President Obama said he will visit flood-ravaged Louisiana on Tuesday amid calls from some Republicans for him to cut short his vacation to survey the damage.
Obama’s announcement followed consultations with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who returned from the area Thursday. It also came after Friday’s visit to the region by Republican nominee Donald Trump, who called for a more robust national response.
For much of Thursday, senior White House officials said a presidential visit could siphon away resources needed to help those suffering. They also pointed to praise for the federal response from both top Republicans and Democrats on the ground in the state.
On Friday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that the president wanted to get a “first-hand look at the impact of the devastating floods,” which have led to the deaths of at least 13 people and damaged 40,000 homes. Red Cross officials described the flooding as the country’s worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Even as he announced the president’s intention to travel to Louisiana, Earnest said the president remained “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 said Obama was eager to hear more officials on the ground about the response, including how the federal government can assist in the recovery and rebuilding efforts.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) on Thursday said that he preferred that Obama hold off on visiting to avoid diverting resources from recovery efforts.
Obama is scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday, so the visit to Louisiana will not force him to curtail his vacation. In 2014, as Islamic State forces blitzed through northern Iraq and threatened Baghdad, Obama returned to Washington from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., for meetings with top national security officials.
The announcement of a presidential trip early next week could help lessen the sting of the growing calls for Obama to visit Louisiana. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter and longtime Obama critic, wrote Friday in a message on Twitter: “Sad that Obama [can’t] leave vacation for one day.” On Thursday, the Advocate, Baton Rouge’s largest newspaper, slammed Obama for his failure to visit the region.
White House officials said the president has continued to receive updates on the situation in Louisiana throughout his stay in Martha’s Vineyard.