DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene in Houston, Texas, where we are bringing you the latest on this flooding that is just getting worse. Tropical Storm Harvey, we are talking about record-breaking amounts of rain continuing to fall. Parts of Houston hit 40 inches yesterday. And it's not expected to let up soon. We are in a hotel where people leaving their homes, evacuating have been arriving family by family. They are some of the tens of thousands of people who have fled.
And now Harvey is slowly beginning to shift towards Louisiana. And as the rescue and recovery efforts go on here, President Trump is about ready to travel here to Texas today, Ailsa.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
That's right. And for the last few days, Trump has been praising the coordination of aid agencies working on rescue and relief missions. Yesterday, he struck a unifying tone as he talked about what will likely be a many years-long recovery effort in Texas.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will get through this. We will come out stronger. And believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before.
CHANG: All right, to talk about how the White House has responded to this storm, we have NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley on the line with us. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Ailsa.
CHANG: Good morning. So, you know, mayors, governors, presidents - they all get judged by how they respond to storms and other natural disasters. How important is this visit for Trump at this moment in his presidency, especially given the past few weeks he's had?
HORSLEY: He could certainly use a lift, Ailsa. His approval rating has suffered in recent weeks. It remains below 40 percent. And for the most part, the president has sort of doubled down on partisan appeals to his base of support. We saw that late last week with his decision to pardon the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Joe Arpaio. But this is an opportunity for Trump to take a different approach and to play a more unifying role.
You know, the thing is, Texas is a red state. Houston is a blue city. But the tropical storm doesn't care about that.
HORSLEY: Flood waters don't respect political party. So there's a chance here for the president to play a more unifying role. We'll see if he takes it.
CHANG: So far after John Kelly became White House chief of staff, President Trump hasn't nominated anyone to replace Kelly to head up the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA. So how much of a problem is that for Homeland Security to perhaps appear rudderless during a disaster like this?
HORSLEY: The White House is downplaying that change. They say the acting secretary, Elaine Duke, is on the job and ready to do what she needs. And as you say, the former secretary of Homeland Security hasn't gone far. John Kelly is now at the president's side as his chief of staff, so he brings that experience to bear. Moreover, Brock Long, the FEMA administrator, is very much on the job. And he's someone who has a lot of experience in this area.
He's had experience at FEMA and as the Alabama emergency manager. So he certainly knows hurricanes and people have generally had high marks for the job he and FEMA have been doing.
CHANG: And turning to David now, David, you're in the northern part of Houston...
CHANG: ...Where a lot of people who got flooded downtown have flocked to. Have you gotten to talk to anyone there who's even thinking about the president's visit?
GREENE: Yeah, I mean, a lot of people have been arriving here. And, I mean, they're fortunate because they mostly have people who have the money to, you know, to get a hotel room, which is not the case for everyone. But, yeah, I was talking to Carolyn Wilson (ph). She's from northwest Houston. She's lived here for 25 years. Her apartment flooded. She managed to drive herself to this hotel with her daughter, three cats and a dog.
And I asked her what she's expecting to hear from the president.
CAROLYN WILSON: You know, I hope he really shows that he's going to help the Houstonians because they need it.
GREENE: What do you think - have you liked him up until this point or...
WILSON: Honestly, no. But I know that he's a businessman and he understands, you know, money makes the world go around sometimes, you know? I mean...
GREENE: It sounds like this could be a moment for him to prove himself to you.
WILSON: That's how I feel. He's going to make it or break it with this.
GREENE: Make it or break it. And, Scott Horsley, you're still there, right?
HORSLEY: I am.
GREENE: You know, just listening to her, she was telling me, you know, I asked her very specifically, what can the president do? And, I mean, FEMA is certainly working here - I mean, setting up temporary shelters. And the administrator, Brock long, has encouraged all citizens to get involved. But what else can an administration do in this moment to make people feel like they're being cared for?
HORSLEY: Well, part of it is just the symbolism of, you know, showing the flag, showing the colors. But there's also the practical steps. And that's part of what the president wants to find out with his visit today. He's going to be in Corpus Christi, he and the first lady, where they'll see some of the damage that Harvey brought when it first came ashore with those 130-mile-an-hour winds. But he's also going to visit Austin where there's a state command center.
And he'll meet with state emergency officials and find out if there are additional steps that the government can take. And then beyond the sort of immediate need of rescue and, you know, feeding and housing people who've been flooded out of their homes, the White House is already talking with Congress about what promises to be a long and very costly recovery effort.
GREENE: Yeah, long indeed. All right, NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks a lot.
HORSLEY: You're welcome, David.