Hurricane Harvey Narrative Already Set: Trump Failed
The next 48 hours will be a tough one for the state of Texas. Hurricane Harvey will make landfall at about 1:00 AM on Saturday, bringing with it winds in excess of 125 MPH, a storm surge of 12 feet with waves 20 feet higher than that, and massive rains that will cause deadly floods.
And it will be all Trump's fault.
The press has already got its lede for tomorrow: "Administration vacancies in key offices killed people."
The Trump administration has been preparing for months for what is forecast to be an especially active hurricane season, but Harvey is also gusting toward the US amid questions about vacancies in key administration posts -- including the helm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Coast Guard, also is without a permanent leader after Trump's decision to pluck retired Gen. John Kelly from his post atop DHS to become his White House chief of staff. Kelly's deputy, Elaine Duke, has since taken the helm as acting secretary.
The White House on Thursday expressed confidence in Duke's abilities to manage the response and noted that Kelly will also be at Trump's side as Harvey makes landfall.
"There's certainly someone at the helm," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, pointing to Duke. "And again, I think that we are in great shape having General Kelly sitting next to the President throughout this process, and probably no better chief of staff for the president during the hurricane season."
"The President has been briefed and will continue to be updated as the storm progresses, and certainly something he's very aware of and will keep a very watchful eye on, and stands ready to provide resources if needed," Sanders said.
DHS press secretary David Lapan pointed out Friday on Twitter that Duke is a "DHS veteran w/ extensive experience in previous assignments," and said FEMA administrator Brock Long is "leading experienced career staff" at FEMA.
Duke is not the only interim official leading a critical component of the federal government's natural disaster response and monitoring efforts.
Trump's pick for FEMA administrator was confirmed in June, but officials at NOAA are still waiting for Trump to nominate someone to lead the key weather monitoring agency. The post remains vacant -- and without a Trump nominee -- alongside dozens of other deputy, under and assistant secretary positions in the Trump administration that require Senate confirmation.
As usual, the NOAA has done a fantastic job in monitoring, tracking, and predicting Hurricane Harvey. And -- imagine that -- they did it all without a Trump-nominated administrator.
But now that the storm is about to make landfall and cause perhaps billions of dollars in damages and cost lives, an agency that has nothing to do with hurricane response will suddenly be at fault because, well, Trump.
As for FEMA, that's a slam dunk for the media. When there's a natural disaster, it's kind of, well, sort of, a disaster. Trucks carrying food, water, and medicine will find it difficult to get to hard-hit areas because, well, it's a disaster. There may be snafus, delays, or other problems in distribution because it's a disaster.
But the media can't let this golden opportunity go to waste. They can't come out and say the disaster was "preventable." Hurricanes, after all, are a naturally occurring phenomenon. But they can say the next best thing.
It didn't have to be this bad. If only Trump had filled all those positions in government, people would still be alive! Buildings would still be standing! People wouldn't be suffering!
I am not defending Donald Trump in the least. In fact, I expect his administration to blow it. But Trump may as well go out and play a couple of rounds of golf this weekend. It won't matter one iota to the media. They've already got their headlines, their storylines, and their attack phrases while Democrats have created all the sound bites they need.
Thus, is the natural disaster "covered" by the media.