KENNER, La. — In what the White House billed unconvincingly as a non-political trip, President Obama played catch-up Monday to Republican rival Mitt Romney by inspecting damage in Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac and meeting with flood victims.
Mr. Obama toured St. John the Baptist Parish, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, which suffered heavy flooding in the storm last week. He praised the federal government’s coordinated action with state and local officials, contrasting his administration’s emergency response with the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"Sometimes in the past we havent seen the kind of coordination that is necessary in response to these kinds of disasters," Mr. Obama said after meeting with displaced residents in LaPlace, La. "This time we've seen it."
Mr. Obama also praised the resilience of residents in Louisiana and Mississippi, and said the recovery efforts show how Americans work together in time of need.
"When disasters like this happen, we set aside whatever petty disagreements we may have," the president said. "Nobody's a Democrat or a Republican, we’re all just Americans looking out for one another."
The president was beaten to the punch, at least in the sense of photo-ops, by Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, who toured the area on Friday. Mr. Obama cut short a Labor Day campaign trip in Ohio to show his concern for Gulf Coast residents affected by the storm.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the visit to Louisiana was not political.
"I think that disasters are apolitical," Mr. Carney told reporters traveling with the president. "And I think that the way we respond to disasters should be apolitical."
Then he got political, accusing Mr. Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, of giving short shrift to disaster aid.
"When it comes to the kinds of choices politicians make in Washington about what their priorities are, it is worth noting that last year there was an effort to underfund the money that’s used to provide relief for Americans when they’ve been hit by disasters," Mr. Carney said. "That effort was led by Congressman Paul Ryan who is now running for vice president of the United States."
A spokesman for Mr. Ryan fired back, citing seven House votes since 2005 in which Mr. Ryan supported disaster aid.
"Apparently there's nothing the president's team won't politicize," said Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck.
"Paul Ryan believes providing aid to victims of natural disasters is a critical obligation and should be treated as a high priority within a fiscally responsible budget. It’s sad that the White House would stoop to using this heartbreaking event as an opportunity to distort his record and play politics. A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure there is disaster funding for those in need. Period."
Mr. Obama tried to convince people his visit wasn’t political. As he met with local officials and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in LaPlace, he commented that such trips are "not just for photo-ops."
He was being photographed by the traveling White House press pool as he made the comment.
Outside, at a shopping center with a Radio Shack, Hibachi Supreme Buffet and Cash America Pawn Shop, a crowd chanted, "We want the president!"
Mr. Jindal has been calling for the federal government to cover all costs associated with the storm. Mr. Obama approved standard disaster relief in which the federal government pays 75 percent and the state pays 25 percent.
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