our space program to think through what NASA’s core mission is, and what the next great adventures and discoveries are under the NASA banner.
NASA has yielded — or the space shuttle program has yielded some extraordinary scientific discoveries. But I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a sense of drift to our space program over the last several years. We need to restore that sense of excitement and interest that existed around the space program. And shaping a mission for NASA that is appropriate for the 21st century is going to be one of the biggest tasks of my new NASA director.
Once we have that vision, then I think it’s going to be much easier to build support for expanding our space efforts. But what I don’t want NASA to do is just sort of limp along here. And I don’t think that’s good for the economy of the region either.
Q Mr. President, in appointing a FEMA administrator last week, were you signaling your intention to keep the agency as part of the Department of Homeland Security? And now that you’ve sent some Cabinet members to New Orleans, might we expect your presence in the city, perhaps even for the new hurricane season?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m just still trying to figure out my schedule for tomorrow — (laughter) — so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Sending Secretary Donovan and Napolitano signaled that we’re going to be focused on New Orleans’ reconstruction, and we’re going to be paying a lot of attention to the systems that are in place to protect from hurricanes in the future.
And I — what was the first question?
Q On FEMA, and whether FEMA stays within DHS.
THE PRESIDENT: FEMA. I have not made a final decision on that. But whether FEMA stays inside DHS, or is once again a standalone agency, the one thing you can be certain of is that it’s going to do an outstanding job performing its tasks. And I think that the new director has gotten uniformly high grades.
Whenever you got Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush, and Democrats in Congress agreeing on somebody, they know what they’re doing.
Q Thanks, Mr. President. I wondered if, first, you could elaborate as a President from Chicago, a little bit on your own vision for high-speed rail in the Midwest — particularly the idea of a Chicago-to-Milwaukee-to-Twin Cities link.
And then a completely unrelated political question: Whether you’re at all surprised by the degree of, sort of, discipline and unity we’re seeing in a Republican opposition to your agenda right now?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me answer the political question first. I’m not surprised, because opposition is always easy; saying no to something is easy. Saying yes to something, and figuring out how to solve problems, and governing, that’s hard. And on this budget debate, for example, if you’ve got people who on the one hand say, we want to bring down the long term deficit, but we don’t want to cut certain programs that are important — oh,