by Max Brantley
President Barack Obama plans a visit to Arkansas, I'm hearing.. Arkansas is one of a handful of states the president hasn't visited and trails probably only Utah in disaffection politically for the president.
It's a storm-related visit. The president will meet with victims, first responders and recovery workers in the areas hit by tornadoes Sunday. Obama took pains to mention Arkansas in an appearance in the Philippines and he's sent top administration officials into the state. The Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, will be here Sunday. And his FEMA director has already been on the ground.
His arrival comes as virtually the entire slate of Republican candidates is running on an anti-Obama platform. Some of them are using it even as a Republican primary campaign tool, where Tea Party Republicans are using it in several races against Republican legislators who voted for the private option version of Medicaid expansion, a huge infusion of federal dollars into Arkansas that is a direct result of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
My recommendation: That he go to Mountain Home, where Rep. John Burris, a Republican architect of the private option version of Obamacare, is in a three-way primary that includes anti-Obamacare candidate Scott Flippo. Obama should embrace Burris' bipartisanship in seeing Obama's vision of expanded coverage for poor people to fruition, something rejected in many red states. The irony, of course, would be delicious. An embrace of Burris would be an embrace of U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor's re-election opponent. Cotton's campaign is all Obama invective all the time and Cotton employs Burris. For his part, Pryor has been distancing himself where possible from the president.
I expect confirmation later this morning.
Arkansas is one of a small handful of states Obama hasn't visited as president. He last appeared in the state as a U.S. Senator, appearing at a rally in 2006 for gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe.
I'd expect President Obama to praise how the country comes together in time of tragedy and how important a well-established federal agency is in responding to disaster. He can leave it to others to remember Tom Cotton's refusal to join a spending bill to help Hurricane Sandy victims because he was ideologically opposed to some other spending in the bill. Ideology ahead of people, in other words.
UPDATE: Sen Pryor's office has announced the visit, which is said to be a response to an invitation from the senator. Republicans are already cackling that Democrats won't be seen with the president. One will. Kind of tacky of Repubs to think you should shun a president showing support for your battered state.
U.S. Senator Mark Pryor announced that President Obama has accepted his invitation to travel to Arkansas communities devastated by this week’s deadly tornadoes. Since Sunday, Pryor has been in constant contact with local, state, and federal officials to ensure that Arkansas receives the federal resources it needs to rebuild and recover.
“Since the tornadoes tore through our state this week, we’ve seen folks come together to help those affected get back on their feet,” Pryor said. “We have disaster relief funding headed our way, but there’s more we can do to give Arkansans the help they need. I’m pleased the President is headed to Arkansas and can see the devastation firsthand. It’ll be a long road to recovery, but we’ll continue to do everything we can to help our neighbors in need.”
The full text of Pryor’s letter to the President is below:
I write to invite you to travel to the Arkansas communities devastated by this week’s deadly tornadoes.
As you know, my state was recently hit by a series of tornadoes. On Sunday, April 27, 2014, storms tore through large swaths of central Arkansas including Ferndale, Mayflower, Saltillo, Vilonia, El Paso, Center Hill, Step Rock, Denmark, Velvet Ridge, Thida, and Pleasant Plains. To date, 15 lives have been lost, over 150 Arkansans injured, 264 homes destroyed with many more left uninhabitable, numerous businesses have been damaged, and countless families’ belongings strewn for miles and miles.
The last few years have been particularly difficult for our state. We’ve faced dozens of damaging weather events, ranging from tornadoes to ice storms to drought. In fact, some of the communities hit by last week’s storms had just finished rebuilding from a tornado three years ago.
The people of Arkansas are resilient. We’re working tirelessly to begin the process of cleaning up, rebuilding, and getting families back on their feet. It will be a long process, and I know Arkansas would benefit enormously from both private sector and federal assistance. As we see in many crises, Arkansans have come to the aid of their neighbors, family, and friends. Church groups, the American Red Cross, and numerous local and state businesses have come together to help those in need. However, expedited assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, and other government agencies will be essential as we work to reconstruct the devastated areas of our state.
Your assistance in expediting all necessary aid is crucial to the affected families and communities, and I hope you will be able to join me in Arkansas to witness firsthand not only the damage to our communities but also the resilience, selflessness, and determination of our citizens. I appreciate your consideration of my request.