- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By traveling to Texas to assess damage from Hurricane Harvey and boost the morale of survivors on Tuesday, President Trump and his team showed they have learned well the lessons of Hurricane Katrina.

The hurricane that hit New Orleans in 2005 not only devastated the city and surrounding region with heavy loss of life, it also crippled the presidency of George W. Bush. The slow and dysfunctional government response to Katrina was itself a disaster.

Just as bad from a political perspective, Mr. Bush waited too long to show his personal involvement in the recovery effort. Rather than tour the damage on the ground, Mr. Bush was photographed glimpsing the wreckage from a window of Air Force One as he flew over the devastated region on his way from a vacation in Texas back to Washington.

Americans criticized Mr. Bush as too detached from the suffering, and he later admitted it was a “huge mistake.”

“He almost never fully recovered from that,” said Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to former first lady Laura Bush. “The response to disasters is quite different, 12 years later. The most important thing that came out of Katrina were the lessons learned.”

From his first stop in Texas on Tuesday, Mr. Trump was intent on showing that he is engaged in the state’s recovery. After receiving a briefing from state officials at a firehouse in Annaville, Mr. Trump addressed several hundred people outside, climbing a ladder between two fire trucks and using a microphone and amplifier to be heard.

“We’re here to take care of you,” Mr. Trump said. “Texas can handle anything!”

The move was reminiscent of one of Mr. Bush’s most-iconic moments as president, when he grabbed a bullhorn amid the rubble of Ground Zero in New York after the 9/11 attacks and exhorted first responders.

“I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” Mr. Bush had said.

Not everyone was impressed with Mr. Trump’s attempted inspiration at the firehouse.

J. David McSwane, a pool reporter with the Dallas Morning News, described the crowd as “a few hundred Trump supporters who somehow managed to know exactly where the president was doing the briefing.”

“Reporters heard no mention of the dead, dying or displaced Texans and no expression of sympathy for them,” Mr. McSwane wrote in his report distributed to thousands of other journalists. “The message was services are coming and Texans will be OK.”

Mr. Trump’s response to the first natural disaster of his presidency began about 10 days before Harvey made landfall. Various Cabinet agencies, the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were coordinating with state officials to prepare for the impending disaster and positioning equipment and personnel near the areas likely to be hit worst.

“Members of the president’s Cabinet and the president himself were in contact with me and my office pre-preparing for this catastrophe coming our way,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican. “Every step of the way as the hurricane came across the shore, as the flooding began in Houston, Texas, the president and his Cabinet remained in constant contact with me and my staff, and they all had one thing to say — ‘Texas, what do you need? How can we help?’”

The president brought with him on Air Force One to Corpus Christi a large contingent of federal officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke and White House chief of staff John F. Kelly. First lady Melania Trump also accompanied the president on the trip.

“That sends a message that we’re going to have a coordinated effort from the federal government,” said Ms. McBride. “From that perspective, that was an important optic and an important recognition that this is a massive effort. It’s a test of the president, and it’s also a test of the efficacy of our government and how it works in delivering the services to people who are most vulnerable and in need.”

While Mr. Trump said on Monday that the recovery will be “a long and difficult road,” he told Texans on Tuesday, “We are going to get you back and operating immediately.”

Meanwhile, FEMA Administrator Brock Long was telling people that recovery will be a slow, frustrating process.”

“We’ve got a long time to go,” Mr. Long said.

The FEMA administrator also drew a comparison to the Katrina disaster, saying of Texas evacuation shelters, “This is not the Superdome.” It was a reference to the New Orleans arena where thousands sought refuge in nightmarish, filthy and dangerous conditions.

Ms. McBride said the president needs to emphasize the long-range timetable of recovery efforts. She noted that Mrs. Bush visited the Gulf Coast about two dozen times after Katrina.

“This is a long-term responsibility,” she said. “One of the most important things for a president and a first lady as well is to let people who have been affected know that they care, and that the country cares. But also in the long haul, it can’t be a one-off. You have to be able to convey the concern after the immediate shock passes. This is a long recovery.”

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