Political Response To Texas Storm

Aug 27, 2017
Originally published on August 27, 2017 8:45 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are still following circumstances in southeast Texas, where rain is still falling. People are still being rescued in boats and trucks and moving into shelters while the waters there rise. We've been hearing about state and local efforts to address the situation so far. Now we turn to NPR's White House correspondent, Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much for joining us.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: So we understand that the president is planning to pay a visit to Texas?

HORSLEY: That's right. The White House said late this afternoon that President Trump would visit Texas on Tuesday. They've been saying for several days that he planned to go there to both see the flood-damaged area and also, obviously, sort of show support for the victims of this storm. But it's always a balancing act. You know, a presidential visit brings with it a pretty big footprint and requires its own logistical support. And so the White House is mindful of that and doesn't want to disrupt the ongoing rescue and recovery effort. So they are trying to strike a balance there. The logistics of the visit are still being worked out, but we do expect the president to visit South Texas on Tuesday.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you that, why Tuesday? Because of that question - not wanting to interfere, not wanting to be seen as interfering or drawing resources to himself?

HORSLEY: Exactly.

MARTIN: So what was the president doing while the storm was at its worst?

HORSLEY: Well, the president spent the weekend at Camp David, which was an interesting choice just from an optics point of view. For example, Vice President Pence canceled some of his travel plans this week in order to sort of stay on top of this storm. And we've seen pictures sent by the by the White House of the vice president in the Situation Room. But the administration took pains to say, you know, Camp David is a short helicopter ride from the White House. And the president was very much in touch with relief and rescue efforts while he was there with his family. He held teleconferences both yesterday and today with the vice president, key Cabinet members and parts of the rescue team.

MARTIN: So I think most people will remember that natural disasters and how to respond to them have proven to be a stumbling block for some - for past presidents. I mean, you alluded to this earlier. People might remember that George W. Bush was widely criticized for a slow response to Hurricane Katrina. One would imagine that this administration wants to avoid that kind of opinion.

HORSLEY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Have you heard anything, any conversation about that or any discussion from sources about how they want to be seen in this light?

HORSLEY: You know, a hurricane is obviously a test for any administration. Remember, Katrina hit during the fifth year of the George W. Bush administration. We're only in the, you know, eighth month of this administration. So this is a trial not by fire but by flood for the new president and the new administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long. But while Long is new to that position, he is no stranger to hurricanes. He comes from the state of Alabama, where he ran that state's emergency management agency. And so he knows his way around the Gulf Coast. He knows his way around coastal flooding. He's miles ahead of where some of the past more patronage appointees to FEMA have been.

But that said, this is a very serious storm, and it's going to be a very serious effort. The president tweeted today that there was an all-out effort being made and that it was going well. But as this storm continues to linger over Texas and continues to dump rain, I'm sure frustrations will mount.

MARTIN: So once again, the federal response is led by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You just told us that FEMA's leader does have a reputation in this field and previous experience in this field, unlike some of the people who've held that post in the past. But do we know anything about their budget capacity or any of that, you know, other issue? You know, people have been - analysts have been saying earlier today that actually their budget had been stated - had been set for cuts by this administration. Do we know anything more about that?

HORSLEY: Well, there's absolutely going to be talk about, you know, whatever the FEMA existing budget is is not going to be ample to maintain what's needed in the wake of this storm. So there is sure to be supplemental funds requested. And that's going to be interesting because, for example, Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn in the past have called for offsets for disaster funding in other parts of the country. Likewise, Mike Pence, when he was a congressman from Indiana, called for that. So that will be an interesting discussion.

MARTIN: That's NPR's White House correspondent, Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.