WASHINGTON – Add Mother Nature to the mess pile on President Joe Biden’s plate.
A month into the job, and focusing on the coronavirus, Biden sees his disaster management skills tested after winter storms plunged Texas, Oklahoma, and the neighboring states into an unusual freeze that has left millions in homes that have lost heat and electricity, and made water tremble in many houses.
At least 69 deaths in the United States have been attributed to the unusual weather explosion.
The White House announced Saturday that the president had declared a major disaster in Texas and has asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to address the ailment.
Biden took office on January 20, pledging to tackle a number of brewing crises, starting with the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy. He addressed systemic racism and climate change as a top priority. And now he’s battling storms that have not only endangered Americans but delayed the shipping and delivery of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines.
Biden said Friday that he hopes to travel to Texas next week but does not want his presence and accompanying entourage to distract the president from recovery.
“They work like the devil to take care of their people,” Biden said of Texas officials. He said he would make a decision about traveling early next week.
Biden, who offered himself during the campaign as the seasoned and empathetic candidate the nation needed at the time, is working on several fronts to address the situation – and to avoid repeating the mistakes of predecessors caused by inadequate or insensitive reactions have stumbled in times of disaster.
Part of the job of being president is responding to the destruction caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters or events such as deadly mass shootings or even acts of terrorism.
Some coped with such situations better than others.
George W. Bush was praised for his leadership in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but stumbled upon his administration’s continued response to the humanitarian disaster that struck New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four years later.
Barack Obama said he should have anticipated the setback he received for visiting the golf course after condemning the beheading of a kidnapped American journalist by Islamic militants in 2014. Obama was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard at the time.
Donald Trump has been criticized for throwing paper towel rolls into a crowd in Puerto Rico that hit the island in 2017 by Hurricane Maria. He defended the throwing of towels and said people were having “fun”.
Bill Clinton, who famously claimed “I feel your pain” during the 1992 presidential campaign, was a natural link with disaster victims.
Just this week, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz showed how quickly a bad move during a crisis can turn into 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 – that his daughters were pushing to flee because they didn’t go to school – was particularly controversial. Cruz later said the trip was a mistake.
Biden has tweeted about Texas and the other affected states while the White House has made numerous statements to demonstrate that the federal government is in control of the situation. The president is regularly informed by his employees and has already declared a state of emergency in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana – and added the disaster designation announced for Texas on Saturday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has shipped dozens of generators and supplies, including fuel, water, blankets, and ready meals, to the affected areas.
Biden spoke to the governors of the seven states hardest hit by the winter weather. He tweeted a photo of himself on the phone with Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas.
Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, a staunch Trump supporter, was quick to praise Biden for his quick response to a disaster statement.
After speaking to Biden by phone earlier this week, Stitt expressly thanked the president for taking the time to come back this afternoon and offer federal government assistance to Oklahomans. We had a very productive call and I look forward to finding solutions together as we recover from this historic storm. “
Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia Miller Center, said Biden was “well suited” to dealing with the disaster because of his decades of tenure in the US Senate and former vice president and “his genuineness”. “
“He has to show empathy right away,” Perry said in an interview. “It is important for a president to go to a place that has been mistreated, but be careful with the footprint. He doesn’t want to make it worse. “
Should Biden travel to Texas next week, he could also use the trip to point out that climate change is real and must not be left untouched, and that the state could winterize its power plants to be better prepared for future storms, Perry said.
But he should be careful not to do this in an abusive way.
“We know he cares about climate change, and this is a way to convince people,” Perry said.
Associate press writer Sean Murphy of Oklahoma City contributed to this report.