President Donald Trump is expected to visit Florida on Thursday as part of Hurricane Irma’s relief efforts, but questions remain over whether he plans to meet with victims or if he will follow the hands-off approach he took after Hurricane Harvey.
“Am leaving now for Florida to see our GREAT first responders and to thank the U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA etc,” Trump said on his Twitter page. “A real disaster, much work to do!”
The White House website states that Trump will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, vice president Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence, but it does not say whether he will avoid the site of disaster itself. While Trump did not visit Houston in the immediate aftermath of Harvey, he visited a relief Center a week later.
Trump’s avoidance is a notable shift from previous presidencies, and it reflects a more top-down approach of governing. George H. W. Bush met with Hurricane Andrew victims back in 1992, his son visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Barack Obama met directly with Hurricane Sandy victims in 2012.
So far, Trump’s response to Irma has received a mixed reaction. The Republican-led Congress has approved a disaster aid package worth $15.3 billion, initially spearheaded by Trump through a deal with Democratic congressmen that was described by the New York Times as “extraordinary.” However, one Florida resident criticized Trump for not opening up the Mar-a-Lago resort to hurricane victims.
“He should be doing anything to help the public,” Rick Castillo told The Independent. “When people need help, you either help or you turn your head. I think Trump is turning his head.”
Trump was criticized for his response to Harvey, where he visited Corpus Christi and Austin but did not visit Houston, where the worst damage was. In Corpus Christi, the president mounted the front bumper of a truck and told the crowd that he loved them.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the president met with “a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster.”
“The president wanted to go early, he wanted to go Monday,” energy secretary Rick Perry told USA Today. “And he really wanted to be where there were citizens being affected. He was advised: the better place for you to go is Corpus Christi or San Antonio or Austin, where no search and rescue resources would be pulled away from what they’re doing. That’s always been good advice.”
Whether Trump will follow the same strategy with Irma remains to be seen.