Democratic politicians are criticising President Trump for holding a political rally on Wednesday as Hurricane Michael pounded the Florida Panhandle with heavy rain and 155 mph winds, causing multiple deaths.
The president announced on Wednesday afternoon that he would attend a previously scheduled rally in Erie, Pennsylvania – an opportunity to campaign leading up to the midterm elections.
“I cannot disappoint the thousands of people that are there – and the thousands that are going,” he wrote on Twitter. “I look forward to seeing everyone this evening.”
But some politicians called his decision to continue with the rally “inappropriate” and “revolting” and pointed out that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in early November 2012, Mr Trump scolded President Barack Obama for attending a campaign event in Columbus, featuring singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen and rapper Jay-Z, days after the storm had dissipated. But at the time, Mr Trump said it was “Wrong!”
“Tonight @realDonaldTrump is fundraising and holding a rally in Pennsylvania while Hurricane Michael victims across Florida are still decimated. Wrong!” Andrew Weinstein, co-chair of the Democrats’ National Lawyers Council, wrote on Wednesday on Twitter, mocking the president’s 2012 remarks.
Mr Trump began his speech on Wednesday by extending “our thoughts and prayers of our entire nation to everyone in the path of Hurricane Michael.”
But some questioned whether Mr Trump should have attended at all.
Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, posed that precise question on Twitter, writing, “Is it appropriate for the President to be at a rally?”
Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla, posted video of a live CNN broadcast showing the storm raging in Panama City Beach. The former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee called out Mr Trump for mocking the #MeToo movement. During the rally Mr Trump said: “There’s an expression, but under the rules of Me Too, I’m not allowed to use that expression anymore. I can’t do it.” It was unclear which expression he was referencing.
Rep Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, criticised the president for campaigning “while millions suffered from #HurricaneMichael,” asking readers to vote on Twitter: “What do you think the American president should have done? Prioritised storm relief or prioritised himself”
News of the rally also made the morning news shows on Thursday as hosts debated it. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough called out Mr Trump on his show “Morning Joe” for “holding a full-on pep rally while Americans are suffering and dying in northwest Florida,” according to the Abrams Media Network website Mediaite.
“Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade called it a “good move.”
“So, the president last night was able to join Shannon Bream after his rally in Pennsylvania. He wanted everyone to know that, even though he’s holding the rally, he never really put the people in the eye of the storm behind him,” Mr Kilmeade said, according to Media Matters for America. “I think that was, overall, a good move.”
Mr Trump said on the Fox News Channel that he did not cancel the previously scheduled event because he did not want to disappoint all of his supporters.
When “Fox News @ Night” host Shannon Bream asked the president on Wednesday night whether he wanted to respond to critics who said he should not have held a rally at a time like that, he said, “Well, if I didn’t go, they would also criticise.”
“The problem I had, Shannon, is this was set up a long time ago,” he continued. “We had thousands of people lined up from yesterday. I mean, literally they stayed 24 hours and sometimes more than that to go to these rallies. They like them. You probably saw the pictures on television tonight, thousands and thousands of people outside after the arena. It was a big arena. But it was full. And we had 15,000 or beyond that people outside. And so, you had these people waiting for hours, many hours. And if I didn’t go, that would have been the wrong thing too.
“And more importantly than anything, we have people in Florida. We have people in the White House. I had everything set up on Air Force One. I was in total communication.”
People there “had a fantastic time,” Mr Trump said. “But it would have been very unfair to have people waiting for 10, 12, more than that hours and then say, ‘By the way, I’m not going to be there tonight.’ It would have been pretty tough.”
Mr Trump echoed his comments on Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends.”
When co-host Steve Doocy asked him about the “heat” he has taken since the rally, Mr Trump responded: “Well, I think really when I explained it there was no heat. I really had very little heat, other than the natural haters, of which there are obviously some. But, you know, we had thousands of people standing in line. It’s a great thing that’s happening. It’s a great movement in our country.”
CNN reported that candidates running for US Senate and governor in Florida postponed their campaigning to focus on Hurricane Michael, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.
A spokesperson for Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) told CNN this week that the governor would be putting his campaign plans on hold for the “next few days.” Mr Scott, a GOP candidate for US Senate in the state, wrote on Thursday on Twitter that “100% of our focus is on rescue & recovery from this devastating storm.”
His opponent, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla), was planning to meet with emergency management authorities “to make sure local officials have everything they need,” a spokesperson told CNN.
Gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) said on Sunday that he would be stepping away from his campaign temporarily to prepare for the looming natural disaster.
The Washington Post