Scott McClellan just finished meeting with the press, and he got a lot of questions about the Bush administration's decision to cut funding for the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers and the president's slow trek back to Washington after disaster struck.
"This is not a time for politics," McClellan said. "This is a time for the nation to come together and help those in the Gulf Coast region. That's where our focus is."
There's no question about where the president's focus is right now, of course. The question is, where was Bush's focus over the last four years, when his administration and the Republican-controlled Congress imposed draconian cuts on the agency responsible for flood control in New Orleans -- and where was Bush's focus earlier this week, when he was campaigning for his war in California as people died in New Orleans.
McClellan didn't have many answers. He never gave a direct response to a question about Bush's slow return to Washington. And in answering another question, he made an unhelpful concession. McClellan said that "everyone recognized on Tuesday ... if not sooner" that Katrina would be one of the worst natural disasters in America's history. On Tuesday, Bush gave a speech on Iraq near San Diego, monkeyed around backstage with a guitar, then returned to Crawford for one last night before returning to Washington Wednesday.
McClellan conceded that he could "understand" why people in New Orleans are "frustrated" with the pace of assistance. "For those on the ground who are still in need of assistance, they will tell you that it hasn't," McCellan said. "They needed that help yesterday. But we are doing everything in our power to get assistance to those who needed it."
In defending the administration's efforts, McClellan took the same laundry list approach that his boss used yesterday: an accounting of meals shipped and ice provided. The president signed a waiver today that will allow the federal government to pick up more of the cost of relief and recovery efforts, McClellan said, and he's meeting with Donald Rumsfeld and calling a Coast Guard swimmer working in New Orleans in the hopes of boosting "morale."
But when reporters peppered McClellan with questions about what the president might have done before the hurricane struck, McClellan insisted that the administration has always made flood control a priority, and he lashed out against "people seeking partisan gain in Washington" in the wake of a national disaster.