Staff Columnist

Finkenauer works as Trump gets briefed

Rep. Abby Finkenauer works with other volunteers to load batteries into flashlights at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids
Rep. Abby Finkenauer works with other volunteers to load batteries into flashlights at NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit disaster food aid organization, procured two thousand flashlights after a request from Rep. Finkenauer. WCK will distribute them as part of their mission in the Cedar Rapids area as approximately 20 percent of Alliant customers were without power Tuesday evening. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

President Donald Trump jetted into Cedar Rapids this week for an airport briefing on recovery efforts after last week’s big storm. His briefing with federal state and local officials lasted just 30 minutes. The president saw pictures of damage, but made no foray into the beleaguered city.

So you’d think Trump’s brief briefing might have benefited from testimony by U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who represents the storm-ravaged district and lives in a hard hit area of the city. But Finkenauer, a Democrat, wasn’t invited.

“I would have loved the opportunity to tell the president what we’re hearing on the ground here, to tell him the stories of my neighbors here in this neighborhood and all across the district who are frustrated by the fact that the response has been slow,” Finkenauer said during an interview from her car, where she was charging her phone. Her home was still without power.

“We needed all the help we could get, and early. And folks are still struggling. Heck, we’re still delivering generators,” Finkenauer said.

That’s what Finkenauer said she was doing while the president held court with Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and its two GOP senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley. She obtained 10 generators from World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit providing meals in the city, and delivered them to Matthew 25, which is working to get generators to people who need to refrigerate medication or run medical equipment.

It sounds like time better spent.

Meanwhile, much of the briefing was spent by officials lavishing praise on the president for his “record time” response to the state’s request for a major disaster declaration. Trump tweeted on Monday that the state’s $4 billion request was approved in “FULL,” but it turned out only a fraction had been cleared. As of this writing, help for individuals and homeowners remains on hold.

And Trump’s action came only after the Reynolds administration spent several days assessing damage. Finkenauer was among those who urged the governor to act more quickly. Mostly, the response she got was no response.

“It was slow. And anybody who’s been on the ground knows that,” Finkenauer said.

At the Trump briefing, Finkenauer missed riveting exchanges. Many were about corn.

“Can you find usage in some of the corn? Is it aged enough?” Trump asked.

“It will depend. A lot of it won’t come back up,” said Iowa Sec. of Agriculture Mike Naig.

And many more.

Yes, it is an election year. Which is why, instead of inviting Finkenauer, Trump invited her Republican opponent, state Rep. Ashley Hinson. Hinson was the only local state lawmaker invited.

In 2008, when President George W. Bush toured flood damage, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, Gov. Chet Culver and U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack accompanied him. Those days are long gone.

“I can’t make the administration do their job or put politics aside,” Finkenauer said. “But I can do my job and continue to represent my folks here and try to get them everything they need by any means possible.”

So Finkenauer went back to work. Iowa waited for more aid. And Trump flew on to Yuma to tout his $11 billion border wall.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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