Bush on Katrina response: 'I take responsibility'

  • World
  • Wednesday, 14 Sep 2005

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush took responsibility on Tuesday for any failures in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and acknowledged the storm exposed serious deficiencies at all levels of government four years after the Sept. 11 attacks. 

"To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Bush told a White House news conference at which he openly questioned U.S. preparedness for another storm or a "severe attack." 

Bush's rare admission of "serious problems in our response capability" came as the White House stepped up efforts to repair his public standing. Bush will address the nation at 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT) on Thursday from hard-hit Louisiana, his fourth visit to the disaster zone since Katrina struck. 

President George W. Bush answers a question during a news conference with Iraq's President Jalal Talabani (unseen) in the East Room of the White House in Washington September 13, 2005. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush would use Thursday's address to "talk to the American people about the recovery and the way forward on the longer-term rebuilding." 

The president's approval ratings have hit new lows, partly due to fierce criticism of the slow response to the Aug. 29 hurricane, which killed hundreds and displaced 1 million people in the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. 

Fifty-four percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the response, but 57 percent say state and local officials should bear responsibility for the problems, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC poll. 

Asked if Americans should worry that the government remains unprepared to respond to another major disaster or a terrorist attack, Bush said: "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government." 

Bush himself raised questions about preparedness, after four years of record spending on domestic security since Sept. 11, 2001. 

"Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? That's a very important question and it's in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on so we can better respond," he said at a news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. 

Michael Brown resigned as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday. 

Republican senators with close ties to Bush have urged him to appoint a top official to lead the long-term recovery. White House officials say that is among options being discussed. 

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and retired Gen. Tommy Franks, former head of the U.S. Central Command have been mentioned for the job. 

Giuliani said on CNBC that a commission like the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks could assess the response. "Whether there were failures here on the state, city and federal level, I think a commission can decide that six months from now," he said. "No one person is responsible for this." 

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