Psaki: It’s too soon for Trump to go to Texas

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Citizens rush to rescue strangers
01:31 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator and spring fellow at the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She also was a consultant for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Follow her: @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers

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President Trump's decision to visit Texas today is surprising, too soon and could affect rescue efforts

The Obama administration waited till active search and rescue was done and into the phase of damage assessment.

CNN  — 

Every helicopter supporting a Trump visit to Texas in response to Hurricane Harvey is a helicopter not picking survivors off rooftops.

As President Donald Trump faces the first crisis of his presidency (one that is not self-inflicted) he fortunately has a chief of staff, John Kelly, who knows how to deal with emergency response, and a well-respected FEMA director in Brock Long leading an agency that has rebuilt itself since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

There will be many decisions ahead about resources and funding at the federal level that will have an actual impact on the recovery of Houston and the other affected communities. These will be far more important than the movements of Air Force One, but the President’s decision to travel to Texas just days after the first wave of the storm hit is, at best, surprising.

It is particularly arresting after he credited the expected ratings boost from hurricane coverage with providing the right forum for his Friday night pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. So there is reason to be skeptical about his motivation for the visit.

Don’t get me wrong. It is important for every President to visit communities that have been affected by natural disaster. President Trump should visit Texas, eventually. When the worst may still be coming and the local authorities are in the middle of rescue and recovery, it is hard to understand why he is going today.

During my eight years in and out of the Obama administration, the general rule of thumb was that before a high level visit, the team on the ground should be moving out of the phase of active search and rescue and into the phase of damage assessment. We are far from that moment. Local authorities are the experts in partnership with the FEMA team on the ground.

Resources are not infinite, even in a state like Texas, and with an event of this scale, first responders from local communities are surging into the affected areas to heroically help with rescue operations. Localities and states train to do exactly that. They provide extra sets of hands so that local responders can get some rest, check on their families and return to work.

In many ways, the hardest work for the administration will start after the rain stops, when it has to keep local and state partners working together on a recovery process that will take years. Every family and business that has been affected will need support.

The recovery and coordination effort will likely outlast Donald Trump’s presidency. We were still coordinating the federal government’s Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts in 2009 when Barack Obama assumed the presidency, four years after the flooding hit.

But right now Trump should be using whatever political capital he has to get funding freed up and he can show support orchestrating an effective and efficient response from Washington. The time will be right for a visit, but that isn’t today.