Obama, Bush and Clinton launch Haiti aid appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama, flanked by his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, on Saturday said the two former presidents would lead a national drive to raise money for Haiti’s earthquake survivors.

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) is joined by former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush (R) and Bill Clinton (L) as they leave the Oval Office while walking into the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington before speaking about disaster aid to Haiti, January 16, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

“By coming together in this way, these two leaders send an unmistakable message to the people of Haiti and to the people of the world. In these difficult hours, America stands united. We stand united with the people of Haiti,” Obama said.

Haitian authorities believe as many as 200,000 died in Tuesday’s earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation, prompting a worldwide humanitarian response as rescuers race against time to save people still trapped in the rubble.

Obama, who has pledged an initial $100 million in quake relief, enlisted the help of Bill Clinton, a Democrat who is the United Nations’ special envoy for Haiti, and former President George W. Bush, the Republican who proceeded him the White House, to spearhead private sector fund-raising efforts.

Obama said they had launched the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and directed Americans to visit the website at and give money, because Haiti faced a lengthy road back to recovery.

“We also know that our longer term effort will not be measured in days or weeks, it will be measured in months and even years. And that is why it is so important to enlist and sustain the support of the American people,” he said.

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Bush, who spoke next after Obama, said that both he and former First Lady Laura Bush had been deeply saddened by the scenes of horror and death from Haiti.

“The most effective way for Americans to help the people of Haiti is to contribute money ... I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash,” he said. “One of the things President Clinton and I will make sure is your money is spent wisely.”

The public has already responded to Haiti’s plight.

Hollywood star George Clooney will host a telethon on MTV next week, the music network said, while Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have donated $1 million from their foundation to Doctors Without Borders.

A texting campaign that First Lady Michelle Obama made a public appeal for had raised almost $6 million by Thursday.

“Right now, all we need to do is get food and medicine and water and a secure place for them to be. But when we start the rebuilding effort ... we want to be a place where people can know their money will be well spent,” Clinton said.

The website was already up and running, with a link for visitors to make donations from $25 upward. “What we do right now determines how many lives we can save. Together, we can help communities get back on their feet,” the site said.

It was Bush’s first visit to the White House since leaving office almost exactly a year ago to return home to Texas.

Since then he has kept a low public profile, but accepted Obama’s request to join a bipartisan effort which echoed the mission he asked Clinton and his own father, former President George H. W. Bush, to perform after a massive earthquake in 2004 caused a huge tsunami in South Asia and killed 226,000.

Obama’s high profile efforts to stay on top of the Haitian crisis may reflect a determination to counter criticism of his own initial reaction to a foiled Christmas Day bomb attack on a Detroit-bound plane, as well as from Bush’s own experience.

Bush was slammed for what critics said was a slow and half-hearted response after Hurricane Katrina deluged New Orleans in 2005, stranding thousands of the city’s mainly African American residents and providing the world with a graphic view of festering inner-city U.S. poverty.

Reporting by Alister Bull; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Editing by Sandra Maler