President Obama will interrupt his Martha’s Vineyard golf vacation after all to assess flood-ravaged Louisiana on Tuesday.
This change of plans comes after today’s visit to the affected area by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and his VP running mate, Mike Pence. Trump met with first responders, disasters victims, and handed out supplies following the worst disaster there since Hurricane Katrina. Trump also donated an 18-wheeler loaded with supplies to the relief effort. Trump pledged his support to rebulding the flood zone, which has been declared a federal disaster area.
Up until today, Obama was not slated to visit Louisiana to personally view the devastation, with Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson claiming that the president’s schedule was very busy. Obama has been receiving updates from federal officials on the situation in Louisiana during his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, however.
“Trump traveled across flood-ravaged areas through East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes, where piles of debris — water-logged couches, mattresses, baby cribs, televisions and other items — line the roadway,” the Advocate of Louisiana reported.
“Record flooding across Louisiana has killed at least 13 people. Over 85,000 people have registered for federal disaster assistance, more than 30,000 have been rescued, and an estimated 40,000 homes have been damaged,” Fox News detailed.
Hillary Clinton has yet to announce any plans to visit the area, although she checked in with John Bel Edwards, the governor of the state, by telephone. She apparently is also visiting Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy vacation island enclave in Massachusetts, this weekend as part of husband Bill’s 70th birthday party celebration.
In 2005, the media, many politicians, including Barack Obama, and just about everyone else bashed President George W. Bush unmercifully for his flyover of the New Orleans area devastated by Katrina.
The Hill columnist Joe Concha compared and contrasted the media coverage. or lack thereof, of both presidents.
“A very simple question, if George W. Bush was president right now and playing golf with celebrities in one of the richest zip codes in the country, would the headlines again be everywhere that portray him as insensitive, out-of-touch, even a racist president be the same now as they were 2005? Of course they would. Instead, President Obama continues his vacation that includes fundraising events for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the relative silence is deafening.”
Earlier this week, Louisiana Governor Bel Edwards indicated he was receiving sufficient federal support and suggested that fellow Democrat Obama should wait until the situation stabilized before visiting.
“He added that while the president can visit whenever he’d like, he’d prefer him to wait ‘a week or two’ because such visits require local police and first responders to help block roads and provide security,” ABC News noted.
Similarly, President Bush at the time held off on making a personal visit to New Orleans so as to not detract from the important work of the first responders.
Trump in Michigan: "The devastation, they've never seen anything like it...Obama better get off the golf course and go down there."— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) August 19, 2016
In announcing Obama’s visit to Baton Rouge on Tuesday, the White House explained that “The President is mindful of the impact that his travel has on first responders and wants to ensure that his presence does not interfere with ongoing recovery efforts. He is also eager to get a first-hand look at the impact of the devastating floods, hear from more officials about the response, including how the federal government can assist and tell the people of Louisiana that the American people will be with them as they rebuild their community and come back stronger than ever.”
Exactly two years ago, President Obama was subject to much criticism after immediately returning to a Martha’s Vineyard golf course after delivering brief remarks about the ISIS beheading of journalist James Foley.
While high-profile visits to disaster areas are often assailed as glorified photo ops, they can also bring necessary awareness (and follow-up public and private sector support) to those in need.
“And I want to thank Mr. Trump for coming to Louisiana. I think the governor’s admonition about not using it as a press op is a good one, but he brought attention to our state, and we need that now, because, this disaster, Brianna, is far larger than people can appreciate on television…and I hope Secretary Clinton will make her way down, I hope President Obama will make a visit. And we need all the attention and help we can get,” said former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat and Clinton supporter, on CNN this afternoon.
In an editorial published two days, the Advocate called upon President Obama to put down his golf clubs and travel to Louisiana given that the flood waters had subsided.
“Sometimes, presidential visits can get in the way of emergency response, doing more harm than good. But we don’t see that as a factor now that flood waters are subsiding, even if at an agonizing pace. It’s past time for the president to pay a personal visit, showing his solidarity with suffering Americans…And if the president can interrupt his vacation for a swanky fundraiser for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton, as he did on Monday, then surely he can make time to show up for a catastrophe that’s displaced thousands. The optics of Obama golfing while Louisiana residents languished in flood waters was striking. It evoked the precedent of the passive federal response to the state’s agony in 2005, a chapter of history no one should ever repeat…”
[Photo by Max Becherer/AP Images]