Staff Columnist

The Donald and the derecho, a whirlwind briefing

The Stars & Stripes is caught in tree branches after a severe storm as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds tours the storm damage at
The Stars & Stripes is caught in tree branches after a severe storm as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds tours the storm damage at Marion Square Park in Marion, Iowa, on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg saw the damage from Monday’s inland hurricane as they visited communities across the state. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

So President Donald Trump came to Cedar Rapids Tuesday to be briefed on efforts to recover from last week’s destructive derecho. Fittingly, it was a whirlwind visit.

Trump’s airport briefing with federal, state and local leaders lasted just roughly 30 minutes. He sat at the head of a U-shaped table with officials on either side. Behind Trump were large pictures of damage, all from rural areas.

Acting Homeland Security Sec. Chad Wolf effusively praised Trump for coming to Cedar Rapids, even though the president skipped surveying actual damage. He follows Vice President Mike Pence, who last week also failed to visit the actual disaster areas.

“Don’t forget this has been a loving area for me. Cedar Rapids has been fantastic,” Trump said.

A fair amount of time was taken up by panelists lavishing love on the president for swiftly approving Iowa’s request for a major disaster declaration. Trump did indeed act fast once he had the request, but it took Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds several critical days to get the application in order.

So the declaration was approved six days after the storm, while residents sat in the dark. And its approval turned out to be only partial, with $82 million in aid for individuals struggling to clean up and recover still in limbo.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart urged Trump to provide individual help for Iowans facing expensive tree removal and other storm costs not covered by insurance.

“That would be a big help for us,” Hart said.

“It’s big … We’ll take care of it, mayor,” Trump promised.

And the president had plenty of questions. Many were about corn.

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“This took a big chunk out of your entire state, Chuck,” Trump said, turning to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“About 13 million acres of crops,” Grassley said.

“Amazing,” Trump said.

Trump was concerned about pending corn orders from China. The “largest in history.”

“Will they be able to fill an order like that?”

“If that’s your question then the answer is yes because we have so much carry-over from the year before,” Grassley said.

“Oh, that’s very good,” Trump said.

Some questions were about the storm.

“So this was, in a way, less dangerous than a tornado but much wider, right? But the point of a tornado is truly brutal,” Trump asked Marion farmer Wayne Blackford.

“It felt like a tornado … I’ve never seen stuff go by the window so fast,” Blackford said.

Kim Reem, executive director of Mission of Hope, spoke last and best.

“They’re hungry today,” Reem said of her mission’s clients. “It’s day nine without power in that neighborhood. They’re not just hungry for food. They’re hungry for compassion from our leaders, just to know that our leaders care and are working on their behalf.

“We’re strong and we’re resilient Mr. President, but we are tired and we need your help,” Reem said.

“Thank you very much,” was all Trump said.

Maybe she should have asked for him for the greatest, biggest record-breaking help in history.

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

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