"I take responsibility," the president says about the federal government's reaction to the disaster

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 14, 2005 08:00 AM
Advertisement

Stating that “to the extent that the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility,” President Bush on Tuesday accepted blame for part of the sluggish and stumbling response to Hurricane Katrina and its disastrous aftermath.

“Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government,” Bush said at a joint White House news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. “And I want to know what went right and what went wrong.”

Facing sharp criticism and the lowest approval ratings of his five years in office, Bush has scheduled a speech to the nation from Louisiana for Thursday evening, the Associated Press reports. It will be his fourth trip to the devastated Gulf Coast since the storm struck two weeks ago.

On Wednesday, speaking before the United Nations, Bush also expressed his gratitude to countries that have stepped in to help the Katrina relief effort.

“Your response, like the response to last year’s tsunami, has shown once again that the world is more compassionate and hopeful when we act together,” he said.

Last week, the president had said it was too early to start a game of finger pointing at the federal government for the problems of the relief effort.

Meanwhile, R. David Paulison, in his first full day on the job as acting director of Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters in Washington that the government would speed up its efforts to find more permanent housing for the tens of thousands of hurricane survivors now in shelters. “We’re going to move and get them the help they need,” Paulison said.

Bush’s comments Tuesday came in response to a reporter’s question on whether the United States is capable of handling another terrorist attack, given its halting and widely criticized response to Katrina.

“That’s a very important question,” Bush said. “And it’s in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on – so that we can better respond.”

The president went on to say: “I’m not going to defend the process going in, but I am going to defend the people who are on the front line of saving lives. I also want people in America to understand how hard people are working to save lives down there in not only New Orleans, but surrounding parishes and along the Gulf Coast.”