WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off the Republican National Convention, President Donald Trump is headed to Louisiana and Texas on Saturday to survey the damage after Hurricane Laura, a trip that allows him to use the trappings of his office to try to project empathy and leadership.
The president is making the trip two days after the Category 4 storm slammed the Gulf Coast, leaving at least 14 dead and wreaking havoc with severe winds and flooding. While the storm surge has receded and the cleanup effort has begun, hundreds of thousands remain without power or water, and they could for weeks or months as the hot summer stretches on.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Trump was traveling “to be with those who have been impacted by Hurricane Laura.” He is expected to survey storm damage and receive briefings on emergency operations and ongoing relief efforts.
Trump had told reporters that he’d considered delaying his speech accepting his party’s nomination for a second term until Monday because the storm was coming.
‘I was going to Texas. I was going to Louisiana, maybe Arkansas,” he said. “But now, it turned out, we got a little bit lucky. It was very big, it was very powerful, but it passed quickly. ”
After giving his acceptance speech Thursday night as planned, Trump held a raucous rally Friday evening in New Hampshire. He lashed out at protesters who accosted his supporters as they left the White House and continued to paint November’s election as a contest between “democracy and the mob.”
Trump has sometimes struggled with his role as consoler-in-chief, failing to project empathy when visiting regions hard-hit by tragedy and disaster. That includes in Puerto Rico, where Trump was photographed tossing rolls of paper towel into the crowd, which some saw as inappropriately playful, given the circumstances. During a trip to the Carolinas in 2018, Trump marveled at a yacht floodwaters had washed onto a family’s property, telling them, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” And he was caught on camera telling a person he’d handed food to to “have a good time.”
Other times, Trump has been a source of comfort. After a powerful tornado ripped through Alabama last year, killing nearly two dozen people, Trump spent time with families who’d lost loved ones, listening to their stories and hugging them.
Showing empathy has come more naturally for his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, who issued a statement Saturday saying he and his wife were praying for those hurt by the storm and promising that “we will be there to help you build back better.”
In a possible subtle dig at the incumbent, Biden praised the response of families in the hurricane-hit states and thanked them for “reminding Americans that no disaster, no single person, no injustice can match the humble, personal, courageous ways that Americans choose decency every single day.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said Laura was the most powerful hurricane ever to strike his state, surpassing even Hurricane Katrina, which was a Category 3 when it hit in 2005. The storm toppled trees and damaged buildings as far north as central Arkansas, and more than 580,000 coastal residents evacuated in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. toll from the storm, which packed 150-mph (240-kph) winds and a storm surge as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters), currently stands at 14 deaths, with more than half of those killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from the unsafe operation of generators. The hurricane also killed nearly two dozen people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as it barreled toward the U.S.
The first of Trump’s stops will be hard-hit Lake Charles, Louisiana, a city of 80,000 people, where simply driving remains a feat, with downed power lines and trees blocking roads.
Trump will also visit Orange, Texas, which was the worst-hit area in the state, but sustained far less damage than next-door Louisiana.
Weaker remnants of the hurricane continued to move across the southern U.S., unleashing heavy rain and isolated tornadoes. North Carolina and Virginia could get the brunt of the storm on Saturday, according to forecasters.