September 1, 2005 at 5:56 PM CDT - Updated July 10 at 9:26 PM
by Nedra Pickler, Associated Press Writer
President Bush will tour the hurricane devastatedGulfCoast region on Friday and has asked his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Clinton to lead a private fund-raising campaign for victims.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush will fly to Mobile, Ala., then survey the Alabama and Mississippi coast by helicopter before visiting some sites on the ground in Mississippi. He then plans to go to New Orleans for an aerial tour.
"Tomorrow's visit is another way for the president to show the nation's support and compassion for the victims and our appreciation for those who are helping with the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts," McClellan said. "It is an opportunity for the president to get a firsthand, up close look at the response and recovery efforts and to hear from those on the ground."
Bush got a higher-altitude view Wednesday when his plane, Air Force One, dropped several thousand feet to fly directly over the region during Bush's flight from his Texas ranch back to Washington. McClellan said Bush wanted to get a closer look as soon as possible, but didn't go sooner because he didn't want to disrupt emergency response efforts on the ground.
Bush had said earlier Thursday that thousands more victims of Hurricane Katrina still need to be rescued and acknowledged the frustration of people who need food, water and shelter.
"I fully understand people wanting things to have happened yesterday," he said in a live interview in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with ABC's "Good Morning America" program. "I understand the anxiety of people on the ground. … So there is frustration. But I want people to know there's a lot of help coming."
He said that while the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 were a man-made disaster, the aftermath of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina were "just as serious in both cases."
"New Orleans is more devastated than New York was," Bush said.
Bush has directed his staff to try to assess the economic affect of the storm as the administration prepares an emergency budget request for Congress. Bush was hearing his economic advisers' preliminary estimate in the afternoon after a lunch with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
McClellan said Bush was giving more economic relief to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana by moving to waive the contribution that states are normally required to contribute to receive federal emergency response money. Bush's action will increase the federal share from 75 percent to 100 percent for 60 days.
With Congress scheduled to reconvene next week after a long summer break, Democratic Leader Harry Reid urged majority Republicans to drop plans to debate legislation repealing the estate tax in favor of hurricane-related relief.
"Given the tragic and devastating events along the GulfCoast, members of the Senate would have great difficulty explaining why we were debating the estate tax during our first days back when we know hundreds of thousands of families are suffering," he wrote Majority Leader Bill Frist.
The White House has not yet sent lawmakers a request for funding for hurricane-related costs. Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Frist, said the GOP would bring up relief measures as quickly as possible. "Certainly our first priority is Katrina," she said.
The White House arranged a conference call for later in the day so Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney could consult with top congressional leaders, according to one congressional aide. Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff and Energy Secretary Sam Bodman also were to participate.
Bush asked his father and Clinton to lead the fund-raising campaign after they helped raise more than $1 billion in private donations to victims of the Asian tsunami that hit last December. He made the request of them Wednesday and the three planned a Thursday afternoon meeting in the Oval Office. McClellan said they didn't have a fund-raising goal this time, but want "to maximize the response from the American people."
McClellan said Bush personally will be making a "significant contribution" to the Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund set up by the American Red Cross, but he would not disclose the amount.
Bush urged a crackdown on looting and crime that has spread throughout New Orleans, saying there ought to be a "zero tolerance" policy toward lawlessness.
Bush, who spoke as tens of thousands of people were evacuated on buses from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston, more than 300 miles away, expressed sympathy for those still stranded.
"Thousands have been rescued, there are thousands more to be rescued," he said.
I just can't imagine waving a sign that says `Come and get me now.'"
Bush brushed off criticism that he did not return to Washington from his monthlong stay at his Texas ranch on Tuesday, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. "I hope people don't … play politics during this period of time," he said.
An additional 10,000 National Guard troops from across the country began pouring into the GulfCoast on Wednesday to shore up security, rescue and relief operations. The new units brought the number of troops dedicated to the effort to more than 28,000, in what may be the largest military response to a natural disaster.