When it comes to disaster relief, President Obama has made putting his own “boots on the ground” standard operating procedure. The president returned to the Jersey Shore Tuesday nearly seven months after he first toured the damage from Superstorm Sandy. The visit came after he met with families and officials affected by last week’s devastating tornado in Oklahoma on Sunday.
The Obama administration may have learned a few key lessons from President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina, both in how to handle the optics of disaster response and the actual role of the federal government. President Bush wrote in his memoir that the flyover he did two days after Katrina was a “huge mistake.” FEMA’s response to Katrina was viewed so poorly that director Michael Brown resigned.
The response to Sandy, by the president and FEMA, was praised by New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie. And Oklahoma Republican Mary Fallin has praised the government’s response to the EF-5 tornado, saying, “so far FEMA has done a great job. They were here immediately on the spot.”
Refashioning the image of the White House and FEMA’s response to disasters could be a lasting legacy of the Obama administration. White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “The renaissance of [FEMA] embodies what the president ran on.”
Alex Wagner discussed with the NOW panel Tuesday how President Obama’s view of disaster relief reflects his overall argument for government.