(ABC News) — For days, critics hammered President Obama for continuing his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard as flooding wreaked havoc on Louisiana, claiming the lives of at least 13 people and displacing tens of thousands of residents. But now that the president has returned to work in Washington, he’ll make a day trip to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to get a first-hand presidential look at the devastation.
During Monday’s daily briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest flatly rejected criticism of Obama, insisting the president “was focused on the response” there even while he racked up 10 rounds of golf during his 16-day respite from the White House. Earnest said the federal response to flooding in Louisiana has been “much more effective and much more impactful” than the initial FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina.
“But the survivors of the flooding in Louisiana are not well-served by a political discussion, they’re well served by a competent, effective, strong, coordinated government response, and the federal government has certainly done our part in the first eight to 10 days after this disaster, but there’s a long road ahead,” he said.
Obama declared a major disaster for Louisiana on Aug. 14, making federal resources available to help with home repairs, temporary housing, low-cost recovery loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to assist individuals and business owners recover. The White House also disclosed Obama received a series of briefings on the flooding throughout his vacation.
Some conservatives have cited what appeared to be a muted level of attention to the ongoing situation in Louisiana compared to the overwhelming criticism President George W. Bush received for waiting three days to visit the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to survey the damage.
Before meeting volunteers at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, north of Baton Rouge, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said, “The president says he doesn’t want to go, he is trying to get out of a golf game.”
Asked if Obama only agreed to travel to Baton Rouge tomorrow after Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, surveyed the damage, Earnest insisted “of course not.”
Earnest ticked off several expectations for the president’s trip, though he conceded details of the visit are “still coming together.” The White House, Earnest said, is organizing the visit “in way that doesn’t have an impact on the significant response and recovery efforts that are underway there in Louisiana.”
“I would anticipate the president will have an opportunity to see some of the damage firsthand. I would anticipate that the president will have the opportunity to speak to officials in Louisiana who have been managing the response effort, including the governor and lieutenant governor,” Earnest said. “I would expect the president will have an opportunity to meet with and offer some comfort to citizens whose lives have been thrown into chaos, as a result of this event. I’m confident the president will take advantage of the opportunity to thank some of those who were responsible for saving lives at the height of this event.”
Earnest also said that while he’s not aware of discussions for an additional emergency supplemental to help Louisianans recover from the flood, once President Obama has the opportunity to visit first hand with officials tomorrow, it will “become clearer what the price tag is and the support that Louisiana may need.”
“The administration is committed to standing with the people of Louisiana,” he said.