|Page 2 of 2 <|
The President and His Critics Mark Anniversary Along Coast
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who accompanied Bush on his visit to Biloxi, said a combination of factors has caused the government to stall. "Part of it is federal bureaucracy," he said. "Part of it is state bureaucracy."
Bush's visit to Mississippi, carefully scripted by the White House, left little possibility of the president encountering much anger over the federal reconstruction efforts. After meeting with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and other leaders for lunch, Bush toured a working-class east Biloxi neighborhood that he visited a year ago, passing empty lots and FEMA trailers along the way. The hot sun left his blue shirt sleeves soaked in sweat.
Some of the same people he met last year were in a friendly audience of several dozen local residents who heard from Bush after he finished his tour Monday, a few clutching pictures of themselves being consoled by the president in the aftermath of the storm last September. One of them was Patrick Wright, 38, a delivery driver for FedEx whose house was destroyed by the storm and who is now living in a FEMA trailer.
Wright expressed satisfaction with Bush's efforts on behalf of Mississippi, saying that while he was still waiting for federal housing money to begin rebuilding his house, he feels that the government is moving as fast as possible. "Some people say it was slow, but for the number of people affected, you expect it to be slow," said Wright.
In his remarks to Wright and his neighbors, Bush acknowledged "some frustration" among homeowners but said the government is "working hard to make sure that when that money is spent, it's spent well, and it goes to people who deserve it."
Later, speaking to reporters after visiting a shipbuilding enterprise in Gulfport, Bush said it would take "years, not months" for the area to be fully rebuilt, although he did not mention a specific time frame. "The progress in one year's time has been remarkable," Bush said.
Here in Mississippi, the cleanup from Katrina has been judged to be moving somewhat more quickly than in neighboring Louisiana, though there remains a huge reconstruction task and lingering complaints from many locals that New Orleans has drawn the focus of national attention.
Mississippi appears to have benefited from a less fractious political environment than in Louisiana, with Barbour -- a former top lobbyist in Washington -- capitalizing on his extensive ties and the state's power in Congress to leverage extra funds.
Bush himself alluded to the difference between Mississippi and Louisiana in developing reconstruction plans. "In Louisiana, it's been a little slower," he told reporters in Gulfport. "And I look forward to talking to the folks there about what we can do to work together to expedite these plans being implemented."
Political researcher Zachary A. Goldfarb in Washington contributed to this report.