Bush Begins Tour of Gulf Coast Damage

President Bush leaves Friday morning for a daylong tour of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. He will review the damage in Mobile and Biloxi on the ground and then make an aerial inspection of New Orleans and the surrounding area.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush left this morning for a daylong tour of the devastated areas of the Gulf Coast. He will review the damage in Mobile and Biloxi on the ground and then make an aerial inspection of New Orleans and the areas around it. In the last 24, hours, the Bush administration has come under fierce criticism from people in the region who say the federal government has not responded quickly. The head of the emergency operations in New Orleans called the federal response a, quote, "national disgrace." Before leaving the White House this morning, Mr. Bush responded to the mounting criticism.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm looking forward to my trip down there and looking forward to thanking those on the ground and looking forward to assure people that we'll get on top of this situation and we're going to help people who need help. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: We're joined now by NPR's David Green at the White House.

And, David, is there big concern at the White House over all this criticism?

DAVID GREEN reporting:

Good morning, Renee. Yeah, it seems to be growing a bit. I mean, the criticism is coming in Washington from many Democrats, but also others who aren't Democrats in the region. I mean, as you said, the head of emergency operations in New Orleans has been complaining. One other thing that he said is we can send all this massive amount of aid to tsunami victims around the world, but we can't bail out a city in our own country. And you could see the shift. Yesterday, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, was peppered with questions about the criticism, and his answer was pretty formulaic. `We understand the frustration, people are in need of help, we'll continue getting them assistance.' This morning, you heard a very different tone from the president; seemed to be really a new appreciation for what's going on down on the Gulf. He flat-out said that the federal response has been unacceptable.

MONTAGNE: You know, after the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Bush won praise, it seemed, from lots of people for the way that he responded to that crisis. Why aren't we seeing that so far here? I mean, what's the difference?

GREEN: Well, you have to remember that in the first day or so, the first hours of that crisis, he was criticized by some. If you remember, he was flying around the country; there was a sense in the first hours that he was even fleeing and not staying in Washington. And his first remarks weren't great. It was when he landed at the rubble of the twin towers and spoke from that megaphone that he really started to win over a lot of Americans. So, you know, it's still early but there's no doubt that, as horrific as 9/11 was, this is a very different kind of disaster that seems more out of Mr. Bush's hands. Geographically, it's a huge swath of the country that's been either ruined or damaged. And the images of this devastation are pouring in and people are seeing it around the country and around the world. And also, the president after 9/11 could order a huge military response in Afghanistan that brought the nation together. Here, there's really no one he can punish.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, what do we know about the president's plans beyond today, over this holiday weekend, next week?

GREEN: Well, Congress is rushing him a $10.5 billion relief bill that he'll sign. And he has some remarks planned for Labor Day in Maryland. Surely, the hurricane is a topic that will come up. But his schedule's pretty much up in the air at this point in public. You can be sure that behind the scenes, he and the White House are going to be working as hard as they can, as he put it, to get on top of this situation. It doesn't seem like it's going to be a relaxing holiday weekend for many people in this whole federal government.

MONTAGNE: Thanks for talking with us.

GREEN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's David Green at the White House.

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