White House spokesman Josh Earnest pushed back at critics who have scolded President Obama for his response to what has been called the country's worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy, saying on Monday that “there is all too common temptation to focus on politics and optics.”
“Survivors of flooding aren't well served by political discussion,” Earnest told reporters. They’re “well served by coordinated government response.”
During the flooding in Baton Rouge, which killed 13 people and left tens of thousands of homes devastated, Obama opted to remain on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard — a fact noted in a scathing op-ed published Wednesday in the Baton Rouge Advocate, among other places.
“The optics of Obama golfing while Louisiana residents languished in flood waters was striking,” the newspaper editorialized. “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.”
Earnest, however, said that Obama was more focused on an effective response than on optics. He pointed to the president’s disaster declaration last Sunday, which freed up federal aid for the state’s recovery, and to the federal officials who did travel to Louisiana, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate.
FEMA, Earnest said, was “working around the clock to serve Baton Rouge,” and its response has so far proven far more effective than what immediately followed Hurricane Katrina.
Last week, Louisiana Lt. Gov. William Nungesser praised FEMA's response in an interview with NPR.
On Tuesday, Obama will travel to Louisiana to survey the damage, speak with officials and “offer comfort to citizens whose lives been thrown into chaos,” Earnest said.