'Comforter-in-chief' heading to tornado-ravaged Missouri for memorial service

President Obama on Sunday will speak at a memorial service for the more than 130 people who were killed last weekend when a tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo.

The president will meet victims of the horrific disaster, flying to Missouri shortly after returning from a week-long trip in Europe.

Obama, not typically regarded as a politician gifted with Clinton-esque empathy, has been playing the role of comforter-in-chief more and more in recent months.

Just last month, the president toured tornado and storm damage in Alabama. And earlier in the year, he received near universal applause of his handling of the aftermath of the Arizona shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Despite the president's travel abroad, both he and the White House have made it clear that Obama has been closely monitoring the situation in Joplin and other parts of the MidWest.

The White House said Friday that Obama will "meet with local and state officials to ensure the continued smooth coordination and support from the federal government for the recovery effort."


"The president will also thank the first responders and volunteers who have already done so much to console the victims and assist the community on the long road to recovery," the White House said.

After the tornado struck last Sunday, Obama was quick with a statement of support, prayers and condolences even as he had just left on Air Force One to begin his European trip.

Throughout the early days of the trip, Obama mentioned the catastrophe repeatedly, receiving the condolences and well wishes of foreign leaders and making a statement from Ireland about the tornado.

"We are here for you," Obama said. "We're going to stay by you."

The president has kept in regular touch with FEMA administrator Craig Fugate who was dispatched to the area almost immediately.

Republicans have been largely muted in their criticisms of Obama's travel abroad despite some whisper campaigns to drum up outrage similar to what President George W. Bush experienced after Hurricane Katrina.

Neither Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon nor Republican Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead It's time for Congress to guarantee Medigap Health Insurance for vulnerable Americans with kidney disease MORE have been overly critical of Obama's response, but Blunt is pushing for FEMA to reimburse 100 percent of Joplin's expenses.

The White House has so far been quiet on that proposal. 

As the lessons of Katrina continue to guide the Obama White House, administration officials and FEMA have been working diligently to ensure the public knows the scope of the federal response.

FEMA's website includes a list of actions taken by federal responders, including moving meals and water to strategic areas and, unfortunately, sending in a federal mortuary assistance team.

This story was updated at 1:20 p.m.