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White House readies response

ST. PAUL, Minn. – As Hurricane Gustav roars toward the Gulf Coast, President Bush is doing everything he can to blunt its impact on coastal residents – and on his administration’s image as Republicans gather here for their national convention.

It was unavoidable that Gustav, which turned into a Katrina-like storm Saturday, would evoke memories of that earlier storm – and the Bush administration’s much-maligned response.

“It’s one of the ironies of history,” said University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato. “Things have come full circle, unhappily for Bush.”

As soon as federal hurricane watchers sounded the alarm about Gustav last week, Bush scrambled to make sure the federal response was completely different from the one to Hurricane Katrina, which, along with Bush’s personal response, drew harsh criticism.

The day Katrina hit, Aug. 29, 2005, Bush kept to his schedule, flying to Lucas Air Force Base to help Sen. John McCain celebrate his birthday, and posing with a birthday cake and the senator on the base’s tarmac before attending a Medicare event in Phoenix. Bush then traveled to California for another event.

This time, all focus is on Gustav.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Federal Emergency Management Agency chief R. David Paulison went to New Orleans days before Gustav was expected to make landfall to meet with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state officials.

Then Chertoff went on to Mississippi to meet with Gov. Haley Barbour.

Dozens of federal agencies scrambled to implement emergency plans, thousands of tons of supplies were positioned and National Guard units were put on alert – 1,500 troops went to New Orleans on Saturday.

Chertoff, who was on vacation when Katrina hit, plans to return to the Gulf Coast today and Paulison will on Monday.

“I think what you can see is a different type of response than you saw during Katrina,” Paulison said Saturday. “We’re as prepared as we possibly can.”

But no matter how much the administration tries to soften the impact of Gustav, the storm could dampen spirits in St. Paul.

GOP delegation leaders from Gulf Coast states met with McCain campaign officials Saturday to discuss whether to postpone Monday’s opening of the convention.

Louisiana Republican Party Roger Villere said “We’re going on as planned, even as we understand the severity of the situation.”

But additional meetings are planned for today and Monday to assess the situation.

Bush may rethink his address at the convention’s opening night if Gustav hits land early. Federal hurricane trackers now say it will make shore Tuesday.


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