Bush on Rita: I'll watch and stay out of the way

The president explains why he's headed to Texas as everyone else is leaving.

Published September 23, 2005 6:12PM (EDT)

At the very moment that Texans are fleeing their homes in advance of Hurricane Rita, George W. Bush is winging toward the Lone Star State for ... for ... well, for what? White House press secretary Scott McClellan took offense yesterday when reporters suggested that today's trip is just another photo op for a president struggling to reassert himself, and the president did the same outside FEMA's headquarters in Washington this afternoon.

Bush told reporters that he's going to Texas today to "see the prepositioned assets, understand the relationship -- or that the federal government's role is to support state and local governments. I want to watch that happen." Then he's off to Colorado Springs, where he'll watch events unfold from the Northern Command's operation center. The president took a couple of questions from the press, and the tenor of them suggested that reporters aren't exactly buying the president's justification for making the trip. "Sir," a reporter asked Bush, "what good can you do going down to the hurricane zone? Might you get in the way, Mr. President?"

It's a fair question. Anyone who has seen a presidential visit up close understands the huge disruption it can cause. Why make one now? We're not sure what insight Bush will gain from examining the "prepositioned assets" in Texas -- "Hey, Brownie! That's a lot of bottled water!" -- or how he'll be able to observe interactions with state and local officials from the Northern Command's operation center, where they won't be, better than he could from the White House.

But the president said that he really wants to see things up close, and he promised that his "entourage" won't "get in the way." "Rest assured," he said, "I understand that we must not and will not interfere with the important work that will be going forward."

We feel better already.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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