Trump Returns to Texas, With Words of Encouragement and Triumph

September 3, 2017
               News
Photo President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, met with individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey inside the NRG Center in Houston. CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

By GLENN THRUSH and JACK HEALY

SEPT. 2, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump urged onlookers at a Houston shelter to “have a good time” on Saturday — and appeared to take his own advice during a daylong Gulf Coast tour that blurred the line between bucking up a battered region and taking an early victory lap.

During a half-dozen events in Texas and Louisiana, Mr. Trump exchanged hugs with survivors of Hurricane Harvey, viewed the historic damage firsthand, conferred with emergency management officials and personally imprinted the Trump brand on a recovery effort expected to take years and cost $100 billion or more.

Mr. Trump, who had traveled to the area four days before and was criticized for not meeting with victims of the storm, sought on Saturday to project a sense of empathy during the series of media-friendly stops.

Shortly after Air Force One landed at a base in Houston midmorning, an upbeat Mr. Trump declared himself “very happy” with efforts to assist residents left homeless by lashing rains and a storm surge that rendered an estimated 100,000 houses there uninhabitable.

“They’re really happy with what’s going on,” he told reporters after talking with local residents at the NRG Center, a convention building serving as a temporary shelter for nearly 1,200 people. “It’s something that’s been very well received. Even by you guys, it’s been very well received.”

‍The muddy ground of the Gulf Coast provided public relations terra firma for a president who has struggled to advance his policy priorities and whose approval ratings are mired in the mid-30-percent range.

The optics-obsessed former reality television star, who often watched his televised appearances with the sound off, was acutely conscious of projecting an image of command and concern. “The cameras are blazing,” he noted during one of the many photo ops, when he went to a church to load boxes of supplies into vehicles.

But the recovery is only just beginning, and many risks remain. On Saturday, The Associated Press reported that federal officials had yet to inspect highly toxic Superfund sites in the Houston area, several containing petrochemical residue, that were swamped and possibly leaking contaminants into surrounding areas.

Many Houston streets remain four or more feet underwater after being pelted by 50 or more inches of rain over the past week. Flooding has knocked out the water systems of Beaumont, Tex., which has a population of nearly 120,000, and local officials said they had no idea when service could be restored.

a chemical fire tore through a plant near Houston, sending a huge column of thick, black, noxious smoke into a sky finally clearing of clouds after days of rain.

Nonetheless, Mr. Trump seemed to embrace the role of cheerleader in chief. The president, who has not been known to enjoy sharing credit during his business, entertainment or political careers, spent most of Saturday thanking others: volunteers, emergency medical workers, local elected officials, his own staff and, above all, the helicopter crews that plucked stranded Houston residents from rooftops despite rising tides and howling winds.

He was in an optimistic, nearly exuberant mood during his stop at the NRG Center. Touring the facility with television cameras in tow, Mr. Trump sympathized with residents, posed for selfies and hoisted one young girl in ponytails in his arms.

“There’s a lot of love. As tough as it’s been, it’s been a wonderful thing to watch,” Mr. Trump told reporters before heading into a room where he handed out cardboard boxes with hot dogs and potato chips to residents. “I’m going to do a little bit of help over here.”

He added, “Have a good time, everybody!”

The reaction inside the shelter to Mr. Trump’s visit was mostly positive, with a quieter undercurrent of anxiety and skepticism.

“Is he going to help? Can he help?” asked Devin Harris, 37, a construction worker. “I lost my home. My job is gone. My tools are gone. My car is gone. My life is gone. What is Trump going to do?”

During his visit to Texas on Tuesday, the president met with emergency management officials in storm-brushed Corpus Christi and Austin, but he kept clear of nearby Rockport and other areas that bore the brunt of the storm, saying he did not want to interfere with early rescue and recovery efforts.

A few days later, by contrast, Vice President Mike Pence met with storm victims when he joined Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas in clearing fallen tree branches and other debris on the Gulf Coast.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump was determined to exhibit his dynamism, and biceps. During his visit to First Church of Pearland, where he loaded the boxes into pickup trucks and cars, he said, “That was good exercise.”

“I’m a Democrat. It raises the morale,” said Kevin Jason Hipolito, 37, an unemployed Houston resident who was resettled in a Houston shelter after being rescued from the roof of his flooded Acura.

Town After Town Under Water in the 100 Miles From Houston to Beaumont

Hurricane Harvey left residents of many small towns stranded.

“When he went to Corpus, I was like, ‘Man, he just forgot about us.’ This shows a lot of support,” Mr. Hipolito added.

A largely supportive crowd of about 100 people waving American flags and pro-Trump signs gathered outside Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base on Saturday morning to watch Air Force One land.

But not everyone thought Mr. Trump should be making a visit — much less a second one — to an area still very much in disaster mode, where cities are still flooded, people are lining up for bottled water and homes are being evacuated.

“This has taken a lot of resources from the emergency medical workers,” said Connie Field, 62, a retired oil accounting worker from Sugar Land, Tex., who voted for Mr. Trump. “We still need them out there.”

From Houston, Mr. Trump, accompanied by his wife, Melania Trump, and several cabinet members, flew to Lake Charles, La., where he met with emergency medical workers and members of the volunteer “Cajun Navy,” which helped rescue stranded residents in flood-ravaged neighborhoods.

From there he was to return to Washington, where he was expected to spend the rest of Labor Day weekend monitoring developments in the Gulf.

The trip came hours after the administration submitted its initial hurricane recovery funding request to Congress, a $14.5 billion plan that is expected to be a down payment on a much bigger package that could exceed $100 billion, according to estimates by state and local officials.

Mr. Trump had to personally deal with the remnants of the storm as he arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to board Air Force One in a rainstorm. He exited Marine One, his helicopter, and was handed a large black umbrella, which he held over his wife’s head.

The president was wearing brown work boots. The first lady wore high heels, as she did during their flight to Texas on Tuesday. On the plane, she changed into a Texas baseball cap and azure-hued sneakers.

As Mr. Trump’s motorcade zipped past a church between the air base and the shelter, a Trump supporter flashed a placard reading, “Texans love stilettos.”

Glenn Thrush reported from Washington, and Jack Healy from Houston.

SOURCE : NEW YORK TIMES

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