Eager to demonstrate leadership amid the worst natural disaster of his tenure, President Donald Trump arrived Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, his first of two stops in the storm-ravaged state to meet with officials to discuss the damage.
Trump said he hoped the disaster response efforts in the wake of the hurricane would become a model for future natural disaster relief efforts.
“We want to do it better than ever before,” Trump said, adding the storm was “of epic proportion.”
Still, Trump stopped short of congratulating his team and Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, saying “we’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”
Abbott, a Republican, showered praise on Trump and his administration’s response to the storm.
“What I learned is that we can count on the President of the United States and his staff,” said Abbott. “The President and his Cabinet remained in constant contact with me and my staff and they all had one thing to say: ‘Texas, what do you need?’ “
Trump arrived at a firehouse in Corpus Christi to receive a briefing on the relief efforts in the state in the wake of the storm and as catastrophic flooding continued in parts of the state.
Trump was joined by the First Lady Melania Trump, and several Cabinet members including his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon.
Trump’s trip aims to send the message that he’s fully engaged in the disaster recovery efforts, which have consumed Texas officials and are expected to persist for months. The firehouse briefing was intended at least in part to show that the federal government has a handle on relief efforts.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long talked up the shelters that have been established for those who were forced to evacuate the storm, assuring the public the shelters were well-organized and well-stocked.
“Let me be clear, this is not the Superdome,” Long said, referring to the New Orleans football stadium that was converted into a makeshift shelter that became emblematic of the federal government’s mismanagement of relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
But Trump’s early trip to the state comes with some risk. His predecessors largely avoided landing in places where law enforcement resources — required for any presidential visit — are still being used for search-and-rescue missions.
The White House insists it has taken steps to mitigate any drain on local assets as Trump makes stops in Corpus Christi, along the Gulf Coast, and in Austin, the Texas capital.
Those stops were designed to keep Trump at a distance from the most devastating damage in and around Houston, which has experienced historic flooding after Hurricane Harvey’s landfall on Friday.
“The President wants to be very cautious about making sure that any activity doesn’t disrupt the recovery efforts that are still ongoing,” Sanders told reporters Tuesday morning aboard Air Force One.
After Corpus Christi, Trump will head to Austin, Texas to visit an emergency operations center.
Trump’s visit will “lay the foundation for what we know will be a long recovery effort,” Sanders said.
Trump will return to storm-affected areas on Saturday, Sanders said, likely visiting a different part of the state. Trump suggested Monday that he may also visit Louisiana, which is expected to be hit with torrential rain and flooding.
The White House has been keen to show Trump engaged in the crisis as it unfolded over the weekend, distributing photos of Trump being briefed on the storm from Camp David.
Presidents have long visited areas devastated by natural crises as shows of solidarity and support. But Trump’s predecessors have found it can be difficult to strike the right tone.
When George W. Bush flew over devastated areas of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the photos of him peering from the window of Air Force One were derided as evidence of an aloof commander in chief.
President Barack Obama offered an emotional speech in Joplin, Missouri, after tornadoes tore through the town in 2011, but he was criticized for not cutting short a European trip to fly there sooner.