President Obama plans to visit the site of deadly flooding in Louisiana next week after facing criticism that he stayed on vacation here this week while the stated reeled from the devastation.
Obama will go to get a “first-hand look” at the damage, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Friday, adding that Obama had been waiting for the immediate emergency to pass before tying up local resources with a presidential visit.
“The president is mindful of the impact that his travel has on first responders and wants to ensure that his presence does not interfere with ongoing recovery efforts,” Earnest said.
Critics had complained that Obama was seen golfing on television alongside reports of flooding that has damaged tens of thousands of homes and killed at least 13 people. The Advocate, a newspaper in Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge, editorialized that Obama should leave Martha’s Vineyard to visit “the most anguished state in the union” and show solidarity with suffering Americans.
On Friday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump toured the flood-ravaged state, drawing praise from residents who said they thought Obama should have been standing with them instead of golfing.
The discordant images of golf and flooding dredged up memories of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when President George W. Bush decided to remain on vacation but do a fly-over of the Gulf Coast. To be sure, the scale of the damage from Katrina was much more significant than the current flooding; the hurricane killed at least 1,400 and was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, causing more than $67 billion in insured losses, and exposed the ineptitude of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Even Bush criticized the initial response as unacceptable.
Despite the differences, though, critics seized on Obama’s vacation as a symbol of indifference to the suffering of victims of natural disasters.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a prominent Trump backer, said he was happy to have leaders visit his city after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because it showed support for the victims’ families and solidarity with New Yorkers.
“Donald Trump acted more presidential than the president himself, by immediately going to Louisiana while President Obama chose to continue playing golf and Hillary Clinton phoned in her views,” Giuliani said in a statement. Clinton has not visited but has urged supporters to donate to the Red Cross to aid flood relief.
Aides to Obama brushed off comparisons, arguing that a presidential visit too soon after the floods would take up the time and energy of local officials while they were still in rescue mode.
Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, also publicly asked Obama on Thursday to stay away until the state could handle a visit. In the past, Obama has waited until local officials say they’re ready for him to visit after devastating storms, such as tornadoes in Alabama in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy damage in New Jersey in 2012.
White House advisors said Obama is getting daily briefings on the flooding during vacation, including an update Friday from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who traveled to Louisiana a day earlier.