Donna Brazile, a prominent Democratic political operative, praised President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina on Thursday, just hours before President Obama’s speech in New Orleans marking the storm’s 10th anniversary.
Brazile, a Louisiana native, has applauded Bush’s Katrina response before. But she made her latest comments on board Air Force One while flying to the Big Easy with Obama, who has previously criticized’s his predecessor’s handling of the storm recovery.
Brazile said Bush’s initial response to the storm was “slow,” but chalked that up to chaos plaguing state and local governments along the Gulf Coast.
She praised Bush for pouring more than $120 billion into rebuilding New Orleans and other Gulf communities over the opposition of some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“The president made a commitment and I think he kept his word,” said Brazile.
Walter Isaacson, the Aspen Institute CEO who served with Brazile on the Louisiana Recovery Authority, echoed her comments.
“George W. Bush, I think, gets a bum rap,” he told the traveling press corps. “It took a while to get things started, it was a little bit slow. But he cared about the city deeply and so did Laura Bush.”
Bush’s botched initial response to Katrina in 2005 is seen as one of the low points of his presidency. Many storm survivors had to wait days for assistance as the federal government struggled to organize a recovery effort.
Obama on Thursday is expected to draw a contrast with Bush while highlighting his administration’s effort to rebuild New Orleans.
"What started out as a natural disaster became a manmade one — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens," Obama will say in a speech later Thursday.
Bush, who will attend a 10th anniversary event in New Orleans on Friday, expressed regret for his decision to fly over — but not visit — New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, a move that became a symbol of his administration’s response.
In a 2010 interview, he said it was a “huge mistake” to not stop in the Crescent City and tour the damage on the ground.
And in the final days of his presidency, Bush conceded mistakes were made in the immediate aftermath of the storm while dismissing suggestions that his administration’s efforts ultimately failed.
"Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed," Bush said in his final news conference as president.
"First of all, we did get the $121 billion, more or less, passed, and ... it's now being spent, " Bush added. "Secondly, the school system is improving dramatically. Thirdly, people are beginning to move back into homes."