"I ask every American to contribute as they are able to do so," President Bush said in the White House's Roosevelt Room, with his father and Clinton at his side, the Associated Press reports. The chief executive also ordered that American flags fly at half-staff all week in sympathy for "the victims of a great tragedy," particularly the many thousands of dead and orphaned children.
The president urged Americans to give money instead of other items. "Cash donations are most useful," he said.
The dramatic announcement comes in the wake of the harsh criticism the incumbent faced for waiting three days after the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami to interrupt his vacation before commenting on the tragedy. The U.S. was also branded as being "stingy" for initial pledge of $15 million in public assistance. (Private donations from Americans started pouring in almost immediately, however.) That figure has now grown to $350 million.
George W. Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, dismissed any suggestion that the move to bulk up private donations was politically motivated. "This is a human tragedy that is really beyond comprehension," he said, "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."