President Trump travels to Texas on Tuesday to show support for residents reeling from the effects of hurricane-turned-tropical storm Harvey, and to assess the first stages of the federal recovery effort.
“Right now every American heart sends its love and support to those whose lives have been upended,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. “We will get through this. We will come out stronger.”
To avoid complicating ongoing rescue efforts, Trump will sidestep Houston, where flood waters are still rising. Instead, he and the first lady will visit the Corpus Christi area, where Harvey made landfall Friday night, packing 130 mile-an-hour winds. Trump said he may pay a second visit to the region on Saturday. Depending on the path of the storm, that trip could also include a stop in Louisiana.
The president has been eager to travel to Texas since the weekend, but said he waited until he could do so “without causing disruption.” Trump tweeted on Sunday, “The focus must be life and safety.”
Tuesday’s visit will be an early test of Trump’s talents as comforter-in-chief. Natural disasters can provide a showcase for presidents to demonstrate compassion and leadership. They can also be a political minefield, though, if frustrated and exhausted residents judge the government’s response to be inadequate.
A year ago, as a presidential candidate, Trump paid a surprise visit to flood-ravaged parts of Louisiana. Then-President Barack Obama, who was vacationing at the time on Martha’s Vineyard, was criticized in some quarters for not making his own trip. Obama traveled to Louisiana the following week.
Trump made an effort to get ahead of Hurricane Harvey, signing a disaster declaration for Texas on Friday night, as the storm was bearing down on the Gulf Coast. The president signed a separate, emergency declaration for neighboring Louisiana on Monday.
The Coast Guard and Texas National Guard have been assisting in rescue efforts, and the federal government has already delivered more than a million meals and drinking water.
Trump praised the response of Gov. Greg Abbott and the people of the state, saying a Texas-sized disaster had been met with Texas-style resilience.
“When you watch the spirit and the enthusiasm and helping each other, the teamwork, it’s really been something,” Trump said.
The administration acknowledges, however, that recovery from a storm of this magnitude will take both money and time.
“We’re 100 percent focused on lifesaving efforts right now,” Vice President Pence told Rush Limbaugh on Monday, adding, “but once the flood waters subside, then the real work of recovery will begin in earnest.”
In a separate interview with Houston’s KTRH radio, Pence counseled patience.
“When you look at the magnitude of the flooding that’s taken place in the fourth largest city in the United States,” he said, “we anticipate that it will be years coming back.”
Trump said the administration has already begun talking to lawmakers about what promises to be a costly recovery effort.
“It’s going to be a very expensive situation,” Trump said. “We want to take care of the people of Texas and Louisiana.”
Following past disasters, Congress has opened its checkbook, authorizing $110 billion in aid after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and $51 billion following Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Many Republican lawmakers from Texas voted against the Sandy relief, which colleagues from New York and New Jersey have not forgotten.
“Despite my TX colleagues refusal to support aid in #SouthJersey time of need, I will support emergency disaster $$ for those impacted,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., tweeted on Monday. “Must stand together as Americans, not be hypocritical based on geography,” he added.
Trump voiced confidence that recovery funding may be the unusual item in Washington that attracts bipartisan support.
“We think you’re going to have what you need, and it’s going to go fast,” Trump told a reporter for a Texas newspaper. “I think you’ll be up and running very, very quickly.”
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