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President Bush Speaks in New Orleans


From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Alex Cohen.

Coming up, how dangerous is the arsenic that's been found in the soil of some schoolyards in New Orleans.

CHADWICK: First, on this second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush went to the city it nearly destroyed, New Orleans. The president visited a school and then stopped for a moment of silence to honor the people who died in the floods that swamped much of the city.

NPR White House correspondent David Greene is in New Orleans with the president. David, welcome, and tell us about the president's visit to this school.

DAVID GREENE: Thank you, Alex. Yeah, the president came to a charter school in the Lower Ninth Ward. And he had that moment of silence, the time in the morning when the state and city recognizes when the first levee broke during the storm. And then the president spoke with some students standing behind him. He said in his view the city of New Orleans is coming back. And he talked about, you know, that he visited New Orleans after the storm but that his commitment goes beyond just that night. And I think we have a little bit of tape to play of the president here.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: One thing to come and give a speech in Jackson Square, it's another thing to keep paying attention to whether or not progress is being made. And I hope people understand we do, we're still paying attention. We understand.

GREENE: It's pretty extraordinary that Mr. Bush has to tell people in New Orleans that he's paying attention two years after this pretty massive storm.

CHADWICK: But he does make a point of doing this at a school rather than Jackson Square, which is a better-known venue, certainly, and the symbolic one that he chose to speak from a couple of years ago.

GREENE: Yeah, I was - it was sort of curious and it's tough to get inside the mind of the White House and how they decide to design events. But certainly his visit to Jackson Square felt, you know, loftier. This was a quieter event down here in the Lower Ninth Ward, away from other city officials, and it gave the speech more of a feel of nuts and bolts. The federal government is doing its responsibility. It's filling its obligations that it made to New Orleans. And the president also used the school to talk about education, and he said a public school is opening and public education in New Orleans is one area of real progress. I have a little bit more tape here to play from there.

Pres. BUSH: There is nothing more hopeful than a good school system. And I firmly believe that excellence and education is going to be the leading edge of change for New Orleans.

GREENE: And you know, we talked to, you know, some of the people here. One art teacher said that the students really are still having trouble coping. You know, they've been coming to class the last couple of weeks after the summer and they've been doing sorts of activities. One art teacher told us about the memory box. She had students draw pictures and design some of their memories from the storm and she said one little boy wanted to draw the Superdome because he was there, and so the memory is still clearly really fresh.

CHADWICK: So what kind of reaction is the president getting there? Because he wants to talk about progress and the things that the federal government has done that have helped New Orleans.

GREENE: One thing he points to is money. The federal government has promised $114 billion. Now, we should say a lot of that was for disaster relief, not for rebuilding, but the White House says that a lot of that money has already been tapped by the state. And also the levees - the White House, President Bush and also his staff, are pointing a lot to the levees as sort of a box that the White House has to fill. It was our job to fix the levees and we're doing it. So still, a little bit of bickering between the various levels of government as to who is supposed to be doing the work.

CHADWICK: David, it's a pretty cool reception for the president down there. The mayor, Ray Nagin, didn't bother to go to this ceremony. He held a separate ceremony of his own across the city.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, we should say that the mayor did have dinner with the president last night. He and quarterback Drew Brees from the New Orleans Saints and the governor all ate at a famous Creole restaurant in New Orleans, so not a total snub. But this morning the president and mayor did decide to appear separately. And the mayor actually took part in a bell ringing closer to downtown and the president at this moment of silence at the school.

CHADWICK: NPR White House correspondent David Greene in New Orleans. David, thank you.

GREENE: Thanks, Alex. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.