The president responded quickly to this week’s extreme situation in Texas, Oklahoma, and several other states
Just a month after Joe Biden was inaugurated as the new president, his disaster response skills were put to the test after winter storms brought unusually cold temperatures to Texas, Oklahoma, and neighboring states, and many residents in those areas lost access to power, heat and even water, the Associated Press reported.
At least 59 people have died in recent days because of the extreme weather in Texas and neighboring states.
Biden took office on Jan. 20, promising to deal with a series of looming crises, starting with the coronavirus pandemic and its negative impact on the economy. He called combating systemic racism and climate change his administration’s priorities. Now the president is faced with the aftermath of the winter storms, which not only endangered American lives but also delayed the delivery of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines.
Biden said Friday that he hopes to visit Texas next week, but does not want his presence to distract state residents from dealing with the aftermath.
“They’re working hard to take care of their people,” is how Biden characterized the actions of Texas authorities. He said he would make a decision on the trip early next week.
Biden, who offered himself during the presidential campaign as the experienced and empathetic candidate the country needs right now, is working on several fronts to correct the situation and avoid repeating the mistakes of predecessors who sometimes responded inadequately to large-scale natural disasters or mass killings and terrorist attacks.
Some presidents have handled such events better than others.
George W. Bush earned praise for his response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but was criticized for the way his administration responded to the humanitarian disaster that unfolded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Donald Trump was criticized for starting to throw rolls of paper towels at crowds of people in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in 2017. He defended his actions, saying people were just “having fun” at the time.
Bill Clinton, who said during the 1992 presidential campaign that “I feel your pain,” acted naturally when dealing with disaster victims.
This week, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas demonstrated how quickly one misstep during a crisis can become a public relations disaster for a politician. Cruz was attacked for traveling to Mexico while his constituents suffered without electricity, heat, and running water. His explanation for what happened — the senator said his daughters insisted on the trip because their school classes were canceled — drew particular criticism. Cruz later admitted his trip was a mistake.
Biden tweeted about Texas and other affected states, while the White House issued numerous statements aimed at demonstrating that the federal government was in control. The president receives regular updates from his staff and has declared states of emergency in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. On Saturday, the president declared a major natural disaster in Texas and asked federal agencies to provide additional resources to deal with those affected.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency also sent dozens of generators and supplies, including fuel, water, blankets, and cooked food, to affected areas.
Biden spoke to the governors of the seven states most affected by the winter weather. He tweeted a photo of him on the phone with Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas.
Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, a staunch Trump supporter, praised Biden for acting quickly to declare a natural disaster in his state.
After a phone conversation with Biden earlier this week, Stitt specifically thanked the president for “taking the time to reach out this afternoon and offer the federal government’s help to the people of Oklahoma.”
“We had a very productive conversation, and I look forward to working together to find solutions as we recover from this record storm,” Stitt said.