Tuesday, September 13, 2005

President Bush yesterday took full responsibility for federal government failures in the response to Hurricane Katrina and acknowledged that the storm exposed deficiencies at all levels of government.

“To the extent that the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility,” he said. “I want to know what went right and what went wrong.”

Mr. Bush, who plans to hold a prime-time television address tomorrow from the hurricane-affected region, said the federal response to the catastrophic storm prompts serious questions about America’s ability to respond not only to natural disasters, but also to terrorist attacks.

“Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm?” he said. “That’s a very important question. And it’s in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on … so that we can better respond.”

The White House said Mr. Bush would deliver the address to the nation from Louisiana on his fourth visit to the region in two weeks.

“The president will update the American people about the latest developments on the recovery, and discuss the way forward as we begin the process of helping people in the region rebuild their lives and their communities,” spokesman Scott McClellan told The Washington Times.

In the 9 p.m. speech, Mr. Bush plans to lay out his administration’s role in the recovery operation as well as the longer-term efforts to rebuild after the hurricane left New Orleans flooded and flattened other parts of Louisiana, as well as areas of Alabama and Mississippi, the spokesman said.

Mr. Bush, who days after the floods swept into New Orleans acknowledged that the federal response was “unacceptable,” said yesterday that although he is unhappy with the initial federal efforts, he will not criticize first responders who worked to help residents in the path of the Category 4 hurricane.

“One thing for certain — having been down there three times and having seen how hard people are working — I’m not going to defend the process going in, but I am going to defend the people who are on the front line of saving lives,” he said in a public appearance at the White House with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Democrats continued to blame Mr. Bush for inadequate recovery efforts in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, which left thousands of New Orleans’ residents stranded and thousands more without food and water.

“This administration still hasn’t figured out the difference between spin and leadership,” said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.

“Instead of continuing to spend billions in Iraq, let us husband … our hard-earned tax dollars and spend them here at home,” Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said in an address on the Senate floor.

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