President Donald Trump on Saturday got up close and personal with the victims of Hurricane Harvey, picking up and kissing children, shaking hands, posing for pictures, handing out meals and offering words of comfort — seemingly pulling off a do-over after a stilted visit earlier this week.
Trump arrived in Houston Saturday morning for his second trip to Texas since the state was devastated by the storm, which has left the nation’s fourth most-populous city flooded and littered a trail of damage across the eastern part of the state.
But unlike his previous visit, when Trump did not see any significant damage or meet with victims, Saturday’s trip gave Trump a chance to play the role of empathizer-in-chief, a potentially uncomfortable fit for the former reality television star who generally eschews such encounters.
Still, Trump could not resist talking up his administration’s response to the storm and commenting that the media coverage of his visit has been positive.
“They’re really happy with what’s going on,” Trump told reporters of the storm victims he’d met with at the NRG Convention Center, which is serving as a major shelter in the city. “It’s something that’s been very well received, even by you guys it’s been very well received.”
And Trump said he wanted the people of Texas to know, in effect, that his administration is doing an effective job in responding to a disaster that has led more than 400,000 households to request housing assistance or repairs.
“The message is that things are working out well,” Trump said. “Really, I think people appreciate what’s been done. It’s been done very efficiently, very well, and that’s what we want. We’re very happy with the way everything is going. A lot of love. There’s a lot of love.”
He also managed to get in some talk of his election victory — one of his favorite topics — with members of the military at the NRG Center. As Trump greeted a group of them, one remarked, “We voted for you.”
“You better,” Trump responded lightly. “Who didn’t in your world? Who didn’t?”
Trump was accompanied on the visit by First Lady Melania Trump, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Trump largely worked the room on his own. Socializing with groups of children in a dark rain jacket, he was quick to bend down and lift them in the air, or deliver a kiss on the forehead. The diverse crowd seemed buoyed by his visit, with a number of people walking up to him to pose for pictures.
Trump spent about 45 minutes at the shelter before departing for a meeting with members of Texas’ congressional delegation. He traveled to Louisiana later on Saturday and met with some of the state’s members of Congress and first responders.
The storm marks the first major natural disaster of Trump’s administration, with a years-long recovery effort anticipated. Already the death toll from the storm is at 47, and it is expected to rise. The White House formally asked Congress Friday night for an immediate infusion of $7.85 billion of aid for the region, with another $6.7 billion likely to be needed by month’s end.
The administration’s response has received generally positive reviews so far, and Trump appears to have escaped the type of political fallout that bedeviled President George W. Bush in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Still, Trump was met with criticism for not meeting with victims during his initial visit, after which he claimed to have seen the devastation “first hand.” The White House said Trump avoided the worst-hit areas so as not to interfere with rescue and recovery efforts.
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