WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden calls for greater public resolve to tackle climate change and help the nation cope with the severe storms, floods and wildfires that have ravaged the country as he stays in Louisiana hit by hurricanes on Friday.
“My message to all concerned is this: We are all in the same boat,” Biden said in a speech at the White House Thursday, where he referred to the multiple natural disasters that have occurred this week. “The nation is here to help.
Travel to the scenes of natural disasters has long been a hallmark of the US presidency. Now is the time to be compassionate and provide assistance in a way that shapes the public’s perception of White House leadership.
Biden was scheduled to meet with Louisiana Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and other local officials and visit a neighborhood in LaPlace, a community between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain that was inundated by storm surges that left the people trapped in attics. He also scheduled an aerial tour of hard-hit communities, including Lafitte, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and the parish of Lafourche, where parish president Archie Chaisson said 25% of the homes in his community of 100,000 were gone. or had suffered catastrophic damage.
Former presidents were defined in part by how they handled such crises. Donald Trump casually threw paper napkins at the people of Puerto Rico after a hurricane, generating contempt from critics but little damage to his political position. Barack Obama hugged Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2012 after Storm Sandy, a brief respite from partisan tensions that had threatened the economy with a fiscal cliff. And George W. Bush fell into public disgrace after a poor and unprepared response to Hurricane Katrina, which inundated New Orleans in 2006.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Biden grapples with the lingering threat posed by climate change and the prospect that visits to disaster areas may become a more regular feature of the presidency.
When Biden last visited Louisiana in May, to promote his infrastructure offering, he spoke in the town of Lake Charles, where there was a glass tower visible from the podium that was still covered in plywood as a pair of hurricanes last year blew the windows out.
Scientists say climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, such as large tropical storms, droughts and heat waves that create the conditions for large forest fires. U.S. weather officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month on record in 142 years of record keeping.
As for Friday’s trip, Biden said his message to the Gulf Coast read, “We’re here for you. And we’re making sure the response and recovery is fair so those hardest hit get the resources they need and aren’t left behind.
The east coast of the United States is struggling with historic floods and tornadoes. At least 40 more deaths have been linked to Storm Ida since it hit with new fury on Wednesday. Community reporter Roby Chavez begins our reporting and Philadelphia Fire Marshal Adam Thiel joins PBS NewsHour to discuss it.
Biden’s nearly eight-month-old presidency has been shaped in part by perpetual crises. The president visited Texas in February after a cold winter storm caused its power grid to go out, and he has repeatedly watched for wildfires that have darkened the skies of western states.
Besides natural disasters, the president has had to face a host of other challenges. He’s looking for ways to save the 100-200 Americans stranded in Afghanistan after the longest war in U.S. history ended just days ago. He also faces the delta variant of the coronavirus which has stuck the country in an autumn of uncertainty just months after Biden declared his independence from the disease during a July 4 celebration on the White House lawn.
His call for determination to help the country overcome the pandemic and secure a $ 1 trillion infrastructure deal is now being applied to the perilous task of resisting aftershocks of climate change.
“The final days of Hurricane Ida and wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey are another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here,” a- he said Thursday. “We need to be much better prepared. We need to act. “
Biden has pledged strong federal aid to states facing natural disasters. And he said he would pressure Congress again to pass his nearly $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill to improve roads, bridges, electricity and sewage systems. . The proposal aims to ensure that vital networks connecting cities, states and the country as a whole can withstand flooding, eddies and damage from increasingly dangerous weather conditions.
Ida was the fifth most powerful storm to hit the United States when it hit Louisiana on Sunday with maximum winds of 150 mph (240 km / h), possibly causing tens of billions of dollars in flooding, wind and other damage, including to the power grid. Remnants of the storm on Wednesday dropped devastating rainfall in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, causing significant disruption in major population centers.
The storm killed at least 45 people in the northeastern United States and at least 13 in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Edwards said he looked forward to Biden’s visit to the hurricane-ravaged state.
“I don’t think there is a substitute for being on the ground, talking with local officials, and seeing with your own eyes the utter devastation the state of Louisiana has suffered because of the Hurricane Ida, “Edwards said Thursday during a briefing with reporters from Tangipahoa parish, one of several parishes in the southeast that suffered extensive storm damage.
Edwards said he would give the president a “long list” of requests for federal help.
Associated Press editors Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Christina Larson in Washington contributed to this report.