Bush pledges to investigate administration response

Vice President Dick Cheney, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff dispatched to identify "bureaucratic obstacles" to relief effort.

President Bush pledged today to "lead an investigation" into the response to Hurricane Katrina, but he said the administration wants to focus first on addressing the catastrophe itself.

Bush, who spoke to reporters at the White House following a meeting with his Cabinet, also suggested that the nomination of a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is not imminent, saying he wants the Senate to focus on confirming John Roberts as chief justice.

Bush's promise to investigate the response to the hurricane comes amid a clamor over who is to blame for the sluggish efforts to assist victims. He sought to add immediate accountability to the government's effort, announcing that he will dispatch Vice President Dick Cheney to the region Thursday to assess recovery efforts.

Cheney, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and others are being asked to remove "bureaucratic obstacles" that might be hampering the response. The president indicated the eventual investigation should be centered on the interaction between federal and local authorities.

"It's very important for us to understand the relationship between the federal government, the state government and the local government when it comes to a major catastrophe," Bush said. "We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's a WMD attack or another major storm."

Nevertheless, the White House Tuesday was studiously avoiding being drawn into any short-term assessment. Bush objected to what he termed "a blame game," saying there "will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong."

Bush did not directly answer a question about whether he intended to replace any administration figures leading the recovery effort. But he noted in answer to a separate question that, "if things went wrong, we'll correct them."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan brushed aside questions about the government's performance. "Right now, this is a time to remain focused on the response and recovery efforts," he said.

Bush noted that a particular concern is ensuring that those affected by the disaster receive Social Security and other government benefits. In addition to his Cabinet session, Bush today held a meeting at the White House to discuss efforts to assist students and school districts hit by the hurricane. The president also spoke with leaders of faith-based and community-based volunteer programs.