World and Nation

McCain Faults Bush’s Emergency Response to Katrina Disaster

Sen. John McCain took direct aim at the Bush administration Thursday as he stood in the lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, the area hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and declared the handling of the disaster “terrible and disgraceful” and pledged that it would never happen again.

McCain ticked off a long list of mistakes by the current administration: There were “unqualified people in charge, there was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster, there was a failure of communications.”

The pointed critique was one of his harshest assessments yet of the Bush presidency and came as he has been moving to corral restive elements of the Republican Party — and the Bush donor network — behind his candidacy.

Asked at a news conference outside St. David’s Catholic Church if he traced the failure of leadership straight to the top, McCain, who has said he wants to campaign with President Bush, said emphatically, “yes.”

Earlier, McCain told reporters on his campaign bus that if the disaster had happened on his watch, he would have landed his plane “at the nearest Air Force Base and come over personally.” Bush first surveyed the damage when he flew over New Orleans in Air Force One when coming home from his Texas ranch two days after the hurricane, an act that was widely criticized.

McCain has criticized the government’s handling of Katrina in the past — including the actions of Congress, which he did again Thursday — but he has not used such sharp language, and not in the 9th Ward during a presidential campaign with a phalanx of reporters and camera crews in tow.

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, made his remarks toward the end of his tour of “America’s forgotten places.”