Trump to face major test of presidency during visit to storm-battered Texas
Donald Trump faces a major test of his presidency as he prepares to visit Texas after tropical storm Harvey ravaged southern parts of the state, releasing pounding rain and catastrophic flooding on the nation’s fourth largest city.
Few events clarify a president’s effectiveness like a major natural disaster – and for Trump, the stakes are high following a tumultuous summer rocked by a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, an escalating war of words with North Korea and multiple staff upheavals.
Trump will travel to Corpus Christi on Tuesday morning, a city along the Gulf of Mexico near where Harvey swept ashore as a Category 4 storm late Friday night, thrashing the central coast with torrential rain and 210km/h winds.
Trump, a businessman with no experience in disaster relief, used words and images on Twitter to showcase that he is closely monitoring the response efforts. On Monday, he retweeted Texas governor Greg Abbott who thanked the state National Guard for rescuing marooned residents.
But Trump has come under sharp criticism for firing off a series of unrelated tweets. As Houston’s freeways turned into rivers and thousands of people fled their homes on Sunday, Trump intermittently provided updates on the storm while also commenting on the Senate race in Missouri (“Republican will win!”), building a wall along the southern border (“Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other”) and negotiations over the Nafta trade agreement (“worst trade deal ever made”).
On Monday morning, Trump retweeted Dinesh D’Souza, the controversial conservative author convicted for violating campaign finance laws, who argued that left-wing activists are to blame for the violence seen at rightwing rallies. Trump was widely criticised for equating left-wing protesters with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. He also shared a tweet from a conservative reporter who incorrectly claimed that Obama had “pardoned” Chelsea Manning, who was convicted under the Espionage Act after disclosing classified military information. Her sentence was commuted, not pardoned. He then retweeted a quote by Mother Teresa: “No colour, no religion, no nationality should come between us, we are all children of God.”
In a pair of interviews on Monday, vice-president Mike Pence said Trump is “fully engaged” and “anxious” to visit Texas.
“He’s deployed the full resources of the national government,” Pence told Trey Ware in a radio interview on KTSA. “He’ll reflect on that tomorrow, and people can just be confident that as we move through this rescue operation that we’re there for the long haul. We’re there for the long haul with Texas through the recovery efforts.”
“I expect there will be plenty of time to debate all of this in the days ahead,” Pence said in an interview with conservative talk radio host, Chris Salcedo.
“But I can assure you that from the president on down, we’re completely focused on doing everything in our power to get people out of harm’s way, to engage in life-saving efforts, and to continue to lean into this effort to assist in the long term recovery that will be required in Texas.”
The White House released photographs from the weekend of Trump leading a teleconference monitoring the storm at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland. In the photos, Trump is sporting a USA cap available for purchase on his campaign website for US$40.
On Friday night, Trump signed a federal disaster declaration to support the relief effort in Texas, and on Monday he also approved a federal disaster declaration in Louisiana to aid with relief efforts there.