Obama: Louisiana flooding ‘not a photo op issue’

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President Obama argued Tuesday that his visit to the site of intense flooding in Louisiana wasn’t about a “photo op,” urging the public to offer help for the relief effort going forward.

{mosads}”The prayers of the entire nation are with everybody who lost loved ones. We are heartbroken by the loss of life,” Obama said, after touring flood damage in Baton Rouge. “People’s lives have been upended by this flood.

“You’re not alone on this, even after the TV cameras leave. The whole country is going to continue to support you and help you until we get people back in their homes and lives are rebuilt,” Obama continued.

“Sometimes once the flood waters pass, people’s attention spans pass. This is not a one-off; this is not a photo op issue. This is how to make sure that [months from now], people still are getting the help they need,” Obama said. “I need all Americans to stay focused on this.”

The White House defended the president ahead of his trip Tuesday, dismissing any comparisons between his delayed visit to the area and then-President George W. Bush’s response — which was criticized as slow — to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

Some had urged Obama to cut short his Martha’s Vineyard vacation to make an appearance last week.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, traveled to the area on Friday, and Trump tweeted Tuesday that Obama’s trip was “too little, too late.” 

“I don’t worry too much about politics,” Obama said Tuesday, responding to the criticism of the timing of his visit.

He also noted that last week he declared a federal disaster, dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to the area and received updates from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials. 

Hillary Clinton’s Democratic campaign said she would visit the area when it was clear her presence wouldn’t “disrupt” the response from emergency officials.

Obama praised FEMA Director Craig Fugate, who took over in 2009, for a “change of culture” at the agency, and White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that FEMA officials “learned from the painful lessons of Katrina.”  

“I think the president is used to people trying to score political points even in situations where they shouldn’t,” Earnest told reporters Tuesday, according to a White House pool report. 

“The president certainly believes this is the kind of situation where … we’re talking about lives lost. We’re talking about a community being upended. And [he believes] that it’s an appropriate time to put politics aside, and actually focus on our responsibilities as Americans,” he added.

Obama was greeted by a number of officials when he landed Tuesday, including Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), Lt. Gov. Bill Nungesser (R), Sens. Bill Cassidy (R) and David Vitter (R), and Reps. Garret Graves (R) and Cedric Richmond (D).

The White House said Tuesday that $120 million in federal assistance has been approved in responding to the storms and flooding, which has damaged some 40,000 homes, left thousands displaced and at least 13 people dead.

CNN reported that Obama was also slated to meet with the families of three police officers killed in an ambush last month in Baton Rouge. Vice President Biden spoke at an earlier vigil for the fallen officers.

Tags David Vitter Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mike Pence

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