WASHINGTON – President Bush plans to talk to Americans directly about the financial crisis in a prime-time, televised address Wednesday night.
The White House says his speech at 9:01 p.m. EDT will be between 12 and 14 minutes long and will be delivered from the State Floor of the White House residence. Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush wants to tell the American people how the crisis affects them and help them understand the depth of the problem.
This comes as the administration is waging a tough battle to sell a $700 billion rescue plan on Capitol Hill.
A meltdown among several financial institutions and intense negotiations with Congress over a rescue package the administration has requested led the president to return to Washington early Wednesday from a three-day stay in New York. He canceled a planned trip to Florida, where he had been scheduled to raise campaign cash for Republican candidates later in the day.
"This is a huge moment for America and if we don't take decisive and bold action, we could be facing financial calamity," White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters traveling on Bush's plane.
Bush is expected to address the public's many questions and concerns in the speech.
The White House has struggled to determine how best to deploy Bush during the crisis.
As the problem mushroomed over the weekend of Sept. 13, Bush generally stayed out of the limelight, letting Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke take the lead with reporters, lawmakers and the public. He even canceled a planned statement on the economy on Tuesday and remained silent for days.
But the president has said something publicly on the situation almost every day since Thursday — albeit very briefly most times — and yet he still is hardly breaking into the debate. News coverage has barely mentioned Bush's comments. Points that he and his White House aides have tried to make about the aim and substance of the proposed $700 billion bailout plan have been only on the periphery of the story.
So the White House has decided a formal speech to the nation will be the most helpful role for Bush as the proposal is meeting with deep skepticism on Capitol Hill, especially from conservatives in Bush's own party who are revolting at the high price tag and unprecedented government intervention into private markets.
Earlier in New York, Bush said he believes a plan will be passed despite the fierce debate.
"I am confident when it's all said and done, that there will be a robust plan," the president said.
He spoke before a meeting to discuss free trade with leaders of other Western Hemisphere nations, one the last events in his trip to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly. The president was greeted there by world leaders who themselves had many questions about the turmoil in the United States markets.
Bush put a positive spin on what those leaders were seeing take place in the U.S. political system.
"They can see our legislative process is full of give-and-take, that there's ample debate," he said.
With so many crises hitting the United States at once, the presidential race has taken a back seat and so has Bush's involvement in politics. Wednesday's Florida trip was the third time in a week that he has canceled his attendance at out-of-town fundraisers.
Last Thursday, he scrapped attendance at fundraisers in Alabama and Florida, as well as an energy event in Alabama, to stay at the White House and consult with economic advisers. He also cancelled his appearance at fundraisers in Kansas and Texas last Tuesday, but those were replaced by a trip to another part of Texas to review damage from Hurricane Ike.