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.