President Advises 'Optimism' in Katrina Recovery
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.
President Bush is in New Orleans this morning. He's marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, the president surveyed hurricane damage and recovery efforts in Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi. The president's tour continues today as he continues to face criticism of his handling of the disaster.
NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea is traveling with the president. He's on the line from New Orleans. Don, good morning.
DON GONYEA reporting:
INSKEEP: What's the president saying?
GONYEA: Well, this seems to be part pep talk for local residents in the president's presentation here yesterday, and expected again today. At one point in Biloxi during his remarks, he described the hurricane recovery effort by saying - this is a quote - optimism is the only option.
Also a part of his mission here is to restate his pledge of continued federal support, and certainly part of it is an effort to rehabilitate the Mr. Bush's own damaged image and reputation in the wake of the storm. There has been no talk from the president of the failures of a year ago, except for just general reference to lessons learned after a comprehensive review of the storm.
INSKEEP: Well, let's give a listen, if we can, to the president speaking yesterday.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, 110 billion - the - you know, hopefully that'll work. Hopefully that's enough. It's certainly enough to get us through the next - you know, next period of time. And the hardest part has been to get the state reconstruction efforts up and running.
INSKEEP: That's President Bush speaking yesterday in Mississippi. We're on the line with NPR's Don Gonyea. Don, is the president saying the federal government has done its job and now it's up to state and local officials?
GONYEA: In a way he does seem to be saying that, at least in terms of how much money is going to come out of Washington. Steve, he has, in the past, said he's satisfied with the $110 billion that has been committed from Washington by the Congress. But this is the first time he really said to people, don't count on this being a never-ending supply of money, and that is significant.
INSKEEP: And some of the hardest work I guess is going to be where he is now, in Louisiana.
GONYEA: That's right. That's right. But, you know, one thing he did yesterday was really praise the state of Mississippi. He's saying that kind of that the onus is back on the states. And the White House has, in the past, said that Mississippi seems to be moving at a little better pace than Louisiana has been. Let's hear what he said yesterday when he was in Gulfport about Mississippi's efforts so far.
President BUSH: You can't drive through this state without seeing signs of recovery and renewal. It's just impossible to miss the signs of hope. And you've done it the old fashioned way - with vision and hard work and resolve. Some of the hardest work is still ahead.
INSKEEP: Is he going to see so many signs of renewal where you are now in New Orleans?
GONYEA: Well, the message is clear and not too subtle in that comment that Louisiana really does need to catch up, that it needs to get a plan for the city to really kind of get things together and to figure out how to get money to the people who need it.
Certainly some of the president's critics say politics is a part of this, that Mississippi has a Republican governor, it's a Republican state, that he's been lavishing them with praise. Louisiana's Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Nagin are Democrats. They have often clashed with the president over the past year.
But in Louisiana, in New Orleans, he is seeing a place where there is a great deal more devastation than what he saw yesterday in Mississippi. The flooding here put 80 percent of the city under water. It was really a disaster that was unlike what other parts of the Gulf Coast experienced after Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin says that makes for a unique situation, that it will take longer, that it's a more complicated job.
Still, the president's pledge yesterday was that New Orleans - he said, it will rise again. He didn't offer a timeline, but he did say that in ten years it will be hard to imagine that the city once looked like it looks today.
INSKEEP: Don, thanks very much.
GONYEA: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. He's traveling with the president in New Orleans on this anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
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