President Donald Trump traveled to Alabama on Friday after directing federal emergency personnel to provide “A Plus treatment” in assisting the state’s recovery from tornadoes that killed 23 people last weekend.
After arriving, Trump praised first responders among fields of debris and flattened trees and paid respects to victims of the disaster. He offered hugs to families as they showed him personal effects belonging to their lost family members, and received a warm reception from volunteers at the church where he signed hats and Bibles.
Trump has at times struggled in the role of consoler-in-chief after natural disasters. He was criticized for tossing paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria. And the staff of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert published a children’s book, Whose Boat Is This Boat? mocking remarks Trump made in hurricane-stricken North Carolina last year.
But the president was on friendly ground in Alabama, a state he carried by nearly 28 percentage points in the 2016 election.
Trump on Tuesday approved an expedited request for a major disaster declaration in the state, unlocking federal grants for temporary housing and home repairs for storm victims and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
“It’s been a tragic situation, but a lot of good work is being done,” Trump said at an event at the White House on Tuesday. The president added that he had been in “constant contact” with local officials in Alabama and Georgia.
White House officials wouldn’t provide the president’s itinerary in Alabama, but a spokeswoman for Senator Doug Jones, an Alabama Democrat, said he planned to meet the president on the ground once Trump arrives in the state. Trump will leave for his Mar-a-Lago resort after the visit, where he’ll hold a series of fundraisers over the weekend.
After some disasters, the president has criticized local leaders in areas where he lacks political support. He has called the mayor of San Juan “totally incompetent” and insinuated that deadly wildfires in California were the fault of local officials.
That’s not the case in Trump-friendly Alabama. Governor Kay Ivey praised Trump for his “very gracious” support to the state in the aftermath of the tornadoes, which hit Lee County in eastern Alabama.
“This is a difficult time for the state of Alabama, but knowing that we have this additional assistance, and the support of our president and folks across the country, we will get through this together,” Ivey said in a statement. “We will recover, and we will lift up Lee County in this time of need.”