NPR Targets Trump, Cruz Over Hurricane Harvey Recovery Funding

Tuesday's All Things Considered on NPR aired two segments that took shots at President Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz's handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Both reports featured talking heads from liberal organizations, but didn't explicitly mention their ideological stance.

By contast, the segments clearly identified specific individual and groups as "conservative." Correspondent Scott Detrow played up Senator Cruz's objection to Hurricane Sandy relief spending, and hinted he exaggerated the proposal's wasteful spending. Journalist Christopher Joyce spotlighted President Trump's reversal of an Obama-era executive order that supposedly "could make it more difficult to rebuild stronger."

Host Ari Shapiro introduced Detrow's report by noting that "when the floodwaters in Texas eventually recede, the cleanup and rebuilding will begin. The vast majority of those efforts will be funded by the federal government...finding the funds might get tricky." The correspondent picked up where Shapiro left off and summarized that "funding [the] Harvey recovery may not be that easy....For one thing, Congress is about to enter a very busy stretch."

Detrow first turned to Sarah Binder, whom he identified as a "congressional expert at the Brookings Institution." However, he didn't note the left-of-center politics of the group. Binder is also a former Democratic congressional staffer, and is an editor The Washington Post's "Monkey Cage" blog.

She highlighted that Congress has "to fund the government — lest, it shut down. They have to raise the debt ceiling unless the government defaults." Detrow also featured Edward Richards of Louisiana State University's Climate Change Law and Policy Project, who underlined that "the federal funds are absolutely essential to recovery."

The NPR journalist continued with the targeting of Senator Cruz. He noted that "after [Hurricane] Sandy, 179 House Republicans voted no on a major aid package — so did several Republican senators, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz."

After playing a soundbite of the Texas Republican attacking the package as "filled with unrelated pork" and that "two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy," Detrow countered that "fact-checkers take issue with that characterization; and many members of Congress aren't forgetting the Cruz vote — even Republicans, like Long Island's Peter King." He included a clip of Rep. King attacking Senator Cruz.

Near the end of the segment, the correspondent cited Binder, who emphasized that "changing circumstances can change views — like when your state is the one that's flooded or when you go from being a conservative House rabble-rouser to vice president."

He followed with two excepts of Mike Pence — the first from when he was a congressman, where he warned of a "catastrophe of debt" due to the post-Hurricane Katrina spending; and the second from the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvery, where the Vice President promised that the "the national government...[is] going to make the resources available, to see Texas through the rescue operation; through the recovery."

Minutes later, as he led into Joyce's report, Shapiro touted how "the President [Trump] has recently made some big changes in how the government manages disasters...those changes could make it more difficult to rebuild stronger." The NPR correspondent first outlined that former President Barack Obama "issued an executive order designed to help communities rebuild after floods. It covered projects that use federal funds — bridges, hospitals, sewage treatment plants. They had to be built higher and stronger to withstand future disasters — especially as climate change brought wetter storms. Two weeks ago, President Trump rescinded that order."

Joyce's first talking head was "flood expert" Rob Moore, who contended that "without [Obama's] standard in place...we're going to continue building things that get knocked down; and we're going to continue rebuilding those things after they're knocked down."

The journalist disclosed that Moore is "with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group." Just as Detrow, his colleague, had done with Brookings, Joyce didn't mention the NRDC's liberal ideology. However, he immediately added that "besides environmental groups, some conservatives were also disappointed with Trump's decision."

The correspondent did feature four soundbites from R.J. Lehmann of the R Street Institute (which he identified as a "free-market research group"). Lehmann criticized the President for his move, and noted that "being able to reduce or eliminate a risk is much more cost effective than having to respond to it after the fact." But the expert also took aim at former President Obama: "The Obama executive order was pitched as a climate change adaptation measure, as opposed to simply a risk management measure — made it kind of toxic on the right; and that probably wasn't the wisest marketing."

Joyce concluded his segment by hyping that "President Trump's proposed budget for next year cuts hundreds of millions of dollars that FEMA spends to help states prepare for flooding and other disasters. It also eliminates FEMA's flood mapping program."

He played one more clip from Moore of the NRDC, who underlined that "the Trump administration doesn't seem to understand is that these flood maps are used for decisions at every level of government. They're used by private developers for deciding where it is safe to build; and what kinds of standards do we need to build to in order to be safeguarded against flooding."

The full transcripts of Scott Detrow and Christopher Joyce's reports, which aired on NPR's All Things Considered on August 29, 2017:

ARI SHAPIRO: When the floodwaters in Texas eventually recede, the cleanup and rebuilding will begin. The vast majority of those efforts will be funded by the federal government.

NPR's Scott Detrow reports that finding the funds might get tricky.

SCOTT DETROW: There's no question [the] Harvey recovery will cost billions. President Trump says, no problem.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You're going to see very rapid action from Congress — certainly, from the President — and you're going to get your funding.

DETROW: But funding [the] Harvey recovery may not be that easy. There are a couple of reasons why. For one thing, Congress is about to enter a very busy stretch.

SARAH BINDER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I sort of see it as everybody holding their breath.

DETROW: Sarah Binder is a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution.

BINDER: They have to fund the government — lest, it shut down. They have to raise the debt ceiling unless the government defaults.

DETROW: Government funding and debt ceiling deadlines have led to bitter brinksmanship in recent years, and President Trump has threatened to veto a funding bill if it doesn't include money for a border wall. So there's that backdrop. Now Congress needs to add approval of a tab of tens to possibly a hundred billion dollars.

EDWARD RICHARDS, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: The federal funds are absolutely essential to recovery.

DETROW: Edward Richards directs the Climate Change Law and Policy Project at Louisiana State University. He says there are three waves of federal funding after major hurricanes — initial FEMA grants to people and businesses to help them survive; followed by billions in claims from the National Flood Insurance Program.

RICHARDS: And so, that is fairly swift and fairly certain money. It's the most reliable relief after a flood.

DETROW: Except for this: the whole flood insurance program will grind to a halt at the end of September unless Congress acts. And it's still carrying debt from Katrina, Rita, and Sandy payments. House Speaker Paul Ryan insists the program will be reauthorized.

The next wave of federal assistance comes in specific bills Congress passes after a big disaster. Here's where the politics get really tricky. After Sandy, 179 House Republicans voted no on a major aid package — so did several Republican senators, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Here he is on MSNBC.

SENATOR TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS (from file soundbite): The problem with that particular bill is it became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy.

DETROW: Fact-checkers take issue with that characterization; and many members of Congress aren't forgetting the Cruz vote — even Republicans, like Long Island's Peter King. Here he is on Long Island's News 12.

REP. PETER KING, (R), NEW YORK: Ted Cruz was one of the leaders trying to keep New York, New Jersey, and Long Island from getting the funding we needed. And now, he's the first one asking for aid to Texas. But as badly as I feel toward Ted Cruz, and what a hypocrite I think he is, I'm not going to take that out on the people of Texas.

BINDER: We always say where one stands — where you stand depends on where you sit.

DETROW: Sarah Binder says what that means is changing circumstances can change views — like when your state is the one that's flooded or when you go from being a conservative House rabble-rouser to vice president. Here's Mike Pence arguing against deficit spending for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE (from 2005 remarks): Congress must ensure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt.

DETROW: And this week on Houston station KTRH.

PENCE: I think what you're going to see is — is that the national government — and we anticipate the Congress — are going to make the resources available, to see — to see Texas through the rescue operation; through the recovery.

DETROW: A major relief bill is likely to land on President Trump's desk. The big question is, how much does it affect all the other major debates that will be happening at the same time, and with the same deadlines? Scott Detrow, NPR News.

(...)

ARI SHAPIRO: Just before President Trump flew to Texas, he promised to help the state recover.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before. The rebuilding will begin; and in the end, it will be something very special.

SHAPIRO: But the President has recently made some big changes in how the government manages disasters. As NPR's Christopher Joyce reports, those changes could make it more difficult to rebuild stronger.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Two years ago, President Obama issued an executive order designed to help communities rebuild after floods. It covered projects that use federal funds — bridges, hospitals, sewage treatment plants. They had to be built higher and stronger to withstand future disasters — especially as climate change brought wetter storms. Two weeks ago, President Trump rescinded that order.

Flood expert Rob Moore calls that tragic.

ROB MOORE, NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Without this standard in place — you know, we're going to continue building things that get knocked down; and we're going to continue rebuilding those things after they're knocked down.

JOYCE: Moore is with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. Besides environmental groups, some conservatives were also disappointed with Trump's decision.

R. J. LEHMANN, R STREET INSTITUTE: It's clearly the wrong direction.

JOYCE: J.R. (sic) Lehmann is a fellow at the R Street Institute, a free-market research group that wants to see tax dollars spent efficiently.

LEHMANN: Being able to reduce or eliminate a risk is much more cost effective than having to respond to it after the fact.

JOYCE: He says that means more than elevating buildings after floods. It means getting people to stop building in hazardous areas.

LEHMANN: Most of the increase in disasters is not actually due to changes in the weather, but changes in human living patterns.

JOYCE: But Lehmann also says Obama made a tactical error by tying the executive order to climate change.

LEHMANN: The Obama executive order was pitched as a climate change adaptation measure, as opposed to simply a risk management measure — made it kind of toxic on the right; and that probably wasn't the wisest marketing.

JOYCE: Besides the executive order, the budget for the Federal Emergency Management Agency has become a target as well. FEMA is the government's front line when it comes to flooding. President Trump's proposed budget for next year cuts hundreds of millions of dollars that FEMA spends to help states prepare for flooding and other disasters. It also eliminates FEMA's flood mapping program. FEMA draws up maps that show who's in a flood zone and has to buy flood insurance, and who doesn't.

NRDC's Rob Moore says that could have far-reaching effects.

MOORE: What the Trump administration doesn't seem to understand is that these flood maps are used for decisions at every level of government. They're used by private developers for deciding where it is safe to build; and what kinds of standards do we need to build to in order to be safeguarded against flooding.

JOYCE: FEMA is already in a delicate position financially. It's over $23 billion in debt. The tragedy unfolding in Texas and Louisiana will cost billions more, and may well drive the agency further underwater. Christopher Joyce, NPR News.


Please support NewsBusters today! [a 501(c)(3) non-profit production of the Media Research Center]

DONATE

Or, book travel through MRC’s Travel Discounts Program! MRC receives a rebate for each booking when you use our special codes.

BOOK NOW
NBDaily Congress Budget Environment Global Warming Hurricanes Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Bias by Omission Labeling Radio NPR All Things Considered Christopher Joyce Ari Shapiro Donald Trump Ted Cruz
Matthew Balan's picture