White House seeks to reassure nation on hurricane response

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The White House on Friday sought to assure the nation that it is prepared to deal with Hurricane Harvey, which is expected to hammer the Gulf Coast region with hundred-mile-an-hour winds and torrential rainfall on Friday night.

The Trump administration faces a major test in organizing the government response to Hurricane Harvey, which is expected to make conditions dangerous for the nearly 5 million people in its path for the next several days.

At a press briefing on Friday, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert assured the country that Trump is prepared to offer the full resources of the White House to the affected states and warned that “now is not the time to lose faith in your government institutions.”

{mosads}Inside the White House, the complicated and multi-faceted government response is being led by Bossert, who has been briefing the president, along with acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long and chief of staff John Kelly, who was plucked recently from leading the Department of Homeland Security.

The president spoke with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Friday as those states prepare to take the brunt of the hurricane’s force. The White House says it is coordinating closely with state and local officials on the ground.

Trump will visit Texas sometime next week after the storm passes.

Until then, the president will be monitoring the storm from Camp David, where he will spend the weekend. Vice President Pence has scrapped a planned trip to Nevada to instead coordinate with Trump from the presidential retreat about 60 miles outside of Washington.

Bossert on Friday praised Trump, saying he was acting deliberately and with concern as he prepares to deal with the first natural disaster of his administration.

“This is right up President Trump’s alley,” Bossert said.

“When we go in and brief him on preparations for this hurricane, he is acutely focused on making sure that the American people in the storm’s path have what they need. His questions weren’t the political consequences. His questions were about whether we’re doing what it takes to help people affected by this storm,” he said. “I was extremely happy with his leadership instincts on this.”

Abbott and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) sent a letter to the president on Friday asking that he expedite a disaster declaration for the state before the storm hits to ensure federal resources will be ready.

Bossert said the request is being reviewed by FEMA and that he believes the “president will be very aggressive in moving that forward.”

Beyond its domestic impact, the storm could have international implications. About one-third of the nation’s oil refinery production could be impacted. There is deep concern from that industry about the low-lying and flood-prone regions in Louisiana that lie in the storm’s path.

Bossert brings years of experience to managing the potential disaster. As a homeland security adviser to former President George W. Bush, he was one of the authors of the “lessons learned” document spurred by the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

That natural disaster still weighs on him.

“I think it’s not just what’s on my mind but on the minds of all of the emergency managers in our community, especially those in Texas and Louisiana,” Bossert said of Katrina. “That experience is still in their minds, in their muscle memory. Congress has gotten better, passed laws to allow us flexibility to employ not just deploy in advance of an event.”

Because Kelly has not been replaced at the Department of Homeland Security, Duke will lead the agency, which oversees FEMA. Kelly is also acting in an advisory role.

Long was only confirmed in June, although he has a good reputation as the former head of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and state incident commander during the 2011 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We couldn’t have a better team,” Bossert said.

Trump has been highlighting his involvement in the process over social media, tweeting pictures of his Oval Office meeting with Bossert, Kelly, Duke and Long.

Trump has also noted a trip he took to FEMA earlier this month.

Tags Donald Trump Elaine Duke Federal Emergency Management Agency Hurricane Katrina John Cornyn Ted Cruz Tom Bossert
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