Trump fires off tweets to show he is engaged

US President Donald Trump is seated in the Oval Office during a meeting at the White House in Washington, on Aug 28, 2017.
US President Donald Trump is seated in the Oval Office during a meeting at the White House in Washington, on Aug 28, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • As the first major natural disaster of his administration played out in the Gulf Coast, leaving millions at risk of deadly winds and flooding from Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump was tweeting the unfolding events - live.

"Wow - Now experts are calling Harvey a once in 500 year flood!" Mr Trump marvelled in a tweet on Sunday morning. "Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen."

In an effort to show his engagement, Mr Trump fired off more than a dozen messages to the public on his favourite social media platform after Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast as a Category 4 storm.

The White House also outlined plans for him to visit Texas today. "I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety," he said prior to that announcement.

He offered praise for the "wonderful coordination" between federal, state and local governments, and lauded the "great talent on the ground".

The upbeat response from the commander-in-chief prompted questions about whether he was prematurely declaring the storm response a success, even while thousands still faced the prospect of deadly danger.

"It's not premature if you do it the right way," Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said on CBS' Face The Nation, when asked if Mr Trump's tweets were proclaiming success before the worst of the storm had passed.

"What Brock Long at Fema did - and myself and the President - we got together and reviewed that carefully and decided on Friday night that the President would issue a major disaster (declaration) before landfall," he said. Mr Long is director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).

In the hours before the worst of Harvey's wrath was felt, Mr Trump received a public warning from Republican Senator Charles Grassley from Iowa about the risks to his presidency of not responding adequately to the US' most powerful storm to make landfall in 12 years. "Keep on top of Hurricane Harvey," the senator wrote, urging Mr Trump not to make the same mistake that former US president George W. Bush made in his response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

On Sunday, Mr Trump's tweets started off pitching a book written by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a supporter and controversial figure. Then he turned to the unfolding disaster in Texas, before announcing a political appearance in Missouri and slamming Mexico and Canada for "being very difficult" in talks over rethinking the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Despite the scattered focus, Mr Bossert and Mr Long defended the President on Sunday morning public affairs broadcasts. "He's extremely concerned, incredibly engaged," Mr Long said on CNN's State Of The Union.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2017, with the headline 'Trump fires off tweets to show he is engaged'. Print Edition | Subscribe