Trump on Hurricane Florence: Get out

President Trump urges residents in the path of Hurricane Florence to listen to their local officials and evacuate ahead of the storm.

Posted: Sep 12, 2018 3:21 PM
Updated: Sep 12, 2018 3:21 PM

As he braces for Hurricane Florence, President Donald Trump is stoking new outrage over his refusal to accept any blame for the relief effort following Puerto Rico's monster storm last year.

On Tuesday he insisted the operation had been "incredibly successful," despite shocking new figures putting the death toll at nearly 3,000.

Again Wednesday morning, Trump said his administration's work in Puerto Rico was not appreciated.

"We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!" Trump tweeted.

The President's refusal to ever admit a mistake and to hype his own perceived achievements struck a jarring note, even as he tried to project a smoother response to the potentially historic hurricane bearing down on the Carolinas.

Every hurricane season challenges presidents, bringing tests of organization and coordination with state and local governments, political positioning and empathy, given the multiday relief operations, budget emergencies and grave humanitarian consequences that often unfold.

As a major hurricane approaches, everyone's focus should be on saving lives. But each storm also has a political dimension. For a White House under siege over Bob Woodward's new book and an anonymous New York Times op-ed by a senior official criticizing the president, days of news coverage of the storm may offer a short breathing space.

A strong performance by the president might even temporarily boost his ebbing approval ratings. But the risks are also high -- no one in the White House will need reminding that a presidency already in crisis simply cannot afford the new hit of a botched response.

'Ready'

Trump appeared in the Oval Office alongside a map showing the expected path of Florence, which is expected to blast the East Coast with damaging winds and saturating rainfall from early on Friday. He had a simple message.

"We are as ready as anybody has ever been," Trump said, projecting an image of resolve and seamless management at a time when his leadership style is being criticized as never before, as he appeared with top Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security chiefs.

The President warned the storm would be "tremendously big and tremendously wet" and that the government was sparing "no expense" and was "totally prepared."

The first priority of any White House ahead of a storm is to ensure that lines of communication are open with local authorities and federal resources are ready to deploy. A President also has an incomparable megaphone to warn people to obey evacuation orders.

But hurricane season is also a nervous time for White House press operations. Presidents have taken serious political hits for botching relief efforts -- the most notorious occasion was when Hurricane Katrina in 2005 helped devastate George W. Bush's second term.

Trump fumbled in his first hurricane season. His visit to Texas to assess conditions after Hurricane Harvey was criticized because of his upbeat rhetoric that at times seemed more in keeping with a political campaign than a relief effort.

His apparent fascination with the size of storms and their destructive potential, which fits his often-hyperbolic view of the world, can sound off-key.

Still, it's not easy for new presidents to find the right tone at moments of national peril, and it sometimes takes time for them to adjust to the role of consoler-in-chief -- one reason why Trump's hurricane response will be closely watched this year.

Shadow of Puerto Rico

Often last year, Trump appeared most keen to paint his administration's efforts as a huge success, awarding his team top marks for the federal response to Maria, even though much of Puerto Rico was without power for months after the storm.

In Puerto Rico, Trump was also seen throwing rolls of paper towels to the crowd at a photo-op at a distribution center outside San Juan, even as stories of a humanitarian crisis were beginning to emerge.

Earlier this month, the island's governor formally raised the death toll from 64 to an estimated 2,975 following a study conducted by researchers at George Washington University.

Still, Trump will not accept any blame. The White House has put the problems down to deficiencies with the commonwealth's power grid that existed before the hurricane struck.

"I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it's an island. You can't truck things onto it. Everything is by boat," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

"The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did, working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think, was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success," the President said, characteristically conjuring an alternative reality when the prevailing one is uncomfortable for him politically.

But Trump's continued claims of success despite the elevated death toll seem inappropriate, a point made by one of his principal critics on the issue, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

"The President keeps adding insult to injury and I think his words are despicable." she told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.

"They really do not have any connection with reality. It just shows that for him, everything is about him and political posturing. The man has no idea, he has no solidarity, no sympathy, no empathy for anything that does not make him look good," she said.

"He says he has done a good job when 3,000 people have died."

Democratic rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is running for a House of Representatives seat from New York, also took exception to Trump's latest self-congratulatory remarks.

"Some of my PR family JUST got power a few weeks ago. People are developing respiratory issues partly due to airborne fungal spores from lack of proper cleanup. The admin's response to Puerto Rico has been a disaster," she tweeted.

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas said Tuesday on CNN's "The Situation Room" that for the President to brag about his government's response to Maria when nearly 3,000 people had died was "an insult to humanity."

Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, whose state is within Florence's projected track, declined to comment about Trump's remarks on Puerto Rico. But he said he was confident in preparations for the current emergency.

"I am going to tell you the cooperation and response that I have experienced with this FEMA versus any FEMA for the 25 years that I've been here has been exemplary," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 296745

Reported Deaths: 6783
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19731230
Hinds18881393
Harrison16780282
Rankin12787265
Jackson12643229
Lee9703161
Madison9484203
Jones8005147
Forrest7250138
Lauderdale6847227
Lowndes6033140
Lamar590980
Lafayette5747113
Washington5229130
Bolivar4620124
Oktibbeha442194
Panola432396
Pearl River4193132
Warren4138115
Pontotoc410771
Marshall404492
Monroe3993128
Union396474
Neshoba3822170
Lincoln3564104
Hancock350277
Leflore3389119
Sunflower319286
Tate303374
Pike301796
Scott295271
Alcorn292463
Yazoo290865
Itawamba290275
Coahoma282069
Tippah279565
Copiah279259
Simpson276680
Prentiss271158
Wayne254541
Leake253172
Marion252778
Covington249780
Grenada248578
Adams235078
George232445
Newton231252
Winston221979
Jasper213845
Tishomingo212965
Attala206870
Chickasaw201453
Holmes182770
Clay179251
Stone173029
Tallahatchie171439
Clarke169672
Calhoun158528
Smith153033
Yalobusha145536
Greene127933
Walthall124540
Noxubee123131
Montgomery122939
Perry122235
Lawrence120621
Carroll119025
Amite112235
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99523
Claiborne99129
Benton93924
Humphreys93027
Kemper90423
Quitman77414
Franklin76219
Choctaw69817
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62427
Sharkey49117
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 498076

Reported Deaths: 10094
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson716711387
Mobile36294737
Madison32616468
Tuscaloosa24340421
Montgomery22739519
Shelby22174218
Baldwin19873289
Lee15039157
Calhoun13832293
Morgan13753254
Etowah13390325
Marshall11448211
Houston10124264
Elmore9483190
Limestone9420138
St. Clair9022227
Cullman8984182
Lauderdale8612214
DeKalb8489175
Talladega7606165
Walker6585259
Jackson6545104
Autauga632492
Blount6236127
Colbert6001121
Coffee5264103
Dale4671107
Russell406933
Franklin399878
Covington3993106
Chilton3898103
Escambia379173
Tallapoosa3622143
Clarke344053
Chambers3431111
Dallas3422142
Pike293373
Marion288695
Lawrence284985
Winston258368
Bibb246160
Geneva240370
Marengo238857
Pickens225457
Barbour213651
Hale212269
Fayette202057
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178039
Monroe166739
Randolph164840
Washington156836
Macon147745
Crenshaw146255
Clay145954
Cleburne139841
Lamar133733
Lowndes132751
Wilcox122925
Bullock117336
Conecuh107024
Perry106127
Sumter99732
Coosa90224
Greene88532
Choctaw55323
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