Trump hopes his stops will send the message that he's fully engaged
The White House insists it has taken steps to mitigate any drain on local resources
Eager to demonstrate leadership amid the worst natural disaster of his tenure, President Donald Trump arrived Tuesday to meet with local, state and federal officials in Austin and Corpus Christi, Texas, to survey disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
During both stops, Trump remarked on the unprecedented nature of the storm – which has left parts of Houston and southeastern Texas under several feet of water – and talked up recovery efforts being led by state and federal officials.
In Corpus Christi, Trump said he hoped the disaster response efforts in the wake of the hurricane would become a model for future natural disaster relief efforts.
“We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at five years, 10 years from now, as this is the way to do it,” Trump said, adding the storm was “of epic proportion.”
And in Austin, where Trump visited an emergency operations center, Trump warned of the long-term effort and stiff costs that will be needed to rebuild the region.
“The sad thing is that this is long-term. Nobody’s ever seen anything this long. Nobody’s seen this kind of water,” Trump said. “Probably, there’s never been something so expensive in our country’s history.”
As he did on Monday, Trump again pledged to work with Congress to secure disaster relief funding to help Texas with that long-term recovery.
Trump aimed to send a message that he’s fully engaged in the disaster recovery efforts, which have consumed the efforts of federal and Texas officials and are expected to persist for months.
“What I learned is that we can count on the President of the United States and his staff,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican. “The President and his Cabinet remained in constant contact with me and my staff and they all had one thing to say: ‘Texas, what do you need?’ “
Abbott added that Trump was engaged in preparations as much as 10 days before the storm hit and said Trump has “shown character and compassion” throughout the recovery efforts.
But Trump struck a cautious tone even as he praised the recovery efforts, telling Abbott in Corpus Christi that “we’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”
Trump arrived at a firehouse in Corpus Christi to receive a briefing on the relief efforts in the state in the wake of the storm and as catastrophic flooding continued in parts of the state.
He was joined by his wife, Melania, and several Cabinet members including his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long talked up the shelters that have been established for those who were forced to evacuate the storm, assuring the public the shelters were well-organized and well-stocked.
“Let me be clear, this is not the Superdome,” Long said, referring to the New Orleans football stadium that was converted into a makeshift shelter that became emblematic of the federal government’s mismanagement of relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Trump addressed a crowd gathered outside the firehouse shortly after his first briefing.
After pledging to “get you back and operating immediately,” Trump remarked on the crowd size gathered to hear him speak – as if he were at a rally.
“What a crowd, what a turnout,” Trump said.
Trump then headed to Austin to tour the state’s emergency operations center.
But Trump’s early trip to the state came with some risk. His predecessors largely avoided landing in places where law enforcement resources – required for any presidential visit – are still being used for search-and-rescue missions.
The White House insists it has taken steps to mitigate any drain on local assets as Trump makes stops in Corpus Christi, along the Gulf Coast, and in Austin, the Texas capital.
Those stops were designed to keep Trump at a distance from the most devastating damage in and around Houston, which has experienced historic flooding after Hurricane Harvey’s landfall on Friday.
“The President wants to be very cautious about making sure that any activity doesn’t disrupt the recovery efforts that are still ongoing,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday morning aboard Air Force One.
After Corpus Christi, Trump will head to Austin, Texas to visit an emergency operations center.
Trump’s visit will “lay the foundation for what we know will be a long recovery effort,” Sanders said.
Trump will return to storm-affected areas on Saturday, Sanders said, likely visiting a different part of the state. Trump suggested Monday that he may also visit Louisiana, which is expected to be hit with torrential rain and flooding.
The White House has been keen to show Trump engaged in the crisis as it unfolded over the weekend, distributing photos of Trump being briefed on the storm from Camp David.
Presidents have long visited areas devastated by natural crises as shows of solidarity and support. But Trump’s predecessors have found it can be difficult to strike the right tone.
When George W. Bush flew over devastated areas of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the photos of him peering from the window of Air Force One were derided as evidence of an aloof commander in chief.
President Barack Obama offered an emotional speech in Joplin, Missouri, after tornadoes tore through the town in 2011, but he was criticized for not cutting short a European trip to fly there sooner.
This story has been updated.