President Bush Surveys New Orleans Area

President Bush ducks under an electrical wire during a tour of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

President Bush tours the French Quarter in New Orleans with (L-R) Vice Admiral of the Coast Guard Thad Allen, a U.S. Secret Service agent, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

President Bush visits New Orleans and nearby parishes that were hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina. The president spent the night aboard the USS Iwo Jima docked in the Mississippi River near downtown New Orleans.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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

President Bush is in New Orleans this morning getting an update on hurricane relief efforts along the Gulf Coast. This is the president's third visit to the region since Hurricane Katrina blew ashore two weeks ago. It comes as polls show his approval ratings at the lowest of his presidency. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea joins me now.

And, Don, what does the president hope to accomplish on this trip?

DON GONYEA reporting:

Well, the White House describes this as a way for the president to continue to assess the situation on the ground. They also clearly want to show him in a leadership position, as someone on top of the crisis. This is his first up close, on the ground visit to see the devastation in New Orleans, and he talked briefly with reporters on the ground today. The Associated Press is reporting that he says, `Congress should examine whether the United States--the United States is prepared to handle another disaster in the wake of the government response to Hurricane Katrina.' He says, `All of us want to learn lessons.' He did not in that statement, though, endorse an outside independent inquiry, the kind the Democrats say is needed.

Now there are also again big political stakes for Mr. Bush here. His poll numbers for the handling of this crisis are not good, which is a huge contrast to the confidence the public gave him after the handling of the 9/11 attacks four years ago yesterday.

MONTAGNE: So he's there in New Orleans, what is he going to be doing the rest of the day?

GONYEA: Well, he has already this morning held one meeting. It was a briefing really with Vice Admiral Thad Allen, he's the Coast Guard officer who is now running things for the government down there. He held a briefing for the president and others aboard the USS Iwo Jima, which is docked in the Mississippi right by the Convention Center. The Iwo Jima is also where Mr. Bush spent the night last night. The New Orleans mayor was there, also Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco and after that a tour of New Orleans in a convoy of military vehicles. Then there will be a helicopter tour to take a look at some of the surrounding parishes and the damage in Louisiana before the president goes to Gulfport, Mississippi, which suffered just tremendous damage. Then it's back to DC late this afternoon.

MONTAGNE: And Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said yesterday--lashed out a bit, saying the White House is still trying to blame local officials for problems and delays in the relief effort. How is the White House been reacting to that?

GONYEA: Well, her comments yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation" are another example of the tension that does still exist between the various levels of government, dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane. Landrieu said that White House operatives have a full-court press on to blame state and local officials. But it is something the White House today just denies.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, yesterday, fourth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I understand Mr. Bush met with firefighters from New York City who are down in New Orleans to help.

GONYEA: He did. He made the connection between this and 9/11. There is a staging area set up for firefighters and there was some New York firefighters there with a firetruck from their department. It turns out this very truck was donated by Louisiana to New York City four years ago after 9/11. The truck has now been donated back to New Orleans as a way to show support for victims of Katrina.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.

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