President Obama to tour Louisiana amid criticism that he’s late
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will touch down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Tuesday to tour the flood-ravaged city that quickly became a political football.
Obama is set to see firsthand the damage in the state’s capital that has caused more than 106,000 residents and households to register for assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency. More than 60,000 homes were damaged, officials said, and 13 people were killed.
Given the financial and human cost that has already taken its toll, the President’s visit is too late for some Republicans — and some Louisianans.
Obama chose not to interrupt his yearly summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard to visit Louisiana. His reluctance to do so made for an offensive optics in the eyes of some Republicans: Obama enjoying rounds of golf with comedians like Larry David and basketball stars like Alonzo Mourning, while a state thousands of miles away faced devastation.
“Tuesday’s too late,” Donald Trump, told Fox News this weekend. “Hop into the plane and go down and go to Louisiana and see what’s going on, because it’s a mess.”
That’s exactly what Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, did late last week as part of a visit meant to fill what they saw as a leadership vacuum. The Republican ticket toured the flood damage, met with church groups, and distributed supplies at a nearby high school. The visit was well-received by local officials, and for a moment it gave Trump a chance to reveal a presidential timber that he insists he has.
“Because it helped to shine a spotlight on Louisiana and on the dire situation that we have here, it was helpful,” said John Bel Edwards, the state’s Democratic governor.
Edwards had previously said that he hoped Obama would wait a few weeks before making his visit to the state, given the entourage and Secret Service personnel that comes with presidential trips that would have strained resources while officials were coping with the floods.
Baton Rouge’s city newspaper last week had called on Obama to cut his vacation short.
“A disaster this big begs for the personal presence of the President at ground zero,” read a editorial in The Advocate on Thursday, a day before the Obama trip was announced. “The President’s presence is already late to the crisis, but it’s better latter than never.”
Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, said Monday that she too plans a trip to the flood site — but used similar reasoning to delay her trip. Her campaign said in a statement that she would come to the state at an unspecified time in the future.
“This month’s floods in Louisiana are a crisis that demand a national response,” she said. “I am committed to visiting communities affected by these floods, at a time when the presence of a political campaign will not disrupt the response, to discuss how we can and will rebuild together.”
Obama’s vacation ended Sunday, and the White House has maintained that he has been regularly briefed by senior staff on the situation on the ground and top administration officials also were sent to the Louisiana. Yet his response has earned some comparisons to how George W. Bush handled another natural catastrophe in a Louisiana city, New Orleans, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Obama has traveled to disaster sites in recent years, touring communities in Oklahoma and Arkansas destroyed by tornadoes along with New Jersey towns hit by Hurricane Sandy.