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Biden blames Texas leaders over delay in Beryl aid

One day after Hurricane Beryl tore through Southeast Texas flooding coastal cities and the streets of Houston and leaving more than two million people without power, President Joe Biden claimed that he could not immediately distribute federal emergency relief supplies because he had been unable to “track down” state leaders — a claim vigorously disputed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Patrick is serving as the acting governor while Abbott has been on a pre-planned overseas junket to promote economic relationships with Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, and Patrick has been managing and coordinating the state response to Beryl.  

“I’ve been trying to track down the governor to see  — I don’t have any authority to do that without a specific request from the governor,” Biden told Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace. Wallace added that the president said he “kept tracking the lieutenant governor,” but did not connect with Patrick until Tuesday afternoon. 

News of Biden’s accusation broke as Patrick participated in his third press conference of the day, joining Houston Mayor John Whitmire and a bipartisan group of elected officials late Tuesday afternoon to inform the public about coordinated assessment and recovery efforts. 

During the press conference, both Whitmire and Patrick praised the collaborative efforts of officials on the federal, state, and local levels, and Patrick stated, “It is total teamwork…there’s no politics.” 

After the conference, Patrick released a statement addressing the president’s accusation. 

“I am disappointed that President Biden is turning Hurricane Beryl into a political issue. We had a cordial call today that ended up with him granting my request for a major disaster declaration,” said Patrick. “But that’s not good enough for him. He is falsely accusing me that I was not reachable.”

Patrick later posted a screenshot of a phone record indicating that Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Department of Emergency Management had received only one phone call from the White House at 11:49 a.m. Tuesday morning — received while Kidd and Patrick were sitting together.

The lieutenant governor also noted that employees from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had been with him for three days.  

“All [Biden] had to do was call them and have them hand their phone to me,” said Patrick.

Abbott’s Press Secretary Andrew Mahaleris called the president’s claims “a complete lie.” 

“The President and his Administration know exactly how to get in contact with the Governor and have on numerous occasions in the past, and even most recently on Friday when FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell called and spoke with him while on a trade mission,” said Mahaleris. “The state of Texas has been working closely with FEMA and other federal partners ahead of and throughout the storm to get the support Texas needs.”

“The State of Texas had all necessary disaster declarations in place well before today, despite what President Biden said,” added Mahaleris. 

During Tuesday’s press conference, Kidd told reporters that although they’ve had generator requests from all over the hurricane-affected areas, “we have not had a generator request come in yet that we have not been able to meet.” He added that Biden’s issuance of a major disaster declaration would provide additional resources “if needed.” 

Patrick and Kidd also noted that FEMA officials had been working with state officials since April to coordinate responses to potential hurricane season storms. 

Patrick held additional meetings and press conferences with elected officials in Bryan and Galveston County on Tuesday, and his meeting with Whitmire included Harris County Commissioners Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) and Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3). 

Whitmire has held frequent press conferences since Sunday to keep the public apprised of available resources and timelines. Those attending have included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Al Green (D-TX-09). 

While praising the collaborative efforts, Whitmire expressed frustration with the state of the city’s resources he “inherited” when he took office in January 2024.

“This is not the first time cooling centers were not cooling,” said Whitmire, who noted that nine fire stations were down because they lacked a functioning backup generator. 

“Whether it’s a library or whether it’s a multi-service center. It is incomprehensible to me that you have a police substation or a fire station without a backup generator. But that’s what we inherited and that's what we’re here to fix.” 

Patrick and Whitmire have also fielded questions about the responsiveness of CenterPoint Energy and accusations that the company had not properly positioned recovery resources prior to the storm and was taking too long to restore power to more than two million residents. 

During a press conference in Dickinson with Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, Patrick said, “CenterPoint will have to answer for themselves if they were prepared and positioned. The state was positioned and prepared.” 

Patrick added that the focus now is getting power restored and post-storm analysis would come later. “I’ll tell you whether I’m satisfied or not when I have a full report on where their crews were [and] how quickly they get power back.” 

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was reportedly out of the country on vacation as the storm approached but returned late Sunday night. She also held a press conference Tuesday afternoon, but no other elected officials were in attendance. 

Hidalgo and Whitmire have not held a joint appearance since May when the two clashed briefly during a press conference when Whitmire attempted to let Harris County Commissioner Lesley Briones (D-Pct. 4) make remarks. 

Officials at the Whitmire-Patrick conference urged residents to continue to stay off the streets if possible since many traffic lights and streetlights were not functioning while ongoing flooding added to the dangerous street conditions. They added that 9-1-1 calls should be reserved for only life and death emergencies while power outages should be reported directly to CenterPoint. 

Garcia also urged residents to follow the social media feeds of Harris County’s four elected commissioners since they were “closest to the ground” and most familiar with post-storm conditions in the county. 

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