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Bush Taps Former Leaders for Katrina Aid Drive

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Bush announced today that he is reuniting the team of former presidents he recruited to head up fund-raising efforts after the Asian tsunami last December. The first President Bush and former President Bill Clinton will join President Bush at the White House this afternoon for an announcement. Tomorrow President Bush will tour the hurricane-affected region. NPR's Don Gonyea joins me now from the White House.

And, Don, where exactly will the president go on his tour of the disaster area?

DON GONYEA reporting:

We don't have an exact itinerary. This is really the follow-up to his flyover yesterday on Air Force One. Then he was at 1,700 feet as he flew back to DC from his ranch in Texas. This one will be, we're told, a combination helicopter and walking tour, so obviously a much closer look. He's expected to meet with victims of the hurricane and see people who've been displaced. He will, we're told, fly in the chopper over Alabama and Mississippi, over the coastline there, and over rural Louisiana. And even though they are still working out the exact spots he'll stop, he'll spend some time on the ground as well before finishing up the tour in New Orleans, where he can see all of that firsthand, face-to-face as well.

MONTAGNE: And what's on his schedule today?

GONYEA: He has Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, for lunch, and then after that a meeting with his economic advisers. There has been a great deal of talk, obviously, about how this could hurt the economy; a major US port, New Orleans, has been taken offline. That, of course, is where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf, such an important shipping channel. Oil refineries knocked out of service; gasoline prices literally skyrocketing over the past 24, 36 hours. So, obviously, it's an important component of this, and the president will talk about that.

Then also today, as you mentioned, former President Bush and former President Bill Clinton will be here. They're going to head a public fund-raising effort, call it an urgent sequel to the work they did earlier in the year when the tsunami hit South Asia. So that's all on the schedule.

MONTAGNE: Now there has been some criticism from hurricane-affected areas that federal relief has been slow in coming. What's Mr. Bush's response or the White House response?

GONYEA: The White House says, obviously, people on the ground want more help, they want it faster, but that a massive response is under way. And they say they feel that, right now, things are going well. They reject any criticism that things have not moved quickly enough.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Don Gonyea at the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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