By Bonnie K. Goodman
Over a week after heavy rainstorms flooded Louisiana, President Barack Obama finally toured the most damaged areas. On Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, Obama visited Baton Rouge, Louisiana, saying his tour “is not a photo-op.” Obama waited until he finished his two-week vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts to tour the damage after much criticism locally in Louisiana and by Republicans particularly GOP nominee Donald Trump, who toured Louisiana last Friday, Aug. 20 with his vice presidential running mate Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
President Obama arrived in Louisiana at “11:45 a.m. Central time,” where he was met by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, his wife, Donna, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, and Sen. David Vitter, at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. He first visited Castle Place neighborhood, which had been affected badly by the floods. There Obama met and spoke with residents, rescuers and officials. The flooding caused 13 deaths, 106,000 households “registered for assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency,” and 60,000 homes were damaged. Afterward, the president met with the families of shooting victims Alton Sterling and the Baton Rouge Police Department.
After his tour, President Obama delivered some remarks. The president expressed, “I come here first and foremost to say that the prayers of the entire nation are with everybody who lost loved ones. We are heartbroken by the loss of life. There are also still people who are desperately trying to track down friends and family we are going to keep on helping them every way that we can.”
Continuing Obama said, “Sometimes when these kinds of things happen it can seem too much to bear but what I want the people of Louisiana to know is that you’re not alone on this. Even after the TV cameras leave. The whole country is going to continue to support you and help you until we get folks back in their homes and lives are rebuilt.”
President Obama also praised FEMA’s response, which they already spent $127 million on the tragedy. Obama said FEMA’s help is not enough, “Now, federal assistance alone won’t be enough to make people’s lives whole again so I’m asking every American to do what you can to help get families and local businesses back on their feet.”
The president also jabbed Trump for criticizing him because he did not cut his vacation short to tour the damage earlier. Obama expressed, “So let me just remind folks: sometimes once the floodwaters pass, people’s attention spans pass. This is not a one-off. This is not a photo-op issue. This is how do you make sure that a month from now, three months from now, six months from now people still are getting the help that they need.”
Trump toured the damage with his running mate Mike Pence on Friday, where the GOP nominee donated an 18-wheeler of supplies. Trump was still criticizing the president this past weekend after the White House announced the president’s Tuesday visit. Trump told Fox News, “Tuesday’s too late. Hop into the plane and go down and go to Louisiana and see what’s going on, because it’s a mess.”
The president has been widely criticized for not cutting his vacation short to visit the worst flooding in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Instead, Obama was golfing and fundraising for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who also did not visit Louisiana’s flooding victims. Both had been critical of then President George W. Bush when he flew over and did stop during Hurricane Katrina, and took three days to visit the devastation.
Obama took over a week, but the White House deflected the criticism by pointing out the president declared an emergency on Aug. 14, when aid kicked in and Obama received briefings in the interim. The White House was also defensive attacking Trump for saying the same thing Obama did back in 2007 when he was a Democratic candidate running for president. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One the “President is used to people trying to score political points even in situations where they shouldn’t.”
Clinton, who fiercely attacked Bush when she was a New York Senator running for the Democratic nomination in 2007, this time went after Trump for actually visiting the victims in a timely manner. Clinton issued a statement saying, “This month’s floods in Louisiana are a crisis that demand a national response. I am committed to visiting communities affected by these floods, at a time when the presence of a political campaign will not disrupt the response, to discuss how we can and will rebuild toge