WASHINGTON (AP) – Include Mother Nature in the pile of crises that US President Joe Biden has to deal with.
Within a month of taking office and focused on the coronavirus, Biden is seeing his disaster management capabilities put to the test by the winter storms that battered Texas, Oklahoma and other neighboring states in unusual polar cold that left millions of people. frozen in houses without heating or electricity and, in many cases, also without water.
These climatic conditions would have left at least 59 dead throughout the country.
Biden arrived at the White House on January 20 promising to address a series of ongoing crises, starting with the coronavirus pandemic and its domino effect on the economy. He singled out systemic racism and climate change as his top priorities. And now it is dealing with storms that have not only endangered the population but delayed the shipment and administration of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
Biden said Friday that he hopes to travel to Texas next week, but does not want his presence and that of the presidential entourage accompanying him to distract from the recovery effort.
“They are doing their best to take care of their peers,” Biden said of Texas officials.The decision on his trip will be made early next week, he added.
The president, who during the campaign presented himself as the experienced and empathetic candidate that the nation needed at the moment, is working on several fronts to address the situation and to avoid repeating the mistakes of his predecessors that were punctuated by inadequate or little responses. sensitive in times of disaster.
Part of the president’s job is to respond to destruction caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters, or to events such as mass shootings or even terrorist acts.
Some have handled these types of situations better than others.
George W. Bush received praise for his leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but stumbled over his administration’s response to the humanitarian disaster in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf of Mexico coast four years later.
Barack Obama acknowledged that he must have anticipated criticism for going golfing right after he condemned the beheading of an American journalist at the hands of Islamist extremists in 2014. Obama was on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard at the time.
Donald Trump was criticized for throwing rolls of paper towels at the crowd in Puerto Rico after the devastating passage of Hurricane Maria across the island in 2017. The former president defended his actions saying that people were “having fun.”
Bill Clinton, who in the 1992 presidential campaign said “I feel your pain,” showed a natural connection to disaster victims.
This week, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz showed how quickly one misstep during a crisis can turn into an image problem for a politician.
Cruz was attacked for traveling to Mexico while his constituents suffered without electricity, heat or running water. His explanation, that his daughters had pressured him to go on vacation because they had no class, was especially criticized. Cruz later acknowledged that going was a mistake.
Biden has tweeted about Texas and the other affected states, and the White House issued numerous statements aimed at showing that the federal government is in control of the situation.
The president receives regular updates from his team and has declared a state of emergency in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. On Friday he announced that he will soon declare a major disaster in the state of Texas and that he asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to address the problems.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency dispatched dozens of generators and supplies, including fuel, water, blankets and prepared meals, to the affected areas.
Biden has also spoken with the governors of the seven states hardest hit by winter weather. And he tweeted a photo of his phone conversation with Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Oklahoma’s Republican Kevin Stitt, a staunch Trump supporter, was quick to praise Biden for his swift action in declaring disaster.
After speaking with the president by phone earlier in the week, Stitt specifically thanked him for “taking the time to be interested this afternoon and offering the help of the federal government to the people of Oklahoma. We had a very productive conversation and I look forward to working together in the future to find solutions as we recover from this historic storm. “
Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia Miller Center, said Biden is “well prepared” to address disasters because of his decades of experience in the Senate and his experience as vice president, as well as “his genuine concern for the people”.
Should he decide to go to Texas, Biden could use the trip to further his argument that climate change is real and needs to be addressed, and that the state could do things like winterize its power plants, to be better prepared. for upcoming storms, Perry added.
But you must be careful not to do it in a warning tone.
“We know that you care about climate change, and this is a way to convince people,” Perry said.
Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.