I still say that there is a great opportunity for lawyers to pony up and file massive class action wrongful death suits against the US Government at many levels for all deaths that were caused because of the sorry response by FEMA et al. Look at the date of death of your relatives and love ones. And if it happened (and you can get a death certificate that says any other date than the day that Katrina hit - which will be a legal sticking point for many, btw), say, a few days after Katrina passed, you have a case. File it.
Q Scott, back on September 1st, President Bush said in an interview, "I don't think anybody anticipated a breaching of the levees in New Orleans." And we had this Infrastructure Simulation and Assessment Center that delivered a report to the White House that, indeed, said that the levees were likely to be breached and that New Orleans would be underwater for months. So did the President mis-speak, or did he just not get the word?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, unfortunately, you're kind of combining two things that are not related, because the President actually talked about this --
Q Which one is not related, the hurricane or New Orleans?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President actually talked about this and talked about what he was referring to, John. Of course, we know -- we knew what the potential was of a hurricane of that magnitude. We had done exercises in Louisiana and other exercises and looked at such a possibility previously. As the President said, what he was referring to was that there was a sense by many, once the hurricane hit and had passed, that the worst-case scenario did not happen. There were numerous media reports saying that New Orleans had dodged the bullet. And I can pull those up for you and show you those. And so that's what the President was referring to. So I think it's wrong to mischaracterize --
Q It couldn't have been mine, because I was hip-deep in water at the time.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not suggesting it was, but what the President was referring to was what we had previously said. And he made that very clear earlier. Now, in terms of the issues relating to Hurricane Katrina, remember, we talked with you all ahead of the storm and provided regular updates to the American people about the steps that we were taking ahead of the storm. The President issued emergency disaster declarations ahead of the storm hitting. The President went public and said, listen to the warnings from state and local officials; this is a dangerous storm. As the Governor of Louisiana said, the President called her ahead of the storm, and said, evacuate New Orleans. So we were taking a number of steps ahead of the storm. And what's important now is that we continue to help the people along the Gulf Coast recover and rebuild their lives and their communities, and that we continue to move forward on a comprehensive lessons-learned review. That's what this administration is doing. Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, is heading up a comprehensive review so that we can look at what went wrong, what went right, and then apply the lessons learned. We've already taken steps to address some of the issues relating to Katrina, and to prevent a recurrence of some of the problems that occurred. And that's what we will continue to do.
Q Evacuate with what, though? FEMA, in its hurricane PAM simulation, suggested that 600 buses and 1,200 drivers would be needed. The bull's-eye was on New Orleans 48 hours before the hurricane hit.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and Max Mayfield, of the Hurricane Center --
Q Where were the resources to evacuate?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- was issuing warnings. And these are all issues that are being looked at as part of the comprehensive review. It is very important that we look at these issues. As the President indicated, all levels of government dropped the ball, to an extent -- the federal, state and local. The President accepts responsibility for the federal response efforts. Now, there were also a lot of good things going on and important work being done to save lives. The Coast Guard is a great example. They were working around the clock to lift people off of their rooftops and take them to safety. And we can't discount all of that. But what we've got to do is make sure that we learn the lessons, and that we apply those lessons to future response efforts. And that's exactly what we are doing. We're also working with congressional committees. They're moving forward on hearings and looking at these issues. And the comprehensive review that we have undertaken is nearing completion, and we'll be talking more about it soon.
Q Is it fair to say you had pretty good warning of what would happen prior to the hurricane hitting?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we walked you through the warnings that we were issuing ahead of the hurricane. We knew it was a very dangerous storm. I just walked you through the steps that we were taking and the steps that the hurricane center was taken under Max Mayfield's direction, to warn state and local officials along the whole Gulf Coast. This was a very dangerous storm, and we knew that well ahead of time. We were taking it very seriously. Now, with that said, the President --
Q You knew what the consequences might have been --
MR. McCLELLAN: With that said, the President wasn't satisfied with the response. Of course, we understood what the impact of a hurricane of that magnitude could do if it hit directly on New Orleans.
Q Scott, just a little bit of a follow-up on that, to get this straight, then.
MR. McCLELLAN: Because there were exercises ahead -- there were exercises that were done well ahead of that hurricane.
Q When the Situation Room was told about this report about five hours, I believe, before it hit landfall -- you're saying that did not have anything to do with what the President was saying? Because the President said to Diane Sawyer on September 1st, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did not anticipate a serious storm." So --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Martha, what I'm saying is that it's important to take a comprehensive look at the response efforts at all levels of government, what was being done. And that way, the American people can have a clear and accurate understanding of what happened with the response efforts. I'm not going to try to get into a play-by-play analysis of an ongoing look at the response efforts. That's undergoing, both by --
Q -- look at why the President would make a statement about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- both by the administration and it's undergoing by members of Congress. And that's an important part of helping us move forward and prevent something like this from happening again, in terms of the response efforts.
Q Okay, but you'll look at statements by the President, for instance -- "they did not anticipate a serious storm," as part of looking into this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what statement by the President that said that? The President --
Q He said, "They did not anticipate a serious storm," on September 1st.
MR. McCLELLAN: I reject that wholeheartedly. The President said ahead of the storm, this is a very dangerous storm, and warned citizens all along the Gulf Coast region to heed the advice of state and local officials. He held a press conference that was carried nationwide the morning ahead of the storm and reemphasized the importance of taking this storm seriously. Now, what we are focused on --
Q All I'm telling you, September 1st, he said, "I don't think anybody anticipated a breach of the levees. They did not anticipate --
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, that's a different issue, and I addressed John's question --
Q -- a serious storm."
MR. McCLELLAN: I addressed John's question, what he was referring to in those remarks. And what he specifically was referring to is exactly what media reports were citing at the time. The hurricane had hit; it had passed New Orleans; and there was a sense by many that the worst-case scenario did not happen. And that's what the President was referring to in those remarks, and he said so when he was asked a follow-up question about those very comments. I said so, as well, at the time. So I'd encourage you to go back and look at that. Of course, we recognized the potential damage from a hurricane of this magnitude. We had conducted exercises before the storm hit, well before the storm hit.