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Trump visits Texas with promise of help for those battered by Harvey

Volunteers+sort+donated+clothes+as+more+than+9%2C000+and+counting+have+gathered+at+the+downtown+evacuation+center+at+the+George+R.+Brown+Convention+Center+on+Tuesday%2C+Aug.+29%2C+2017+in+Houston%2C+Texas.+%28Robert+Gauthier%2FLos+Angeles+Times%29
Volunteers sort donated clothes as more than 9,000 and counting have gathered at the downtown evacuation center at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Volunteers sort donated clothes as more than 9,000 and counting have gathered at the downtown evacuation center at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

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TNS

Volunteers sort donated clothes as more than 9,000 and counting have gathered at the downtown evacuation center at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

President Donald Trump assured Texans slammed by Harvey that “we are here to take care of you” and promised a “better than ever before” relief effort, as he visited the state Tuesday while rescuers continue to pull people from submerged homes.

The president anticipated success even as rains and overflowing dams fed floodwaters to the east: “We won’t say congratulations. We don’t want to do that,” he said from a fire department in Annaville, near Corpus Christi, where he met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s two senators and other officials.

“We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished,” he said.

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Trump seemed mindful of not repeating the famous mistake of President George W. Bush, who enthused, “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” to his Federal Emergency Management Agency director during Hurricane Katrina. Michael D. Brown led the botched response to the devastating storm that hit 12 years ago this week.

Still, Trump, clad in a “USA” ball cap and a windbreaker with a presidential seal, did not shy from raising expectations. After telling residents Monday that he would bring swift financial help to the region, he promised Tuesday that the long and expensive recovery would serve as a model.

“We want to do it better than ever before,” he said. “We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it.”

Although Trump was careful to remain outside the worst of the state’s flooding crisis to the east in a large region surrounding Houston, the short ride from the airport where Air Force One landed in Corpus Christi to the firehouse along Interstate 37 gave Trump a glimpse of what the state is up against.

He passed broken trees, downed signs and fences that had been hurled about. Still, hundreds of residents made their way outside the meeting to greet the president, some hoisting Trump-Pence campaign signs and others protest placards.

Abbott, a Republican, praised Trump and his Cabinet members, several of whom accompanied him, saying the president and his advisers began preparing for the storm days before its arrival.

“They all had one thing to say,” Abbott said. “Texas, what do you need? How can we help?”

Trump spoke about the work of officials and the recovery efforts, leaving it to others to discuss the storm’s continuing risks and the loss of life.

When he left the firehouse, Trump mounted a ladder between two fire trucks to address the crowd outside.

“We love you, you are special, we are here to take care of you,” he said. “It’s going well.”

“What a crowd, what a turnout,” he said, as if speaking at a political rally. “It’s historic, its epic, but I tell you, it happened in Texas, and Texas can handle anything.”

The crowd cheered as Trump waved a Texas flag.

Not everyone came to cheer. Agnes Street, alongside Highway 44 by the airport, was lined with cars — whose occupants had varied opinions about Trump and his visit.

“This is a blatant politicization of the hurricane efforts and everything that just happened to this community,” said Ben Falcon, 17, of Corpus Christi, holding an orange poster board reading “Love Trumps Hate.”

Others welcomed the president. Phillip Gonzalez sat in the open back of his black Humvee, an American flag propped on its roof, snapping pictures and watching Trump’s arrival through his binoculars.

“This is pretty special to have the president fly in and show his support for the people who are hurting across Texas,” said Gonzalez, a retired oil industry employee who wore a camouflage hat with a neon orange “USA” on the front and “TRUMP” on the back. “That sends chills down my spine.”

Congress has not outlined a plan to tackle the needs of Texas and Louisiana, the two states taking the brunt of Harvey, a hurricane now downgraded to a tropical storm.

State and local officials are still responding to the immediate safety threat and have not begun to fully assess the long-term costs of the epic storm, which has turned large parts of Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, into a lake.

Although Trump will steer clear of Houston during his visit, flying next onto the state’s emergency center in Austin, administration officials intend for his tour to send a strong signal of federal government concern. Even so, Trump could stretch already-stressed resources, given the logistical and security requirements of a presidential visit.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during the flight from Washington that Trump’s schedule could change because he wants to avoid getting in the way of relief efforts.

“The president wants to be very cautious about making sure that any activity doesn’t disrupt any of the recovery efforts that are still ongoing, which is the reason for the locations we are going here today,” she added.

Abbott has mobilized the Texas National Guard to help with rescue and relief efforts.

Several Texas lawmakers, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, opposed a federal aid package in 2013 following Hurricane Sandy, the massive storm that hit New Jersey and other Northeastern states. But Northeastern lawmakers have said they will not resist helping Texans in their time of need.

Congress has failed to gather majorities on some major issues this year. It is under deadline pressure to act on several must-pass bills next month, including action to keep the government running and separate legislation to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts.

Guiding lawmakers to accomplish those goals, while approving aid to Texas and starting work on the more ambitious legislation on Trump’s agenda, will require focus from the president.

Trump had intended to devote this week to pitching a complicated federal tax overhaul proposal that his administration has yet to draft.

He has a speech planned Wednesday in Missouri to begin that effort and has said he is likely to return to Texas and possibly Louisiana later in the week to provide more attention to Harvey recovery.

Sanders said the White House began focusing on Harvey early last week. Several Cabinet secretaries joined Trump on the trip to Texas, including Tom Price of Health and Human Services, Ben Carson of Housing and Urban Development and Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security secretary. James Rivera, who manages the Small Business Administration’s disaster assistance unit, also joined Trump on the trip.

Abbott and William “Brock” Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, greeted Air Force One as Trump arrived. He was also planning to meet with several Texas mayors and lawmakers, although Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, dealing with the brunt of the storm, was not on the schedule.

Even as Trump contends with those domestic issues, he faced another provocation from North Korea, which launched a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday morning.

Trump repeated his threat that “all options are on the table” in a statement Tuesday. He had a lengthy call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and planned to speak with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore by telephone during the flight to Corpus Christi, the White House said.

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(Branson-Potts reported from Corpus Christi and Bierman reported from Washington.)

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(c)2017 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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