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President Pledges Assistance for Hurricane Damage

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President Pledges Assistance for Hurricane Damage

President Pledges Assistance for Hurricane Damage

President Pledges Assistance for Hurricane Damage

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President Bush pledged federal help for victims of Hurricane Katrina as he campaigned Monday for Medicare reform.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush spent yesterday on the road delivering a pair of speeches about Medicare in Arizona and in California. Along the way he received regular updates on the damage Hurricane Katrina was doing along the Gulf of Mexico. The president pledged rapid federal support for areas damaged by the storm. NPR's David Greene is traveling with the president and reports from outside San Diego.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

As the president took the stage to talk about Medicare at a combination RV park and country club in El Mirage, Arizona, the big story was half a country away. Katrina's powerful winds were battering Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Mr. Bush had been keeping an eye on things on the TV screens aboard Air Force One on a morning flight from his Texas ranch. He offered first prayers and then a pledge of federal support in his opening remarks. He urged people in affected areas to continue listening to local authorities.

(Soundbite of speech)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Take precautions because this is a dangerous storm. When the storm passes, the federal government has got assets and resources that we'll be deploying to help you. In the meantime, America will pray; pray for the health and safety of all our citizens.

GREENE: The president also topped his Medicare speech with some brief remarks on Iraq. He sounded upbeat despite the continuing violence. US casualties are still climbing, something the president acknowledged as he urged people not to focus exclusively on bloodshed.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. BUSH: And there's hopeful developments in Iraq. I know you see violence on your TV screens, and it breaks my heart to see the death of innocent life there. But that's the only thing the terrorists have got going for them. They've got the capacity to shake our conscience. Because unlike their ideology, we value every human life.

GREENE: From Arizona, the president flew to what Californians call the Inland Empire, to the town of Rancho Cucamonga. Again, the topic was to be Medicare. But again, Mr. Bush had other news to attend to first. Turning again to Iraq, he told his audience that a constitution will be voted on by Iraqis in mid-October. He made no specific mention of the anger minority Sunnis have expressed about the document or to the objections of women and secular Iraqis. But he did temper his optimism.

(Soundbite of speech)

Pres. BUSH: It's not easy to write a constitution. Look at our own history. I was reminded that several of the delegates to our own Constitutional Convention stormed out and wouldn't sign the document. But now it's up to the Iraqi citizens.

GREENE: After that, the president took questions about changes to Medicare, promoting legislation he signed into law last year. At the time, many Democrats were saying the law would be more of a boon to drug companies than to seniors. But Mr. Bush vowed that it will drastically lower the cost of prescription medicine, especially for Americans who struggle most to pay their bills.

But Medicare could not have been more overshadowed on this day. At his second stop, Mr. Bush was talking again about the hurricane, by now in the past tense. The worst of the storm appeared to be over, but not its effects. Oil companies responded to the storm by shuttering refineries in the Gulf region, something that could make soaring gas prices in the US even higher. The president's spokesman said Mr. Bush is considering tapping into the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserves, a step the White House has resisted in the past.

The president was spending the night outside San Diego, where this morning he is marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. David Greene, NPR News, traveling with the president in Coronado, California.

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