In Harvey's Wake

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*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

President Donald Trump visited Texas on Tuesday to see the recovery efforts underway in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the first major natural disaster to strike the United States under his leadership.

In visits to Corpus Christi and Austin, Trump marveled at the massive impact of the storm, describing it as “epic” and “historic” in briefings with state officials. He set the bar high for his administration’s response to Harvey, saying he wants it to be used as a model for the country long after Texas’ recovery.

"We want to do it better than ever before," Trump said in Corpus Christi. "We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it."

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Trump’s day in Texas began Tuesday morning in Corpus Christi, the city along the Gulf Coast near where Harvey made landfall Friday as a Category 4 storm. Trump made a stop at a local firehouse for a roundtable with local and state officials, and when it was over, he emerged to a crowd of hundreds of people outside.

“What a crowd, what a turnout,” he said, taking in the scene as he stood between two fire trucks. “I will tell you, this is historic, it's epic, what happened. But you know what, it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”

Trump then pulled out a Texas flag, getting loud cheers from the crowd. 

Hours later in Austin, Trump continued to express awe at Harvey’s wrath as he paid a visit to the state’s Emergency Operations Center. After praising workers at the center for staying on top of the storm and its aftermath, Trump attended a briefing with state officials where he mused about how unassuming the storm seemed.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, on a Texas swing to survey damage from Hurricane Harvey, tour the Texas Division of Emergency Management in Austin on Aug. 29, 2017.
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, on a Texas swing to survey damage from Hurricane Harvey, tour the Texas Division of Emergency Management in Austin on Aug. 29, 2017. Patrick Svitek / The Texas Tribune

“It sounds like such an innocent name,” Trump said of Harvey. “But it’s not. It’s not innocent.”

At the briefing, Trump also braced members of Congress for a “costly proposition” in coming up with an aid package for the storm. Afterward, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters he’s suggested a “down payment” on Harvey aid to White House officials and they have been “sympathetic” to such a plan.

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Trump did not see much wreckage during the trip, with the firehouse being his only stop in Corpus Christi and the Emergency Operations his only stop in Austin. As Trump headed to Texas on Tuesday morning, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Trump wanted to be “very cautious about making sure that any activity doesn’t disrupt any of the recovery efforts that are still ongoing.”

Trump was joined throughout Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott and First Lady Melania Trump. The first lady did not deliver remarks in Corpus Christi or Austin but issued a statement afterward saying, “What I found most profound during the visit was not only the strength and resilience of the people of Texas, but the compassion and sense of community that has taken over the State.”

Abbott, for his part, heaped praise on Trump and his administration for taking the storm seriously early on and moving quickly to respond once it hit Texas. Abbott also sought to portray Trump as a compassionate leader behind the scenes, recalling in Austin how the two had watched images of drenched Houston on their flight from Corpus Christi. “The president was heartbroken about what he saw,” Abbott said.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, on a Texas swing to survey damage from Hurricane Harvey, tour the Texas Division of Emergency Management in Austin on Aug. 29, 2017.
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, on a Texas swing to survey damage from Hurricane Harvey, tour the Texas Division of Emergency Management in Austin on Aug. 29, 2017. Patrick Svitek / The Texas Tribune

Abbott was not the only Texas elected official who turned out for Trump’s trip. He was joined at points throughout the day by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Cornyn, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and several other members of Congress.

Trump brought with him a number of Cabinet officials whose departments are involved in the recovery effort. They included Elaine Duke, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Trump's trip Tuesday likely will not be the only time he visits Texas this week. Huckabee Sanders told reporters he intends to return Saturday to see a “different part of the state.”

Vice President Mike Pence, in a radio interview Tuesday morning, said he and his wife will visit southeast Texas later this week.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Several members of Congress from New York and New Jersey remain resentful over Texas Republicans that voted against a Hurricane Sandy aid package in 2013. [Full story]

  • Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Coast, and has left Houston — the nation's fourth-largest city — grappling with unprecedented flooding. Do you need help? Or do you want to help those in need? Check out these resources. [Full story]

  • A new law, set to take effect Friday, aims to crack down on frivolous insurance lawsuits. But House Bill 1774 also reduces the penalty fees that insurance companies face for late payments if the policyholder files a lawsuit. [Full story]

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