Bush aides pride themselves on their crisp scheduling but Bush is winging itliterallyday by day. As I write this in Colorado Springs, reporters and staff know that we’re bound to Austin today to visit the state’s emergency command center and that we’re scheduled to overnight in San Antonioclose enough to the storm to show Bush cares, far enough away from the action not to get too much in the way. As for when we return to Washington, the White House isn’t saying. Originally, officials said they expected to return on Sunday but there’s now talk that we could stay on the road through Monday or Tuesday to allow Bush a chance to inspect the damage from Rita. White House officials are still awaiting damage assessments from Rita and are keeping an eye on the likely flooding to come.
All of this is vastly different from how Bush handled Katrina, of course. Indeed, during Bush’s presidency his policy has not been to visit the site of a disaster until well after the storm had passed. The president doesn’t want to get in the way, aides would say. But that was before Katrina and the bipartisan attacks on the federal response to the storm. Now the president is doing everything he can to show he’s on top of the situation. But it may be the case that his actions have an undesired effectmaking him look too cloying and calculating. And, of course, the angry response to Katrina wasn’t just about Bush’s seeming indifferencealthough that played a part in it. Most of it was surely about the poor response of, as White House officials like to say in a dig at state and local officials, “all levels of government.” If FEMA does well, if the response works, where Bush gets photographed really won’t matter.