President Donald Trump toured the region Tuesday, stopping at the Texas Department of Public Safety Emergency Operations Center in Austin to praise relief efforts, but noted that the task is far from finished.
President praises officials, response during visit to state
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — President Donald Trump on Tuesday assured Texans slammed by Harvey that “we are here to take care of you” and promised a “better than ever before” relief effort, as he visited the state while rescuers continued to pull people from submerged homes.
During visits to Corpus Christi and then to the state capital of Austin, Trump repeatedly praised federal, state and local officials. But he said little about victims who had lost their homes and loved ones to the historic storm.
“The world is watching and the world is very impressed with what you are doing,” Trump told officials at the Texas Department of Public Safety operations center in Austin who were coordinating rescue and shelter operations.
Perhaps more welcome than praise was the president’s promise of unspecified federal aid. “We are working with Congress on helping out the state of Texas, it’s going to be a costly proposition,” Trump said, nodding to Texas’ two U.S. senators and several House members, all Republicans, who joined him.
“Probably there’s never been anything so expensive in our country’s history,” he added.
While aid is all but certain, getting significant relief through Congress will be complicated. Lawmakers not only have a packed and troublesome legislative agenda in September, but also members of both parties harbor resentments that Texas Republicans opposed past bills for disaster aid, notably in the wake of Hurricane Sandy that tore up the East Coast five years ago.
Earlier in the day, the president anticipated success in the response effort even as rains and overflowing dams fed floodwaters: “We won’t say congratulations. We don’t want to do that,” he said from a fire department in Corpus Christi, where he met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other officials.
“We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished,” he said.
Trump seemed mindful of not repeating the famous mistake of President George W. Bush, who enthused, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” to his Federal Emergency Management Agency director during Hurricane Katrina. Michael Brown led the botched response to that devastating storm that hit 12 years ago.
Still, Trump, clad in a “USA” cap and a windbreaker with a presidential seal, did not shy from raising expectations for the response effort. “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.”
Although Trump was careful to remain outside the worst of the state’s flooding crisis, the short ride from the airport in Corpus Christi to the firehouse along Interstate 37 gave him and first lady Melania Trump a glimpse of what the state is up against.
They passed broken trees, downed signs and fences that had been tossed about. Still, hundreds of residents made their way outside the meeting to greet the president, some hoisting campaign signs and others protest placards.
Abbott, a Republican, praised Trump and his Cabinet members, several of whom accompanied him, saying the president and his advisers began preparing for the storm days before its arrival.
“They all had one thing to say,” Abbott said. “Texas, what do you need? How can we help?”
Trump spoke about the work of officials and the recovery efforts, leaving it to others to discuss the storm’s continuing risks and the loss of life.
When he left the firehouse, Trump mounted a ladder between fire trucks to address the crowd outside. “We love you, you are special, we are here to take care of you,” he said. “It’s going well.”
“What a crowd, what a turnout,” he said. “It’s historic, its epic, but I tell you, it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”
The crowd cheered as Trump waved a Texas flag.
But not everyone came to cheer. “This is a blatant politicization of the hurricane efforts and everything that just happened to this community,” said Ben Falcon, 17, of Corpus Christi, holding an orange poster board reading “Love Trumps Hate.”
Congress has not outlined a plan to tackle the needs of Texas and Louisiana, the two states taking the brunt of Harvey.
State and local officials are still responding to the safety threat and have not begun to fully assess the long-term costs of the stillunfolding storm.
President Donald Trump holds up the Texas flag outside a fire station in Corpus Christi.
President Donald Trump, accompanied by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, speaks during a briefing on Harvey relief efforts.