President Obama took advantage of a lull in the uproar over the Internal Revenue Service, Justice Department and Benghazi scandals Tuesday to team up again with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for a high-profile tour of storm-recovery efforts on the Jersey shore.
With Congress out of town for a weeklong Memorial Day recess, the president spent the afternoon inspecting the progress New Jersey beach communities have made since Superstorm Sandy slammed the area in October.
After trying his hand at arcade football in Point Pleasant and visiting the boardwalk in Asbury Park, Mr. Obama declared that the Jersey shore is “back in business” just seven months after the storm inflicted $38 billion worth of damage to the state’s seaside towns.
The job of rebuilding is not over, Mr. Obama cautioned, noting that his return to the state he visited last fall in the storm’s immediate aftermath is intended to demonstrate the federal government’s long-term commitment to restoring the area.
Already, he said, inhabitants of the Jersey shore and the hard-hit areas of New York are demonstrating their resilience.
“You are stronger than the storm,” Mr. Obama said. “After all you’ve dealt with, after all you’ve been through, the Jersey Shore is back and it is open for business.”
The message is intended not only for residents in New Jersey, but also for the people in Oklahoma who are just starting to dig out of the debris and rubble from the May 20 tornado that tore through the town of Moore, killing 24 people.
In referencing Oklahoma, Mr. Obama flubbed the name of the hardest hit town, giving a shoutout to the people of “Monroe” instead of “Moore.”
“When you look out at the beach here, even in the rain it looks good,” he said. “You can count on the fact that you won’t be alone. Your fellow citizens will be there for you. Just like we’ll be there for folks in Breezy Point and Staten Island, and obviously we’re going to be there for folks in Monroe, Okla.
“When we make a commitment that we got your back, we mean it,” he continued.
Turning to his host, Mr. Obama also heaped praise on Mr. Christie for leading the recovery effort.
Despite the rosy rhetoric, homeowners trying to rebuild are still facing significant strains as they relocate and try to borrow money while keeping mortgage banks, threatening foreclosure, at bay.
One Jersey shore homeowner, Kathleen Murphy of Brick, has launched a petition on change.org to try to stop Wells Fargo from foreclosing on homeowners affected by Superstorm Sandy. The petition, which has gathered more than 7,000 signatures, calls on the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure that Wells Fargo allows homeowners the chance to rebuild.
Wells Fargo spokesman Jim Hines said the company let Mrs. Murphy know earlier this month that she was approved for an extended payment moratorium, although he said he couldn’t relay the length of the extension because of privacy considerations.
Mr. Hines said Wells Fargo has helped more than 23,000 customers with insurances claims, payment assistance and foreclosure prevention since Sandy hit and referred customers looking for help to its disaster hotline at 888-818-9147 or website’s “Get Help with Disaster Recovery” section.
In his Tuesday remarks, the president glossed over specific problems residents are still facing.
He and Mr. Christie stopped into an arcade in Point Pleasant, where the storm had pulverized roughly half the boardwalk. Chatting like old friends, they played the arcade game “Touchdown Fever” and tried to win a stuffed bear by tossing a football through a tire. Mr. Obama tried and missed a few times. But Mr. Christie threw the ball through the tire on his first and only try.
“That’s because he’s running for office,” Mr. Obama said after giving him a high-five that ended in a clasp.
When the two appeared under a steady rain on the boardwalk at Asbury Park, a crowd of nearly 4,000 gathered in ponchos and raincoats to hear them speak.
“Republicans, Democrats, independents — we all came together because New Jersey is important and our citizens are more important than any kind of politics at all,” Mr. Christie said as he introduced Mr. Obama.
Despite the rain, Mr. Obama basked in the bipartisanship he has had difficulty finding in the nation’s capital. Still, there are signs Mr. Obama’s bipartisan bliss will be short-lived.
The House Judiciary Committee is investigating whether Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. lied under oath during testimony about the Justice Department’s surveillance of reporters. NBC News reported last week that Mr. Holder personally approved a search warrant that labeled Fox News’ Washington correspondent James Rosen a conspirator in a national security leaks case.
Meanwhile, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, announced Tuesday that he has subpoenaed State Department documents related to the Benghazi talking points.