During his final press conference this morning, Bush defended his response to Katrina. He said he has “thought long and hard about Katrina” and admitted that “things [could] have been done better” but denied any problem with the federal response to the disaster, insisting, “Don’t tell me the federal response was slow!”:
BUSH: You know, people said that the federal response was slow. Don’t tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. … 30,000 people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. That’s a pretty quick response. Could things have been done better? Absolutely, absolutely. But when I hear people say the federal response was slow, then what are they gonna say to those chopper drivers? Or to the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?
The federal response to Katrina was nothing short of a disaster. A 2006 report compiled by House Republicans slammed what it called “a failure of leadership,” saying that the federal government’s “blinding lack of situational awareness and disjointed decision making needlessly compounded and prolonged Katrina’s horror.” The report specifically blamed Bush, noting that “earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response” because the president alone could have cut through bureaucratic resistance.
There is no question that the federal response was slow — deadly slow. Katrina made landfall on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, and the New Orleans levees were breached that morning. Despite the numerous warnings he had received about the storm’s severity, Bush spent that Monday traveling to Arizona and California to promote his Medicare drug bill. It was characteristic of the entire federal response:
— National Guard troops did not arrive in the area until two full days after the levees were breached.
— Bush did not leave his vacation home or assemble a task force until Wednesday, two days after the hurricane made landfall and the levees were breached.
— By Thursday, three days after landfall, FEMA had yet to set up a command and control center.
— FEMA did not finalize its request for evacuation buses until Sunday, six days after Katrina hit. The buses “trickled into New Orleans, with only a dozen or so arriving the first day,” noted the Wall Street Journal.
— The Superdome was finally evacuated on Sunday, a full seven days after 30,000 evacuees had arrived there.
“Despite a FEMA official’s eyewitness accounts of breaches starting at 7 p.m. on Aug. 29,” the Bush administration “did not consider them confirmed” until 11 hours later. In fact, FEMA did not order the evacuation of New Orleans until 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, two full days after Katrina made landfall.
In one area, however, the Bush administration did move quickly: pinning the blame for Katrina on its political opponents.
Following today’s press conference, Karl Rove appeared on Fox News to join in absolving the Bush administration of any blame regarding the Katrina response. “The federal government is in charge of writing checks. It’s not in charge of the action itself,” Rove said.