US Biden, first lady tour storm-ravaged Texas amid state's reckoning

04:20  27 february  2021
04:20  27 february  2021 Source:   latimes.com

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President Biden and first lady Jill Biden are visiting Houston, Texas , on Friday to survey the damage from the recent historic storm that caused dozens of deaths and extensive property damage. The president will meet with Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has been criticized for his response to the storm , which left millions without power, heat and Mr. Biden is scheduled to tour an emergency operations center while the first lady visits a food bank in Houston to package food and water. The president will then join the first lady at the Houston Food Bank for a tour and to meet volunteers.

And when he traveled to Houston with Jill Biden , the first lady , the president used the power of his office for the first time to show support for a community ravaged by twin crises. “You’re saving peoples’ lives,” Mr. Biden told a group of emergency medical workers at an emergency operations center. “The governor and Senator Cruz and I asked for a declaration from the federal government which provides access to public and private assistance through FEMA,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and another participant on the trip, referring to the state ’ s junior senator, Ted

After touring damage from the deadly winter storm that paralyzed Texas last week, President Biden — joined by several of the state's top Republican and Democratic political leaders — used the first disaster visit of his presidency on Friday to call for unity.

a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie: President Biden speaks at a federal vaccination site Friday in Houston. (Patrick Semansky/ Associated Press) © Provided by The LA Times President Biden speaks at a federal vaccination site Friday in Houston. (Patrick Semansky/ Associated Press)

“When a crisis hits our states, it’s not a Republican or Democrat who’s hurting. It’s a fellow American who’s hurting,” Biden said as he concluded his trip at a federal COVID-19 vaccination site in Houston. “My prayers are with you in the aftermath of the storm.... We will be true partners to help you cover the bill for the storm and this pandemic.”

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President Joe Biden will visit Texas on Friday as the state begins its recovery from a devastating winter storm that caused serious damage to homes and businesses across the state and left many without power or clean water for days. The White House announced Tuesday that Biden and his wife, Jill, will travel to Houston on Friday. While there, he'll meet with local leaders to discuss the ongoing recovery from last week' s winter storm , and will visit a COVID-19 health center where vaccines are being distributed.

U. S . President Joe Biden visits the state of Texas on Friday to survey the extensive damage caused by a severe winter storm that triggered power outages and the loss of drinking water to millions of homes during the coronavirus pandemic. Biden and his wife, Jill, will visit a food bank in Houston, the largest They will also tour an emergency operations center before the president delivers remarks at a Federal Emergency Management Agency COVID-19 vaccination facility housed in a local stadium. At least 40 people in Texas were killed in a severe winter storm that swept across southern U. S . states

Biden received a warm reception in a conservative state where he made election inroads but where Democrats still lost many state and local races, especially outside the state’s largest cities, which lean Democrat. Among registered Texas voters, 45% approve of the job Biden’s doing and 44% disapprove, according to a poll this month by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune. The divide was largely along partisan lines: 80% of Republicans disapproved while 89% of Democrats approved. The poll's margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.83 percentage points.

"He's coming for all Texans, for people like myself who were without power," said Douglas Brinkley, a president historian at Houston's Rice University, prior to Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arriving at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base. "It's a symbolic gesture."

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Biden will arrive in Texas as public furor over state leaders’ mismanagement of the storm response mounts. Six members of the board that manages the state ’ s power grid resigned this week. On Thursday, state lawmakers launched hearings to investigate the disaster. Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden , were traveling to Houston where he will meet with Republican Governor Greg Abbott, Senator John Cornyn and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to discuss the recovery from last week’s storm .

The post- storm debate in Texas has centered on the state maintaining its own electrical grid and lack of storm preparation, including weatherization of key infrastructure. Some state officials initially blamed the blackouts on renewable energy even though Texas is a heavy user of fossil fuels like oil and gas. The state ' s other senator, Republican John Cornyn, planned to join Biden , a spokesman said. Cruz, an ally of former President Donald Trump and one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who had objected to Congress certifying Biden 's victory, was scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action

Biden's appearance, in which he emphasized a sense of empathy for victims of all stripes, stood in contrast to former President Trump’s first presidential visit to a disaster area, also Houston, after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Trump did not meet with storm victims during the trip, and when he returned four days later, urged people who had relocated to a shelter to “have a good time.”

Trump acted in a similar manner months later while visiting storm victims in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, tossing some of them rolls of paper towels, and in California last year, when he critiqued state officials' forest management during a visit to wildfire-ravaged areas.

Texas was ill-equipped last week to handle days of subzero temperatures, which led to at least 50 deaths in the Houston area alone and left millions without power and drinking water due to burst pipes and other storm-related damage. The state's independent power grid that serves its largest cities — the only one not connected to other major U.S. grids — crashed.

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President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Texas as the state grapples with widespread power outages and water shortages amid freezing winter conditions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Saturday. Millions of Texans have struggled with power outages and more than half the state is experiencing disrupted water service with boil-water notices in effect. Biden ' s declaration makes aid available to individuals in 77 counties in Texas . Republican Gov. Greg Abbott had requested a major disaster declaration for all 254 counties.

Biden will travel with first lady Jill Biden to the Lone Star State Friday morning and will spend the day with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. "He's going to be spending the day with the governor of Texas because this is not a partisan issue. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Delaware. (Patrick Semansky/AP). Biden declared a major disaster in Texas Saturday, making federal funding available to residents in a portion of the state ' s counties impacted by the storm .

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat whose own home lost power during the storm, said the scale of the disaster was difficult to fathom.

“For a lot of these homes, you’re not going to be able to see it from the outside because the damage for the most part is on the inside,” from burst pipes and flooding, Turner said as he waited to greet the president and first lady. “The recovery still exists, still needs to occur in people’s homes.”

Texas pride also took a major hit from the historic storm. Friday was Go Texan Day, the annual launch of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but the virtual event was lost on many still recovering from the storm. About a million Texans still lacked drinking water this week, 57,000 in the Houston area. Some were also scrambling to find food after the storm disrupted supply chains. They are relying on agencies like the Houston Food Bank, where Jill Biden helped pack food with Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott before rejoining the president at the vaccination site.

Last week, Biden signed a disaster declaration for much of Texas and state leaders were lobbying Friday to expand the scope.

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W. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, showed Biden a state map with large areas not yet covered by the federal disaster declaration.

"We've got a long way to go. Mr. President, I know we can get through this together, and we've just got to keep going," Kidd said.

Biden was accompanied Friday by elected officials including Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John Cornyn. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who faced a backlash last week after leaving Texas amid the storm for a family vacation to Cancun, was notably absent — attending a conservative political conference in Florida. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Cruz didn’t ask to join the president in Houston, nor was he invited.

“The president has made very clear to us that in crises like this, it is our duty to organize prompt and competent federal support to American citizens, and we have to ensure that bureaucracy and politics do not stand in the way,” Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall said during the trip.

Criticism of the storm response in Texas has centered on the state’s independent electrical grid, specifically weatherization. Many believe state leaders mismanaged the storm response, with six members of the board that manages the power grid resigning this week. The Texas Legislature has started public hearings, where lawmakers have grilled officials responsible for running the power system.

Sherwood-Randall said it’s up to Texas to address its overarching problems.

“The first decision has to be made by the state of Texas about what kind of energy system it wants to maintain, what kind of energy market,” she said.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa has called for Gov. Abbott to testify at the hearings "to answer: Why were our folks left to freeze?" Abbott initially blamed outages on green energy sources, and just weeks before the storm he had ordered state agencies to find ways to sue the Biden administration over energy regulation.

On Friday, Hinojosa thanked Biden "for providing immediate and tangible relief to millions of Texans who have been suffering not only due to the recent winter storm but from the COVID-19 pandemic. The president’s visit today provided a bipartisan promise to help our fellow Texans in meaningful ways that will improve and save lives.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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