President Barack Obama is scheduled to travel to Louisiana Tuesday to observe the damage from historic flooding in the southern portion of the state and meet with victims and government officials. But a certain presidential candidate visited the area first.
While Obama is Baton Rouge bound, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump already spent the weekend delivering supplies to displaced victims of the Louisiana flooding. Critics argue that Trump's visit was merely a campaign photo-op and a potential distraction from relief efforts in the area, but the fact remains that Trump beat the president — and Democratic presidential nominee — to an on-the-ground presence.
"While in Martha's Vineyard, the President has received updates on the situation in Louisiana, including from the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator, who took separate trips there," read a White House statement released Friday. "The President today directed his team to coordinate with Louisiana officials to determine an appropriate time for him to visit, and together they have determined that the President will visit Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Tuesday, Aug. 23."
Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, went to Baton Rouge Friday where they handed out supplies to flood victims and delivered a truckload of supplies Trump arranged to be donated to the relief effort. The GOP nominee criticized Obama for not cutting short a planned vacation in Martha's Vineyard to visit the devastated area. However, many argued that a visit from a high profile figure like Obama or a presidential candidate could be counterproductive to the relief effort — security and personnel and other resources that would otherwise go to victims must be diverted to arrange for and protect a visit from a high profile figure.
In fact, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards warned Trump not to come if he did plan on contributing.
"We welcome him to come, but not for a photo op," the governor's office said in a statement, urging Trump to volunteer or make "a sizable donation."
Trump did that, but the White House statement Friday, in a veiled shot at Trump, seemed to imply that its delayed visit was the product of greater sensitivity to the needs of the area, not the result of his vacation.
"The President is mindful of the impact that his travel has on first responders and wants to ensure that his presence does not interfere with ongoing recovery efforts," the statement read. "He is also eager to get a first-hand look at the impact of the devastating floods, hear from more officials about the response, including how the federal government can assist and tell the people of Louisiana that the American people will be with them as they rebuild their community and come back stronger than ever."
But for an area reeling from record flooding, a disaster that has gone notably undercovered in the press amid an Olympics and a presidential race, Obama's absence has been felt.
"Sometimes, presidential visits can get in the way of emergency response, doing more harm than good. But we don't see that as a factor now that flood waters are subsiding, even if at an agonizing pace," the Louisiana newspaper, the Advocate, wrote in an editorial. "It's past time for the president to pay a personal visit, showing his solidarity with suffering Americans."
Many prominent conservatives echoed that criticism and most pundits agree that the optics of Obama's no-show have been bad. Time will tell if the President's trip Tuesday will quiet that criticism. Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has also refrained from visiting Baton Rouge, maintaining she is holding off until her visit would not interfere with the emergency responders — critics argue Clinton is simply staying focused on the campaign trail in swing states.
As for Trump, Gov. Edwards praised Trump for helping to "shine a spotlight" on the relief effort.