President Joe Biden has announced plans to sign a major disaster declaration for the state of Texas today. That declaration, requested by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, will expedite the delivery of expanded federal emergency relief to the state which has been slammed by an intense winter storm and is facing what Austin City Council Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison has described as “a Katrina-scale crisis.”
That signing follows moves yesterday by the administration to dispatch generators, blankets, food, and other supplies to the region, and a White House directive to multiple departments to identify additional resources which could be put towards the response effort.
“Jill and I are keeping Texas, Oklahoma, and other impacted states in our prayers,” the president tweeted. “I’ve declared states of emergency, authorized FEMA to provide generators and supplies, and am ready to fulfill additional requests.”
Biden also plans to visit the region, where thousands remain without power or water and at least 47 people have died due to the storm and its aftermath, but is delaying his trip until he can arrive without creating an additional “burden,” as he termed it, on emergency responders.
The speed which with this White House has approved relief for the region stands in stark contrast to the way the Trump administration responded to California’s wildfires in recent years.
In the fall of 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom contacted then-President Trump seeking the same type of major disaster declaration after nearly 2 million acres of the state burned in wildfires that destroyed at least 1,000 homes and killed three people. Trump denied that request.
Ultimately–and particularly after Newsom’s request got a boost from Trump’s political ally Kevin McCarthy–the White House reversed that denial and issued the declaration, freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to reimburse expenses accrued in fighting the fires.
Trump’s resistance to approving federal help for the fire-ravaged state was foreshadowed by statements he made in the fall of 2018, when California was in the throes of what’s now its second-most deadly fire season after 2020. In a series of tweets and a statement to the media from what was left of the town of Paradise, Trump repeatedly harped on forest management, claiming that wildfires were the result of no one raking or “cleaning” the floors.
“You have to take care of the floors, you know, the floors of the forest, very important,” he said during a news conference. “You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story. I was with the president of Finland and he said we have a, we’re a forest nation—he called it a forest nation—and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things and they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem.”
The subsequent January, Trump threatened to cut off federal aid, tweeting, “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money.” In November of that year, amid another fire season, Trump once again threatened to stop providing federal aid—even after Newsom publicly praised the federal response.