A Disassociated Press Report, Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2005
By Eric Mader
U.S. president George W. Bush today rebutted accusations that his decision to bring fishing gear on a September 2 visit to the flood-devasted city of New Orleans showed indifference to the suffering of hurricane victims.
"We couldn't have been fishing for more than fifteen minutes from that boat," the president said, denying rumors that he spent nearly two-thirds of the four hour visit trying to catch something. "Our visit to New Orleans was strictly business. That we brought that gear with us, well, maybe it wasn't the best idea."
The president visited the flooded city with his father George H.W. Bush on September 2, two days after Hurricane Katrina wrought havoc in the city. His administration has come under sharp criticism for the federal government's slow response to the disaster.
The photos of the fishing trip surfaced Monday, made available to the press by Nathan Reilly, driver of the boat and an intern in the office of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.
"I thought the situation was a little strange as it was happening," said Reilly. "He kept telling me to head here, then head there, while he and his father kept casting around the flooded lanes and alleys."
The reaction of city residents was not always friendly, according to Reilly.
"In one neighborhood the people got angry and started throwing things, empty bottles and such, so the president flipped them the bird and told me to 'throttle it out of there.' I remember those were his exact words. 'C'mon, throttle it out of here!'"
"Finally they caught something and wanted me to get some pictures," Reilly said. "It was after that that we headed back to reconvene with the mayor."
The president's mother and former First Lady, Barbara Bush, defended her son by pointing out that he and his father had always been avid sportsmen.
"There's nothing wrong that they did a little something while surveying the disaster," she said, speaking Tuesday on CNN's Larry King Live. "That they cast that rod a few times was just a lark. It didn't interfere in their survey of the scene."
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