George W. Bush: Hurricane Katrina

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

President George W. Bush was nearing the end of a month-long vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Chain of Events

Hurricane Katrina: Weather Warnings

Louisiana and Mississippi Requested DoD Assistance

In a special Department of Defense (DoD) briefing via satellite telephone September 1, 2005, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, said that on Friday, August 26, 2005, as the hurricane was approaching, the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi requested "additional assistance." The DoD established "coordinating offices" in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana over Friday and Saturday, August 26 and 27. JTF headquarters was established in Mississippi, "with a forward cell of the 5th United States Army in Louisiana." JTF-Katrina itself was established on Sunday, August 28, with Lt. Gen. Honoré as task force commander.

When Bush Knew

At 4:00 PM on Sunday, August 28th, "National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Chris Lauer said Katrina was still on track to hit the New Orleans area as a devastating Category 5 hurricane as its eye comes ashore" on Monday morning, August 29th, Gordon Russell wrote in The Times-Picayune.

Also, on Sunday, August 28th, Max Mayfield, still "worried about Hurricane Katrina ... even talked about the force of Katrina during a video conference call to President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas."

"In his first extensive interview since resigning as FEMA director" on September 12th, Michael D. Brown "declined to blame President Bush or the White House for his removal or for the flawed response," New York Times' David D. Kirkpatrick and Scott Shane wrote September 15, 2005.

"But Mr. Brown's account, in which he described making 'a blur of calls' all week to Mr. Chertoff, Mr. Card and Mr. Hagin, suggested that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly by the top federal official at the scene that state and local authorities were overwhelmed and that the overall response was going badly," they wrote.

Caught on Tape

The Associated Press reported March 1, 2006, that film footage it had obtained, "along with seven days of transcripts of briefings ... show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

"Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm."

"In dramatic and agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief that Hurricane Katrina could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to video footage," AP reported. "Bush didn't ask any questions during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: 'We are fully prepared'." Video tape link on page. Also see more media coverage

Flooding in New Orleans

On Monday, August 29, 2005, "New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin said on NBC's Today Show there was already 'significant flooding' in the city, most of which lies below sea level. ... 'I've gotten reports this morning that there's already water coming over some of the levee systems,' he said."

Late on Monday morning, a "large section of the vital 17th Street Canal levee, where it connects to the brand new 'hurricane proof' Old Hammond Highway bridge," gave way "in Bucktown after Katrina's fiercest winds were well north," Doug MacCash and James O.Byrne reported in The Times-Picayune. "The breach sent a churning sea of water from Lake Pontchartrain coursing across Lakeview and into Mid-City, Carrollton, Gentilly, City Park and neighborhoods farther south and east."

Inexplicable is the fact that President Bush incorrectly told reporters in his September 2, 2005, press conference in Biloxi, Mississippi, that the "levees broke on Tuesday in New Orleans."

When White House Actually Knew About Flooding

"Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding" from FEMA official Marty Bahamonde "reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight," Eric Lipton wrote in the February 10, 2006, New York Times.

Michael Brown said in a February 9, 2006, telephone interview that "he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to," Lipton wrote.

Vacation as Usual

"On the day after Hurricane Katrina was declared to be not as bad as originally feared, it became clear that the effects of the storm had been, after all, beyond devastation," a New York Times Op-Ed announced August 31, 2005. "But this seems like the wrong moment to dwell on fault-finding, or even to point out that it took what may become the worst natural disaster in American history to pry President Bush out of his vacation."

"George Bush stayed on vacation. He didn't get back to work. When the worst natural disaster in our nation's history attacked us, George Bush STAYED ON VACATION. Why did the federal government stumble so badly on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday? Because on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday, George Bush stayed on vacation in Crawford, Texas. On Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, vice president Dick Cheney STAYED ON VACATION in Jackson, Wyoming. On Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, Sec. of State Condi Rice WENT ON VACATION in New York City and went to a splashy Broadway musical and bought obscenely expensive shoes. She went shopping," Michael Giltz of AMERICAblog wrote September 5, 2005.

"No need to explain why the President was golfing on Tuesday, playing guitar with country singers on a Tuesday while New Orleans died. Which would be fine if not for the inconvenient fact that the levees were breached on Monday, discovered on Monday, and confirmed on Monday. Monday was the day the levees broke," Izzy wrote September 3, 2005, in the blog Unbossed.

Moreover, "there were no calls for national unity, no experts explaining the state of things, no marshaling of buses and boats and helicopters. Our national leaders were absent. Our national pastimes went on. The experts who were on the news did not speak of the levee, the pumps, the flood, the emergency. They spoke of the revenue, the casinos, the oil, the markets," Izzy added.

Cheney Came Back "Early"

When Cheney was asked by reporter Roger Simon "why he did not return from his vacation earlier than [Thursday, September 1, 2005,] three days after the hurricane hit, the vice president replied: 'I came back four days early.'

"And you can see why Cheney is so testy," Simon wrote in the September 12, 2005, US News & World Report, "He had to miss four days of his vacation to help a bunch of people who probably had never voted Republican in their lives."

Bush Emerged and Made His Worst Speech Ever

On Tuesday, August 30, 2005, while delivering his third speech "in just over a week defending his Iraq policies," while "standing against a backdrop of the imposing USS Ronald Reagan, the newest aircraft carrier in the Navy's fleet," President Bush answered "growing anti-war protests with a fresh reason for American troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country's vast oil fields that he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists."

It was also announced during the speech that, due to the "devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina" in the Gulf Coast, he "was cutting his August vacation short to return to Washington to personally oversee the federal response effort."

However, it was not until the following day, on Wednesday, August 31, 2005, long past the time when Katrina had arrived, struck New Orleans, and moved inland away from the Gulf Coast, that President Bush actually made even a cursory 35-minute flyover in Air Force One to view the devastation in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Note: Newsweek incorrectly reported that President Bush made his flyover on Tuesday, August 30th.

This was "the perfect metaphor for his entire presidency," Arianna Huffington wrote August 31, 2005: "detached, disconnected, and disengaged. Preferring to take in America's suffering -- whether caused by the war in Iraq or Hurricane Katrina -- from a distance. In this case, 2,500 feet."

Upon his arrival in Washington the same day, President Bush "bounced off the helicopter on the White House lawn carrying his dog under his arm (where was that little inner voice saying, 'ditch the dog'?), and came across as an idiot in his address to the nation's television cameras. Partly, this is the trivial matter of the presidential smirk; he often looks as if he is smiling even when he isn't. But it was also his jarringly upbeat tenor. With every word contradicted by the television news pictures of hopeless squalor, he said: 'I'm confident that, with time, you can get your life back in order, new communities will flourish, the great city of New Orleans will be back on its feet, and America will be a stronger place for it.' The next day he made things worse by pleading with Americans: 'Don't buy gas if you don't need it'," John Rentoul wrote in the September 4, 2005, Independent (UK).

A September 1, 2005, editorial in the New York Times commented:

"George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end."

National Emergency

The degree of frustration on the ground with unfolding events was expressed the following day, September 2, 2005, by Terry Ebbert, the head of emergency operations for New Orleans:

"'This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace,' said Ebbert. He said it had taken too long to evacuate the Superdome, a sports complex that quickly became a squalid shelter for tens of thousands of storm victims.
"'FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control,' he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 'We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans.'"

"Even Republicans were criticizing Bush and his administration for the sluggish relief effort. 'I think it puts into question all of the Homeland Security and Northern Command planning for the last four years, because if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?' said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich" on September 2, 2005.

Crisis in New Orleans


Bush's Wishful Thinking

President Bush, having made his flyover two days earlier, finally visited the Gulf Coast on Friday, September 2, 2005, the fifth day after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. He made his first stop at the Mobile Regional Airport in Alabama, where he gave a briefing on Hurricane Katrina:

"We've got a lot of rebuilding to do. First, we're going to save lives and stabilize the situation. And then we're going to help these communities rebuild. The good news is -- and it's hard for some to see it now -- that out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before. Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott's house -- he's lost his entire house -- there's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm looking forward to sitting on the porch. (Laughter.)"

At his second stop, while touring Biloxi, Mississippi's hurricane damaged neighborhoods, President Bush said:

"But the people have got to understand that out of this rubble is going to come a new Biloxi, Mississippi. It's hard to envision it right now. When you're standing amidst all that rubble, it's hard to think about a new city."

And, while at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Kenner, Louisiana, his final "stop" of the day, in remarks on hurricane recovery efforts there, President Bush said:

"Here's what I believe. I believe that the great city of New Orleans will rise again and be a greater city of New Orleans. (Applause.) I believe the town where I used to come from, Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself -- occasionally too much -- (laughter) -- will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to. That's what I believe. I believe the great state of Louisiana will get its feet back and become a vital contributor to the country."

Reality Check

Maureen Dowd wrote in the September 3, 2005, New York Times:

"W. drove his budget-cutting Chevy to the levee, and it wasn't dry. Bye, bye, American lives....
"Shirt-sleeves rolled up, W. finally landed in Hell yesterday and chuckled about his wild boozing days in 'the great city' of N'Awlins. He was clearly moved. 'You know, I'm going to fly out of here in a minute,' he said on the runway at the New Orleans International Airport, 'but I want you to know that I'm not going to forget what I've seen.' Out of the cameras' range, and avoided by W., was a convoy of thousands of sick and dying people, some sprawled on the floor or dumped on baggage carousels at a makeshift M*A*S*H unit inside the terminal."

As the New York Times' editorial commented September 1, 2005, "nothing about the president's demeanor yesterday - which seemed casual to the point of carelessness - suggested that he understood the depth of the current crisis."

Damage Control

In response to Congressional queries regarding the Bush administration's delayed response to the crisis on the Gulf Coast, "[u]nder the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers," Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett, "the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina," New York Times reporters Adam Nagourney and Anne E. Kornblut wrote September 5, 2005. "As is common when this White House confronts a serious problem, management was quickly taken over by Mr. Rove and a group of associates including Mr. Bartlett. Neither man responded to requests for comment."

And, as a result, they reported, "Americans watching television coverage of the disaster this weekend began to see, amid the destruction and suffering, some of the most prominent members of the administration - Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense; and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state - touring storm-damaged communities."

"President Bush somehow missed the significance of what was happening on the Gulf Coast last week as he and his political guru, Karl Rove, flitted between Texas and California and, finally, Washington," Dan Froomkin wrote in the September 6, 2005, Washington Post. "But now, facing what is clearly a full-scale political disaster, Rove and a handful of other masterful political operatives have gone into overdrive. They are back in campaign mode."

While "Grover Norquist, the conservative activist with close ties to Karl Rove, blamed the chaos [in New Orleans] on 'looting in a Democratic city run by a Democratic mayor and a Democratic governor'," according to the September 12, 2005 (issue) of Newsweek, "Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, dismissed criticisms of the federal relief and rescue efforts. ... 'That's all cooked up by the news media and a few enemies of George Bush,' Barbour" said September 6, 2005.

Vice President Dick Cheney, while on a tour of the hurricane zone in Gulfport, Mississippi, on Thursday, September 8, 2005, "was cursed out as he answered questions from reporters."

"During a discussion on hurricane relief efforts, an off camera protester shout[ed], 'Go f**k yourself, Mr. Cheney. Go f**k yourself.'" "The exchange was carried live on CNN and MSNBC." Video is available on the Crooks and Liars website.

In fact, the "passer-by shouted the same vulgar phrase to Cheney that the vice president himself had used on the Senate floor in a celebrated and heated exchanged [sic] in June 2004 with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. ... 'First time I've heard it,' Cheney joked with reporters when asked if he was hearing such sentiments a lot." [1]

"Where does the buck stop in this administration?"

In his first White House press briefing in weeks, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, while being drilled on accountability on September 6, 2005, was asked

Q ... First, just to get you on the record, where does the buck stop in this administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President.
Q All right. So he will be held accountable as the head of the government for the federal response that he's already acknowledged was inadequate and unacceptable?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's most important responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. He talks about that often. That is his most important responsibility. ..."

Bush Accepts Responsibility

"George Bush today said he took responsibility for government failures in dealing with Hurricane Katrina," the Guardian (UK) reported September 13, 2005. "The US president said the disaster had raised broader questions about the government's ability to respond to natural disasters as well as terror attacks."

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. To the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Bush said at a joint White House news conference with Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq." QT and WMP links posted on webpage.

Have no fear, the "Cathedral" Speech is here

"The Katrina recovery plan, meanwhile, is expected to evolve. 'Where's the Cathedral speech?' a friend asked in frustration a dozen days after Katrina hit, referring to Bush's address at the Washington National Cathedral on Sept. 14, 2001, when he asked 'almighty God to watch over our nation and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come.'

"It's coming, Bush's aides promise. And so are other big gestures. Aides say he is waiting until demonstrable progress is being made in the recovery of bodies and the delivery of checks. The solemn address is likely to link Katrina to the challenge of 9/11, as Bush has already started doing, and deliver his plan to deal with the aftermath and his reasons for being optimistic about the future of the Gulf Coast," Mike Allen wrote in Time, September 11, 2005.

Almost as if on cue, President Bush delivered the much awaited speech in a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service at the Washington National Cathedral on Friday, September 16, 2005. Bush said that "the Gulf Coast must be rebuilt with an eye toward wiping out the persistent poverty and racial injustice plain to all in the suffering of the black and the poor in Hurricane Katrina's wake. 'As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality,' Bush said during a national prayer service with other political leaders and religious figures from the affected region," the Associated Press reported.

No Free Pass

"The mistakes have come one upon the other," the Associated Press's Jennifer Loven wrote September 6, 2005.

Matthew Cooper wrote in Time:

"It isn't easy picking George Bush's worst moment last week. Was it his first go at addressing the crisis Wednesday, when he came across as cool to the point of uncaring? Was it when he said that he didn't 'think anybody expected' the New Orleans levees to give way, though that very possibility had been forecast for years? Was it when he arrived in Mobile, Ala., a full four days after the storm made landfall, and praised his hapless Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director, Michael D. Brown, whose disaster credentials seemed to consist of once being the commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association? 'Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,' said the President. Or was it that odd moment when he promised to rebuild Mississippi Senator Trent Lott's house--a gesture that must have sounded astonishingly tone-deaf to the homeless black citizens still trapped in the postapocalyptic water world of New Orleans."

Besides, Cooper asked, "Why are we talking about the 'blame game' - there are thousands of people dead because government officials failed to do what they're supposed to be doing. That's criminal behavior. I mean, that's no game. There are people dead in the city of New Orelans and up and down the gulf coast because people charged with seeing to their welfare failed to do that."

End of the Bush Era?

"Recent months, and especially the recent two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans that President Bush's government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this," E.J. Dionne, Jr., a member of the Washington Post writers group, wrote September 13, 2005.

George in NOLAland

On the evening of September 15, 2005, President Bush addressed the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans. Bush "looked as if he'd been dropped off by his folks in front of a eerie, blue-hued castle at Disney World. ... His gladiatorial walk across the darkened greensward, past a St. Louis Cathedral bathed in moon glow from White House klieg lights, just seemed to intensify the sense of an isolated, out-of-touch president clinging to hollow symbols as his disastrous disaster agency continues to flail," Maureen Dowd wrote in the September 16, 2005, New York Times.

MSNBC's Brian Williams related September 16, 2005: "I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans."

"In a ruined city - still largely without power, stinking with piles of garbage and still 40 percent submerged; where people are foraging in the miasma and muck for food, corpses and the sentimental detritus of their lives; and where unbearably sad stories continue to spill out about hordes of evacuees who lost their homes and patients who died in hospitals without either electricity or rescuers - isn't it rather tasteless, not to mention a waste of energy, to haul in White House generators just to give the president a burnished skin tone and a prettified background?" Dowd asked.


"The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of 'compassionate conservatism', the lack of concern for the 'underprivileged' his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action," Frank Rich wrote in the September 18, 2005, New York Times.

Inevitable Blowback

"The scrapbook of history accords but a few pages to each decade, and it is already clear that the pages devoted to this one will be grisly. There will be pictures of bodies falling from the twin towers, beheaded kidnapping victims in Iraq and corpses still floating in the waterways of New Orleans five days after the disaster that caused them," David Brooks wrote in the September 4, 2005, New York Times."

"Katrina means that the political culture, already sour and bloody-minded in many quarters, will shift. There will be a reaction. There will be more impatience for something new. There is going to be some sort of big bang as people respond to the cumulative blows of bad events and try to fundamentally change the way things are," Brooks said.


President George W. Bush



  • "In George Bush's world, he, God and nature are all on the same side. Never has this made less sense," Felipe Fernandez-Armesto wrote in the Independent (UK), September 4, 2005.

Karl Rove: Hurricane Katrina Reconstruction "Czar"

SourceWatch Resources: Hurricane Katrina: List of related pages

Other SourceWatch Pages