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Biden visits Texas to survey the damage from devastating storm

Marshaling the power of their office and the resources of the federal government to help Americans in the wake of a natural disaster is a key responsibility of a president. That brought President Biden on Friday to Texas, which is still recovering from a rare winter blast this month. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a key responsibility of a president, marshaling the power of their office and the resources of the federal government to help Americans in the wake of a natural disaster.

    That brought President Biden today to Texas, which was caught up in that rare winter blast earlier this month.

    Amna Nawaz has our report.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A mild late winter day greeted President Biden in Houston, a world away from the shocking deep freeze that devastated Texas communities days ago and brought Biden here today, his first weather disaster since taking office.

    The freezing temperatures overwhelmed the system. Millions lost power, heat, and water across Texas and the South, and Northwest of the country. The sudden and severe freeze led to at least 40 deaths in the Lone Star State. Boil-water orders are still in place for more than a million people.

  • Eric Stern:

    I think expectations on President Biden are high.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Eric Stern, professor at the University at Albany, studies emergency preparedness and how leaders respond to crises.

  • Eric Stern:

    He has presented himself as a person who has known suffering and who can comfort people who are going through hard times.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As of Tuesday, FEMA says it's supplied more than a million meals, a million gallons of water, and more than 100,000 blankets, plus support for critical infrastructure.

    President Biden approved disaster funding for more than 120 Texas counties. But, earlier this week, Republicans and Democrats from Texas' congressional delegation sent this request to the president to open up funding to all 254 Texas counties.

    After waiting for a visit time the president thought less disruptive, Biden's first stop today was the emergency operations center.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    You're saving people's lives. As my mother would say, you're doing God's work here.

    Get to work, guys. We have got a lot of food to separate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Later, he spent time with volunteers at the Houston Food Bank, the largest such facility in the country, serving over a million people.

  • Joe Biden:

    It's an incredible place. They're doing a — and they have got so many talented people here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For presidents, responding to these kinds of crises is seen as a test of leadership.

  • Eric Stern:

    And there are a lot of ways that it can go wrong. And a lot presidents in the past have been criticized for the way that they have related to disasters. And this is all very delicate, because you're dealing with people who have suffered tremendous dislocation, suffering, sometimes tragedy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    George W. Bush was forced to admit he should have — quote — "intervened faster" back in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, Barack Obama was hailed for leading a swift bipartisan response to Hurricane Sandy.

    And Donald Trump, who grappled not only with major wildfires in California, but also the monstrous hurricanes Harvey and Maria, was criticized for responding slowly and appearing indifferent to the damage caused.

  • Protesters:

    Hey-hey, ho-ho, Ted Cruz has got to go!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    State and local officials in Texas have faced similar scrutiny for their response to the weather crisis.

    Republican Senator Ted Cruz drew outrage when he left for Cancun with his family during the mass power and heat outages. And Republican Governor Greg Abbott was panned for using a FOX News interview about the crisis to criticize Democrat's energy policies.

  • Gov. Greg Abbott:

    If the Biden administration is going to try to eradicate fossil fuels in the United States, every state is going to constantly have challenges like what America is seeing take place in Texas right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Today, Abbott accompanied President Biden on his tour of Houston. And the president spent much of his visit listening.

  • Eric Stern:

    This is a tough balancing act for leaders to manage, and it's quite easy for them to go too far in one direction or another, and for it to go very wrong.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Leaving discussions over how to prevent or mitigate future disasters for another day.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just moments ago, President Biden spoke in Texas about the continued need to work together during the recovery.

  • Joe Biden:

    When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas, it's not a Republican or Democrat who is hurting. It's our fellow Americans are hurting.

    And it's our job to help everyone in need, look out for one another, leave nobody behind. That's what we have seen today in our visit.

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