By Amie Parnes - 09/04/12 12:49 AM EDT
President Obama took a quick break from the campaign trail on Monday to be the consoler-in-chief, telling victims of Hurricane Isaac, which ravaged the Gulf Coast last week, that "nobody's a Democrat or a Republican, we're all just Americans looking out for one another."
After meeting with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) along with local officials, Obama — who will accept his party's nomination in Charlotte, N.C., later this week — sent a clear message to the victims while seeking to contrast his efforts with the previous administration: "We're here to help."
In the past, Obama said, "We haven't seen the kind of coordination that is necessary in response to these kinds of disasters."
Even before the storm threatened to bear down on the U.S. coast last week, Obama sought to portray that his administration had a strong handle in both the preparation and recovery efforts. But his trip on Monday was preempted by a visit to the area by his opponent Mitt Romney, who also aimed to comfort the victims during his Friday stop.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney maintained that Obama's trip to the area three days later wasn't political.
"I think that disasters are apolitical," Carney said. "And I think that the way we respond to disasters should be apolitical."
But he added, "When it comes to the kinds of choices politicians make in Washington about what their priorities are, it is worth noting that last year there was an effort to underfund the money that's used to provide relief for Americans when they've been hit by disasters. That effort was led by Congressman Paul Ryan who is now running for Vice President of the United States."
Ryan's spokesman shot back quickly at the White House, saying a Romney-Ryan administration will "always ensure" there is disaster funding for those in need.
“Apparently there’s nothing the President’s team won’t politicize," Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement. "Paul Ryan believes providing aid to victims of natural disasters is a critical obligation and should be treated as a high priority within a fiscally responsible budget. It's sad that the White House would stoop to using this heartbreaking event as an opportunity to distort his record and play politics."
After touring the area, Obama — wearing khakis and boots — vowed to work on what he called a "larger issue, which is how do we anticipate these storms and how to we make sure an area like St. Johns is protected when we have these kinds of disasters.
"What I've pledged to these folks is we're going to make sure at the federal level we are getting on the case very quickly about figuring out what exactly happened here and what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.
This story was updated at 10:08 p.m.