President Bush’s Other Phone Call

Some conservatives — see here, here, here, and here — are now trying to excuse the Bush administration’s faults in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by pointing to a single phone call Bush made urging a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. Media Matters has shown how the timing of Bush’s phone call means it had no impact on Mayor Nagin’s decision to evacuate the city.

But there’s another phone call that President Bush made that isn’t getting nearly the same attention, detailed in the Katrina timeline we published yesterday. At an event in Arizona on the morning of August 29, President Bush described a call he put in earlier that day to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff:

I also want to talk about immigration here in this state…I spoke to Mike Chertoff today “” he’s the head of the Department of Homeland Security. I knew people would want me to discuss this issue [immigration], so we got us an airplane on “” a telephone on Air Force One, so I called him. I said, are you working with the governor? He said, you bet we are.

Keep in mind the timing of this phone call. One day prior, Bush had been briefed by the director of the National Hurricane Center, who apparently discussed “advisories that the levee could be topped” in New Orleans. That morning, Mayor Nagin reported that water was already flowing over the levees. And this was before Michael Brown sent the memo to Chertoff requesting that a major team of DHS officials be dispatched to the Gulf states.

In other words, at what may have been the very peak of the Katrina crisis, President Bush called Secretary Chertoff from Air Force One and talked about…immigration? Could that really have been all they discussed? And if they did talk about Katrina, wasn’t Bush informed that DHS had not yet dispatched any significant group of rescuers to the region?