Biden to reprise ‘consoler in chief’ role with Louisiana trip
When President Biden visits Louisiana on Friday, it will represent his fourth trip to a grief-stricken community after a tragedy.
Biden is expected to meet with state and local officials in New Orleans and survey the damage from Hurricane Ida, which left a path of devastation in Louisiana and Mississippi with widespread power outages before the storm’s remnants ripped up the Northeast and caused massive flooding. More than three dozen people have died since Ida made landfall.
The storm is the latest crisis to test Biden’s presidency and his role as “consoler in chief.” Officials believe it could take weeks to restore power to homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, where about a million people are without power amid extremely high summer temperatures.
“We are all in this together. Our nation is here to help,” Biden said Thursday in prepared remarks delivered from the White House, reiterating a unity message that has been an undercurrent of his first eight months in office. “We’ll be working around the clock until the critical needs of the region are fully met, and we’ll meet them.”
The federal government has deployed a host of resources to the Gulf Coast to assist with recovery efforts, which Biden detailed in a speech Thursday, and senior White House adviser Cedric Richmond has been coordinating operations from Washington.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said he invited Biden to the area and will meet with him Friday.
“I think getting eyes on the damage in person rather than reading about it, rather than hearing about it, rather than seeing it on TV is really important,” Edwards said at a briefing Wednesday. “Because this is going to be a marathon, and we’re going to need a lot of help from our federal partners for a long time to come. And we need some of that help immediately.”
Biden is also expected to meet with Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.), who was elected to replace Richmond earlier this year, and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D). A source familiar with the plans also confirmed that Biden is expected to meet with Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.).
Biden is scheduled to receive a briefing on the storm from local officials, tour a neighborhood in LaPlace, La., and deliver remarks on the federal response to the hurricane. He will later take an aerial tour of impacted communities and meet with local leaders.
Ahead of the visit, the Louisiana congressional delegation wrote a letter to Biden asking that Congress provide emergency supplemental appropriations to respond to Hurricane Ida and five storms that came before it in the last year, warning that “Louisiana families will continue to languish as a result of these devastating storms” without more emergency relief.
White House officials have emphasized steps the federal government has taken thus far to respond to the disaster. Biden approved emergency declarations for Louisiana and Mississippi before the storms hit, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has deployed food, water and generators to the region.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that 50,000 households in Louisiana have received a one-time $500 payment to support their needs and that FEMA has sent out $77 million in disaster aid to households in the state to date.
Biden on Thursday highlighted efforts to make available surveillance drones and satellite imagery to help officials map damage and turn power back on more quickly.
Additionally, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm released 1.5 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to alleviate challenges moving oil to areas affected by the storm.
Biden held a virtual briefing with officials in affected states earlier this week and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) met with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on Wednesday.
In addition to the destruction in Gulf Coast states, Ida also caused catastrophic flooding in northeastern states like New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Biden spoke with newly sworn-in New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Thursday morning and said FEMA officials are prepared to provide any assistance necessary.
Entering the White House amid a deadly pandemic, Biden is no stranger to crises, and he’s had to contend with several since taking office. In February, he visited Houston to survey the damage from a bout of dangerous winter weather; in April, he was on the ground in Atlanta after a gunman targeted spas in the area; and in July, he traveled to Surfside, Fla., to meet with families affected by the tragic collapse of a condo building that killed almost 100 people.
“I don’t think that there have been any major glitches so far in his handling of domestic emergency situations,” said William Galston, chair of the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program and a former domestic policy adviser to then-President Clinton.
“I think that’s the right metric, because if you get it right, there is not a lot of news about it. If you botch it, as George W. Bush learned to his sorrow, then it can be very costly,” he added, referring to the Bush administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
On Friday, Biden will be traveling to a deep-red state that former President Trump won last year with almost 60 percent of the vote to deliver a message of unity and hope. Biden has traveled to Louisiana once before — in May, to advocate for his infrastructure proposal.
The trip comes during a difficult stretch for Biden following the chaotic and deadly U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which generated plenty of criticism over the last two weeks as the administration rushed to get American citizens and Afghans out of the country before Tuesday’s withdrawal deadline.
While Biden’s ability to show empathy has been an asset through much of his presidency, his one-on-one interactions with families of the 13 service members killed in a suicide bomb attack in Kabul were not universally well received, according to an account of the private meeting reported by The Washington Post.
“He has to be careful not to overplay the empathy card,” Galston said. “It’s a capacity that needs to be used delicately, carefully, attuned to the particular circumstances of the moment that you’re in. It can’t turn into a one-size-fits all empathy routine.”
Biden has coupled his message about recovery efforts with a plea to address climate change.
“The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here. We need to be much better prepared,” Biden said Thursday. “We need to act.”
That may be a message he chooses to emphasize on Friday and later into the month as House Democrats tackle their $3.5 trillion spending package that’s packed with progressive policy proposals, including many that would address climate change.
Psaki told reporters Thursday that the recent natural disasters “reaffirmed” Biden’s commitment to ensuring Congress passes his economic agenda, which includes funding to address climate change and make infrastructure more resilient against destructive weather.
“I think it really reaffirms more the policies he has already proposed that will take huge steps forward in helping to address the climate crisis,” Psaki said.
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