President Donald Trump brought plenty of optimism and swagger to Texas this week on his first visit to survey Harvey’s wreckage. He’s getting a chance to return with empathy.
Trump is slated to visit Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Saturday to survey the damage wrought by the hurricane and days of historic flooding. The White House says he’ll have time to review the damage, talk at length with residents still recovering from the devastation and meet with volunteers, all elements missing from his visit to the region on Tuesday.
That stop was sharply criticized as being off-key for a presidential trip to discuss communities in crisis.
Heading first to Corpus Christi, and later Austin, Trump sat with emergency responders and state and local officials coordinating recovery efforts with his administration. The event was marked by Trump’s impromptu speech to supporters gathered outside a Corpus Christi firehouse — “What a crowd, what a turnout,” he declared — instead of images of the president consoling victims or walking among the damage caused by of the storm.
While Trump kept his distance from the epicenter of the damage in Houston to avoid disrupting recovery operations, his first visit was panned by critics who said he failed to adequately express compassion for the families of those killed in the storm’s path or those whose homes were flooded. He raised eyebrows when he predicted his approach would be a model for future presidents to emulate.
“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.’”
“There was a lot of high-fiving about how well this disaster was being handled even as people were on their rooftops hoping to be rescued,” said David Axelrod, who served as a top adviser to President Barack Obama. “People need to know that their president is emotionally engaged in their struggle and part of the obligation or the responsibility of a president, particularly in a media age, is to make that human connection.”
Trump later voiced more direct concern for those caught up in the storm. At the start of a speech in Missouri on Wednesday, he said the nation was praying for those in Harvey’s path and “we are here with you every single step of the way.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized that Trump plans to have one-on-one time with victims on Saturday.
“He’ll have the chance to meet extensively with quite a few storm survivors as well as talk with some of the volunteers that are helping administer a lot of the support these individuals have needed,” Sanders said.
Trump may take cues from Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to Texas on Thursday to visit a damaged Baptist church, clear away tree limbs and debris, and hug storm victims.
Trump met Friday with evangelical leaders to promote his proclamation of Sunday as a national day of prayer for those affected by the hurricane along with relief organizations heavily involved in the recovery.
“I’m confident that this will be an opportunity for the president, on behalf of the entire nation, to show compassion and empathy for those who have lost homes and have had their lives interrupted and in some cases have lost loved ones,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition and one of the evangelical leaders who met with the president.
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