Trump of­fers op­ti­mism but not vic­tim sym­pa­thy


COR­PUS CHRISTI, Texas — With flag­wav­ing op­ti­mism, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­swered Har­vey’s wrath Tues­day by of­fer­ing in-per­son as­sur­ances to those in the storm zone that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will work tire­lessly to help the re­gion re­cover from the mas­sive flood­ing and storm-in­flicted de­struc­tion.

“We are go­ing to get you back and op­er­at­ing im­me­di­ately,” Trump told an im­promptu crowd that gath­ered out­side a Cor­pus Christi fire sta­tion about 48 kilo­me­tres from where the storm made land­fall on Fri­day.

For all of his ea­ger­ness to get the fed­eral dis­as­ter re­sponse right, though, Trump missed clear op­por­tu­ni­ties to strike a sym­pa­thetic note for the mul­ti­tudes who are suf­fer­ing. The pres­i­dent did not men­tion those who died in the storm or those forced from their homes by its flood wa­ters. And he basked in the at­ten­tion of cheer­ing sup­port­ers out­side the fire sta­tion where of­fi­cials briefed him on the re­cov­ery.

“What a crowd, what a turnout,” Trump de­clared be­fore wav­ing a Texas flag from atop a steplad­der po­si­tioned be­tween two fire trucks. “This is his­toric. It’s epic what hap­pened, but you know what, it hap­pened in Texas, and Texas can han­dle any­thing.”

Trump is clearly de­ter­mined to seize the mo­ment and show a force­ful re­sponse to Har­vey, mind­ful of the po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties and risks that nat­u­ral dis­as­ters pose for any pres­i­dent. Trump has been suf­fer­ing from low ap­proval rat­ings and self-cre­ated cri­sis, and the White House is eager to show him as an im­pact­ful leader in a time of trou­ble.

The pres­i­dent kept his dis­tance from the epi­cen­tre of the dam­age in Hous­ton to avoid dis­rupt­ing re­cov­ery op­er­a­tions. But he plans to re­turn to the re­gion on Satur­day, and U.S. Vi­cePres­i­dent Mike Pence will visit as well.

What lit­tle dam­age Trump saw — boarded-up win­dows, downed tree limbs and fences askew — was through the tinted win­dows of his SUV as his mo­tor­cade fer­ried him from the Cor­pus Christi air­port to the fire­house in a city that’s al­ready nearly back to nor­mal.

Trump spoke op­ti­misti­cally about the pace of the re­cov­ery, and pre­dicted his re­sponse would be a text­book case for fu­ture pres­i­dents.

“We want to do it bet­ter than ever be­fore,” he said. “We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, ‘This is the way to do it.’”

Then it was on to his next stop, Austin, to meet with of­fi­cials at the state emer­gency op­er­a­tions cen­tre.

His largely up­beat re­as­sur­ances about a speedy re­cov­ery, though, stood in con­trast to the more mea­sured as­sess­ments com­ing from emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials. There’s a long, dif­fi­cult road ahead in re­cov­er­ing from a storm whose flood­ing has dis­placed tens of thou­sands, of­fi­cials cau­tioned.

And the pres­i­dent’s vow of swift ac­tion on bil­lions of dol­lars in dis­as­ter aid is at odds with his pro­posed bud­get, which would elim­i­nate the pro­gram that helps Amer­i­cans with­out flood in­sur­ance re­build their homes and cuts grants to help states re­duce the risk of flood­ing be­fore dis­as­ter strikes.

Trump’s bud­get pro­posal for 2018 ze­roes out com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment block grants, a key pro­gram that helped the Gulf Coast re­build after hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. The same pro­gram helped New York and New Jersey come back from hur­ri­cane Sandy. Among other things, the grants help peo­ple with­out flood in­sur­ance coverage re­build their homes. In the 2017 bud­get, the Repub­li­can-led Congress re­stored some of the funds.

While Trump’s pend­ing bud­get re­quest didn’t touch the core dis­as­ter aid ac­count, it pro­posed cut­ting sev­eral grant pro­grams that help states re­duce flood risks be­fore a dis­as­ter strikes and im­prove out­dated flood maps.

All told, Trump pro­posed cut­ting such grant pro­grams by about US$900 mil­lion.

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