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As Trump Tours Flood-Ravaged La., White House Announces Obama's Going, Too

Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, right, help to unload supplies for flood victims during a tour of the flood damaged area in Gonzales, La., Friday.
Max Becherer
Donald Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, right, help to unload supplies for flood victims during a tour of the flood damaged area in Gonzales, La., Friday.

On the same day Donald Trump was touring areas of Louisiana affected by record flooding, the White House announced President Obama will be heading to Louisiana, too.

Here was the White House's statement released Friday afternoon:

"This morning, President Obama received an update from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on the ongoing response and recovery efforts to the severe flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, following the Secretary's trip to the region on Thursday. During his visit, Secretary Johnson met with state and local officials, viewed the ongoing response and recovery efforts, and visited local shelters where those impacted by the flooding are receiving food and disaster-caused needs.

"While in Martha's Vineyard, the President has received updates on the situation in Louisiana, including from the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator, who took separate trips there. The President today directed his team to coordinate with Louisiana officials to determine an appropriate time for him to visit, and together they have determined that the President will visit Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Tuesday, August 23rd. Additional details will be announced in the coming days. The President is 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 is also eager to get a first-hand look at the impact of the devastating floods, hear from more officials about the response, including how the federal government can assist and tell the people of Louisiana that the American people will be with them as they rebuild their community and come back stronger than ever."

The president has been on vacation in Martha's Vineyard and has faced some criticism for not visiting Louisiana. A Louisiana newspaper, The Advocate, wrote in an editorial:

"Sometimes, presidential visits can get in the way of emergency response, doing more harm than good. But we don't see that as a factor now that flood waters are subsiding, even if at an agonizing pace. It's past time for the president to pay a personal visit, showing his solidarity with suffering Americans."

The Democratic governor of the state, John Bel Edwards, though, has said he has no problem with the president not having visited or the federal response.

"I'm not complaining in any way about our federal partnership," Edwards said in a news conference Thursday.

The president signed a Louisiana disaster declaration five days ago, making federal funding available for the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa.

He added that a potential presidential trip could divert needed first-responder resources. "Quite frankly, that's not something I want to go through right now," the governor said. "I would just as soon he wait a week or two. And then he can visit."

Edwards said he welcomed Trump to Louisiana, but said in a statement that Trump had not informed him of the trip and was critical of a potential "photo op."

"Instead, we hope he'll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Relief Fund to help the victims of this storm," a statement from Edwards' office read.

Trump has not indicated if he would make such a donation. While in Louisiana Friday, Trump — in a blazer, khakis and a white Make America Great Again hat — was videotaped passing out supplies from a truck.

"It's a great place," Trump said. "I've had a great history with Louisiana. They need a lot of help. What's happened here is incredible. Nobody understands how bad it is. I'm just here to help."

He added at an event in Michigan this evening: "To the people of Louisiana, we are with you and will always be with you." He said he "saw strength" and "spirit" and that "they will overcome." He then shifted his talk to jobs and that country had "A lot to overcome, especially when it comes to jobs being sent to foreign lands." (Clinton has gone after Trumpfor making his ties and shirts overseas.)

More than 40,000 homes have been damaged in the flooding in Louisiana, and 13 people have died.

"The current flooding in Louisiana is the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy," Brad Kieserman, vice president for Disaster Services Operations and Logistics for the Red Cross, said in a statement. "The Red Cross is mounting a massive relief operation, which we anticipate will cost at least $30 million and that number may grow as we learn more about the scope and magnitude of the devastation."

Hillary Clinton has not visited Louisiana. She released a statement Friday on Facebook, saying she had just spoken to the state's governor and in a veiled reference to Trump, she said, "My heart breaks for Louisiana, and right now, the relief effort can't afford any distractions. The very best way this team can help is to make sure Louisianans have the resources they need."

She urged people to donate to the Red Crossor the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.