“[T]his is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans. It’s a time to act,” Sen. McCain said from St. Louis, Mo., appearing via satellite to reporters at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Min.
“I want to thank my fellow Republicans as we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats and say America we are with you and we are going to care about these people in their time of need.”
At McCain’s request, the convention cancelled its primetime plans, instead calling a limited session to conduct the bare minimum of business needed.
“[Monday’s] program will be business only and we will refrain from any political rhetoric that is normal for the opening of a political convention,” McCain campaign chair Rick Davis told reporters.
The campaign also announced a series of moves aimed at helping those in the possibly affected areas, including chartering a flight for at least a dozen Louisiana delegates so that they can return to the storm-threatened area and organizing the numerous finance officials and committees at the convention to raise money for hurricane-related charities.
The moves come as the Category 3 hurricane churned into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening a wide swath of the Gulf Coast from Mississippi to East Texas.
For Sen. McCain, the decision to radically scale-down the convention highlights the complicated political situation the storm presents for Republicans. President Bush, and indirectly the GOP, was widely blamed for mishandling the response to Hurricane Katrina, which inundated New Orleans and killed some 1,600 people three years ago.
During Katrina, the inability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to aid survivors of the flooding was widely seen as one of the greatest failings of the Bush administration, and Sen. McCain has been immensely critical of the president’s performance.
On Sunday, McCain referenced the performance of the government during the 2005 storm, saying many of response issues had been addressed.
“We will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated,” McCain said.
McCain said that the federal and state governments were coordinating the response to the storm in a far more effective way then during Katrina. President Bush announced earlier Sunday he would not be attending the convention, instead traveling to Texas to be with evacuees and emergency management officials.
“The message to the people of the Gulf Coast is, this storm is dangerous,” President Bush said after a briefing. “There’s a real possibility of flooding, storm surge, and high winds. … Do not put yourself in harm’s way, or make rescue workers take unnecessary risks.”
At the press briefing in Minnesota, Republican officials admitted the storm had thrown their carefully laid plans into chaos.
“[T]here’s no pattern to how we will react to this other than to use all our resources and skills to put on the convention the best we can,” Davis said.
The convention will be called to order at 3:00 p.m. CT and a few formal steps will be taken to officially convene the convention and the credential the delegates but officials were clear that the business of the convention would be limited.
“Nothing that we will do that will distract from the Gulf,” Davis said.