President Barack Obama will visit Louisiana on Tuesday to assess flood damage there, days after he was criticized for not cutting short his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to view the devastation in the Gulf Coast state.
Obama, who returned on Sunday from his annual August vacation on the Massachusetts island, is expected to tour areas in the state capital, Baton Rouge, hit by record flooding and to meet with Louisiana officials to discuss recovery efforts.
The White House on Monday defended the president’s decision not to visit the state sooner, saying Obama was more focused on the federal response to the crisis than securing photo opportunities.
“There’s an all too common temptation to focus on the politics and to focus on the optics,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a news briefing. “But the survivors of the flooding in Louisiana are not well served by a political discussion, they’re well served by a competent, effective, strong, coordinated government response.”
The deluge that dumped more than 2-1/2 feet of rain on parts of Louisiana has been described as the worst U.S. disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The floods have killed at least 13 people and damaged more than 60,000 homes.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump toured the state on Friday. He said Obama should have taken time from his break to travel to Louisiana.
On social media, some Louisiana residents and others urged Obama to visit, and Baton Rouge’s newspaper, The Advocate, voiced a similar view.
Obama received updates on the flooding during his vacation from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, who have both visited Louisiana.
The president’s travel requires a huge retinue of Secret Service agents and assistance from local and state law enforcement officials, so the White House usually waits to visit disaster zones to avoid tying up police and emergency resources needed elsewhere.
Despite the criticism about the timing of Obama’s visit, Earnest said FEMA had received bipartisan praise for its work in the aftermath of the flooding, unlike the criticism the agency faced following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 under then-President George W. Bush.
“I think the effectiveness of the response thus far speaks for itself,” Earnest said. “And I think frankly, it’s the most effective way to answer any of the politically motivated criticism that the president has faced.”
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Peter Cooney)