Tragedies present a special challenge for American presidents, but President Donald Trump’s test in Texas, where he is witnessing the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey, is a difficult one for the divisive leader who has thus far exhibited very little compassion or competence.
One year ago, Trump visited a disaster area as a candidate for president and helped distribute a truckload of supplies in Louisiana for victims of the worst flooding since Superstorm Sandy but that was nothing more than a photo op.
The presidential candidate used his surprise visit to flood-ravaged parts of Louisiana to criticize then-President Barack Obama, who was vacationing at the time on Martha’s Vineyard, but Trump held off on visiting Texas, tweeting: “I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.”
“It’s a great place,” Trump said then. “I’ve had a great history with Louisiana. They need a lot of help. What’s happened here is incredible. Nobody understands how bad it is. I’m just here to help.”
People waiting to be rescued from their homes in the area since it was inundated from Hurricane Harvey on Monday could show little patience for a president, whose Secret Service escort may divert resources and hinder movement while Trump travels around Texas.
Trump’s Twitter-storm never let up even as Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane late Friday, still presents a number of lingering, dangerous storm effects that continues to threaten millions on the southeast Texas coast with downpours and heavy flooding.
In Houston, water has risen above the spillway at the dam at the Addicks Reservoir, where the Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water early Monday, hoping to control the massive amount of water.
Presidents need to understand the optics, own the message and empathize, but after natural disasters, words are not enough. They need to understand the role and capabilities of the federal agencies at their disposal.
The Trump administration is struggling to avoid parallels with George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which failed on style and substance. “What a crowd, what a turnout,” said a tone-deaf Trump, addressing a people gathered outside the firehouse where he was briefed by officials. Among his audience were unsupportive onlookers, one holding a sign calling Trump a “liar, cheat, racist” and another sign read “You pardoned Joe, what about Jose?”
A photo of Bush looking out the window of Air Force One to survey damage made him appear aloof to the magnitude of devastation below while his praise for FEMA administrator Michael Brown, whom he said was doing “a heck of a job,” was disconnected from the reality on the ground.
Trump’s claimed talent for organization and deal-making has not manifested itself clearly during the first 200+ days of his presidency, so people will be looking for evidence of his purported business experience when it comes to coordinating nonprofit organizations and various levels of government working to help alleviate the suffering of disaster-struck people.
Complicating matters for Trump, whose poll numbers are at a low point in his presidency, a vast majority of Republican state lawmakers recently passed legislation cutting the time Texas residents have to file insurance claims.
Trump fired George Gigicos, the former White House scheduling and advance director, because the president felt he did a poor job organizing a less-than-packed rally in Arizona last week, at the Phoenix Convention Center.
For many people, the crisis in Texas is far from over, so the federal government’s response will be scrutinized beyond remarks from the president.
As of 10 a.m. ET, a rain gauge southeast of Houston reported 49.32 inches — breaking a state record that was set by cyclone Amelia in 1978, said the National Hurricane Center.
“Harvey is expected to produce additional rainfall accumulations of 7 to 13 inches through Friday over parts of the upper Texas coast into southwestern Louisiana,” the NHC said in an update Tuesday morning.
Federal and state officials say they haven’t compiled an official death toll for Harvey. In the large-scale chaos that the storm has brought, emergency crews have been working to save stranded residents and cope with the flow of evacuees — even as more rain is forecast for areas that have already been flooded.
At a briefing with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, FEMA Administrator Brock Long and other officials at a Corpus Christi fire station, Trump said he wants his administration’s efforts at aiding those affected by the storm “to be looked at in five years — and ten years — from now that this is the way to do it.”
“It’s going to be a very expensive situation,” Trump said. “We want to take care of the people of Texas and Louisiana.”
After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, many Texas Republicans voted against the $51 billion federal relief package, which lawmakers from New York and New Jersey have not forgotten.
Establishing unity is going to require more than bragging about what he has and what he’s done.
The world is watching Trump’s attacks on the press, broke his promise to refrain from discrimination against LGBTQ Americans, and newly disclosed emails reveal that his company pursued a Russian real estate deal while Trump was campaigning for president..
The day after violence erupted at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump’s re-election campaign unveiled a new ad relentlessly pounding journalists as “the enemy of the American people” as the president praised Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists as “fine people.” Many Republicans expressed frustration over his assertion, “I think there’s blame on both sides” and criticism of anti-fascists.
Trump on Friday directed the military not to move forward with an Obama-era plan that would have allowed transgender individuals to be recruited into the armed forces, following through on his intentions announced a month earlier to ban transgender people from serving.
The presidential memorandum also bans the Department of Defense from using its resources to provide medical treatment regimens for transgender individuals currently serving in the military.
Trump told the people gathered outside the fire station, “What a crowd. What a turnout.”
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