WASHINGTON (AP) – Add Mother Nature to the heap of crisis on President Joe Biden’s plate.
With a month on the job and focused on the coronavirus, Biden is seeing his disaster management skills tested after winter storms plunged Texas, Oklahoma and neighboring states into an unusually deep freeze that left millions in homes shaking. that lost heat and energy, and in many homes, water.
At least 59 deaths in the US have been attributed to blasting off-season weather.
Biden took office on January 20 promising to address a series of looming crises, beginning with the coronavirus pandemic and its domino effects on the economy. He emphasized systemic racism and climate change as top priorities. And now it is dealing with storms that have not only put Americans in danger, but have also delayed the shipment and administration of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines.
Biden said Friday that he hopes to travel to Texas next week, but does not want his presence and accompanying presidential entourage to distract from the recovery.
“They are working like the devil to take care of their parents,” Biden said of Texas officials. He said he would make a decision early next week on travel.
Biden, who volunteered during the campaign as the experienced and empathetic candidate the nation needed right now, is working on several fronts to address the situation and avoid repeating the mistakes of his predecessors who stumbled on inadequate or insensitive responses. in times of disaster.
Part of the job of being president is responding to the destruction left by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters, or events like deadly mass shootings or even acts of terrorism.
Some have handled these situations better than others.
George W. Bush earned praise for his leadership after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but stumbled during his administration’s hesitant response to the humanitarian disaster that unfolded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck the coast of the Gulf four years later.
Barack Obama said he should have anticipated the setback he received for going to the golf course just after condemning the beheading of an American journalist kidnapped by Islamist militants in 2014. Obama was on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard at the time.
Donald Trump was criticized for throwing rolls of paper towels at a crowd in Puerto Rico that had endured the island’s lashings from Hurricane Maria in 2017. He defended himself from throwing the towels, saying people were “having fun.”
Bill Clinton, who claimed during the 1992 presidential campaign that “I feel your pain,” was natural in connecting with the victims of the disaster.
This week, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas demonstrated how quickly a bad move during a crisis can turn into a public relations disaster for a politician.
Cruz was attacked for traveling to Mexico while her constituents suffered without electricity, heat and running water. His explanation, that his daughters pushed to escape because they were not in school, was particularly criticized. Cruz later said the trip was a mistake.
Biden has tweeted about Texas and the other affected states, while the White House has issued numerous statements intended to show that the federal government is in command of the situation.
The president receives regular updates from his staff and has declared states of emergency in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. He said Friday that he will soon declare a major disaster in the state of Texas and has asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to address the suffering.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also dispatched dozens of generators and supplies, including fuel, water, blankets and ready-to-eat meals, to the affected areas.
Biden has spoken with the governors of the seven states hardest hit by winter weather. He tweeted a picture of himself on the phone with Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas.
Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, a staunch Trump supporter, was quick to praise Biden for his swift action in a disaster declaration.
After speaking with Biden on the phone earlier this week, Stitt specifically thanked the president for “taking the time to reach out this afternoon and offer the help of the federal government for the people of Oklahoma. We had a very productive call and I look forward to working together 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 deal with the disaster because of his decades of service in the United States Senate and as a former vice president and because of ” his genuine concern for people. “
“You have to show empathy from the beginning,” Perry said in an interview. “It is important for a president to go to a place that has been hit, but be careful with the footprint. He doesn’t want to make things worse. ”
Biden, should you decide to visit Texas next week, you could also use the trip to push your point that climate change is real and shouldn’t go unaddressed, and that the state could do things like retrofit its power plants. for the winter to be better prepared for future storms. Perry said.
But you need to be careful not to do it in a way that scolds you.
“We know that you are concerned about climate change and this is a way of convincing people,” Perry said.
Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.