EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) — President Barack Obama is unlikely to break from a New England vacation to survey flood damage in Louisiana, despite calls for him to visit and meet with responders and victims.
The White House insists Obama is not indifferent to the suffering of thousands who were washed out of their homes in the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas of the state. At least 13 people have died as a result of the flooding, and at one point 11,000 were in shelters. That number has dropped as water levels have receded.
In an editorial published Wednesday, The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge called on Obama to visit "the most anguished state in the union." The newspaper noted that Obama interrupted his two-week vacation on Martha's Vineyard earlier this week to attend a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on the Massachusetts island.
The newspaper said Obama can and should visit now that the once-raging floodwaters are receding.
"The president's vacation is scheduled to wrap up on Sunday. 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 editorial said. "The president's presence is already late to this crisis, but it's better later than never."
In 2005, then-President George W. Bush was faulted for flying over but not touching down in Louisiana in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The federal government's response to that natural disaster, in which more than 1,830 people were killed and millions more along the Gulf Coast and New Orleans were left homeless, haunted Bush for the remainder of his presidency.
Obama has issued no public or written statements about the flooding. The White House said he has been receiving regular updates and briefings on the situation throughout the vacation, including from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Obama also approved a federal disaster declaration for affected areas of the state.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate visited Louisiana on Tuesday; Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited Thursday.
"As the president told Gov. Edwards over the weekend, the community of Baton Rouge has faced a difficult, even tragic, summer but can count on the ongoing prayers and unwavering support of the president and their fellow Americans in their time of need," White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said.
Edwards, defending the administration's response Thursday, said he has spoken daily with the White House and has received quick responses to each request he's lodged with the administration.
He said he'd prefer Obama hold off on visiting because such stops pull local police and first responders into providing security.
"Quite frankly that is not something that I want to go through right now. And so while the president is welcome to visit, I would just as soon he give us another a week or two, get back to a greater sense of normalcy here," Edwards said in Baton Rouge while accompanying Johnson.
The White House also noted that Louisiana's top elected Republican, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, on Thursday also praised the federal government's response during an interview with NPR.
Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.
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