Biden to Visit Texas After Storms 02/26 06:08
President Joe Biden will exercise his empathy skills Friday during a Texas
visit with a dual mission: surveying damage caused by severe winter weather and
encouraging people to get their coronavirus shots.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden will exercise his empathy skills
Friday during a Texas visit with a dual mission: surveying damage caused by
severe winter weather and encouraging people to get their coronavirus shots.
Biden and his wife, Jill, were traveling to Houston for the president's
first trip to a major disaster site since he took office a little over a month
Severe winter weather across the South over Valentine's Day weekend battered
multiple states, with Texas bearing the brunt of unseasonably frigid conditions
that caused widespread power outages and frozen pipes that burst and flooded
homes. Millions of residents lost heat and running water.
At least 40 people in Texas died as a result of the storm and, although the
weather has returned to more normal temperatures, more than 1 million residents
were still under orders to boil water before drinking it.
Biden is expected to visit a food bank and meet with local leaders to
discuss the storm, relief efforts and progress toward recovery. He is to be
accompanied by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
While in Houston, the Democratic president also planned to visit a mass
coronavirus vaccination center run by the federal government. Biden on Thursday
commemorated the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination since he took office,
halfway toward his goal of 100 million shots by his 100th day in office. That
celebration followed a moment of silence to mark the passage earlier this week
of 500,000 U.S. deaths blamed on the disease.
The post-storm debate in Texas has centered on the state maintaining its own
electrical grid and lack of storm preparation, including weatherization of key
infrastructure. Some state officials initially blamed the blackouts on
renewable energy even though Texas is a heavy user of fossil fuels like oil and
The White House said Biden's purpose in visiting would be to support, not
"The president doesn't view the crisis and the millions of people who've
been impacted by it as a Democratic or Republican issue," White House press
secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. "He views it as an issue where he's eager to
get relief, to tap into all the resources in the federal government, to make
sure the people of Texas know we're thinking about them, we're fighting for
them and we're going to continue working on this as they're recovering."
Psaki said policy discussions about better weatherization and preparation
could come later, "but right now, we're focused on getting relief to the people
of the state."
Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas and asked federal agencies to
identify additional resources to aid the recovery. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency has sent emergency generators, bottled water, ready-to-eat
meals and blankets.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in an interview that he didn't know
what more the federal government could do to help because the failures were at
the state level. But Henry, a Republican who is the highest county official in
the suburban Houston county, said that if Biden "thinks it's important to
visit, then come on down."
Biden wanted to make the trip last week, but said at the time that he held
back because he didn't want his presence and entourage to detract from the
Biden, whose life has been marked by personal tragedy, is known for his
ability to empathize with others and their suffering. His first wife and infant
daughter were killed in a car collision in 1972. His son, Beau Biden, died of
brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.
No Texas lawmakers were expected to hitch a ride home aboard Air Force One
due to "limitations on space" on the plane, Psaki said.
It was unclear whether Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz would join Biden in
the state. Members of Congress often tag along when a president visits their
The state's other senator, Republican John Cornyn, planned to join Biden, a
Cruz, an ally of former President Donald Trump and one of a handful of GOP
lawmakers who had objected to Congress certifying Biden's victory, was
scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando,
Florida, on Friday morning, a spokesman said.
Cruz was recently criticized for taking his family to Cancun, Mexico, while
millions of Texans shivered in their unheated homes during the disaster. Cruz
later said the trip was a mistake. Cornyn's plans were unclear.
Coincidentally, Houston also was the destination for Trump's first
presidential visit to a disaster area in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused
catastrophic flooding that August.
Trump, who is not known for displays of empathy, did not meet with storm
victims on the visit. He returned four days later and urged people who had
relocated to a shelter to "have a good time."