President Bush, on his fifth trip to the devastated Gulf Coast, met with members of a Mississippi commission charting the state's recovery from Hurricane Katrina and told them to "think bold" when plotting their strategy.
"You really don't want the federal government telling you how to rebuild," Bush said. "You really want the federal government helping you rebuild." Bush said the federal government will allow local officials to take the lead in the rebuilding effort.
After his comments, Bush headed to New Orleans where he was briefed on recovery efforts there and got an update on Hurricane Rita, now a Category 2 hurricane crossing the Florida Straits on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Bush's trip to New Orleans came one day after he put pressure on New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) to stop the reopening of the city.
On board the USS Iwo Jima, Bush watched large video screens beaming to him via videoconference the images of officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. Also shown was a big map showing Hurricane Rita's progress and projected track.
Bush, who then went on to tour a Folger's coffee plant in Louisiana, signed an emergency declaration for the Florida Keys. At the shipboard briefing, Bush was told there was a 5 percent chance of Rita hitting New Orleans with hurricane force, but chances were as high as 25 percent that it would hit the city as a tropical storm.
Earlier in Gulfport, Miss., Bush told members of Governor Haley Barbour's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal that he has seen progress on each of the trips he has made to the beleaguered state since Katrina hit Aug. 29.
"Sometimes when you're so close to the situation, it's hard to see noticeable change," Bush said. "But this part of the country is changing. You're moving forward."
Bush said he had heard frustration from mayors and county supervisors in the state about slow progress on the removal of debris from the hurricane.
"The mayors tell me there's a plan now in place that is logical," Bush said. "People will begin to see concrete results about removing this debris."
Earlier Tuesday, President Bush named his homeland security adviser, Frances Frago Townsend, to lead an administration investigation into the sluggish federal response to Katrina.
Townsend will look at "what went right, what went wrong and lessons learned from the federal response to Hurricane Katrina," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy.
The appointment of Townsend, a former federal prosecutor, is unlikely to placate Democrats on Capitol Hill, who are clamoring for a fully independent investigation.