Trump faces first natural disaster as Hurricane Harvey looms

With Hurricane Harvey set to make landfall in Texas late Friday, President Trump faces the first natural disaster during his time in office, and with it, a test of his abilities to handle that type of emergency.

After Trump sparked outrage with his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., where he cited violence on “both sides” after a rally organized by white supremacists left one counterprotester dead, he will have an opportunity to reboot with his handling of Hurricane Harvey, although vacancies in key posts for emergency preparedness could impede his administration’s readiness and response.

After Trump poached Gen. John Kelly from the Department of Homeland Security to act as White House chief of staff, acting secretary Elaine Duke has the reins. The DHS oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Slideshow: Texas braces for Hurricane Harvey >>>

At the White House press briefing Thursday, press secretary Sarah Sanders brushed off concerns that there is still an interim leader at DHS.

She said Duke was “watching this closely” and said there is “probably no better chief of staff for the president during the hurricane season” than Kelly.

“The president has been briefed and will continue to be updated as the storm progresses and certainly [that is] something he’s very aware of, and we’ll keep a very watchful eye on, and stands ready to provide resources, if needed,” Sanders concluded.

At the press briefing Friday, Sanders said Trump likely travel to Texas “early next week.” Trump tweeted Friday that he received a briefing on Hurricane Harvey, and on Thursday tweeted government agency resources.

Hurricane Harvey is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 3 storm. As Harvey is gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico, officials have urged residents of coastal Texas to evacuate. In Texas, evacuation orders are issued at the local level, either by county judges, city officials, or law enforcement, which can be frustrating to federal and state officials.

FEMA Director Brock Long told Bloomberg News on Monday, “We’ve gone 11 years without a major hurricane landfalling in the U.S. — that’s a 1-in-2,000 chance. We’re gonna get hit by a major hurricane. I worry that a lot of people have forgotten what that’s like.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday the hurricane could “prove more dangerous than many other hurricanes” and be “a very major disaster.” He also sent a letter to the president requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration.

Natural disasters often beget legacy-defining circumstances. President George W. Bush and FEMA’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was widely panned, a fact Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, publicly urged Trump to keep in mind.

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