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President Obama declared a major disaster in Louisiana earlier this week, ordering the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to the flooding that left at least 12 people dead and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. But that isn’t enough for the editors of Baton Rouge’s largest newspaper, who say the commander in chief should’ve cut his two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard short to pay a personal visit to “the most anguished state in the union.”
“Last week, as torrential rains brought death, destruction and misery to Louisiana, the president continued his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, a playground for the posh and well-connected,” the Advocate wrote in a Thursday editorial. “We’ve seen this story before in Louisiana, and we don’t deserve a sequel. In 2005, a fly-over by a vacationing President George W. Bush became a symbol of official neglect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The current president was among those making political hay out of Bush’s aloofness.
“Sometimes, presidential visits can get in the way of emergency response, doing more harm than good,” the Advocate continued. “But we don’t see that as a factor now that flood waters are subsiding, even if at an agonizing pace. It’s past time for the president to pay a personal visit, showing his solidarity with suffering Americans.”
At least 30,000 people and 1,400 pets required rescue from the historic rains and flooding that began on Friday, officials said. More than 40,000 homes in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area have been damaged.
It’s unknown how many homes are beyond salvage, but more than 70,000 people have reportedly already registered for federal assistance, and at least 9,000 flood insurance claims have been made.
On Sunday, Obama spoke with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards to let him know that his request for an emergency declaration had been granted for the state’s flood response and recovery efforts.
“The president told Gov. Edwards that his prayers are with the people of Louisiana,” deputy press secretary Jen Friedman said, “and that his administration will continue to support the state’s ongoing recovery.”
On Monday night, the president attended a Democratic fundraiser for Hillary Clinton on Martha’s Vineyard.
“Although Michelle is very strict about me actually taking a vacation when I get a vacation, she gave me a special dispensation for this evening,” Obama told the approximately 60 guests who contributed $10,000 each to attend the fundraiser at a private home in Chilmark, Mass., according to a White House transcript. “Because she understands, just as all of you understand, how important this is.”
The Advocate argued that the fundraiser showed Obama had enough time for Louisiana.
— The Advocate (@theadvocatebr) August 18, 2016
“If the president can interrupt his vacation for a swanky fundraiser for fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton,” the paper said, “then surely he can make time to show up for a catastrophe that’s displaced thousands.”
On Wednesday, Obama received an update on the disaster response from FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who had traveled to Louisiana the day before.
According to Friedman, the president directed Fugate “to utilize all resources available to assist in the response and recovery and asked to be regularly briefed on the ongoing response.”
Obama then went golfing with Alonzo Mourning, his sixth round and third with the former NBA star since his vacation began.
“The optics of Obama golfing while Louisiana residents languished in flood waters was striking,” the editorial continued. “It evoked the precedent of the passive federal response to the state’s agony in 2005, a chapter of history no one should ever repeat.”
According to the White House, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is scheduled to visit Louisiana on Thursday to review the ongoing response.
Slideshow: ‘Unprecedented’ flooding slams Gulf Coast
Obama ought to join him, the Advocate said.
“A disaster this big begs for the personal presence of the president at ground zero,” the paper argued. “In coming here, the president can decisively demonstrate that Louisiana’s recovery is a priority for his administration — and the United States of America.”
“The president’s vacation is scheduled to wrap up on Sunday,” the editorial added. “But he should pack his bags now, and pay a call on communities who need to know that in a national catastrophe, they are not alone. The president’s presence is already late to this crisis, but it’s better later than never.”