Tuesday, September 27, 2005

President Bush yesterday made his seventh trip to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, prompting some Democrats to complain that he was doing too much after initially doing too little.

“The guy’s been there enough times that he could register to vote,” groused Bob Beckel, a Democratic political analyst. “I mean, enough is enough, OK?”

This week’s edition of Newsweek critiques the president’s performance with an article headlined, “First, a slow-footed response. Then: hyperactivity.” Time magazine complained the president’s frequent trips to the Gulf Coast are “making him look too cloying and calculating.”

But Mr. Bush was unapologetic about his hands-on approach to Hurricane Rita, especially after being accused by journalists and Democrats of reacting too slowly to Hurricane Katrina.

“I came down to make sure that things are going as best as they possibly can go,” he said yesterday during a visit to Lake Charles, La.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended his boss’ insistence on monitoring relief efforts.

“He is the president of the United States, and the president is the one who is responsible for the federal response efforts,” the spokesman told reporters aboard Air Force One. “It’s also important for him to provide some comfort and reassurance that we are going to do what we can to help get people back up on their feet.”

Mr. McClellan, however, pointed out that yesterday’s trip to the Gulf Coast would be the president’s last for the week.

“For the week? I’d start thinking months now, if I were him,” Mr. Beckel said of the president. “He made a mistake, tried to correct it, overcorrected and now everybody’s noticing.”

As Air Force One flew back to Washington, a reporter asked Mr. McClellan whether any of the state or local officials who met with the president complained that his “visits are disruptive.”

“No, not at all — in fact, quite the opposite,” the spokesman said. “These local officials, state officials are all very appreciative of the president coming down, because one thing the president can do is make sure that we’re very focused at the federal level, and that we are cutting through bureaucracy and cutting through red tape.”

Another reporter asked whether Mr. Bush would make greater use of teleconferencing technology in order to conserve fuel that would otherwise be consumed by physically returning to the Gulf Coast. Mr. McClellan responded that personal visits by the president are important, although the White House is taking other steps to conserve energy.

“The president has directed the staff to take steps to increase the thermostats, scale back nonessential travel, to look at other ways that we can conserve energy, as well,” he said.

For example, after fielding numerous questions from the press about White House efforts to conserve fuel by reducing the size of the presidential motorcade, the administration announced that it cut the number of press vans from four to two or three.

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