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Bush: 'I take responsibility' for federal failures after Katrina

Bush to address nation Thursday about Katrina

President Bush talks to reporters Tuesday at the White House.


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Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
George W. Bush
Disasters (General)
Mike Brown

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday he takes responsibility for the federal government's failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government and to the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility," Bush said during a joint news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. (Watch Bush's comments -- 0:47)

Bush was responding to a reporter's question about whether Americans should be concerned that the government is not prepared to respond to another disaster or terrorist attack after it took several days for aid and troops to arrive in New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

He repeated his desire to find out exactly what went wrong on every level of government.

"It's in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on ... so we can better respond," Bush said.

A bipartisan joint congressional committee is to review the response at all levels of government to the hurricane and report its findings to Congress no later than February 15.

Bush praised the first responders and the U.S. Coast Guard, who risked their lives to rescue New Orleans residents stranded on their rooftops.

"I'm not going to defend the process going in, but I will defend the people on the front line of saving lives," Bush said.

Earlier in the day, the White House said the president will address the nation Thursday night about the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The 9 p.m. ET address is the latest administration reaction to Katrina, which roared ashore on August 29.

"The president will talk to the American people about the recovery and the way forward on the longer-term rebuilding," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters, according to Reuters.

Bush is expected to make his address from storm-wracked Louisiana, where the president toured damaged New Orleans neighborhoods on Monday.

On Monday, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Brown resigned, after questions were raised about his qualifications and for what critics call a bungled response to Katrina's destruction. (Full story)

Bush chose David Paulison, director of FEMA's preparedness division, as interim director.

Paulison said Tuesday he planned to focus on getting people out of shelters "and into some type of either semi-permanent or permanent housing."

Speaking at a news conference, he also pledged to help victims by working with state and local officials.

"This has to be a partnership, because ultimately the communities are entitled to take responsibility and empower themselves," Paulison said.

Paulison, who is also administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration, was a former fire chief in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Brown's resignation came three days after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recalled him to Washington and replaced him as point man for Katrina relief efforts.

Since then, Vice Adm. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard's chief of staff, has been leading FEMA's mission along the Gulf Coast.

Chertoff said he expects to make other appointments to FEMA in coming days, "including a permanent deputy director to augment the resources available to assist with FEMA's vital mission."

Brown's fall came quickly. On September 2, Bush told the 50-year-old lawyer, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." (Watch Brown's interview with CNN on September 2 -- 2:11)

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, applauded the latest development. "I think it is clearly in the country's interest," Kennedy said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he was not surprised.

"Things didn't go as well as it should have," said the Tennessee Republican. But Frist added, "Now, I am very pleased where we are."

CNN's John King and Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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