Former Presidents Bush and Clinton to Lead Tsunami Effort
White House: Former Presidents Clinton and Bush to lead nationwide charitable fund-raising effort for tsunami victims. Details soon.
Update (1050): Ex-presidents to lead private aid effort
President Bush on Monday tapped two former presidents — his father, President George H.W. Bush, and his predecessor, President Clinton — to lead a nationwide fund-raising campaign to help victims of the Asian tsunamis. “I ask every American to contribute as they are able to do so,” Bush said in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, the two former presidents at his side. The two men are to lead an effort to encourage the American people and American businesses to support, through private contributions, non-governmental and international organizations relief and reconstruction to areas devastated by the tsunamis, Bush said. “In the coming days, Presidents Clinton and Bush will ask Americans to donate directly to reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims,” Bush said. “I’ve asked the former presidents to solicit contributions both large and small.” The president urged Americans to give money instead of other items. “Cash donations are most useful,” he said.
Bush faced criticism for being slow to respond to the Dec. 26 disaster. Other countries were quicker to commit large amounts of aid money, and Japan has outpaced the U.S. total of $350 million pledged so far. But private donations began pouring in from people in the United States and around the world at unprecedented levels almost immediately. Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, dismissed suggestions the White House effort was behind that curve as well, saying the effort was about encouraging the impressive flow to continue. “This will bring even more focus on the need to provide support for these international organizations in the affected areas,” he said. “This is a human tragedy that is really beyond comprehension and we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can both from the government perspective as well as private support to help those who are suffering.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has decided to send the USNS Mercy, a 1,000-bed hospital ship based at San Diego, to join the tsunami relief effort in south Asia, two officials said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity. The ship, currently at sea for a previously scheduled test, is capable of receiving patients by helicopter or by ship, either at anchor or while underway. Bush himself has not yet made a contribution to the relief effort, but plans to give an unspecified amount, McClellan said. The president did not mention his own plans for giving in his remarks.
Later Monday, Bush, accompanied by his father and Clinton, was paying brief visits to the embassies of the four nations — Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand — hit hardest by the disaster. They were to sign condolence books at each embassy, McClellan said.
Bold steps, indeed. Having two former presidents head up this effort sends a powerful signal, as does the earlier dispatch of Colin Powell and Jeb Bush to the region.