President Donald Trump said he wants to travel to Texas “ASAP” to show the state that it has support from the federal government as it grapples with damage from Hurricane Harvey, a senior administration official said Saturday.
However, Trump will not go until the conditions on the ground are safe and it is certain that his travel will not affect recovery efforts, the official said.
The White House held a teleconference call Saturday, led by homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, in which Trump asked a lot of questions on a range of issues, including about flooding and mass power outages, the administration official said.
Top administration and Cabinet officials joined the teleconference call from the White House Situation Room, including Bossert, Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff John Kelly, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long, Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, according to photos of the meeting released by the White House.
Earlier Saturday, Trump provided reassurances about the emergency response to the hurricane, tweeting that he was “closely monitoring” the situation from Camp David as the storm dumps torrents of rain on Texas and leaves hundreds of thousands of people without power.
“We are leaving nothing to chance. City, State and Federal Govs. working great together!” the President wrote.
As Texas braces for continued damage from the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States in more than 10 years – and a potentially deadly storm surge – Trump also assured Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley that he would not repeat the mistakes of President George W. Bush. Bush’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,000 people and inundated New Orleans in 2005, inflicted a blow from which his presidency never fully recovered.
Grassley tweeted out the caution to Trump to “keep on top of hurricane Harvey” Friday night.
“@ChuckGrassley - got your message loud and clear,” Trump responded Saturday morning. “We have fantastic people on the ground, got there long before #Harvey. So far, so good!”
The President also tweeted out praise for his new FEMA head, Long, in response to Long’s message that FEMA was working “around the clock” to support state efforts.
“You are doing a great job - the world is watching!” Trump tweeted. “Be safe.”
Hurricane Harvey presents Trump with an opportunity to show leadership through a strong, evenhanded and coordinated response from federal as well as state and local officials – and to commandeer a news cycle that for days has been dominated by his widely criticized response to violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and feuds with Republican lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the GOP’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare as well as Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a sharp critic of the President, who is facing a tough reelection next year.
While the Trump administration has been preparing for months for what is forecast to be an especially active hurricane season, questions have arisen about how vacancies in key administration posts – including the helm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – might affect the response.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement Saturday that he and his staff “will remain in close contact with FEMA, the Governor’s office, and local officials in impacted areas as Texas continues to endure this dangerous storm,” adding thanks to Texans helping those in need.
“Our Texas communities affected by this severe hurricane continue to be in my prayers, as are the first responders and emergency personnel who are working around the clock,” Cornyn said. “The threat posed by Harvey is extreme, and Texans should continue to heed the warnings of local officials and emergency personnel.
CNN’s Athena Jones contributed to this report.