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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 9, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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Press Briefing
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12:21 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me give you the latest update on Hurricane Katrina. The federal, state and local responders continue to focus on life-saving and life-sustaining missions, continuing with the ongoing search and rescue operations, as well as making sure that water and food and medicine are getting to the people who need it. We continue to work with the American Red Cross and state partners and faith-based and community organizations to make sure that Hurricane Katrina victims are in safe shelters with the life-sustaining commodities that they need.

FEMA has continued to move forward on expediting cash assistance programs. To date, FEMA has $460 million in aid. This is an immediate cash assistance to some 230,000 households, so that people have the cash to be able to purchase food and pay for shelter and get other basic necessities, like medicine. There continue to be more than 70,000 people working round-the-clock to bring critical aid and support to those in the Gulf Coast region. More than 248,000 evacuees have been safely housed in shelters in 22 states and the District of Columbia. More than 48,500 lives have been saved or rescued to date. And you have 87 national disaster medical teams engaged in the Gulf region.

Today, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Treasury Secretary Snow, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez and Social Security Commissioner Barnhart are traveling in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama to assess both the near-term and long-term economic needs of those in the region and discuss assistance available to individuals and small businesses in the region that have been affected by this natural disaster. And I think FEMA -- DHS and FEMA will be holding a press briefing here shortly, from the region.

The President this morning participated in his daily hurricane briefing, early this morning. They discussed some of the issues that I've already gone over, and other priority areas, such as making sure that we're meeting the housing needs; the cash assistance program, how that's working and if we're taking the steps to make sure we're improving the delivery of those benefits; and mortuary affairs efforts on the ground -- the state has the responsibility for overseeing the plan, implementing the plan and the federal government through the military and other ways, we're supporting those efforts with teams in the region, as well.

And yesterday the Department of Labor announced grants totaling over $30 million to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to expand their capacity to process claims and expedite unemployment insurance payments for those who have been left unemployed as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

And the President here shortly will be participating in the September 11th event from the South Lawn, so I will go straight to your questions now.

Q Scott, how is the debit -- what's the --

MR. McCLELLAN: You've been first every day this week.

Q Oh, wow. (Laughter.) What does the administration think about the debit card system and the way that's working? There have been complaints about that people aren't getting them, frustration that people are standing in line.

MR. McCLELLAN: The debit cards are one part of the cash assistance program, and there have been ongoing discussions on that to make sure that we're taking steps to improve the delivery of the cash assistance program. There are checks going directly to people, electronic transfers that are going to people. And I think a large number -- or the majority of that is through those means. And then there's also the debit cards that are available. And FEMA has been working to improve that system and get it to people as quickly as they can, particularly at the larger shelters. And they can probably give you an update on the latest activities that they're doing in that regard today.

Q Is there any -- also, is there any concern about fraud and abuse with the way that the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, and that's why yesterday I announced the task force the Attorney General is heading up to make sure that those who engage in fraudulent schemes or scams are pursued to the fullest extent of the law. It will not be tolerated. This is a time when people are coming together to help those who have been affected, and those who try to take advantage of the situation will be pursued and they will prosecuted.

Q Have you seen any evidence of that yet? Is there any prosecution --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have an update from the law enforcement community, but you might want to direct questions to them to get the latest update. We've been focusing on some other meetings this morning.

Kelly, go ahead.

Q When the Vice President had an opportunity to talk with the President, did he identify any specific areas of bureaucracy or red tape that he could suggest to Mr. Bush --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's a good question that you're bringing up. One of the things that you heard the President say last week was that the results that we had seen at that point were unacceptable. And the President made it very clear that there's been a lot of good work, and there have been many people working round-the-clock to help with the response efforts and to help those who are in need. But there were other areas where there were problems, and things weren't working the way they should be.

And so part of the visits you've seen by administration officials, starting with the President, has been to, as they go into the region, to assess things on the ground, to hear from people who have been affected and to look at the situation on the ground and assess what is working in a firsthand way.

And so the President went to the region last week, and then he returned to the region earlier this week. Secretary Chertoff went to the region over the weekend, I think he's on his third visit now to the region. So Secretary Chertoff has been assessing the situation on the ground, too.

Secretary Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security have responsibility for the operational activities, and the President has been in very close contact on a daily basis with Secretary Chertoff, hearing from him assessments. And he's also heard from the Vice President today and heard assessments from him about what he has seen on the ground. And they've talked about those issues.

Q Did --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been in several meetings this morning, focused on a number of priority areas. And so I -- if I have any additional information to get to you, I will. But we haven't been able to talk about length about that at this point.

But yes, we are, in a number of ways, making changes and making adjustments to make sure that where things aren't working, that they are working. And Secretary Chertoff is very much on top of those matters. He is making decisions and keeping the President informed of the decisions that he's making. The President discusses that with him, and we support the decisions that he's making. And one decision he made was getting Admiral Allen in there to -- from the Coast Guard, to help oversee certain operational aspects, as well. And this is an ongoing process where decisions continue to be made, and we appreciate the efforts of Secretary Chertoff.

Go ahead, Helen.

Q It's a non-Katrina question, so I'll defer if --

MR. McCLELLAN: Can we stay on Katrina and then I'll come back to you?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to. Go ahead.

Q Has Mike Brown resigned?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Has Mike Brown resigned?


Q Has the President asked for his resignation today?


Q Does the President have full faith and confidence in Mike Brown?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, what we are continuing to do is to support those in the region who are carrying out the operational activities. We continue to appreciate the work of all those who have been working round-the-clock.

As I just mentioned, I think what you need to do is look at the overall situation. There are phases to this response effort, and we've been in immediate needs phase for some time here now, for just over a week now, focusing on the life-saving and life-sustaining missions. And Secretary Chertoff has continued to visit the region, continued to assess things. The President has continued to assess things. And Secretary Chertoff is the one who is overseeing all the operational aspects. And so he's the one who's making all the decisions about how to allocate resources and to allocate people. And we support the decisions that he makes.

Q But you're not answering the question, which is, does the President have confidence in Mike Brown?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that's the way to address the overall question. We appreciate all those who are working round-the-clock, and that's the way I would answer it.

Go ahead.

Q Just to follow up Kelly, do you feel like you have now turned a corner, that the results are more acceptable now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Steve, there are a lot of challenges that we're presented with. There's a lot of work that remains to be done. We have been working to make sure that where things aren't going the way they should, that they're fixed, and that they -- from our standpoint, that we're working together with state and local officials, and we're marshaling all the resources to make sure we're on top of all the different areas. First and foremost, it's the immediate needs. It's helping those who need basic necessities to live. It's helping those who remain in the New Orleans area who need to be evacuated for public health reasons and for life-saving reasons.

And we're -- there are so many people that have shown their compassion and generosity and worked round-the-clock to help those who have been affected. And we shouldn't overlook all the great accomplishments of their work.

Q So you haven't turned a corner, then?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you know, you can use the terms you want to. What I would say is that we appreciate the continued round-the-clock efforts who are carrying out the ongoing operations to respond to the needs of those in the region. And the President is not going to be satisfied as long as there remain tasks to accomplish. There are ongoing challenges. There are enormous challenges presented by this storm. This was one of the worst and most devastating storms in our nation's history. And the President is not going to stand back, like you all might have the opportunity to do from time to time, and look at this from that perspective. He's going to remain focused in a very sharp way on continuing to make sure we're meeting the needs of the people in the region.

Q Can I ask you about the economic implications of this? As you point out, and this is something of a scale that we've never really dealt with before, is the President concerned about the impact of this on the national economy, beyond the obvious effect on the regional economy --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you've heard from some of the economic experts, and they've talked about the effect that it's having on the economy. The Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality has talked about the overall impact on the national economy. I think he's used the term, "fairly modest," and that's what it's likely to be on the overall economy.

There is certainly an economic impact in the region, and it has had a national consequence, as well. And that's why we've taken some of the actions we have to address those economic concerns.

Q If the general take at this point is that the national impact would be fairly modest, does that mean the President disagrees with the Republicans on the Hill who are talking about the need for more tax cuts to provide stimulus to the economy as a result of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've heard -- on our approach to the economy, and we've laid out our priorities to continuing economic growth. Our economy was growing strong and steadily before the hurricane hit. And the devastation in the Gulf Coast region, I think if you talk to economic experts, is -- would say that it's not expected to cause long-term economic disruption.

But there are certainly economic needs in the region, and that's why our economic team is there visiting with people who have been affected by this. And one of the things we're going to have to do is focus on the long-term rebuilding efforts, and we are. And that's one of the things we're doing.

But in terms of our priorities, when it comes to continuing to strengthen our economy, we want to continue to move forward on those priorities, and we will with members of Congress. I'm not sure of all the initiatives that they're talking about outlining, but that's where --

Q But a hundred billion dollars-plus, maybe $150 billion, is a huge hit on the United States Treasury. How are you going to make that up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our OMB Director talked about that the other day. He talked about how -- first of all, you have to keep in mind that these are one-time costs. It's going to have an impact more short-term, but he believes, looking at where we are now, that we're going to be able to stay on track with our deficit projections in terms of where we want to be by 2009.

But we've got to continue to keep our economy growing, and that's important to making sure that we move forward on the budget that we have outlined is important to doing that, as well.

Q I have a Katrina question also. It's no secret that a lot of people are saying, four years after September 11th, which is approaching, this kind of demonstration that after the billions upon billions of dollars that have been spent, the nation's response to an emergency is a debacle. What's your response to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, one of the things that the President said was that he's going to lead an effort to fully investigate the response to Katrina. Like I said, there are a lot of areas there was good response. But this was a storm like we have never seen before in this country. It's one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history.

And we always have to assess things and look at the lessons and apply those lessons so that we make sure that we're fully prepared for any possible attack on this nation, particularly a WMD or weapons of mass destruction attack, to make sure we're fully prepared for other disasters that could be of this magnitude. We all hope, in our lifetime, we never see anything like this again, and -- or to prepare for other potential disease outbreaks. That's an area that we remain focused on, that the President stays focused on, as well.

Q But do you understand those who might question the abilities of our government to adequately prepare, given the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I can understand those that are offering constructive criticism and ideas for moving forward to solve the problems that we have, and those that want to work together with all of us who are focused on solving problems.

You make a very broad statement. I think some of the statements you're probably referring to are people getting more into political talk, and that's their business. What we're focused on is helping those on the ground and bringing the nation together to help those in the region. And that's why the President has been visiting the region, hosting meetings with faith-based and community leaders, establishing -- directing his father and President Clinton to lead a charitable effort.

Now in terms of September 11th, we all remember very vividly the images of that day, that terrible day. And the President is going to be talking more about it here shortly. He's talking about it in his remarks.

The one thing that I think we will remember, as much as the victims and the great work of the first responders, is the resolve of this nation to do all in our power to prevent something like that from happening ever again. That's why the President made the decision that we were going to take the fight to the enemy after the September 11th attack. That's why the President made the decision that we're not going to ignore the Middle East or appease dictators in the Middle East, we're going to help change the Middle East by offering hope and freedom and help change that breeding ground of terrorism.

Q But I think you sort of strayed from the point --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think we did.

Q -- to the --

MR. McCLELLAN: But I think this all goes to your question.

Q -- of being prepared for an unexpected emergency of a huge magnitude. The public opinion polls, notwithstanding the politicians' criticisms, show that the government and the administration are not held in high regard for their response to Katrina, four years after September 11th.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there's going to be -- well, we already are assessing things on the ground. People have been in the region. But there's going to be a time to step back and look at this in the broader context.

But you have to look at all that we've done since September 11th, Bob, to make this nation safer and to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. Our first priority is to focus on prevention, and that's why the President put in place a comprehensive strategy, and not to pull back or withdraw from the fight ahead. We are in a global war on terrorism, and the President is going to see it through. And our enemies know that.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, without asking you to comment specifically on Mr. Brown or anyone else currently in office, do the events of the last week suggest that maybe the time has come to consider professionalizing FEMA and making future appointments based on people's relevant professional credentials, like --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's just such a broad characterization, Warren. I think you have to look at the overall number of people at FEMA and note that -- or are engaged in the work on the ground. I think that's such a broad characterization.

Go ahead, Carl.

Q From a sort of coordinating operational perspective now, who is Chertoff's number two in command?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Who is Chertoff's number two, operationally and coordinationally, when you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Operationally? Operationally? Well, Secretary Chertoff is the Secretary of Homeland Security, and Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson is right under him, and then you have -- you have the FEMA structure --

Q Who's down in the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Chertoff is in the region today, and he's going to be briefing here shortly. And Secretary Chertoff, when he's here, has been providing the President, in person, daily updates and briefings, and they've been able to talk about the situation on the ground. And the President has a tremendous amount of trust in Secretary Chertoff to assess the situation and make the decisions necessary to address the ongoing challenges that we face. Now, when Secretary Chertoff isn't here, Deputy Secretary Jackson is here participating in those briefings.

Q So when you say that the President has confidence in Chertoff's decision-making down there, where does the FEMA Director fit in the chain of command down there now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's an organizational chart, and I'll be happy to get that you, or FEMA -- or DHS could, as well.

Q A follow-up question, if I could. On the Hill, there's a growing sentiment that perhaps it's time to appoint a Katrina czar. What's the administration's thought about that, and has the President begun to think about possible czars?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our thought hasn't changed from yesterday, and "czar" is another one of these broad terms. And I think it depends on what you're talking about when you bring this issue up, in terms of how you're addressing situations. But the President has been focused on the immediate needs and the longer-term challenges that we face. And we've been laying the groundwork for the longer-term rebuilding efforts and shouldn't lose sight of what's most important right now. What's most important right now is to help those in the affected area. And the President and this administration are looking at a lot of ideas for moving forward on the longer-term rebuilding and recovery efforts, and there are a number of options that are under consideration and a number of ideas that are being expressed.

The President made it very clear we've got enormous challenges. We need big ideas and big solutions to address those challenges.

Q One last question if I could, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've got -- we've got --

Q Has the administration --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd really like to -- the President is speaking here very quickly --

Q There's a Time Magazine report now that there's a discrepancy in Mr. Brown's resume. Can you at least tell us whether or not the administration has looked into the Time Magazine report that there's a discrepancy in Brown's resume or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that FEMA, Mike Brown's office, has put out a statement in response to that, and they disputed the article.

Q Scott, quick question on 9/11 -- 9/11 is around the corner on Sunday, and the President is still fighting this terrorism and still getting high marks around the globe as far as terrorism is concerned. And there was no (inaudible) terrorist attack on the U.S. and also little terror around the globe. My question is that, how is the President going to do different or to say that (inaudible) -- now say victory over terrorism now, after four years?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. The war continues. The war continues. And the President is continuing to move forward on our strategy, which is to take the fight to the enemy, fight them overseas so we don't have to fight them here, and to spread a hopeful ideology based on freedom and democracy.

Q Scott, one on Warren's question. I mean, there's been several stories the past few days -- senior-most FEMA people, whether it's Brown or several of the others that have been named in the stories, have a lot of Bush campaign experience, not as much management experience. Does the President feel confident he's got the right people and the right type of people at each level --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think there are over 2,000 -- I think there -- and I'll have to double check this, but over 2,000 people at FEMA. And those are people that have been working round-the-clock, as of late, in response to Hurricane Katrina. And then there's obviously a small number -- 20, maybe, something around that -- that are considered the political appointees.

And in terms of structure, FEMA falls under the Department of Homeland Security, and Secretary Chertoff is the Homeland Security Secretary.

Q Scott, but don't the --

Q Scott, they're not giving the media the information we need to get out there.

MR. McCLELLAN: I need to move to other people's questions. Go ahead.

Q Thank you. Does the President support --

MR. McCLELLAN: Don't get so exasperated, we're continuing to brief you all.

Q No, we're not getting information on the debit cards. How do we tell people where to get them?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's -- there --

Q We're not getting information.

Q Does the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: They're continuing to put out information --

Q Can you just tell us, because we can't get it from them.

MR. McCLELLAN: Jessica, I'm going to go on to the next person. You don't need to get --

Q Who do we talk to? Where can we get the information?

MR. McCLELLAN: People are providing that information. I just provided you information that was put out by the Department of Homeland Security.

Q Does the President support his two fellow --

MR. McCLELLAN: You can get dramatic here, but the facts are that people are providing regular updates.

Q Just tell us where to get it.

MR. McCLELLAN: FEMA can provide you with information on the debit cards.

Q They're not. They're not. Our people on the ground are not getting it.

Q Scott, does the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: Tell me who they are we'll get them the information. Go ahead.

Q Does the President support his two Republican -- fellow Republican governors, Schwarzenegger and Romney, in their campaign to stop same-sex marriage?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that the people's voice ought to be heard when it comes to this issue. I'm trying to stick on the Katrina subject, and so can we stick on Katrina? I promised Helen, I wanted to get back to her. If you have other questions, I'll try to get to you, but the President's speaking here momentarily.

Q I will yield.

Q On Katrina, can you give us a little bit more of -- on the update for Sunday, when he's going to depart, roughly?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we're still finalizing those details, but I expect it will be mid-afternoon. And then we return late in the day on Monday.

Ken, go ahead.

Q Scott, why has the President chosen not to give a major, perhaps prime-time address to the people concerning the hurricane?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has addressed the nation and he will continue to address the nation in his remarks. And right now, we're continuing to focus on the most important area, which is the immediate needs of the people on the ground. But you will continue to hear from the President, the American people will continue to hear from the President, and there are a number of different formats in which they will hear from him.

Q Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Rick.

Q Scott, with so much focus on Katrina in the Gulf region and all the regions surrounding that, how much concern is there that al Qaeda or other terrorists might be using this kind of situation to their advantage? Have we seen any increase of chatter at all among terrorist groups?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's something we are very much focused on. The President earlier this week held a National Security Council and Homeland Security meeting to make sure that we are staying fully on top of our counter-terrorism efforts. And there are people that are staying on top of those issues. I don't have any update for you from an intelligence standpoint. Obviously, any potential threat that we learn about, we take very seriously. And you know in terms of where the threat advisory system alert is at this point. But it's something that we continue to stay focused on. There are people who focus on that area round-the-clock, and we are going to make sure that we stay on top of counter-terrorism priorities, as well.

Q Scott -- thank you, Scott. Now that the President has --

MR. McCLELLAN: Are we on Katrina?

Q No.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let me stay on Katrina.

Q Supposed to be a meeting this afternoon to -- is that supposed to be just an update on the current situation, or does it just address the future transitional housing --

MR. McCLELLAN: Both. And the President, in these meetings and -- one, get an assessment from people who have a good sense of what's going on, on the ground and what the needs are, and the experts and the people he's put in charge of these areas. And talking about our plans for moving forward to address short-term housing needs, mid-term housing needs, temporary housing needs, and longer-term housing needs, because for some people it's going to be a while before they get back.

And one thing Dick was asking about was the economy. And for those who have been affected by this hurricane, it is not only have they lost family members and lost everything they had, but it had a significant impact on them from an economic standpoint. And we've got to do everything we can to assist them to get back up on their feet. That's why we put in place the plan yesterday, to help people get back up on their feet as they transition back into a more normal life and as they rebuild their lives. And that's what we will continue to do.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, when the President said a week ago that no one anticipated the breach of the levee, it seems to have been well established that that was just wrong, that there were many federal reports, many stories over the years saying that in a hurricane of this strength that they would be breached. Why was he so willing, and has he asked his experts how he could have been --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you've characterized something wrong and interpreted something that he said in the wrong context. I'm glad you brought this question up, because we did actually, I think, respond to one news outlet that had asked about this, and most others had just interpreted it a certain way. And it's been interpreted wrong.

What the President was referring to is that you had Hurricane Katrina hit, and then it passed New Orleans. And if you'll remember, all the media reports, or a number of media reports at that time, that Monday -- even all the way to the Tuesday papers, were talking to people and saying that New Orleans had dodged a bullet. So I think that's what the President is referring to, is that people weren't anticipating those levees, after the hurricane had passed New Orleans, breaching. Many people weren't. And you can go back and look at the news coverage at that time.

So this is one of those issues in this environment where something has been interpreted and interpreted wrongly. Because all you have to do -- and I'll be glad to provide you some of the coverage from that period and what people were saying at that point. There were literally reports saying that New Orleans had dodged a bullet or that the worst case scenario didn't happen. Well, it did. And that's what the President was referring to.

Q So when he is leading the investigation, there will be questions about "he will be investigating himself." How can that properly be done? Will he enable independent people to look at the kind of question that you just addressed and others --

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, in terms of investigating, I mean, there are already things being investigated. We're assessing things on the ground, as I mentioned at the top of this briefing, as people visit that region and as people hear reports back from the region. And where things aren't working, we're making them work; and where things are wrong, going wrong, there are steps to make sure that they're going right.

Congress is laying the groundwork to move forward on a joint bipartisan committee that will investigate the preparedness and response, as well. The President very much supports the efforts of Senator Frist and Speaker Hastert to move forward in a bipartisan way on a committee to look at some of these issues. And we will do a more thorough analysis as part of an investigation, too, at the appropriate time. Right now, we need to make sure that all resources are focused where they should be, which is helping people in the region.

Go ahead, Helen.

Q Former Secretary Powell, Colin Powell says that his presentation to the U.N. -- which was obviously full of falsehoods about Iraq's arsenal -- is a blot on his career. I wonder whether the administration takes any responsibility for his statement that led us into war in a big way?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, accountability has been a priority in this administration. This why the President established the Robb-Silberman Commission, because the intelligence was wrong, and we must make sure we have the best possible intelligence as we move forward to confront the threats of the 21st century. And the Robb-Silberman Commission looked at why the intelligence was wrong, so that we can fix the problems and so that we can make sure we have the best possible intelligence. And that's why we have a Director of National Intelligence now, that's why we've taken --

Q The White House takes no responsibility?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we took responsibility by acting to fix any problems that were there, and we will do so in this instance, as well.


Q Yes. The president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, Kris Mineau, told The Boston Herald that the posting on the Internet of names and addresses of all who signed a petition to ban same-sex marriage is, in her words, "intimidation." And my question, does the President disagree with Ms. Mineau?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has made his views very well known when it comes to same-sex marriages. The President believes marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman, and it is something that ought to be protected. And the people of America, I think, strongly support that position, as well.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Jessica.

Q You said that headlines showed that we had dodged a bullet right after the hurricane hit. Does the President rely on news headlines --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, absolutely not. I addressed that the other day. Absolutely not. I'm just, I think, putting it into perspective, Jessica. And I'm not saying that it was media; I'm saying talking to people in the region, there were many people in the region that thought that things -- that the worst case scenario had not happened. But we know now differently. And you're referring to a question that was brought up in this briefing. There was a mischaracterization of what the President had said. And if people would have called and asked us, we would have been glad to point that out to them. People did call us -- at least one news organization -- and we expressed that to them

-- and there maybe have been others -- and I'm just --

Q But you said he discovered it in a news headline, so I'm asking --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm setting the record straight and I'm putting in perspective what was going on at that time, and the sense that people had initially. But that was a false sense, one that we should not have had, in retrospect -- or that many people should not have had, in retrospect. That's all. And don't try to take it further than what I said.

Q Did the officials who were briefing him also tell him that they had dodged a bullet?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't know -- I don't know of anyone

-- I mean, I know of everyone still working to respond and to make sure that we were addressing the needs on the ground and assessing the situation. People were working round-the-clock, they were still assessing the situation. There were people that were in New Orleans that -- I don't know whether state, local and federal first responders, Army Corps of Engineer -- I don't think anyone was breathing any sigh of relief at that point. But there were many that had felt that the worst case scenario wasn't -- then it happened, when it initially was passing. But we now know differently. But the first responders at the state, federal, local level, they were all staying on top of things as best they could under the situations, given that this was a massive catastrophe, one like we've never seen before, and learned later that we had some problems with the levees, that they had breached. And we know what has happened since that time.

So that's why when you step back and look at this and talk about what we faced, I mean, it's been an unprecedented challenge that we've had to face and we're going to overcome it together by working together.


END 12:57 P.M. EDT

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