Bush says Ala gov first used ‘Heck of a job’ line

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former President George W. Bush says a phrase that haunted him after Hurricane Katrina — “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” — was inspired by a statement of praise for his embattled FEMA chief from Alabama’s governor.

“I never imagined those words would become an infamous entry in the political lexicon,” Bush writes in his new memoir, “Decision Points.”

According to Bush, he had asked Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour if they were getting the federal support they needed when he met with them on the Gulf Coast five days after Katrina’s devastating blow. Both said ’yes,’ and Riley commented that “Mike Brown is doing a heck of a job.”

When the president, the two Republican governors and Brown met with journalists a short time later, Bush said he wanted to boost the morale of Brown, the Federal Emergency Mangement Agency director who was under increasing fire for the federal response to Katrina.

Inserting Bush’s nickname for Brown, the president repeated Riley’s praise: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Critics, particularly in New Orleans, turned his words of encouragement “into a club to bludgeon me,” Bush wrote.

Brown ended up resigning under fire three days after that comment.

In an HBO documentary about Katrina by director Spike Lee earlier this year, Brown said that he had winced when Bush uttered the now-famous line. Brown said he had just finished explaining to the president why the federal response wasn’t working.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Riley said the president had brought up the matter good-naturedly in their ensuing meetings. Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson said of Bush: “He would remind the governor, ‘I was just repeating what you said.”’


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