Trump Pledges Swift Financial Aid to Harvey's Victims
President Trump on Monday assured hundreds of thousands of disaster victims that Congress and his administration will swiftly deploy federal funding to Texas and perhaps Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
“We’ve pledged our full support,” he said.
The category 4 hurricane, expected to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, displaced an estimated 30,000 people and claimed the lives of nine -- including a family of six victims who died inside a flooded van -- as of Monday evening.
“I think you’ll be up and running very, very quickly,” Trump told a Dallas Morning News journalist during a White House news conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. “You’re going to have what you need, and it’s going to go fast.”
Trump, during his first extensive public comments about the disaster response, said he spoke again Monday with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and with key lawmakers, and planned to visit the hard-hit region Tuesday, and again this weekend. Trump issued an emergency declaration for Louisiana Monday at the request of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Approximately a quarter of Texas’s population lives in disaster areas eligible for federal aid. The continuous rain, wind, storm surge and massive flooding are expected to cause economic losses of perhaps $40 billion by the time recovery begins in earnest, according to some risk analysts.
Hurricane Katrina, in comparison, left behind more than $47 billion in estimated destruction and losses in 2005. The role of the federal government in providing support for economic devastation following major hurricanes has become more frequent and more expensive over the decades, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Vice President Pence, who used a handful of radio interviews to communicate Monday with national and Texas-based audiences, encouraged Harvey’s victims to apply immediately for federal disaster aid online at DisasterAssistance.gov, if possible. Pence, a former Indiana governor, said an estimated 500,000 people in the region are likely to apply to FEMA for help; 22,000 people had done so as of Monday, he added.
The applications for help will present a significant administrative challenge for FEMA, as well as state and local officials.
The assurances from Trump and Pence of rapid assistance from Washington echoed a mostly bipartisan outpouring of concern expressed by congressional leaders and members of the Texas delegation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said the executive branch must trigger the disaster appropriations process with a formal request to Capitol Hill for resources.
“We will help those affected by this terrible disaster,” said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong. “The first step in that process is a formal request for resources from the administration.”
Trump said his challenge last week to lawmakers to approve funding for his proposed wall along the Texas-Mexico border, as well as across other southwestern states, was a “separate” bone of contention with Congress. The president last week threatened a government shutdown if lawmakers do not approve at least $1.6 billion in new funding in fiscal 2018 to support new construction of a barrier, fence or wall.
Trump softened his shutdown threat Monday. “I hope that’s not necessary,” he said.
But he did not relent. The battle on Capitol Hill over appropriations for the wall will be sharper and more partisan than the collaboration to respond to the hurricane.
“We need the wall very badly,” Trump insisted.
The wall he promised his supporters during last year’s campaign would curb illegal drugs from entering the United States from Mexico, he said.
Although the Mexican government has refused Trump’s entreaty to foot the bill for the wall, the president maintains that U.S. taxpayers eventually will receive reimbursement from Mexico. He has not explained how.
During the East Room session with reporters, the president also defended the executive pardon he granted Friday to former Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Pulling a single, folded piece of paper from his breast pocket, Trump defended his decision to grant clemency to a controversial law enforcement agent convicted of violating a federal judge’s order to cease profiling people he believed to be illegal immigrants. Arpaio’s sentencing had been scheduled Oct. 5, but Trump did not wait, and did not follow the customary Department of Justice protocol for a presidential pardon.
Trump called Arpaio a “patriot” who he believed had been “unfairly treated” by the Obama administration. He did not assert that Arpaio was innocent of the charges on which he was convicted.
The president, reading from notes describing past acts of presidential mercy, faulted President Clinton for issuing a pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich, as well as to an ex-terrorist with the Weather Underground, Susan Rosenberg, and for commuting the sentence of a notorious convicted drug dealer.
He faulted President Obama for commuting former intelligence contractor Chelsea Manning’s lengthy sentence for leaking government secrets, and for commuting Oscar Lopez Rivera’s 70-year sentence for numerous offenses tied to bombings carried out in the 1970s and 1980s by the Puerto Rican nationalist group F.A.L.N. Rivera, released in May at age 74 after serving nearly half his sentence, was the last member of the group remaining in prison.
“Horrible, horrible,” Trump said of Obama’s clemency decisions.
James Arkin contributed to this report.