President Joe Biden spoke with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Thursday about the winter storm that has hobbled the state. He “conveyed his support to the people of Texas,” “reiterated that the federal government will continue to work hand-in-hand” with state and local authorities and promised any additional federal disaster support.
On Friday, Biden said he was planning to visit Texas next week, as long as he could do so without complicating relief efforts.
“I don’t want to be a burden. When the president lands in any city in America, it has a long tail,” he said.
Nothing about what Biden did was remarkable. It’s standard operating procedure for presidents to support states when there are natural disasters and help as much as possible ― without getting in the way.
But it’s also completely opposite to how President Donald Trump did things.
Plenty of politicians mess it up though, turning natural disasters into human-caused ones. President George W. Bush’s administration became famous for its incompetence and lack of action after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. More than 1,800 people died.
Trump took it to a new level. He used disasters to exact revenge and blackmail politicians who weren’t properly appreciative of his greatness. And unable to show empathy with victims, Trump mainly saw these situations as ways to promote himself.
Last year, Trump took aim at Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) for his coronavirus restrictions, implying he might withhold federal aid ― such as disaster relief ― in retaliation.
“I’ll remember it, Tom. I’m going to remember it, Tom,” Trump said. He then held his hand to his ear, like a phone, and added, “‘Hello, Mr. President, this is Gov. Wolf. I need help. I need help.’ You know what, these people are bad.”
He also blamed California for the raging wildfires last summer, again saying he might withhold federal aid because officials weren’t doing what he wanted.
“I said, you’ve got to clean your floors, you’ve got to clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees, and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up,” Trump said, adding, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”
Trump also tried to dole out coronavirus relief in a similar way, threatening in November to withhold vaccines from New York because the Democratic governor there had criticized him.
According to the White House readout of Biden’s call with Abbott, the president never made any sort of similar threats. Abbott’s office didn’t return a request for further comment.
Trump used natural disasters, particularly devastating hurricanes, to promote his brand. Approximately 3,000 people died after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Trump nevertheless said it was “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.”
The previous month, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana, causing catastrophic flooding and damage. Trump said that his goal was for people to look back at his response in five to 10 years “as, this is the way to do it. We want to do it better than ever before.”
But Trump also wanted to promote his campaign. He repeatedly wore his own campaign merchandise, which was on sale at his website, to Harvey events.
His inability to empathize with people who were suffering was also on full display. Trump visited Puerto Rico in 2017 and met with Hurricane Maria victims, telling a couple, “We’re going to help you out. Have a good time.”
He also chucked some paper towels to a crowd of survivors, in a moment that the pool reporter described as the president doing his “best Steph Curry impersonation.”
As with the coronavirus, Trump rarely, if ever, expressed sympathy with victims of natural disasters.
But Trump also tried to kill science that made him look bad. In September 2019, Trump falsely tweeted that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama. Rather than admit that the president was wrong, someone in the administration used a marker to doctor a map of Dorian’s path to make it look like Trump was right.
He further made his administration publicly disavow weather officials in Alabama who had disagreed with his baseless claim.
Biden has approved emergency declarations for Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
“Jill and I are keeping Texas, Oklahoma, and other impacted states in our prayers,” he tweeted on Thursday. “I’ve declared states of emergency, authorized FEMA to provide generators and supplies, and am ready to fulfill additional requests. Please heed the instructions of local officials and stay safe.”
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