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Obama's Response to Fort Hood Shooting Under Scrutiny

As the U.S. military and law enforcement were scrambling to save lives after a deadly shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, Texas, President Obama opened his remarks Thursday with a two-minute "shout out" to audience members who attended the Tribal Nations Conference hosted by the Interior Department.

Obama's initial comments on the shooting that killed 13 and wounded scores of others came at the conclusion of Thursday's conference, which was attended by leaders from several of the 564 federally recognized American Indian tribes.

"I planned to make some broader remarks," he told the crowd. "But as some of you might have heard there has been a tragic shooting at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas."

The president's words on the deadly rampage came two minutes after he gave a "shout out" to an audience member and stressed the need to pass health care reform.

"I hear that Dr. Joe Medicine Crow was around, and so I want to give a shout out to that Congressional Medal of Honor winner. It’s good to see you," he said.

On Friday, Obama opened his remarks at a brief press conference in the White House Rose Garden in which he warned the American public against "jumping to conclusions" over the motives of the shooter.

"This morning I met with FBI Director Mueller and the relevant agencies to discuss their ongoing investigation into what caused one individual to turn his gun on fellow servicemen and women," he said. "We don't know all of the answers yet, and I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all of the facts.

Before transitioning to Friday's dismal economic report on the country's jobless rate, Obama said in a brief statement that he ordered flags at the White House and other federal building be flown at half-staff until Wednesday -- Veteran's Day.

Critics say that through both the tone and brevity of his remarks, Obama "did not appreciate the gravity of what he represents," said Brad Blakeman, former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush

"It was uncomfortable to watch," he said of Obama's comments on Thursday.  

"He should have begun his official remarks with the tragedy. The fact that he used colloquialisms like "shout out" -- and was so cavalier at the beginning of his remarks -- was a reflection of his inability to be presidential," said Blakeman, though he stressed Obama's comments were not "ill-intended."

"He's not comfortable enough in his role yet," he said.  

Blakeman cited the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, during which Bush was roundly criticized for his immediate reaction to the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Critics blasted Bush, who was visiting a Florida elementary school, for waiting seven minutes to excuse himself from a classroom of students after then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told him a second hijacked jetliner had hit the World Trade Center.

"He didn’t have all the information to make a statement," Blakeman said in Bush's defense.  

But others, like Democratic strategist Bob Beckel, who managed Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign, said Obama handled the Fort Hood tragedy with the right presidential instincts.

"He was eloquent in how he talked about it," said Beckel. "It was a difficult situation."

Beckel blasted conservative critics, saying, "Republicans would criticize Obama on how he took a shower in the morning."

"This is a guy who went to Delaware to see bodies brought back from Afghanistan," demonstrating a compassion for fallen soldiers and their families that Bush lacked, he said.