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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump made his second trip to Texas Saturday, this time visiting hard-hit Houston to hug children at a relief distribution center, pass out hot dog and potato chip lunches, and continue his praise of ongoing recovery efforts on the ground.
"It’s been done very efficiently, very well," Trump said of the recovery. "We’re very happy with the way everything’s going. Lot of love."
The optics of this latest trip were starkly different than the stops Trump made earlier this week to Corpus Christi and Austin, where he did not directly see flooding or greet any victims of the storm, but instead was briefed on the ground about local, state, and FEMA response plans. Nonetheless, Trump tweeted that he'd seen "first hand the horror & devastation" of Hurricane Harvey.
Asked Saturday what families on the ground had told him, Trump said "they were just happy" and he seemed to find a silver lining in the disaster.
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"As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing. I think even for the country to watch and for the world to watch. It’s been beautiful," the president told reporters before he began passing out lunches. "Have a good time everybody, I’m going to be doing a little help over here."
But the bulk of the aid will come through federal funding for Texas and Louisiana's recovery.
The Trump administration on Friday asked Congress for $7.85 billion to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastating floods in parts of Texas.
The size of the appropriation request is larger than what some had expected. Two Republican congressional sources had said a request of at least $5.5 billion had been expected. The Office of Management and Budget made the request in a letter sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Most of the requested $7.85 billion — $7.4 billion — would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund, and $450 million is sought for the Small Business Administration's disaster loan program.
“We have to push that stuff through," Trump told Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in front of people gathered at the First Church of Pearland, located in a Houston suburb. "But we will. We signed some very big authorizations last night, and we’ll get it through.”
OMB Director Mick Mulvaney in the letter called the amount requested a "down payment" and said future requests would address longer-term recovery efforts.
FEMA's disaster relief fund had been at around $3.6 billion heading into the storm, Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert said Thursday, and that pool of money was funding most of the agency's response.
The House Majority Leader's office announced that the House will vote next week but the timing was not specified.
Ryan said on Twitter that the House "will act quickly" on the request. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said that the Senate was prepared to move quickly. Congress returns from its August recess on Tuesday.
The scope of the damage caused by the storm could make it the costliest natural disaster in the nation's history.
Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast a week ago as a Category 4 hurricane, then turned into a tropical storm and swamped parts of the Texas coast this week. Houston, Beaumont, and other cities saw major flooding. The storm is blamed in at least 43 deaths as of Saturday evening.
More than 436,000 households have registered for aid through FEMA in the aftermath of the storm, the Friday request says.
Mulvaney said in the letter to Ryan that "this request is a down-payment on the President's commitment to help affected States recover from the storm, and future requests will address longer-term rebuilding needs."
McConnell said the storm caused "horrific devastation" to Texas and the Gulf Coast.
"Working closely with the President and the House of Representatives, the Senate stands ready to act quickly to provide this much-needed assistance to those impacted communities, and support first responders and volunteers," McConnell said.
Trump acknowledged the "long term" recovery plan needed for cities impacted by Harvey's destruction. "We’re talking about, they say, two years, three years," he said. "But I think that because this is Texas, you’ll probably do it in six months!"
Ali Vitali reported from Washington. Phil Helsel reported from Los Angeles.