WASHINGTON – President Biden will fly to New Orleans on Friday to view the damage caused by Hurricane Ida to demonstrate his commitment to the federal government’s storm response, even as his administration remains embroiled in other urgent matters of the coronavirus surge after his departure from Afghanistan.
In guidelines to reporters issued late Thursday evening, White House officials said Mr. Biden would investigate storm damage and meet with government officials from hurricane-hit communities, which the president on Thursday named the fifth largest hurricane in American history .
Mr Biden, speaking at the White House Thursday, said he would meet with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, along with mayor presidents and other local officials.
“Governor Edwards encouraged me to come and assured me that the visit will not disrupt the on-site recovery effort,” said Biden. “I wanted to be sure of that. My message to all concerned is: We are all in it together. The nation is here to help. “
Ida stormed Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane Sunday, leaving at least 12 dead and the power grid in ruins before its remains marched up the east coast, flooding New York and much of the rest of the northeast, killing dozens more.
Despite the withdrawal of the last of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan on Monday, Mr Biden has struggled throughout the week to show his commitment to the assault effort. On Sunday when the storm hit the Gulf Coast, it stopped at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington to give workers a lift.
Mr Biden said Thursday that he “will be kept informed of progress from FEMA every hour late into the night and that we will work around the clock until the region’s critical needs are fully met”.
Floods in New York
9/3/2021, 5:00 p.m. ET
Mr. Biden’s itinerary and aggressive public efforts to highlight how his administration prepared for the storm contrast sharply with President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.
Bush drew harsh criticism for the federal government’s slow response to the storm that inundated parts of New Orleans and claimed the deaths of more than 1,800 people. Mr Bush was famously photographed viewing the devastation of the storm from a window on Air Force One, which became a symbol of the state’s distancing from the damage. He later said he regretted the photo and wished he had ended up in Louisiana.
“I should have landed in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and walked out and said, ‘I’m listening,'” Bush said in a 2010 interview. “And then I flew back to Washington. I didn’t do that. And pay a price for it. “
Mr Biden did not mention Mr Bush in his remarks about the hurricane this week. But he has repeatedly promoted government efforts to position electrical workers, medical teams, power generators, and other aid in front of the storm in hopes of bringing relief quickly to those affected.
“As we tackle the core elements of disaster relief, we’re also deploying new tools to expedite this recovery – things that weren’t used very often in previous hurricane responses,” Biden said Thursday. “Working with private companies that own and operate the lifeline infrastructure such as electricity and communications, we’ve used the latest technology to expedite restoration of power and cellular service.”
Mr Biden also used the storm, including the floods in the northeast on Wednesday, to raise awareness of his climate change agenda. Democrats in Congress are looking to pass a multi-trillion dollar spending bill this month that Biden said should include tax incentives for low-carbon energy use along with other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that the hurricane reaffirmed the president’s “commitment to adopt his Build Back Better agenda, which has a big, big focus on addressing the climate crisis.”