WASHINGTON Eager to show that he feels people's pain, President Bush scuttled a political fundraising trip Thursday to tell the country his administration is working feverishly to calm turmoil in the financial markets.
Bush was supposed to spend the day in Alabama and Florida raising money for Republicans and talking energy policy. He canceled his appearance at the fundraisers Vice President Dick Cheney will be there instead and stayed focused on the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression.
"The American people are concerned about the situation in our financial markets and our economy," Bush said. "And I share their concerns."
The tumult in financial markets and the meltdown of corporate giants have shaken people's faith in the economy and their own retirement savings. The fear on Wall Street is that there are more significant financial companies to fall, which would have a spillover effect within the United States and on world markets.
In brief formal remarks outside the Oval Office, Bush sought to show that the administration is moving swiftly and aggressively by taking "extraordinary measures."
The White House says those measures, a series of loans and takeovers, will help protect the broader economy and therefore everyday life.
But the president used language that resonates more with market analysts than the public.
As he put it, "The American people can be sure we will continue to act to strengthen and stabilize our financial markets and improve investor confidence."
Bush did not specify what those steps might be. White House press secretary Dana Perino said she could not comment on them, either.
"I can't tell you where this ends. I wish that I could," Perino said. "But we will take any necessary steps to deal with this in the days that follow."
The president planned to meet with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson later Thursday and stay in regular touch with other economic advisers.
At the start of this week, the Federal Reserve rescued American International Group Inc., an insurance giant, from bankruptcy by granting an emergency $85 billion loan. In the historic bailout, the government gets almost an 80 percent stake in the company, a vastly far-reaching intervention.
Then on Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission tightened rules on short selling, the practice of betting that a stock will fall.
And Thursday, the Federal Reserve pumped $55 million in temporary reserves into the system after coordinated action with the central banks of other nations. Both moves were designed to prevent credit from drying up and sending the broader economy into virtual paralysis.
Earlier this month, the administration took over mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two struggling companies, which were created by Congress to help people afford home loans, account for about $5 trillion in home mortgages, about half the nation's total.
Bush cited all these steps and promised that the "markets are adjusting."
The trouble facing the markets Bush called them serious challenges have put the White House into crisis mode.
But Bush has behaved very differently than in previous crises, such as around the start of the Iraq war, of after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 or last month's invasion by Russia of tiny neighbor Georgia. In those cases, Bush would talk nearly every day on the issue. This week, he has kept a lower profile.
His remarks Thursday were his first since Monday. And he has spurned every attempt by reporters to ask questions about the developments, including again on Thursday. As he finished his very brief statement and turned to walk back into the Oval Office, a reporter asked if he believed the economy was still sound. The president kept walking.
Despite Bush's public stance, the government has taken more and more extensive actions than in decades.
Still, Lehman Brothers, the country's fourth-largest investment bank, filed for bankruptcy protection this week. A weakened Merrill Lynch, deciding it couldn't go it alone anymore, found help in the arms of Bank of America.
A private business group reported Thursday that the economy's health deteriorated for the second consecutive month in August as building permits dropped and unemployment claims rose. Oil prices are rising again as investors eye U.S. financial turmoil. Employers are cutting payrolls. New applications for unemployment benefits are up, partly due to Hurricane Gustav. The housing market remains unstable.