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Bush works to find footing

Poll: Most disapprove of Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina

From John Mercurio


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New Orleans (Louisiana)
White House
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Facing a new round of polls showing mixed reviews of his handling of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush rolled up his sleeves and toured the most storm-wrecked parts of the Gulf Coast region Monday.

Bush slept overnight on an amphibious assault ship that's serving as a control center in the relief effort and received a point-by-point briefing of on-the-ground recovery efforts. Aides compared him to a wartime general inspecting the troops on the front line of battle.

To be sure, Bush looked different Monday than the man who visited New Orleans on September 2 and fondly recalled his wild nights in the French Quarter. Or the man who sought to cheer homeless storm victims in Mississippi by sharing his hopes to join Sen. Trent Lott on the front porch of his "fantastic" new waterfront house. Or the man who turned to embattled FEMA Director Michael Brown in the early days after the storm and said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Following two weeks consumed by 24-hour coverage of Katrina's wake, the president who honed his leadership credentials in the aftermath of 9/11 is now struggling to find his footing amid bipartisan claims that neither he, nor his administration, has responded adequately to the hurricane.

"As time goes on, you're seeing a lot more federal involvement and you're hearing more about what state officials and local officials in New Orleans didn't do. As a result of that, less blame is being attributed to Bush," said Daniel Laufer, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati, who studies the public's reaction to crises.

Laufer said the Bush administration turned a corner Friday when Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff replaced Brown as head of the relief effort. "The public saw that and said, 'OK, good: The [Bush administration] saw a problem, they addressed the problem and fixed it.' That makes a difference."

On Monday, Brown resigned his position.

Bush moved quickly on appointing David Paulison, the director of FEMA's preparedness division, as interim director, the White House announced.

Brown was heavily criticized after he told CNN's "Paula Zahn Now" the evening of September 1 that federal officials only found out about the unfolding humanitarian crisis at the New Orleans convention center earlier in the day -- despite the fact that city officials had been telling people for days to take shelter there.

Indeed, the White House is motivated to repair Bush's image by a devastating series of new polls that give him some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency.

While a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released on Monday shows that Bush's overall job approval rating is 46 percent, other polls taken over the past week show his support is lower. A poll of recent polling shows that Bush's average job-approval rating is 42 percent. (Full story)

A new Newsweek poll shows that only 38 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is doing his job overall, a record low for this president, and 55 percent disapprove of his overall job performance.

But there are some signs in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll that Bush may have turned a corner.

A majority of respondents give a poor rating to Bush's "initial" response to the hurricane, but 58 percent have a positive view of Bush's actions "in the past few days."

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