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Extreme weather checking Biden’s emergency management capabilities

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Extreme weather checking Biden’s emergency management capabilities

 

Add Mother Nature to the pile of disasters on President Joe Biden’s plate.

A month into the job and concentrating on the coronavirus, Biden is having his disaster management skills tested after winter storms plunged Texas, Oklahoma and neighbouring states into an unusual deep freeze that left millions shivering in homes that lost heat and electricity, and in many homes, water.

At least 59 deaths across the U.S. have been blamed on the blast of unseasonable weather.

Biden came into office Jan. 20 pledging to tackle a series of brewing crises, beginning with the coronavirus pandemic and its ripple impact on the economy. He tacked on structural inequality and climate change as top priorities. And now he’s contending with hurricanes that have not only imperilled Americans but also postponed the shipment and administration of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines.

Biden said Friday that he plans to fly to Texas next week but doesn’t want his presence and the accompanying presidential entourage to detract from the recovery.

“They’re working like the devil to take care of their folks,” Biden said of Texas officials. He said he’d make a decision early next week about travel.

Biden, who offered himself during the campaign as the seasoned and empathetic candidate the nation needed at this moment in time, is working on many fronts to fix the crisis — and to avoid repeating the mistakes of predecessors who got tripped up by insufficient or insensitive responses in times of tragedy.

Part of the role of becoming president is reacting to the damage left behind by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters, or incidents like deadly mass shootings, or even acts of terrorism.

Some have treated those circumstances better than others.

George W. Bush received praised for his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but failed during his administration’s halting response to the humanitarian crisis that occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast four years later.

Barack Obama said he should have expected the blowback he received for going to the golf course right after he condemned the beheading of a kidnapped American journalist by Islamist militants in 2014. Obama was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard at the time.

Donald Trump was blamed for throwing rolls of paper towels into a crowd of people in Puerto Rico who had experienced Hurricane Maria’s pummeling of the island in 2017. He defended tossing the towels, claiming the people were “having fun.”

Bill Clinton, who famously claimed during the 1992 presidential campaign that “I feel your pain,” was a natural at communicating with disaster victims.

Just this week, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas revealed how easily one bad move during a crisis can become a public relations nightmare for a politician.

Cruz came under attack for travelling to Mexico while his constituents struggled without fuel, heat and running water. He was especially panned by his explanation that his daughters pushed for the getaway because they were out of school. Cruz later said the trip was a mistake.

Biden has tweeted about Texas and the other affected states, while the White House has released several statements aimed at showing that the federal government is in charge of the situation.

The president is getting daily updates from his team and has proclaimed states of emergency in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. He said Friday that he will soon declare a major disaster in the state of Texas and that he has requested federal agencies to identify additional funding to address the suffering.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has sent hundreds of generators and supplies, including fuel, water, blankets and ready-to-eat meals, to the affected areas.

Biden has talked to the governors of the seven states most affected by the winter weather. He tweeted a picture of himself on the phone with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.

Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, a loyal supporter of Trump’s, was quick to applaud Biden for swift action on a disaster declaration.

After speaking with Biden by telephone earlier this week, Stitt directly thanked the president for “taking the time to reach out this afternoon and offer the federal government’s help for Oklahomans. We had a very fruitful call and I look forward to working together to find solutions as we recover from this historic storm.”

Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said Biden is “well-suited” to deal with the tragedy because of his decades of service in the U.S. Senate and as a former vice president and because of “his genuine concern for people.”

“He’s got to show empathy right off the bat,” Perry said in an interview. “It’s important for a president to go to a place that’s been battered, but be careful about the footprint. He doesn’t want to make it worse.”

Biden, should he decide to visit Texas next week, could also use the trip to stress his argument that climate change is real and must not go unaddressed, and that the state should do things like winterize its power plants to be better prepared for potential storms, Perry said.

But he should take sure to not do so in a scolding kind of way.

“We know he cares about climate change, and this is a way to convince people,” Perry said.

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