By Mario Parker
“It’s a hell of an operation you have here, probably the best one in the country,” Biden said at the Harris County Emergency Operations Center, where he was briefed by acting Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Bob Fenton and other officials. “You’re saving people’s lives. As my mother would say, you’re doing God’s work.”
He’ll later visit a federal coronavirus mass vaccination site, NRG Stadium.
About 70 people died across Texas and other southern states due to the rare winter storm. The president has largely avoided criticism for the government’s response to the first natural disaster of his term. His predecessor Donald Trump was heavily criticized in 2017 for his response to Hurricane Maria, which decimated Puerto Rico.
Instead, it was Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Houston, who was lambasted for leaving the state on a trip with his family to Cancun while millions of his constituents lacked heat or running water during the storm. Cruz abruptly returned to Houston after the uproar.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said that Houston being Cruz’s hometown had no bearing on Biden’s trip to the city.
“He wanted to also visit a vaccine — a place where vaccines are being distributed, so that was another component of the trip. In addition, we worked in very close coordination — as I’ve noted — as we were trying to figure out the timing of the trip, with experts on the ground, with our acting FEMA administrator on where it would be most appropriate to visit,” Psaki said at a White House press briefing.
On Feb. 20, Biden approved Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s request for a major disaster declaration for Texas that allows grants for temporary housing and home repairs, among other actions.
“He’s going to be spending the day with the governor of Texas because this is not a partisan issue. This is not just impacting Democrats and Republicans. It’s impacting all of the people in the state,” Psaki said Thursday on ABC’s “The View.”
The Texas crisis also put climate change and efforts to improve the U.S. energy grid into sharp focus. When he took office, Biden re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement He’s also set a goal to make the U.S. energy sector carbon-free by 2035.
The storm brought Texas’s electrical grid near the point of collapse, and reignited a debate over whether green energy from sources such as wind farms is as reliable as fossil fuel-powered plants.
Biden’s homeland security adviser, Liz Sherwood-Randall, said that the “biggest problem” in the failure of Texas’s power grid was freezing at natural gas wells and power plants, not wind farms. She also criticized Texas lawmakers’ decision to establish a largely deregulated power grid that’s independent from the rest of the contiguous U.S.
“That means they don’t have the kind of backup” they needed in the crisis, she said.