WASHINGTON — President Biden is set to fly to New Orleans on Friday to tour the damage wrought by Hurricane Ida, part of an effort to demonstrate his commitment to the federal government’s storm response even as his administration remains enmeshed in other pressing matters from the coronavirus surge to the aftermath of his Afghanistan withdrawal.
In guidance for reporters issued late Thursday evening, White House officials said Mr. Biden would survey storm damage and meet with government officials from communities affected by the hurricane, which the president described on Thursday as the fifth-largest hurricane in American history.
Mr. Biden said in a speech at the White House earlier on Thursday that he would meet with Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, along with parish presidents and other local officials.
“Governor Edwards encouraged me to come and assured me that the visit will not disrupt recovery efforts on the ground,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s what I wanted to be sure of. My message to everyone affected is: We’re all in this together. The nation is here to help.”
Ida slammed into Louisiana on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, leaving at least 12 people there dead and the power grid in shambles, before its remnants marched up the East Coast and deluged New York and much of the rest of the Northeast, killing dozens more.
Despite the departure of the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan on Monday, Mr. Biden has taken pains to show his engagement with the storm response efforts throughout the week. On Sunday, as the storm made landfall on the Gulf Coast, he stopped at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters in Washington to give workers a pep talk.
Mr. Biden said on Thursday that he was getting “hourly updates on the progress from FEMA, well into the night, and we’ll be working around the clock until the critical needs of the region are fully met.”
New York Flooding
The itinerary for the trip, and Mr. Biden’s aggressive public efforts to highlight how his administration was preparing for the storm, provide a stark contrast from President George W. Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.
Mr. Bush drew sharp criticism for a slow federal response to that storm, which inundated parts of New Orleans and caused the deaths of more than 1,800 people. Mr. Bush was famously photographed viewing the storm’s devastation from a window on Air Force One, in what became a symbol of federal detachment from the damage. He later said he regretted the photograph, and wished he had landed in Louisiana.
“I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and, you know, walked out and said, ‘I hear you,’” Mr. Bush said in a 2010 interview. “And then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that. And paid a price for it.”
Mr. Biden has not mentioned Mr. Bush in his remarks about the hurricane this week. But he has repeatedly promoted government efforts to position electrical workers, medical teams, electrical generators and other aid ahead of the storm, in hopes of rapidly bringing relief to the people affected by it.
“Even as we tackle the core elements of the disaster response, we’re also deploying new tools to help speed this recovery — things that have not been used very much in prior hurricane responses,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday. “Working with private companies that own and operate the lifeline infrastructure, like electricity and communications, we’ve used the latest technology to accelerate restoration of power and cellphone service.”
Mr. Biden has also used the storm, including the flooding in the Northeast on Wednesday, to call attention to his agenda to fight climate change. Democrats in Congress are scrambling this month in an attempt to pass a multitrillion-dollar spending bill that Mr. Biden says should include tax incentives for low-carbon energy deployment, along with other policies meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Thursday that the hurricane reaffirmed the president’s “commitment to getting his Build Back Better agenda passed, which has a huge, huge focus on addressing the climate crisis.”