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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 1, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

video screen capture

Press Briefing
video image

12:26 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Tomorrow morning the President will visit and tour the Gulf Coast region and get a closer look at the enormous devastation from Hurricane Katrina. The hearts and prayers of the American people continue to go out to all the citizens in the affected areas of the Gulf Coast. The nation stands with all those in the region who have been affected by one of the most devastating natural disasters in our nation's history.

It was very sobering as we were traveling over the region yesterday, returning to Washington, to see the devastation and damage from Katrina, and to see the flooding and to see the homes that had been destroyed. Tomorrow's visit is another way for the President to show the nation's support and compassion for the victims and our appreciation for those who are helping with the ongoing response and recovery efforts. It is an opportunity for the President to get a first-hand, up-close look at the response and recovery efforts, and to hear from those on the ground. It is also a time, simply, to offer some encouragement and comfort to boost the spirits of the people, those who are helping in the response, and those who have been displaced by the hurricane.

The schedule is very fluid at this point, and it is certainly subject to change. The general plan for tomorrow is as follows. The President will first stop in Mobile, Alabama. I expect he will meet with Governors Riley and Barbour. Then he will, along with the governors, do a helicopter tour of the Alabama-Mississippi coast, along the Mobile, Biloxi, Gulfport area. Following the aerial tour, I expect he will visit a location or two on the ground in Mississippi. Then he will depart for New Orleans, where he will be joined by Governor Blanco. He will then do an aerial tour of New Orleans, and we're still working on the rest of the schedule for New Orleans at this point. We will keep you updated on any changes or additions to the schedule as we get them.

This is a massive federal response effort that is underway. We are continuing to coordinate closely with state and local authorities. Just to put it in perspective, the total amount of lands that is under federal disaster area declaration is approximately 90,000 square miles.

The President continues to spend much of the day focused on the federal government's response efforts. This morning the President called Petty Officer Josh Mitcheltree of the United States Coast Guard. He is a swimmer who has been involved in the search and rescue efforts. The President expressed his appreciation for his efforts and the round-the-clock efforts of his colleagues. Hopefully it helped to boost their spirits during this trying time. It was also an opportunity for the President to get a first-hand account of the ongoing response efforts, and the search and rescue efforts.

The President also spoke with Mike Brown this morning to get an operational update from the ground. He's been in discussions with White House staff throughout the day. He met with Secretary Rumsfeld, General Myers and General Blum, who is head of the Army National Guard, along with Secretary Chertoff earlier today. He received an update from Secretary Chertoff on the operational aspects and he also had a discussion with those individuals about the latest security situation on the ground, particularly in the New Orleans area.

At 1:30 p.m. today, Secretary Chertoff will be joined by General Blum and others to provide an operational update. I expect one of the issues they will talk about is the law enforcement and security situation on the ground, and I think they can provide you with an update of the increase in the number of National Guard troops, over the course of today and the next couple of days, to address some of those issues --

Q Do they have enough National Guard --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to address some of those issues on the ground. Right now, the President is having lunch with Chairman Greenspan. This is an opportunity to talk about -- the purpose of the meeting really is to focus on the economic impact. Following that lunch, the President is participating in a briefing with his economic team to get a preliminary assessment of Hurricane Katrina's economic impact.

And then at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, the President will meet with former Presidents Bush and Clinton to announce an effort that they will lead to raise private funds for victims of Katrina. This is similar to the effort they led with the tsunami relief, where they helped to raise more than $1 billion in an unprecedented effort to help people in that region.

This is a national tragedy and one of the best ways for the American people to show our compassion for the people in the Gulf Coast region is to support with the nation the efforts of the Red Cross and Salvation Army and others who are helping people in the region. The American people are already showing their generosity and providing significant contributions, but this will be an ongoing effort. It will be a long and difficult road ahead, as the President said, and it will require continued support from all Americans. The President and Mrs. Bush, today, will be sending a significant contribution to the Red Cross, as well.

One other announcement, and then I'll be glad to go to your questions. In just the past two days, the President has received requests from Governor Blanco, Governor Riley, and Governor Barbour for a waiver of state cost-share requirements for emergency response activities, and today the President is granting that waiver. The President's action today will increase the federal share from the current 75-percent level to 100 percent federal funding for a period of 60 days, retroactive to the date of the major disaster declaration. This effort -- or this action recognizes the unprecedented scope and impact of this disaster. These extra funds will allow the federal government, through FEMA, to pay for 100 percent of the cost of debris removal and emergency protective measures taken by local first responders under the public assistance program, including direct federal activities.

As I mentioned, this action comes on the heels of the emergency declarations the President issued on August 28th and 29th for Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, which allowed FEMA to identify and mobilize the equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impact of the emergency in those areas. And this is a rule that was established under the Stafford Act law, and that's what the waiver relates to.

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

Q Scott, what's your latest estimate of the damage caused by the hurricane?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, there's going to be an operational update later today. That might -- by Secretary Chertoff. That might be a place to direct that question. I don't -- I think that it's still very early in the assessment of the damage and devastation that was caused by this hurricane, so I don't have an updated number or anything to put on it at this point. But as I mentioned, this covers some 90,000 square miles, and certainly yesterday, when we were traveling over the region and looked out at the devastation, it was enormous.

Now, you've got, really, two different situations you're dealing with in Mississippi and Louisiana. I think we could see that from the air yesterday. In Mississippi, it's more of the wind damage; the hurricane simply wiped out homes on the ground and wiped out structures on the ground. You can see homes that were in pieces, or homes where just slabs of concrete were left, because those homes had been completely wiped out.

In the New Orleans area, of course, you have the flooding. And while our focus remains, first and foremost, on saving lives, we are also working to stop the flooding and fix the breaks in the levees to address those problems on the ground as we also continue evacuating people in New Orleans.

Q People on the ground, though, Scott, are questioning why it's taken three days or more for federal help to arrive, notwithstanding all of the preparations. There's considerable bitterness in some places. We had one woman ask on camera last night, where's the cavalry? And then there's been editorial criticism across the country of the President for not acting sooner, or not coming back sooner. What do you say to all that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I can understand how frustrated people are in the region who have been affected by this. There are some immediate priorities that we must remain focused on. First and foremost, that is saving lives. And second, right along with that, is sustaining lives. That's why the federal government is working in close partnership with state and local authorities. This is a massive undertaking by the federal government. It is unprecedented. We continue -- remember, we pre-positioned assets in the region prior to the storm hitting. You have more than 50 disaster medical assistance teams in the region. You have some 28-plus search and rescue teams deployed in the region. Those efforts are ongoing.

I can understand people who have not received the help they need being frustrated at this point. It's going to take time to get help to some people. We've got to prioritize what the needs are, and that's exactly what the federal government is doing. And we are going to continue moving resources and assets into the region to help those who are in need. And we -- if you look at what the Department of Transportation, for instance, has done, they have moved I think approximately 1,000 truckloads containing more than -- nearly 7 million Meals Ready To Eat to the region. They have moved millions of gallons of water, 15,000-plus tarps, 10,000-plus rolls of plastic sheeting, 3.4 million pounds of ice that they have helped to transport to those who are in need of those supplies.

Q But none of that means anything to somebody who has been living on an interstate overpass for the last three days, without food or water, or any kind of assistance, local or federal.

MR. McCLELLAN: As we were passing over the region yesterday, Bill, we saw people that were standing on those highways, those highways that just disappeared into the water. We saw people that were on rooftops. We saw helicopters in the distance engaged in search and rescue operations as we were passing through the region.

Our concern, first and foremost, is with the people who have been displaced or affected otherwise by this major catastrophe. It is a major catastrophe and there is a major response to this catastrophe. And the federal government will continue working to do everything in our power to get help to those in need. But we certainly understand the frustration coming from people on the ground who are in need of help and we will continue working to get them the assistance that they need. We appreciate the efforts of all those in the region who are working round-the-clock to make sure that they are getting help.

Q Are you going to bring back any National Guardsmen from Iraq to help?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the military talked about that a little bit yesterday. I think you're talking about two separate priorities and we're addressing both. And they'll be talking later today, I think, about some of the ongoing increase in the number of National Guard units that are being deployed to the New Orleans area to meet the security and law enforcement needs that are on the ground.

Q Do you have enough troops on hand?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that they've indicated that, yes.

Q Scott, what impact is this having on the budget? Are you preparing a budget supplemental to take care of it, or how much money are we talking about?

MR. McCLELLAN: That is a good question. We had significant resources available for the short-term needs. We are fully committed to making sure that the needs on the ground are met, and doing what is within our power to do at the federal level. That's why I mentioned the announcement today of the waiver by the President of the United States.

Congress is in the process of returning from their August break. We believe that we have the resources we need in the short-term to meet the needs on the ground, but we will be discussing with Congress -- in fact, we already are discussing with some members of Congress -- how we move forward on additional supplemental funding to meet the needs down the road. And you can expect that we will act with members -- with Congress to address those needs and provide additional funding that is needed.

It's also important to continue making the assessments of what is needed, and so that is one of the things -- Terry brought that up at the beginning of the briefing -- that's one of the things we're doing, is making an assessment on what additional funding may be needed, so that we can move forward and pass that quickly once Congress is back in session.

Q You don't have a ballpark figure yet?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have that today.

Q Do you know how much the former Presidents are hoping to raise, and will they be seeking money from corporate America --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't -- I recall, in the tsunami relief, I mean -- obviously, this is something that's just been pulled together in the last day or so. On the tsunami relief efforts, the total amount raised, as I pointed out, was more than $1 billion. That is not all necessarily attributable to their efforts, but certainly they provided a lot of help in that. And I don't believe that they set necessarily a target goal; this is just to maximize the response from the American people and maximize those contributions.

I'd also point out that we have received numerous offers of condolence and assistance from nations around the world, and I think you can expect that we intend to take nations up on their offers of assistance. And the State Department can probably talk to you more about that if there is any more to add to it.


Q Scott, two questions. First, we've heard a number of reports about crime deterring people from making rescues, that FEMA has called off some rescues in some areas, that helicopters have been shot at, that there's been some shooting in hospitals, and yet, some of this has proved to be urban myth. Can you sort of set the record straight on what you're hearing here at the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the best place to ask that question is going to be at the briefing at 1:30 p.m. or at the briefing later today by FEMA officials from the region. They will have the most up-to-date information on operational matters on the ground.

Q Are you concerned that the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Now it is a -- the security situation is a concern. It is a priority. We are working very closely with state and local authorities. We're in close communication with Governor Blanco and other officials on these issues. And the President, I think, made it very clear earlier today that we will not tolerate law breakers, we will not tolerate price-gouging, we will not tolerate insurance fraud, we won't tolerate looting. And there is a zero tolerance approach when it comes to these issues.

Q And the second question, the Department of Energy reports that about 35 percent of customers won't have power -- in the area, don't have power. One of the problems is the people who would go bring them power are sleeping in their trucks. They don't even have the food and resources to get there and help themselves. It seems that these local communities are having trouble even taking care of themselves. Is there any thought about federalizing the effort to not just be a task force from the federal government, but clearly control and oversee the rescue and recovery from here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's getting into some of the operational aspects. Secretary Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security are overseeing all the operational activities. I think a question like that would be best directed to them.

Now, in terms of the electricity issues, yes, the Department of Energy is looking at those very closely. We -- one of our concerns when it comes to the economy, of course, is the shortage of gas. And that's an issue we've been working to address. That's why the EPA moved forward on a waiver yesterday so that the regulations prohibiting some fuel from being used can now -- that fuel can now be used. And that's why Secretary Bodman is moving forward on approving loans from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, so that we can address the short-term issues that have been caused by this hurricane. And, certainly this is something that has a national impact.

Q Is it something the President is considering?

MR. McCLELLAN: Is what something the President is --

Q Federalizing this effort?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's a question you ought to direct to the Department of Homeland Security.

Q Scott, do you cited the President's zero tolerance for insurance fraud, looting, price gouging. Does he make any allowance for people who have yet to receive aid who are taking things like water or food or shoes to walk among the debris?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from the President earlier today about his zero tolerance. We understand the need for food and water and supplies of that nature. That's why we have a massive effort underway to continue getting food and water and ice to those who are in need. There are ways for them to get that help. Looting is not the way for them to do it.

Q Scott, I read that Air Force One on the way back from Texas had dipped down as low as 1,500 feet.

MR. McCLELLAN: Seventeen-hundred feet, for a brief period.

Q Brief. How briefly? Can you tell us -- were you looking out the window, was the President? What did he see, what was the reaction?

MR. McCLELLAN: It was -- most of the flight over the region it was pretty clear, and we were able to get a good look at the devastation from the air. I think when we were coming to the Mobile area, that there were some thunderstorms in the area, so we didn't get to see part of that -- that part of the region as closely as maybe we'd have liked. But when we flew over New Orleans, we were at 2,500 feet, and then for a brief period after we left New Orleans, we went down to about 1,700 feet, and then we went back up to 2,500 feet soon after that.

The one thing that the pilots aboard Air Force One did, at the direction of the President and the White House, was to make sure that the flyover in the region was in no way going to disrupt the ongoing response and recovery efforts, the ongoing search and rescue efforts. That's why they were in close contact with people on the ground in the region, authorities on the ground, to make sure that the level we were at, and where we were flying over was in no way disrupting those ongoing activities. So they were very careful about that.

Q Scott, you talk about the difference between the short-term planning underway now versus the long-term planning to come. Describe for us what short-term means in the context of this catastrophe, when does the long-term planning start, and in terms of housing the displaced residents and the refugees, do you have any kind of an estimate as to how many people in that 90,000 square mile area that you're talking about are still displaced, unsheltered?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, again, that might be one to direct to FEMA on the ground or the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington at one of their briefings, to see if they have any latest update on the number of people that have been displaced. It is certainly a large number of people that have been displaced because of this natural disaster. And as you're aware, officials are in the process of evacuating people from New Orleans, particularly the Superdome, people that are housed there, and moving them to the Astrodome in Houston. That is something that is ongoing. Busses are still en route to the Superdome to move people.

In terms of the short-term and long-term, that is what the -- where the President's focus really is, is, one, the short-term immediate need. Are we doing everything in our power to meet the urgent needs on the ground, the needs of the people. First and foremost it's about saving lives. So those search and rescue operations continue. A close second to that is sustaining life. And that means making sure people have the food and the water and the ice and the shelter and that they're getting their needs met in that respect.

And in terms of the long-term strategy, that was one of the things the President directed the task force to make sure that they were working on, that we'll continue developing a long-term strategy to address the needs going forward. This will be a long and difficult road as we work to rebuild the great city of New Orleans and we work to help people rebuild their lives and get back on their feet.

Q In the context of folks who are now looking at perhaps never seeing their homes again or perhaps being in shelters for months at a time, can you give us some idea -- are we talking about a short-term strategy period of three months, six months, a year?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are many -- and I want to leave this to those who are overseeing those operational aspects, I leave those questions to them. But there are many federal agencies involved in this effort. Yesterday, the President sat down with the first meeting of the task force that we established to help with the coordination. Secretary Chertoff is chairing that task force, and he's also overseeing the operational aspects.

But you had Cabinet Secretaries from many agencies sitting at the table -- the Department of Transportation is an agency I just mentioned; the Department of Defense, they're deploying -- continuing to deploy a large amount of military assets to the region, from ships, to troops, to help with the response and recovery efforts; you have the Department of Energy; you have the Department of Homeland Security, obviously, and FEMA, under the Department of Homeland Security, that is overseeing this effort; the Department of -- the Housing -- the Department of Housing and Urban Development to look at those issues when it comes to people being displaced and where we can provide temporary housing for those individuals; you have the Department of Labor and Social Security Administration addressing the issues of Social Security checks and unemployment insurance and things of that nature and how we're going to get people help.

So we are acting on many fronts throughout the federal government. This is an unprecedented effort on behalf of the federal government, and it is being closely coordinated under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. As you will recall, we developed the national response plan for the purpose of situations like this. The national response plan was implemented by Secretary Chertoff just the other day. This is the first time it's ever been implemented. And it allows us to really fully mobilize all the resources the federal government needed to address a situation like this and do so under one umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security -- and the Department of Health and Human Services. There are concerns about public health and disease and things of that nature. So they're working very closely with the Centers for Disease Control to address those public health issues. There are just multiple fronts we are working on to respond to the hurricane.

Q Two quick clarifications, please. Was the lunch with Chairman Greenspan scheduled previously, previous to the --


Q So it was --

MR. McCLELLAN: He does have lunch with Chairman Greenspan from time-to-time, but this was set up for the purpose of talking about the economic impact.

Q And the second is, based on what you have said today, and what the President said this morning on television, is it fair to say that the President feels that all the help has been provided as quickly and sufficient quantity as possible?

MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, for those on the ground who are still in need of assistance, I think they would tell you that it hasn't. They need that help yesterday. But we are doing everything in our power to get assistance to those who need it. Obviously, when you have a situation of this magnitude, you have to prioritize, what are the most urgent pressing needs and make sure that those needs are being met first. And that's what we're doing in partnership with state and local authorities.

Q Scott, I know the President obviously is focused on response efforts right now, but can I talk to you about preparedness? Is the President satisfied with the way assets were pre-positioned, specifically in those areas like New Orleans and Mississippi, New Orleans particularly, a place that was identified by the Red Cross as being particularly vulnerable because of its geographical location. Is the President satisfied?

MR. McCLELLAN: One thing that I think is important to keep in mind at this time, this is the immediate aftermath of a major catastrophe. This is a time when the whole country needs to come together to help those in the region. And that's where our focus is. This is not a time to get into any finger pointing or politics or anything of that nature. This is a time to make sure all our resources available are focused where they need to be, and that is on the people who have been displaced or the people who have been otherwise affected by this natural disaster. And that's exactly what we're doing.

In terms of the hurricane, itself, remember we took a number of steps prior to the hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast region. We -- the President issued disaster declarations for the states in the region prior to the hurricane hitting shore. That enabled FEMA to fully mobilize all the resources needed to pre-position assets, like disaster medical assistance teams and search and rescue teams, so that they would be able to quickly deploy and help.

I think on Tuesday everybody recognized that this -- if not sooner -- that this natural disaster is unprecedented. It is, as I said, perhaps the, if not -- certainly one of, if not the, worst natural disasters in our nation's history. And that's we have a massive federal response effort underway. But Mike Brown was working closely with the state and local authorities in the region last week, leading up to the hurricane hitting at the early part of this week. And so there was a lot of pre-positioning of assets and people and resources prior to the arrival of Katrina.

Q Scott, there's already a line of discussion going on about the funding of projects prior to this, whether projects in New Orleans, in particular, were under funded because of the Iraq war or for other reasons. Is there a -- do you find any of this criticism legitimate? Do you think there is any second-guessing to be done now about priorities, given that the New Orleans situation was sort of obvious to a lot of the experts?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated, this is not a time for politics. This is a time for the nation to come together and help those in the Gulf Coast region. And that's where our focus is. This is not a time for finger-pointing or playing politics. And I think the last thing that the people who have been displaced or the people who have been affected need is people seeking partisan gain in Washington. And so if that's what you're talking about, that's one thing.

Now, if you're talking about specific areas, if you're talking about specific areas, I think I would be glad to talk about some of those, if that's what you want. I don't know what specific areas you're --

Q I'm talking about policy. I'm talking about the SELA project, for instance, is one some people cite where they felt they needed $60 million in the current '06 fiscal year, they were given $10 million, those types of projects. And a lot of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, which project --

Q SELA -- Southeast Louisiana flood control --

MR. McCLELLAN: Flood control has been a priority of this administration from day one. We have dedicated an additional $300 million over the last few years for flood control in New Orleans and the surrounding area. And if you look at the overall funding levels for the Army Corps of Engineers, they have been slightly above $4.5 billion that has been signed by the President.

Q Local people were asking for more money over the last couple of years. They were quoted in local papers in 2003 and 2004, are saying that they were told by federal officials there wasn't enough money because it was going to Iraq expenditures.

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to talk to General Strock, who is the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, because I think he's talked to some reporters already and talked about some of these issues. I think some people maybe have tried to make a suggestion or imply that certain funding would have prevented the flooding from happening, and he has essentially said there's been nothing to suggest that whatsoever, and it's been more of a design issue with the levees.

Q Without getting into finger-pointing or partisan politics or anything, would you concede that, given the difficult reality on the ground there now, that more could have, or should have been done to have resources available, to move quickly or to be there? Or is it your position that this is simply the nature of responding to disasters of this scale, that it's going to take days or weeks to get --

MR. McCLELLAN: Very legitimate question. I think that that's something that, over time, will be able to be addressed and looked at. I mean, you're still, right now, trying to assess all the damage and destruction that's been done. Now is the time to remain focused on the response and recovery efforts, and that's what we're doing. There will be a time for politics later; there will be a time to look at all these other issues and do more of a critique or assessment of the response efforts. But right now we're making sure that we're doing everything in our power to respond to this natural disaster.

Q Would you expect that, as a result of this, in the long run, when that time comes, that there will have to be an overhaul of the National Response Plan, both in terms of dealing with natural disasters, as well as what we're going to learn from this, should there be any --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think in any situation like this, you're obviously going to look back at it and learn from it. And that's something that would be expected, to make sure that in the future we take into account what we've learned. I think it's just too early to get into that kind of discussion. Right now there are a lot of people who are in need, and we need to make sure the assistance is getting to them.

Q It's search and rescue now, and in a very few days it's probably going to start shifting to search and recovery, sadly, so clearly, there's urgency now. Have you considered making a request for international aid? Has it been considered getting -- from all the states, or even co-opting domestic airlines to get them to evacuate people or to bring --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not talking about any specific area. Again, this is something that is probably a question best directed to the Department of Homeland Security at one of their briefings, when you're looking at some of these issues. But I don't think we're ruling things out at this point, I mean, in terms of any area. In terms of requests from -- or in terms of assistance from other nations, as I just indicated earlier today, we are open to all offers of assistance from other nations and --

Q Is that a request? Would you put that into a form of a request?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I would expect we would take people up on offers of assistance when it's necessary.

Q So that is a request? You are requesting international aid?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. I mean, I think that a lot of nations have offered assistance. I don't know of any particular request that I have to update you on at this point. And the point I think I'm making is that we're not ruling things out, so whenever you're looking at any area to help with the response and recovery efforts, you always want to consider all your options that are available.

And so I don't know -- the President talked earlier today when he was asked about -- I think it was about Saudi Arabia, and he said he was confident Saudi Arabia would provide what assistance they could when it came to the energy supply. But of course, he talked about how their capacity was limited. There are a lot of ways people can help. And certainly, we're going to look at those offers and take people up on those offers, I would expect.

Q Isn't the time, though, now in terms of getting people out alive, maybe getting rescuers in, whereas in some days' time it may only be money or body recovery?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, as in --

Q The time now to request international aid, international --

MR. McCLELLAN: There's a lot of assistance coming in. And I think some have offered already offered assistance in different ways, so I don't think that the way you characterize it is necessarily the way I would look at it.

Q Scott, I know that it's fairly early in the fact-finding department, but what's the best guess on when there might be a ballpark figure on how much this might cost in terms of the supplemental budget request?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's something we continue to work on, and we continue to assess what those needs. Obviously, as the damage and devastation is assessed by people on the ground, then that helps you come to a better, more precise estimate of that.

Q On a related point, motorists around the country are now in many places paying more than $3 a gallon for gasoline. Most analysts expect that to remain the case for days and weeks to come. Are we going to hear anything from the President on asking Americans to do what they can to conserve?

MR. McCLELLAN: You heard from him earlier today. The President indicated that where people can they should conserve. And he talked about the steps we're taking to address the issue of high gas prices and a shortage of supply, that it has led to an increase in gas prices. And that's why the Department of Energy is making loans available to help address some of that shortage, making loans from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve available. That's why the EPA issued the waiver when it came to certain fuels so that that could help address some of the shortage.

That's why the President made it very clear in the meeting yesterday, and made it very clear today, as well, that we will not tolerate price-gouging. We will not tolerate insurance fraud and things of that nature, and the Department of Energy has a website available for people to report instances of price-gouging and things of that nature.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, two questions. First, in the problem of looting, what is the President's reaction to the 1968 statement of Philadelphia's Frank Rizzo that "all looters would be shot," and then three looters were shot, and the looting in Philadelphia stopped?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I haven't discussed that with him in the midst of all the response and recovery efforts that are ongoing with Katrina.

Q Looting is a problem.

MR. McCLELLAN: Looting will not be tolerated. The President made that clear that it should be zero tolerance when it comes to looters. And that's why we are in close communication with Governor Blanco and other officials in Louisiana to address the law enforcement and security concerns on the ground in New Orleans. And that's why you have National Guard deployed there, additional National Guard going in there to help address some of the security concerns.

There are many, many instances of neighbor helping neighbor during this time. And I don't think that can be lost either. We've seen the looting on our TV screens, and it's a terrible sight to see some of the violence and the looting that is going on during this difficult and trying time. But there are also many instances where people are helping one another. People are reaching out to their neighbors to evacuate them, or get them safe locations, or provide them with food and water. And I don't think that the many acts of compassion and kindness should be lost in this discussion either.

Q The new President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been identified by at least five former U.S. --

MR. McCLELLAN: Tell you what, let me stick on the hurricane.

Q Yes.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: If we have time, I'll be glad to come back to that.

John, go ahead.

Q Okay. In November of 1997, the then Mayor of Omaha, after his city was hit with a massive snow storm, the biggest in history, declined federal aid and emergency relief. Did any of the three governors the President talked to in the area say they could do it on their own, or did they push for federal disaster relief?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think more -- no, I think more of the -- well, they all made requests. I mean, we were in close communication with them, with -- leading up to --

Q So it originated with the governors.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I wouldn't say that. We were in close communication with them. I think it was in concert with those officials. And we stayed in close communication with those governors to make sure that needs are prioritized and that resources are prioritized, that federal resources are prioritized and that -- along with those state and local ones so that we can make sure we're covering all the different areas that need to be covered.

Q So let me get it straight. None of the three --

MR. McCLELLAN: As best we can, I should say.

Q Sure. None of the three governors said they did not want the federal assistance and could handle it on their own?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard anything like that. I think we worked in concert with those governors to issue those disaster declarations ahead of time, and so that we could preposition a lot of resources on the ground.

Richard, go ahead.

Q Has the President received any personal phone calls from foreign leaders offering assistance --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's received condolences calls, and those leaders have offered their support and assistance. But it's been general. I mean, these have been brief calls.

Q --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yesterday, he spoke with King Abdullah and this morning, he spoke with Prime Minister Martin of Canada.

Q They called him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Those were calls he took from --

Q --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- he took from those leaders. Well, he's -- he stays in touch with leaders like Prime Minister Blair on a regular basis, too, but those aren't conversations that we get into. You know, there are many governments that have expressed their condolences and offered their assistance through the Department -- through their embassies or through the Department of State. And the State Department mentioned some of those, and I expect they'll probably be giving you an update today on that, as well.


Q Scott, thanks. Two questions on this conservation issue. You say where people can conserve, they should conserve. Do you expect anything stronger from the administration, given what the situation is, any stronger statement than that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to assess things. There's the short-term issue of the shortage of gas supply, and I think part of that depends on the ability to address some of these issues in other ways, as well. But these are issues that we continue to look at.

And in terms of the energy supply, there -- as I mentioned earlier today, there are a number of refineries that are down. There are several pipelines that were down. Some of those pipelines, it is my understanding, are back online, to some extent at least. And they're working to get some of the others back online, as well. So it's something we're continually assessing, and that's what we're doing.

Q What order has the President or the Energy Secretary or anyone else in authority issued in terms of government conservation? The government has one of the biggest --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, as I said, this is just a matter of a couple of days after the hurricane hit, and these are all issues that we are looking at.

Q So there's no order for cars that idle here, and that sort of thing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a Homeland Security briefing, too, and they will keep you updated on activities going on. But again, in any area -- I'm not talking about any specific area, but in any area -- we're not ruling things out. We're looking at what needs to be done to address problems. The people in the region want their leaders here to solve the problems that are occurring.

This is a hurricane that not only affected the region, but it had a national impact, as well. It had a national impact on the gas supply. And it has -- it created at least a short-term shortage of supply. And that's something that -- one of the problems that we're working to address, and that's why we've taken the steps that we have, and we will, obviously, be continuing to keep you posted as we move forward.

Go ahead.

Q Is there a concern this disaster poses a national security threat? Terrorists or people could come across the border now amidst this chaos to move northward and do something bad?

MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, we have people working around the clock to address threats, terrorist threats, on the homeland. Obviously, the best way to prevent attacks from happening on the homeland is to stay on the offensive, and that's what we're doing. Those are questions you might want to direct to the Department of Homeland Security if they have anything else to update you on. Our focus has been on the response and recovery efforts from here. I don't have anything -- I don't have anything to update you on.

Q --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, at least in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, there has been declarations of Marshal Law in certain areas.

Ken, go ahead.

Q Scott, you said on energy, you're not ruling things out. Are price controls on gasoline among the things you're not ruling out?

MR. McCLELLAN: The steps that we're taking -- or the steps that the President said that we're taking at this point, and those are the ones that I've heard discussed at this point.

Q Are price controls ruled out?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't -- Ken, in terms of the options that are -- that we're pursuing, they're the ones that we have announced. If there are any additional steps that we take, I'll be glad to talk to you about that at this point. But I think you have to look at how we're working to address the supply in terms of energy. And that's why we've taken steps through the Department of Energy with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, that's why the waiver -- we've taken action with the waiver through the EPA. It's not something I've heard discussed at this point.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, some in small towns in the affected hurricane areas, like Hattiesburg, Mississippi, are telling national organizations that they've been told it will be months before anyone can come into their towns and help. Now is there any equitable approach to getting help to those small affected communities?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if it's months before they can come in to give them help. I know that there's been -- I've seen reports about months before people can return to their homes. But regardless, as I said, we're working very closely with the state and local authorities to address the needs of the people who have been affected.

Q Do you know anything about how small towns have being responded to versus a larger community?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think in terms -- those are operational details that are probably are best provided either by the briefings held on the ground in Baton Rouge by FEMA or the briefings by the Department of Homeland Security.

Q And second, Scott, one more. This is hurricane season -- we're still in hurricane season. What is this administration doing to help prevent the type of devastation we're seeing now --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a very good point. We still are in hurricane season, and you will remember last year that there were a number of hurricanes that hit -- well, four, I recall, that hit Florida. And so there -- we have to keep that in mind and continue preparing for the possibility of additional hurricanes that could hit the United States. And we have people that are focused on that.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Scott, the Louisiana Governor yesterday declared or proclaimed a day of prayer in her state. Has the President discussed any idea of doing that on a national basis?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I mentioned, our hearts and prayers continue to go out to people in the region. The President has said on behalf of the nation, we appreciate all those who are offering their prayers to the people in the region. And in terms of any updates, I don't have anything else to update you on besides that.

Jessica, go ahead.

Q Scott, since the briefing started, I've gotten a number of emails from people saying that correspondents who've been in Baghdad and New Orleans say Baghdad feels safer to operate in; people saying that it's absolute chaos in the streets; message boards on the Internet are going crazy. They're frustrated that you're deflecting this to FEMA. Is the White House properly, adequately concerned? And can you tell us --

MR. McCLELLAN: Deflecting what to FEMA?

Q You're deflecting all specifics to the FEMA briefing.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not. I've given you some updates, but they are the ones who are in charge of operational aspects on the ground. And the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the operational aspects from Washington, D.C. And they're pulling together officials that will have the most updated information to you. So your characterization is just wrong, Jessica.

Q Why have helicopters stopped flying over New Orleans?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the people on the ground will be able to provide you with the latest information on that. As I would with any engagement abroad in terms of operational activities, as you mentioned, with the military, the people who are in the best position to give you those updates are the ones who are overseeing the operational activities. That is being done by the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, and it's being done by FEMA on the ground in the region. So that information is being provided to you all.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:11 P.M. EDT

Return to this article at:

Click to print this document