Trump Travels To LA To Survey Flood Damage, Obama ‘Unlikely’ To Halt Vacation To Visit
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence were in Louisiana Friday to survey the flood damage that killed at least 13 people and displaced thousands more.
Pence arrived in Baton Rouge ahead of Trump Friday, where he met with Louisiana's most senior Republican officials. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, says he won't be involved in Trump's visit.
In East Baton Rouge Parish, Friday, Trump's motorcade drove through hard-hit communities, where ripped up carpet and flooring, furniture and the entire contents of homes were piled on the curb. People who were still mucking out their homes, in some instances, came out to wave at the motorcade with gloved hands dirty from their house-gutting work. He and Pence then met a group of volunteers at a Baptist church who have been cooking meals for flood victims and helping the elderly gut their homes.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Trump," one woman screamed.
"We knew you would be here for us!" another shouted.
A torrent of about 2 feet of rain inundated the southern part of the state, devastating areas hit hard by Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.
Trump made the last-minute scheduling change, scrapping a planned event in New York on Friday in order to travel to Baton Rouge. The decision came after the White House said President Barack Obama was unlikely to break from a New England vacation to survey the damage, despite calls for him to visit and meet with responders and victims.
In an editorial published Wednesday, The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge called on Obama to visit "the most anguished state in the union." The newspaper noted that Obama interrupted his two-week vacation on Martha's Vineyard earlier this week to attend a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on the Massachusetts island.
The newspaper said Obama can and should visit now that the once-raging floodwaters are receding.
"The president's vacation is scheduled to wrap up on Sunday. But he should pack his bags now, and pay a call on communities who need to know that in a national catastrophe, they are not alone," the editorial said. "The president's presence is already late to this crisis, but it's better later than never."
In 2005, then-President George W. Bush was faulted for flying over but not touching down in Louisiana in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The federal government's response to that natural disaster, in which more than 1,830 people were killed and millions more along the Gulf Coast and New Orleans were left homeless, haunted Bush for the remainder of his presidency.
Obama has issued no public or written statements about the flooding. The White House said he has been receiving regular updates and briefings on the situation throughout the vacation, including from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Obama also approved a federal disaster declaration for affected areas of the state.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate visited Louisiana on Tuesday; Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited Thursday.
"As the president told Gov. Edwards over the weekend, the community of Baton Rouge has faced a difficult, even tragic, summer but can count on the ongoing prayers and unwavering support of the president and their fellow Americans in their time of need," White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said.
The White House insists Obama is not indifferent to the suffering of thousands who were washed out of their homes in the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas of the state. At least 13 people have died as a result of the flooding, and at one point 11,000 were in shelters. That number has dropped as water levels have receded.
Trump's decision to visit, however, was met with harsh words from Edwards.
"We welcome him to LA, but not for a photo-op," said his spokesman Richard Carbo in a statement. "Instead we hope he'll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm. "
Edwards meanwhile, defending the administration's response Thursday, saying he has spoken daily with the White House and would prefer Obama hold off on visiting because such stops pull local police and first responders into providing security.
"Quite frankly that is not something that I want to go through right now. And so while the president is welcome to visit, I would just as soon he give us another a week or two, get back to a greater sense of normalcy here," Edwards said in Baton Rouge.
Trump's new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway suggested that the visit was part of a larger effort, like his speech on Thursday, to pivot to a more presidential phase.
"It's also presidential today to have him and Governor Pence going to Louisiana in a decidedly nonpolitical event," she told ABC's Good Morning America Friday," adding that they would be "going to help people on the ground who are in need."
Trump said at a rally Thursday that his prayers are with the people affected in Louisiana, "a state that is very special to me."
– by AP Reporters Jill Colvin, Melinda Deslatte and Darlene Superville