CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Eager to show he’s attentive and on the job, President Donald Trump touched down in storm-ravaged Texas on Tuesday, taking pains not to interfere with Harvey recovery efforts.
“This was of epic proportion,” the president declared as he met with local officials.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump that the president’s visit would focus on coordination among the levels of government and laying the groundwork for what is expected to be a lengthy recovery effort.
“The president wants to be very cautious about making sure that any activity doesn’t disrupt the recovery efforts that are still ongoing,” she said aboard Air Force One shortly before it touched down in sunny Corpus Christi.
Trump, who traveled with first lady Melania Trump and Cabinet secretaries who will play key roles in the recovery, was greeted at the airport by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Some people lining roads near the airport held American flags and waved as the motorcade passed by.
Trump, who wore a black rain slicker with the presidential seal on his chest and a white cap that said “USA,” was scheduled to receive briefings on relief efforts while in Corpus Christi. He was heading to Austin afterward to meet with state officials at the emergency operations center. Mrs. Trump wore a black baseball cap that read “FLOTUS,” an acronym for “first lady of the United States.”
The Cabinet secretaries were to meet with their Texas counterparts during Trump’s visit.
“That’s a big part of what today will be about, the coordination between local, state and federal officials and laying the groundwork for the recovery effort,” Sanders said.
Trump has appeared to relish the role of guiding the nation’s response to Harvey, which made landfall along the Gulf Coast on Friday night as a Category 4 storm near Corpus Christi, and moved northeast along the Texas coast over Houston. The storm has dumped more than 30 inches of rain in parts of Texas and authorities have rescued thousands of people left stranded by the storm.
“Recovery will be a long and difficult road and the federal government stands ready, willing and able to support that effort,” Trump said Monday.
Trump promised that Congress would act swiftly to approve a large recovery package to help the Gulf Coast region and said he was likely to return to Texas, and make a stop in Louisiana, during the weekend.
Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that Harvey’s relentless nature and size were “frustrating.” In a pair of interviews with radio stations serving Corpus Christi and San Antonio, Pence urged listeners to continue to follow instructions from local and state authorities, saying the storm remains dangerous and that life-threatening flooding will continue. He said he and his wife, Karen, would visit the region later this week.
Trump was likely to see a largely functioning Corpus Christi, a city of 325,000, where damage was minimal. Power has largely been restored, particularly in commercial areas. Some restaurants have reopened and stores are restocked. Hotels are jammed with evacuees from hard-hit areas to its northeast, including Houston. Residents have been advised to boil drinking water because authorities cannot guarantee the integrity of the city’s lead and steel water system.
As Trump left Washington, he tweeted that he’d be OK leaving some senior federal jobs open. He didn’t say which ones.
Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham noted Tuesday on “Fox & Friends” that FEMA administrator Brock Long is without a deputy as he direct Trump’s response to Harvey.
From looking at photos of flooded Houston, she said: “We can conclude that a federal government does need staff. We see it acutely in need of staff in a situation like this.” She mentioned other vacant senior positions in the government as it faces down other potential crises, such as with North Korea.
Moments later, Trump used the Twitter handle for the show and Ingraham, tweeting: “@foxandfriends We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don’t need many of them – reduce size of government. @IngrahamAngle.”
Hurricanes have often presented American presidents with the potential for political advantage — and in some cases, peril.
President George W. Bush struggled to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when he declared that then-Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown was doing “a heckuva job,” comments that appeared to clash with reality once the full scope of the devastation became clear.
Images of Bush looking down at the flooding in New Orleans from Air Force One also gave the impression that he was detached from the horrific conditions on the ground.
In 2012, President Barack Obama oversaw the government’s response to Superstorm Sandy along the East Coast just before the 2012 election. Obama’s trip to the hard-hit New Jersey coast allowed him to join with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who lavished praise on the president, a boost in Obama’s partisan clash against Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.