Obama pledges to support Louisiana flood victims ‘after the TV cameras leave’
Standing amid piles of waterlogged debris, President Barack Obama today promised a sustained national effort to rebuild flood-ravaged southern Louisiana “even after the TV cameras leave,” The Associated Press reports.
The president’s visit to Baton Rouge was aimed in part at stemming campaign-season criticism that he has been slow to respond to the disaster. As he toured a battered neighborhood and spoke to reporters, Obama reassured residents that the federal response would be robust and he tried to buck up beleaguered residents of the water-soaked region, many of whom have said they feel their plight has been ignored by national officials and the media.
“This is not a one-off, this is not a photo-op issue,” the president said. “I need all Americans to stay focused on this. … I know you will rebuild again.”
Obama’s visit was a reminder of the political dangers and opportunities that natural disasters can pose. The president has been criticized for waiting until after his New England vacation to tour the flooding. The timing, coming amid a heated presidential campaign, drew criticism from some local officials and Republican political opponents, including GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who visited Baton Rouge on Friday.
Obama told reporters he doesn’t “worry too much” about politics and said he saw Americans coming together to help. Going door-to-door and trailed by cameras, he offered sympathy to residents as they took a break from the cleanup to talk about the damage.
“I wish I was coming at a better time,” he told one resident, as he put his arm around her and walked into her home for a brief tour. “But I’m glad to see everybody is safe, at least.”
Obama was met at the Baton Rouge airport by a bipartisan group of officials, including Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican. Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter also met the president on the tarmac.
Also while in Baton Rouge, Obama will meet with the family of Alton Sterling, a black man whose death last month by Baton Rouge police sparked protests and mass arrests. Obama planned to meet with Alton Sterling’s relatives at the airport in Baton Rouge before returning to Washington this afternoon.
The White House says Obama will also meet with the families of officers killed or injured nearly two weeks later by a gunman, apparently in response to Sterling’s killing. Obama was also criticized for not visiting Baton Rouge after those two incidents.