- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

President Bush yesterday designated two former presidents — his father, George Bush, and his predecessor, Bill Clinton — to spearhead a nationwide fund-raising drive to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

“In the coming days, Presidents Clinton and Bush will ask Americans to donate directly to reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims,” the president said in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, with the two former presidents by his side. “I ask every American to contribute as they are able to do so.”

Mr. Bush listed several “reliable” organizations, including the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, the Salvation Army, Save the Children, CARE, UNICEF and AmeriCares. “In this situation, cash donations are most useful,” he said.

Mr. Bush also met at the White House yesterday with new members of the House and Senate and said the first order of business for Congress will be to approve disaster aid for the millions of people affected in Asia.

“This town is sometimes too partisan and too political,” he said. “My hope is, is that we can show the nation that we can come together to achieve big things for the good of the country.”

Americans have donated hundreds of millions of dollars since an earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia on Dec. 26 and the resulting tsunami swept across much of the Indian Ocean, killing more than 139,000 people. The U.S. government last week raised its aid offer to $350 million, which Mr. Bush said illustrated “the compassion of our nation in the swift response.”

“But the greatest source of America’s generosity is not our government, it’s the good heart of the American people,” he said.

The pictures of devastation that played daily on U.S. televisions during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have created an explosion in giving by Americans. Some corporations are matching employee donations, while others are giving large sums and goods toward relief efforts.

The American Red Cross has received pledges of $80 million, half via the Internet.

Catholic Relief Services has raised nearly $15 million, and Save the Children more than $14 million. Some of the bigger donations came from companies, such as $2 million from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. And actress Sandra Bullock donated $1 million to the Red Cross.

Mr. Bush had been criticized for offering little U.S. aid. A lead editorial in the New York Times on Thursday was titled “Are We Stingy? Yes.” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that the latest move is intended to ensure “we’re doing everything we can both from the government perspective as well as private support to help those who are suffering.”

Mr. Bush, accompanied by first lady Laura Bush and the two former presidents, also paid brief visits to the embassies of the four nations hit hardest by the disaster — Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

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