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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Takes Katrina Responsibility

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that he bore responsibility for any failures of the federal government in its response to Hurricane Katrina and suggested that he was unsure whether the country was adequately prepared for another catastrophic storm or terrorist attack.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Bush said in an appearance in the East Room of the White House with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "I want to know what went right and what went wrong."

In response to a reporter who asked if Americans, in the wake of the hurricane, should be concerned about the government's ability to respond to another disaster or a terrorist attack, Bush said: "I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm? And that's a very important question."

Throughout his nearly five years in office, Bush has resisted publicly acknowledging mistakes or shortcomings, and his willingness in this case to edge up to a buck-stops-here statement, however conditional, was evidence of how shaken his presidency has been by the political fallout from the government's handling of the storm.

It also set the stage for a White House effort to pivot from dealing with urgent rescue and relief efforts to setting out a vision of how the federal government could help rebuild devastated communities and re-establish Bush's image as a leader.

The White House said Bush would address the nation from Louisiana on Thursday night, during the president's fourth trip to the region since the hurricane and his first major speech on the disaster.

On Friday, which he has designated a national day of prayer and remembrance, he is planning to speak at the Washington National Cathedral in the morning, and T.D. Jakes, a conservative African-American television evangelist, is scheduled to deliver the sermon with some evacuees from New Orleans in attendance.

Even as Bush traveled to New York on Tuesday afternoon to begin a round of meetings with world leaders gathering at the United Nations, White House officials were weighing policy proposals and working on drafts of the speech that Bush will give Thursday. Administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss proposals that have yet to be decided on, said Bush was likely to set out a broad commitment to rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, with a particular focus on housing.

The storm has so commanded the attention of the White House and of Washington that Bush's remarks on the hurricane overshadowed his news conference with Talabani, which on a normal day would have been a major event about a conflict that has come to define his presidency. In the news conference, Bush warned Syria that it would become "more and more isolated" if it did not stop the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and reveal whether it has an intelligence presence or some other one in Lebanon.