President George W. Bush pledged Tuesday that the federal government will not seek to dictate terms for rebuilding the hurricane-devastated Gulf Coast but will instead allow state and local officials to make the key decisions. He rejoiced in what he said is a spirit of revival there.
"I think we've seen the spirits change," Bush said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show. "Local people are beginning to realize there's hope." In the interview, both he and his wife, Laura, defended his choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Bush reiterated that he was confident she would be confirmed by the Senate.
Bush and his wife were interviewed at a Habitat for Humanity work site, in a town just north of New Orleans where the nonprofit organization is building houses for displaced people.
In response to the government's initially slow response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush said, "If I didn't respond well enough, I'm going to learn the lessons." The federal government's response to the second huge storm to slam the area, Rita, has gotten better reviews.
"The story will unfold. I mean, the facts of the story will come out over time, and the important thing is for federal, state and local governments to adjust and to respond," Bush said.
Dressed for the occasion in hard hat, work gloves and a large wraparound tool belt, the president joined other volunteers hammering nails into a sheet of plywood. The first lady, a cloth nail pouch around her waist, accompanied him. Bush spent most of his time chatting, signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Bush rejected criticism from Democrats that his visits, this was his eighth, were largely for publicity and that he lacks a coherent reconstruction plan.
"I don't think Washington ought to dictate to New Orleans how to rebuild," he said. Bush said he had told New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that "we will support the plan that you develop."
Of his Supreme Court selection, Bush was asked about growing criticism from the political right that Miers lacks proven conservative credentials, according to the AP.
"My answer is Harriet Miers is going to be confirmed and people will get to see why I put her on the bench," he said. Mrs. Bush was asked if she shared her husband's conviction. "Absolutely. Absolutely," she said.
"She's very deliberate and thoughtful and will bring dignity to wherever she goes, but certainly to the Supreme Court. She'll be really excellent," Mrs. Bush said.
Asked if she believed some of the criticism reflected possible sexism, she responded: "I think that's possible."