of time. As we get on the ground I'll try to make sure we get you more information, but these things are happening as we're speaking and being finalized while we're in the air.

Q Could I ask, when we're on the ground, since we might not know where we are, could somebody just tell us as we're on the ground so we --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, absolutely, we'll do that. We'll do everything we can to make sure we get you all the information. But this neighborhood is in Biloxi, Mississippi. I expect Governor Barbour will be with him, the two Senators, I expect Mike Brown will be with us. And the President may well make some remarks at some part during that tour. And we may have another stop in Biloxi. That's something we're seeing if we can do.

Then we're taking an aerial tour of the damage along the Mississippi coastline as we depart Biloxi and head to New Orleans. In New Orleans the President will be joined by Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin, and of course, Mike Brown and Secretary Chertoff are with us throughout the day -- and do an aerial tour of the hurricane damage in New Orleans. And then, on the ground I expect he'll tour a hurricane damaged area of New Orleans, as well. And then we'll go back to the airport and I expect the President may make some remarks there, joined by the state and local officials, as well, before we head back to Washington this evening.

Again, it's very flexible at this point, but that's what I expect right now. I also want to mention that Mrs. Bush -- and she may already be there -- she's on her way to Lafayette, Louisiana. She's going to the Cajundome there -- the Cajundome has taken in evacuees from the New Orleans area. And I have that there are currently about 6,000 people staying there and there are more that are still continuing to be evacuated or transported to there. I think some of the ones who are at the Superdome are being transported there. And this center is being run by the American Red Cross.

Q When the President asked in the meeting this morning if they had everything they needed, how possibly could their answer have been "yes"? And also -- a federalized response --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of operational details, I mean, we've got the Department of Homeland Security that is obviously overseeing the operational activities. The Department of Defense is overseeing the operational activities from the military standpoint. These are ongoing efforts; things change on the ground from hour to hour. And they're going to be the best ones to give the latest and more precise information in terms of the operational activities. And I don't want to try to speak for some of these ongoing activities that they're engaged in. The people that are responsible for that are in the best position to do that.

In terms of security issues and things of that nature, like I said, we continue to discuss a range of options. We continue to be in close contact with Governor Blanco in Louisiana, with the Mayor. The President spoke with the Mayor yesterday. He looks forward to seeing both of them today, and work closely with them to address the needs of the people in New Orleans and the region.

Q When the President said, results are not acceptable, what specifically is he talking about?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- and certainly all of us have seen it -- the President has seen the images on our TV screens and he's received the briefings -- you have, as I said, 25,000 to 30,000 people at the Convention Center that are in need of assistance. They're in need of medicine, they're in need of food, they're in need of water. We are deeply concerned about the suffering. Those people are trying to get the basic life necessities right now, and there are security concerns there.

That's why the military is moving to get the National Guard military police there on the ground in larger numbers, along with local police. As the President said, General Honore is working to get 600 National Guard military police on the ground there. He is in close contact with the Adjutant General and other officials in the region who oversee the National Guard. But security concerns are something that remain a priority, as well. And the President said in his remarks that we're going to get on top of those problem situations.

Q Would it be too strong to say that he is angry? He almost looked angry that things aren't happening faster than they are.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to step back a little bit and just -- you have to look at the overall efforts that are going on. There are a lot of people that are working round-the-clock that are doing a great job. The President made a point of stating that. There's a lot of agencies at the federal government level that are involved, and I've talked about -- and the President talked about them. I think you heard him say very clearly that he's not pleased about the results that we're seeing in certain areas and that those results are unacceptable.

That's not a -- I wouldn't necessarily view that as directed at anyone in particular, just that this is such a massive catastrophe that covers such a large area and that has affected a large number of people. Particularly in a city like New Orleans, those people are doing everything they can to keep going and make it through this very difficult and trying time. This is an extraordinarily difficult, trying time for the people who were affected, and for the people who continue to suffer. And it's going to take time to get help to some of them -- that's why the federal government has prioritized resources, and prioritizing how to get those resources to people on the ground. The first one is saving lives, and right there with it is sustaining life.

Q -- a brief follow-up. I understand part of his role is to sort of champion the efforts that are going right, but does he also have a role of sort of -- kind of knocking heads together in regards to the parts that aren't going right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, this is a federal, state and local effort. We're all working in close coordination. The federal response is unprecedented in nature and the President remains deeply concerned about the people who are suffering on the ground and those who are in need of assistance. And we're working to move heaven and earth to get help to those people, and working in close coordination with the state and local authorities to do that.

Q Did the President hear the remarks of Mayor Nagin -- the sharp and angry criticism -- is he aware of them, first?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he looks forward to seeing Mayor Nagin later today. He's going to be --

Q -- hear him on the New Orleans radio station --

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said, he's aware of the comments that have been made by various officials. Look, this is a very difficult and trying time for a lot of people. This is a time for all of us at the federal, state and local levels to work together to respond to the needs of the people who have been affected. And that's where our focus continues to be, and that's what we'll continue to do.

Q So you're saying you we're very --- in doing that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Wendell, like I said, this is an extraordinarily trying time for many people, particularly those who are in need of assistance right now and not getting it. And we recognize that. We understand that people on the ground who are suffering needed help yesterday, or the day before, and we are going to address those ongoing priorities, ongoing problems, to get assistance to them.

Q -- are you saying it was not possible to provide them with that help yesterday or the day before, that that was an impossibility?

MR. McCLELLAN: Wendell, I don't -- I think you have to look at the unprecedented nature of this catastrophe. Again, you had the initial hurricane hit. There were many efforts underway prior to the hurricane hitting, and people were monitoring the track of that hurricane after it passed Florida and trying to look at where it might go. That's why federal officials, under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, worked to pre-position at that time in the region, to prepare to move wherever that hurricane may be hitting. As it was coming closer, we were getting a better idea of the area it was going to hit. So disaster medical teams were deployed, search and rescue teams were deployed, authorities were deployed to command centers throughout the region. We were working very closely with state and local authorities to respond ahead of time.

That's why the President signed that disaster declaration -- or issued that disaster declaration for all those states in the region that were affected by it, ahead of time, and afterwards, as well, additional disaster declarations. There was a lot of pre-positioning. This hurricane hit, and as it passed the flooding came into Louisiana, and the New Orleans area --

Q Scott, I'll stipulate all of that. This is Friday. Yesterday -- or the day before was Wednesday. -- it was not possible to get federal aid until now?

MR. McCLELLAN: In a situation like this -- and I think you've heard from federal officials, you've heard from Secretary Chertoff and Mike Brown -- they're the ones who have been -- well, Mike Brown has been in the region, on the ground, working the problem, and he's in the best position to describe the federal response efforts. What you have to do, from the federal level, is make sure we're working in close cooperation and coordination with state and local officials and state emergency operation officials, that you are prioritizing what the needs are -- the priorities have been laid out previously -- hang on, hang on -- and you've got to look at what the most urgent, immediate needs are on the ground.

The Superdome -- people who couldn't leave New Orleans, people were moved to the Superdome ahead of the storm, evacuated there. Those people are starting to be evacuated from the city. The Convention Center is a problem that has come up in the last couple days when people went there. That is something that is a high priority for the federal government to help state and local officials get on top of. And that's what we're working to do. We're working to make sure the resources are going to the most urgent need and that food and water to people who don't have it yet.

Q Scott, you keep talking about priorities being set and the urgent need, and the resources going to those who need it most -- the whole point is they're not. People are dying from lack of food and water -- not only are they waiting to be rescued, but they're waiting for food and water and they're not getting it. So -- why is the President not more angry about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've just described how the President -- as the President said --

Q You said he's not pleased -- why is he not --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, as I said, he's not pleased at the results. He said the results are not acceptable. He's deeply concerned about the people who continue to suffer. I don't know how you can be more clear than that. But there is a massive effort to see that it continues. It has been underway and it continues. The President wants to make sure that the security concerns are being addressed and that the assistance is getting to those who continue to suffer.

Q -- does the federal government share in the blame for not being able to move heaven and earth to help these people sooner?

MR. McCLELLAN: Steve, as we've said, we've focused on the most urgent needs and prioritizing the distribution of those resources to those urgent needs. We've deployed a lot of resources ahead of time. We're continuing to deploy resources to address the ongoing problems. And that's why the President is making sure they have everything they need -- - are you getting what you need, do you need more. They talked about the plans, how they're deploying more resources and getting more assets in there. And I'm going to let the military and let FEMA talk from an operational standpoint about how they are making use of some of that. They're the best ones because they're overseeing it right now. It changes from hour to hour.

And I think one of the messages that they're saying is that we understand you needed help yesterday, or the day before; we're working to get that help to you. We're working hard -- we're working round-the-clock to get assistance to those who are in need. It takes time to get to some people, but we want to continue to move as fast as possible to get that help to them. That's why I said the Convention Center is a high priority right now. That's one of the problem areas from a security standpoint and from a standpoint of people who are in need of food and water and medical.

And look, in terms of -- right now, everybody needs to band together and work together to get help to the people who need it. There is going to be time to talk about issues of that nature later on. Right now we've got to continue to make sure we're doing everything in our power to help those who are in need and get people the life-sustaining commodities that they need.

Q Hastert is suggesting that if we're going to spend billions of tax dollars to rebuild we might want to think about building it not at sea level or below sea level.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he made additional comments than just that, so I'll let his office speak to that. We do appreciate Congress moving very quickly to pass our supplemental request for $10.5 billion so we can make sure that there's no disruption to some of the ongoing response and recovery efforts.

Q Is the President happy with the job Mike Brown is --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes they're doing a great job -- and they are. They're working around the clock on these efforts. But again, those who have yet to get help, it's not enough. They're hot, they're tired, they're hungry, they're thirsty, and we need to get them help. And that's what we're working to do, that's what they're working --

Q Why wasn't the President briefed three days ago? I mean, why did it take until today to really work up to anger and say it's unacceptable?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Jennifer, I just don't know that I accept some of your characterizations that are being made. The President has been concerned about those who have been displaced, and those who have been affected, those who are in need in the region well before the storm even hit. And he continues to be concerned about them. And we are deeply concerned about those who are continuing to need assistance and have yet to receive it.

Q -- make a stop on the ground in New Orleans, outside the airport, I mean?

MR. McCLELLAN: I said he's going to be on the ground and tour some of the damaged area in New Orleans.

Q Bill asked about New Orleans. Does the President want New Orleans to be built exactly the way it was? I mean, that's one of the issues --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the short-term needs that we're focused on right now, there's also the long-term planning that is going on to address that issue. That's more of a longer-term issue right now. But the President is confident we're going to rebuild New Orleans and that's some of the planning that goes on, as well, but that's a longer-term issue.

Q One other thing on the security situation at the Convention Center -- did Jennifer ask this earlier? What are these options you're talking about? I mean, sending more troops? What are the options?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, again, you're getting into some of the operational aspects. I don't have anything additional to announce. I think announcements of any additional steps would come from those who are overseeing implementation of those efforts, whether it be the Department of Homeland Security, or military, or another agency within the federal government.

That's why we've been having the briefings the last few days with Secretary Chertoff and other officials in the federal government. They talked at length yesterday about the security situation, and they talked about the additional National Guard troops that are getting into Louisiana and Mississippi. The President got a briefing on the numbers in terms of National Guard troops that are being deployed now and that are being deployed to supplement efforts that are ongoing to address the security situation. But if there are additional updates to make, I'll leave it to those overseeing the implementation or to the President, if he has more to say on it.

Q -- your answer to my question of if he is considering federalizing --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yesterday I talked in the briefing -- I'm not getting into these specific areas -- again, this isn't a time when you're ruling things out. You're looking at the problems and working to solve those problems and looking at the range of options. And that was part of looking at the range of options that were available to us, part of the discussion in the meeting earlier today. And the President asked a lot of questions about some of those options.

Q Questions about getting more security in the area, either National Guard or active military?

MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about the security concerns and how we're addressing it, and other issues, as well. I'm not -- I don't have anything more to add --

Q -- range of options -- I presume that he's looked close at the option of active duty military involvement --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is active duty military that has been deployed to the region, and being deployed. And we have ships in the region -- three Navy ships, additional seven that are en route. You have 150 or so helicopters, I think, that are there -- military helicopters. These are active duty that are supporting FEMA's efforts, in support of those efforts. And Coast Guard, search and rescue. And then you've got the National Guard.

Now, National Guard is technically under the direction of State Adjutant General, who is under the direction of the governor. That's why I say this is all something that is closely coordinated with state and local officials.

Q Is the President as shocked as everybody else at these scenes that we're seeing from New Orleans of bodies in the streets, reports of rape and marauding thugs? Is he shocked?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I mean there are a lot of horrible reports that you're hearing, and certainly horrible images that we have seen on our TV screens. Some of the reports turn out not to be true later; some do -- there are some initial reports that later turn out to be wrong. That's why the President is asking about the conditions in the briefings he's getting, the images -- that's why the President remains, like all the American people, concerned about the people who are in need --

Q Is he disturbed by these images, like a lot of Americans are?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we're all disturbed by the images. They're a terrible thing to see. It's terrible to see human suffering like this. And that's why we need to make sure we're getting help to those people.

Q Thanks, Scottie.

Q Thanks.

END 10:02 A.M. CDT

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