President Barack Obama toured flood-ravaged Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Tuesday, surveying wreckage that has also become a political football.
“We are heartbroken by the loss of life,” Obama said after seeing firsthand the damage in the state’s capital that has caused more than 106,000 residents and households to register for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. More than 60,000 homes were damaged, officials said, and 13 people were killed.
“I think anybody who can see just the streets, much less the inside of the homes here, people’s lives have been upended by this flood,” he added.
The flooding has created political headache for the White House as critics blasted Obama for being too slow to visit the state. He spent the previous week vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, while Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, visited the state and handed out supplies.
“Tuesday’s too late,” Trump told Fox News this weekend. “Hop into the plane and go down and go to Louisiana and see what’s going on, because it’s a mess.”
The city’s newspaper, “The Advocate,” originally criticized the President for not ending his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard immediately to visit the region. But the editorial board praised his decision to come Tuesday.
“We welcome news of President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Louisiana today to survey flood damage, which should help to advance relief and recovery in the disaster area as a national priority,” the editorial board wrote.
Trump’s visit was well-received by local officials, and for a moment it gave Trump a chance to reveal a presidential timber that he insists he has.
“Because it helped to shine a spotlight on Louisiana and on the dire situation that we have here, it was helpful,” said John Bel Edwards, the state’s Democratic governor.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Air Force One defended the timing of the trip, saying the “President is used to people trying to score political points even in situations where they shouldn’t.”
Earnest said that $120 million in aid has already been approved and is starting to be paid out to flood-impacted residents.
Edwards, who greeted Obama when he landed Tuesday, had previously said that he hoped the President would wait a few weeks before making his visit to the state, given the entourage and Secret Service personnel that comes with presidential trips that would have strained resources while officials were coping with the floods.
Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent, said Monday that she too plans a trip to the flood site. Her campaign said in a statement that she would come to the state at an unspecified time in the future.
“This month’s floods in Louisiana are a crisis that demand a national response,” she said. “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 together.”