WASHINGTON — President Trump said Monday that he may visit the Gulf Coast two or three times this week — with stops in Texas and possibly Louisiana — to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, the worst natural disaster to hit the nation during his seven-month-old presidency.
Trump expressed amazement at the magnitude of the disaster but promised a swift and long-term federal government response.
"Nobody's ever seen anything like it. I've heard the words 'epic,' I've heard 'historic.' That's what it is," he said in remarks at the White House as he met with the president of Finland. "It’s like Texas. It’s really like Texas, if you think about it. But it is a historic amount of water."
Trump coordinated the federal response from the presidential retreat at Camp David over the weekend, declaring a federal disaster just before the storm made landfall on Friday. He extended that disaster declaration to Louisiana on Monday as the storm headed north.
Trump will travel to Corpus Christi, Tex. on Tuesday. He was previously scheduled a visit to Springfield, Mo. on Wednesday to talk about tax reform, but said he was planning to return to Texas — and possibly Louisiana — over the weekend.
“Tragic times such as these bring out the best in America’s character, strength, charity and resilience,” he said. “We see neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping friend and stranger helping stranger.”
“We are one American family, we hurt together, we struggle together,” he said. “We will get through this, we will come out stronger.”
Trump said he would call on Congress to pass a longer-term reconstruction package and said that his threatened shutdown of the federal government over Mexican border wall funding "has nothing to do with it."
As the federal response entered its fourth day, it was Vice President Pence who was the Trump administration's voice of disaster recovery. In interviews with Houston radio and television stations, Pence sought to reassure flood victims that federal resources are already on their way.
But Pence also repeatedly emphasized that "the state is in the lead" of the disaster response.
"I remember this during my days as governor of Indiana," he told Trey Ware, the morning host of KSTA radio in Houston on Monday. "When the rain comes down and beats against the house, and the flood waters rise and the wind blows, states are in the lead and your local first responders and local emergency managers."
Pence said the federal government "has a vital role in providing support," and he said more than 8,000 federal officials are in the Houston area and have helped to ship more than 1.2 million meals and 1 million liters of water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has 10 mobile communications offices in the region.
"These moments bring out the character of our nation. We're seeing the generosity, the compassion, the courage of the American people in high relief," Pence told radio host Rush Limbaugh. "I mean, you have first responders who have risked life and limb to rescue families that were stranded after Hurricane Harvey made landfall."