CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — President Donald Trump assured Texans slammed by Hurricane Harvey that “we are here to take care of you” and promised a “better than ever before” relief effort as he visited the state Tuesday as rescuers continued to pull people from their submerged homes.
The president anticipated success even as rains and overflowing dams fed floodwaters to the east: “We won’t say congratulations. We don’t want to do that,” he said from a fire department in Annaville, near Corpus Christi, where he met with Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s two senators and other officials.
Trump seemed mindful of not repeating the famous mistake of President George W. Bush, who enthused, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” to his Federal Emergency Management Agency director during Hurricane Katrina. Michael D. Brown led the botched response to the devastating storm that hit 12 years ago.
Yet Trump, clad in a “USA” ball cap and a windbreaker with a presidential seal, did not shy from raising expectations. After telling residents Monday he would bring swift financial help to the region, he promised Tuesday that the long and expensive recovery would be a model.
“We want to do it better than ever before,” he said. “We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it.”
Although Trump was careful to remain outside the worst of the flooding crisis to the east in a large region surrounding Houston, the short ride from the airport where Air Force One landed in Corpus Christi to the firehouse along Interstate 37 gave him a glimpse of what the state is up against.
He passed broken trees, downed signs and fences that had been hurled about. Still, hundreds of residents made their way outside the meeting to greet the president, some hoisting Trump-Pence signs and others protest placards.
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Abbott, a Republican, praised Trump and his Cabinet members, several of whom accompanied him, saying the president and his advisers began preparing for the storm days before its arrival.
“They all had one thing to say,” Abbott recalled. “Texas, what do you need? How can we help?”
When he left the firehouse, Trump mounted a ladder between two fire trucks to address the crowd outside.
“We love you, you are special, we are here to take care of you,” he said. “It’s going well.”
“What a crowd, what a turnout,” he said, as if speaking for a moment at a political rally.
The crowd cheered as he waved a Texas flag.
Not everyone, though, came to cheer. A street along Highway 44 by the airport was lined with cars whose occupants had varied opinions.
“This is a blatant politicization of the hurricane efforts and everything that just happened to this community,” said Ben Falcon, 17, of Corpus Christi, holding an orange poster board reading “Love Trumps Hate.”
Others welcomed the president. Phillip Gonzalez sat in the open back of his black Humvee, an American flag propped on its roof, snapping pictures and watching Trump’s arrival through his binoculars.
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“This is pretty special to have the president fly in and show his support for the people who are hurting across Texas,” said Gonzalez, a retired oil industry employee.
Congress has not yet outlined a plan to tackle the needs of Texas and Louisiana, the states taking the brunt of Harvey.
State and local officials are still responding to the immediate safety threat and have not begun to fully assess the long-term costs.
Several Texas lawmakers, led by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, opposed a federal aid package in 2013 following Hurricane Sandy, the massive storm that hit New Jersey and other Northeastern states. But Northeastern lawmakers have said they will not resist helping Texans in their time of need.
Trump said he is likely to return to Texas and possibly Louisiana to provide more attention to Harvey recovery