President Bush plans to go to Texas (scroll to bottom of page) to “get a firsthand look at the preparations that are underway for Hurricane Rita and to show our support for the first responders as they get ready for the response to Hurricane Rita,” according to White House press secretary McClellan.
Why does President Bush need to go to Texas? Can’t he do this from the White House? Some argue that this is more of a symbol than a need to oversee operations:
“Mr. Bush, who was photographed strumming a guitar in San Diego on the morning that New Orleans was being flooded 23 days ago, appeared intent on ensuring there would be no off-message pictures this time and no question of where his attention was focused.”
The White House press corps asked McClellan about the need for Bush to physically be in Texas outside of his annual August vacation in Crawford:
“Q How is it going to help the people of Texas practically prepare for this storm that the President is going to fly in to take a firsthand look at preparations and show support for first responders? How is that going to practically help them do what they have to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we’re going to have as minimal a footprint as possible. We’re not going to get in the way of the ongoing preparations that are going on. We go out of our way when we travel to make sure that that doesn’t happen. The President wants to go in there and be able to thank all those first responders as they are gearing up for the challenges that will be coming shortly thereafter. That’s why we’re going there first, for a short amount of time, and then going on to Colorado. And it will also give him a chance to see firsthand some of the preparations that are underway on the ground.”
The following exchange between McClellan and the press addresses the photos of Bush playing guitar during Katrina:
“Q But it sounds like a bit of a photo op, one that he’d prefer over playing the guitar at the airport photo op before Katrina.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, let’s correct the record on that. There was a reporter from your news organization that was backstage during that event. That was an event to go and thank our troops and talk about the war on terrorism. And it was not an event, as you may have portrayed to some people that are watching this out there by this simple statement. It was —
Q He didn’t pick up the guitar while the hurricane was rolling into Louisiana?
MR. McCLELLAN: — much more than that. The person that was entertaining our troops there presented a gift to the President. So I think you need to make that clear to everybody who’s watching this or to your viewers. And it was one of your colleagues at ABC News who was backstage taking a picture of that.
Q It was a very good picture and I’m proud of her, but the question I have —
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but that picture was taken by someone — hang on, hang on, Terry — that picture was taken by some people way out of context. And it was portrayed that the President was simply doing that, and that’s not the case, as you and I know.
Q The point was that he was over there and not —
MR. McCLELLAN: As you and I know, I had announced shortly before that, that we were returning the next morning. As you and I know, we had announced the President — the day before — all the briefings he was participating in. The President spoke the day before. He spoke that day about the hurricane. So let’s just set the record straight.
Q Fair enough.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that’s unfair.
Q So the trip to Texas to take a look at the preparations and show support for the first responders is not a photo op?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is very much something that’s in flux. I would describe it the way I did…”
Here is the Snopes version of the story (and we love Snopes).
I don’t see the point of Bush going to Texas other than as a symbol that he is a hands-on leader. I don’t know if he’s fighting the guitar playing image, but it’s possible. I don’t think Bush has any business down there that he couldn’t do in Washington. This is not to say that the President shouldn’t travel, but there is a time and a place for these things, and traveling into a hurricane is not the best way to help provide support. I suppose in a mobile society the President can work anywhere, but this does smack of a photo-op.