If President Joe Biden had taken a trip to Mexico and left his dogs home, do you think the mainstream media would have noticed that he only declared a major disaster for 77 of 254 Texas counties?
Asking for a friend. Sure, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s trip to Cancun wasn’t exactly an example of masterful optics, but at least you could argue several things in his defense.
First, the situation in the state dramatically improved by the time he left. The Associated Press reported most of the power was back on when he hopped a plane to the Yucatán Peninsula — only 325,000 people didn’t have electricity, as opposed to 3 million at the height of the winter weather emergency. The major issue was access to water.
Further, Cruz had actually done exactly what a senator was supposed to do. Together with fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn, he had sent a letter to President Biden to “respectfully urge you to approve the Governor’s request for Public Assistance Category B and Direct Federal Assistance for all 254 Texas counties.” As Politico Playbook noted, this “is the main thing a senator is good for at this stage (though other electeds are doing a lot more).”
But I come not to praise Ted Cruz, who made a pretty serious whoopsie. I come, instead, to wonder why the media hasn’t bothered looking into Biden’s curious decision not to declare a major disaster for the entirety of the state, not just the 77 counties that he did.
According to The Dallas Morning News, the disaster declaration signed by Biden covers major population centers — the area around Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin — but it’s not what Cruz, Cornyn or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had wanted. It’s also important because the assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other arms of government can help storm victims get back on their feet, with grants that cover things like temporary housing and home repairs.
So, what’s the reasoning behind limiting the emergency declaration?
Appearing on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration decided not to declare an emergency for the entire state because it wanted to focus on the areas “hardest hit.”
Asked by host Jonathan Karl whether Abbott and Biden were “on the same page now” regarding the emergency declaration, Psaki gave the kind of non-answer answer that’s become a house specialty in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House.
“We’ve been in very close touch with Governor Abbott. I know members of our team spoke with him just last night. The president spoke with him just a few days ago and he is getting regular updates from his team,” Psaki said, according to an ABC transcript.
“Now what happens here is, the governor requested a federal disaster declaration. The president asked his team to expedite that. And FEMA determined where the counties should be — where it should focus the immediate resources, where the counties that are hardest hit so that they can make sure they get to the people in most need,” she continued.
“Now, as your earlier report alluded to or talked about, that means not just getting people through this emergency but getting people through the recovery, people who don’t have water, don’t have heating, need a place to stay for a while, that’s what that major disaster declaration will help address, or that’s our hope.”
The @WhiteHouse approved a Major Disaster Declaration in 77 Texas counties today. Individuals who sustained losses due to the winter storms and do not have insurance can now apply for federal assistance.
— FEMA (@fema) February 20, 2021
Hand it to Karl: He managed to get in a bit of an aside before moving along.
“Well, it certainly looks like this is a disaster that affected the entire state,” Karl said.
Texas officials have emphasized this is a disaster that isn’t just confined to the most populous areas, particularly given the size of the Lone Star State.
“We do want all 254 counties added,” said Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd at a Saturday media briefing.
“What we will have to do is to get information from all 254 counties to show damages. We will have to show county by county, dollar by dollar. I don’t think we will have a county that doesn’t meet this threshold.”
All 254 counties reported some level of winter weather, be it a deep freeze or snow.
Furthermore, 18 of 23 Republicans in Texas’ GOP House caucus signed a letter asking Biden to reconsider his decision to leave most Texas counties out of the emergency declaration. (Also signing the letter was Democrat Rep. Al Green, best known to most of us outside of Texas as the legislator who serially introduced articles of impeachment against former President Donald Trump for no good reason except he needed some attention for a news cycle or two.)
“Our home state has been battered by unprecedented winter weather that has affected all 254 counties in Texas, overwhelmed the power grid, and crippled our roadways,” the letter stated.
“The historic impacts of winter precipitation and arctic temperatures have left millions of Texans without power, potable water, and have strained the supply chain for food and other necessities.”
There were a lot of people saying this was a good building block. Abbott said the “partial approval is an important first step.” Texas House Democrats called it “an important first step to getting the resources necessary to help our state recover and rebuild.”
And while the White House said that “[a]dditional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments,” last I checked, this the president who likes to Go Big.
Remember the language around his $1.9 trillion relief bill? It was all about going big. We couldn’t spend enough to get ourselves out of this mess, even if the spending had nothing to do with the disease that caused it.
“In order to grow the economy a year or two, three, and four down the line, we can’t spend too much,” Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper during a Feb. 16 town hall. “Now is the time we should be spending. Now is the time to go big.”
However, when a once-in-a-century series of storms hit Texas, it was important to focus on the areas “hardest hit.” Apparently, Biden shows remarkable financial and resource-related continence when it comes to the state of Texas. He also didn’t show any haste in issuing the emergency, calling for this a week after the storms began.
Both Biden and Sen. Cruz will be up for re-election in 2024 if they choose to run. Cruz took a vacation at an inopportune time. Biden refused to declare an emergency for the entire state of Texas even as many in the state are still under a boil-water order.
And yet, I can guarantee you the mainstream media will remember only one of these, and I’ll also guarantee it’ll be the wrong one.
Texas won’t forget quite so easily.