01/03/2005 AT 1:00 PM ET
As the death count from the Asian tsunamis climbed to 140,000 and the American government increased its financial support, President Bush announced Monday that he has tapped two unlikely political bedfellows – former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton – to spearhead the nation’s private fund-raising campaign.
“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.
“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.
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.”