Trump’s rhetoric casts doubt on how he responds to natural disasters

President Donald Trump and the first lady visited Alabama on Friday to survey damaged areas and offer support to locals after a slate of deadly tornadoes ripped across the region last weekend, killing 23 people, including four children.

After touching down in Fort Benning, Georgia, the couple headed to Lee County, Alabama, where much of the damage occurred. They flew over the tornado-torn county to assess the damage, traveled to a disaster-relief center to thank first responders and meet with survivors and volunteers, and stopped at a memorial to honor victims, CNN reported.

Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama thanked the president for visiting the state during a news conference on Thursday, according to the Associated Press, adding, “Seeing the devastation will take your breath away.”

The president’s visit comes after a controversial tweet he posted on Monday, writing: “FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been devastated by the Tornadoes.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who tweeted on Monday that she had spoken to Trump and was coordinating efforts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to evaluate next steps, thanked the president for his support. A day later, Trump approved a disaster declaration for Alabama, ordering federal aid to assist with recovery efforts.

But his “A Plus” tweet sparked concerns over how Trump responds to natural disasters and whether he is more gracious with his time and attention when the state aligns with his political leanings.

Disaster experts told INSIDER that Trump’s tweets and rhetoric has cast doubt on FEMA’s efforts as an apolitical agency to provide relief to survivors.

“My first reaction was that there’s no such thing as an A-plus. Every disaster response should be as robust and targeted as possible, regardless of where you live,” Rafael Lemaitre, a former director of public affairs at FEMA during the Obama administration, said.

“The president has politicized disaster relief in a way we haven’t seen before, in terms of how he talks about it in public and how he’s used it as a mechanism for advancing whatever position he has, and that’s dangerous.”

After the California wildfires, Trump in part blamed the state for the disaster and said he ‘ordered FEMA to send no more money’

Alabama, a solidly red state in the heart of the South, swings in the opposite direction of California, a blue bastion that also experienced a devastating natural disaster last year when multiple wildfires tore through the state.

The Camp Fire in Paradise, a town north of Sacramento, was one of the worst in state history, killing 86 people and destroying nearly 14,000 residences and over 4,800 buildings, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Wildfires raged through Southern California around the same time.

Read more: California’s Camp Fire melted cars and reduced bodies to bone — these images show the horror of the state’s deadliest fire ever

A group of US Forest Service firefighters monitor a back fire while battling to save homes at the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, November 8, 2018.
REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The wildfires prompted former California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency, which Trump also did at the federal level to free up disaster funds for the state.

The Camp Fire was the world’s most expensive natural disaster in 2018, according to the global insurance group Munich RE, with $16.5 billion in damages.

Trump visited the state in November to tour affected communities, but then falsely claimed on Twitter that the wildfires were the result of poor forest management and threatened to cut critical federal aid.

In January, Trump wrote: “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!”

“If you are somebody in Paradise, California, who is still living in temporary housing because you lost everything, the last thing you need is more uncertainty in your life,” Lemaitre told INSIDER.

“They shouldn’t have to be concerned about the president yanking support for political reasons; they should be hearing that the chief executive is providing the resources and the tools that FEMA and other agencies need to complete their mission.”

Trump also faced criticism for what many saw as a lackluster Hurricane Maria response

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in September 2017, which devastated the island of Puerto Rico, Trump expressed similar rhetoric, reprimanding local leaders and threatening to pull aid while the island was still grappling with a major crisis.

In one tweet, he described San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz as “totally incompetent,” while falsely claiming in another that the island was using federal aid to pay off unrelated debt.

The powerful Category 4 storm damaged or destroyed more than a third of homes on the US commonwealth and debilitated the aging power grid. It took 10 months to restore power to the entire island.

The Trump administration and FEMA faced criticism for how its response to Hurricane Maria lagged behind the actions taken following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on the mainland, prompting a group of Democratic lawmakers to introduce a bill in June to establish an independent commission to investigate the federal response to Maria.

A man runs on the street next to debris and damaged cars after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico, September 20, 2017.
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Over a year after Maria hit, Puerto Rico continues to recover. The storm killed nearly 3,000 people, according to an August 2018 study by researchers at George Washington University and the University of Puerto Rico.

The president tweeted in response to that study, rebuking its findings, writing: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths,” adding in a follow-up tweet: “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible.”

Puerto Rico’s government raised the official death toll to 2,975 on August 28.

‘People at FEMA are going to do their jobs’ regardless of politics

Trump faced backlash for tossing rolls of paper towels like basketballs to victims of Hurricane Maria when he visited Puerto Rico.
Evan Vucci/AP

Craig Fugate, the former FEMA administrator under President Barack Obama, told INSIDER that despite the president’s tweets, the agency continues to provide relief to disaster victims to the best of its ability.

“Quite honestly, I find it very disrespectful that people even question [FEMA’s] efforts based upon the president’s tweets,” Fugate said. “The bottom line is the people at FEMA are going to do their jobs based upon the needs of the community, and it isn’t going to be based on politics.”

Lemaitre acknowledged that, at least for now, FEMA will continue to provide natural-disaster support because of the Stafford Act, which authorizes the government to provide assistance to states during declared disasters and emergencies.

He said the biggest challenge is how Trump’s rhetoric has eroded public confidence in federal institutions’ ability to provide relief.

“The rank-and-file people who work at FEMA are committed to its mission and continuously improve their support to the communities they serve over time. And I think that whenever the president politicizes disaster relief it can throw that into doubt,” Lemaitre told INSIDER.

“The truth is, disasters don’t care about politics. Disasters can happen anywhere and anytime, and one of the basic duties of the federal government before, during, and after disasters is to make sure that resources are available.”


Source

more recommended stories

  • Why Mueller report doesn’t signify end of Russia probe

    On Friday, the special counsel Robert.

  • Trump supporters celebrate end of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation

    President Donald Trump’s supporters celebrated the.

  • Mueller report: what happens next

    The special counsel Robert Mueller on.

  • Robert Mueller has turned in his full report on the Russia investigation

    The special counsel Robert Mueller has.

  • Photos: California’s super bloom of flowers can be seen from space

    The hot, dry hillsides of Southern.

  • Tijuana residents stealing concertina barbed wire on border for homes

    Voluminous bundles of concertina wire strung.

  • The Cinderella team that rocked March Madness the year you were born

    The 2010 NCAA tournament was defined.

  • Dog dies in cargo hold of Air France flight

    A dog died on an Air.

  • State’s Pompeo jokes Trump may fire him via tweet as rumors swirl

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made.

  • WHERE ARE THEY NOW: The cast of 'Pretty Little Liars'

    Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell,.

  • Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes similarities

    Boeing has come under scrutiny after.

  • New Zealand attorney general backtracks on semi-automatic weapons ban

    David Parker, the attorney general of.

  • New Zealand terror attacks: 50 dead, suspect identified as Brenton Tarrant

    The death toll for the deadly.

  • Watch Ryan Moore score a hole-in-one at the par 3 17th at Sawgrass

    Ryan Moore just nailed one of.

  • I tried Every Man Jack’s activated charcoal skin-care line — here’s what it’s like

    Insider Picks writes about products and.

  • Where to buy the new Adidas Ultra Boost 19

    Insider Picks writes about products and.

  • A photographer captured the last ten years his parents spent together, and the heartbreaking photos provide an intimate look at enduring love and loss

    Fine Arts photographer Paddy Summerfield’s series.

  • Cristiano Ronaldo brought Juventus back from the dead, beating Atletico 3-0

    Before a ball had even been.

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez more famous than top Republicans, Trump cabinet

    New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is.

  • Here are the finance executives charged in the college-admissions cheating scandal

    Manuel A. Henriquez is the cofounder,.

  • FDA to finish rules on e-cigarettes sales before Gottlieb resigns

    The US Food and Drug Administration.

  • The most stunning photos from this week’s news

    This week’s news included stunning shots.

  • Video suggests protesters set aid truck on fire at Venezuela border

    Last month, an US-backed effort to.

  • Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving free agency rumors are mounting

    Some believe that Durant may only.

  • Americans will need a visa to visit 22 European countries by 2021

    Travel to Europe won’t be so.

  • Air freight, a key measure of trade, sees biggest drop since 2015

    Air freight has been weakening since.

  • Elizabeth Warren call to break up Amazon, Google is a real threat

    It’s been a long time since.

  • The internet reacts to Mark Zuckerberg’s new privacy-focused Facebook

    On Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg published a.

  • Steam blocks ‘Rape Day’ game release due to ‘unknown costs and risks’

    Steam, the most popular platform for.

  • American Eagle exec says brand primed to capitalize on store closings

    Teen-focused brand American Eagle, which also.

  • Self-driving cars worse at detecting people with dark skin, study says

    A new study from the Georgia.

  • Disney World shut Discovery Island 20 years ago — take a look inside

    Disney World is marketed as a.