HOUSTON — President Trump swooped into this flood-ravaged city Saturday to meet with survivors of Hurricane Harvey in his second visit to Southeast Texas since the storm came ashore eight days ago.
After focusing exclusively on the government response to Harvey and staying out of the disaster zone during his first trip to the region Tuesday, Trump planned to highlight storm victims and shine the presidential spotlight on communities dramatically altered by Harvey’s enduring floodwaters.
Trump, who traveled here with first lady Melania Trump, met with residents affected by the storm at the NRG Center in Houston, stopping by a lunch line where volunteers were distributing hot dogs, chips and apple sauce.
The Trumps, escorted by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), stopped for hugs and posed for photos with storm survivors. In the children’s area of the center, the president got into a scrum with three boys, one with a fake sword, while the first lady sat on the floor with children and books.
“The message is that things are working out well. Really, I think people appreciate what’s been done. It’s been done very efficiently, very well, and that’s what we want,” the president said. “We’re very happy with the way everything is going. A lot of love. There’s a lot of love.”
The first couple is also expected to meet with members of the Texas congressional delegation; the administration is pushing for an initial $7.9 billion disaster relief package from Congress.
“There’s a lot of water, a lot of water, but it’s moving out,” Trump said of what he saw from Air Force One. “But I think most importantly, the governor, the relationship with the governor, the mayor and everybody, it’s been fantastic. And with the federal government. We’re signing a lot of documents now to get money into your state.”
During a visit to the First Church of Pearland in the Houston suburb of Pearland, Trump again praised local officials for their response to the storm, singling out Abbott.
“I want to congratulate the governor,” said Trump. “It’s been an incredible five days, six days. It seems like it’s been much longer than that, but actually it’s going so well that it’s going fast, in a certain sense.”
The president said he expects the recovery to be “long term” — but maybe not that long term.
“We’re talking about, they say 2 years, 3 years, but I think that because this is Texas you’ll prob do it in 6 months!” Trump said at the church burst into cheers.
From here, the president and first lady will fly to Lake Charles in neighboring Louisiana to visit emergency responders as well as members of that state’s congressional delegation, before flying back to Washington on Saturday evening.
In remarks Friday at the White House, where he met in the Oval Office with the leaders of the American Red Cross and other disaster relief organizations, Trump sounded a unifying message.
“We’re one American family brought together in times of tragedy by the unbreakable bonds of love and loyalty that we have for one another,” Trump said. “And there is a great love and a great loyalty in this country, and I think we’ve all seen it, maybe more so than ever before over the last four days.”
Harvey has largely consumed Trump’s attention since it slammed into the Texas coast on the night of Aug. 25. The president has closely monitored the storm and the flooding it caused, expressing awe and gushing in superlatives about Harvey’s power and the scale of the destruction it left behind.
Trump drew some criticism for neglecting to speak about the victims of the storm during his first visit to Texas. Rather, he showered praise on state and local officials, as well as on members of his Cabinet. He commended Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for becoming “very famous on television.”
Trump’s movements Tuesday were restricted because of logistical and security concerns. The president wanted to survey damaged communities firsthand, aides said, but he stayed away from Houston and other hard-hit areas because the large presidential entourage could have been a hindrance to rescue efforts.
The next day, during a visit to Missouri to call on Congress to pass sweeping tax cuts, Trump spoke directly about the people affected by the storm, and has been making a point to humanize his remarks in the days since.
On Friday, as he signed a proclamation making Sunday a national day of prayer, Trump talked about “the American spirit of service embodied by countless men and women” across Texas and Louisiana.
“Brave first responders have rescued those stranded in drowning cars and rising water,” Trump said. “Families have given food and shelter to those in need. Houses of worship have organized efforts to clean up communities and repair damaged homes. People have never seen anything quite like this. Individuals of every background are striving for the same goal: To aid and comfort people facing devastating losses.”
Trump traveled on Saturday with several members of his Cabinet — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke — as well as some senior White House staffers, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and communications director Hope Hicks.