BATON ROUGE, La., Aug. 23 (UPI) — President Barack Obama arrived in Louisiana on Tuesday to tour flood-damaged areas, a move some critics say is a little late.
The president traveled to Baton Rouge after completing his annual two-week family vacation at Martha’s Vineyard on Monday. His visit follows a similar trip last week from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“What I want the people of Louisiana to know is, you are not alone on this,’ Obama told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Even after the TV cameras leave, the whole country is going to continue to support you and help you until we get folks back in their homes and lives are rebuilt.”
During the news conference, the president said he doesn’t worry about the visit, late or otherwise, becoming overly politicized.
“No, I don’t,” he said, answering a reporter’s question. “One of the benefits of being five months short of leaving [office], is I don’t worry too much about politics.”
“When disasters strike, that’s probably one of the few times where Washington tends not to get political,” he added. “I guarantee you nobody on this block, none of those first responders, nobody gives a hoot whether you’re a Democrat or Republican.”
“One thing I want to repeat is how proud I am of FEMA,” Obama continued. “Because if you think about the number of significant natural disasters that have occurred since my presidency began, you’d be hard pressed to find a local official anywhere in the country who wouldn’t say that [Administrator] Craig Fugate and his team have been anything less than exemplary.”
Some, including Trump, alleged in their criticisms that Obama’s vacation was more important to him than the flood victims.
Though Obama didn’t visit Louisiana immediately after flooding began earlier this month, he did dispatch members of his administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and FEMA officials, to the region — moves Gov. John Bel Edwards said were vitally helpful.
“I want you to know that within hours the president granted a disaster declaration and called me to discuss it,” Edwards said Friday. “I can’t complain about the assistance from the federal government. It has been superb.”
Two days later on CNN’s State of the Union, in fact, Edwards said that it was he who asked the White House that Obama not visit immediately.
“I asked them to let us get out of the response mode where we were still conducting searches of houses and we were still making rescues,” he said.
“I didn’t want to divert these police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers and other essential resources and assets to providing security for the president while they were need in this region to undergo those — or to undertake those response activities.”
“The governor has been right on top to make sure Louisiana gets everything it can get in order to help rebuild,” Obama said.
Severe rains caused the flash flooding earlier this month, which led to the deaths of 13 people and left many others homeless. Obama’s federal disaster declaration has directed millions in federal aid to help clean up and rebuild the hardest hit areas.
“We are heartbroken by the loss of life,” Obama said.