President Donald Trump meets with Iowans at an airport in storm ravaged Cedar Rapids Tuesday; local officials ask him to approve more aid

Source: By Tyler Jett and Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2020

CEDAR RAPIDS — President Donald Trump promised Iowa leaders Tuesday that they would have the “full support of the federal government” as they work to clear debris, restore power and recover from a massive windstorm that swept the state last week.

“Iowans have always been resilient and strong and tough and great people,” Trump said in a briefing in Cedar Rapids. “From the depths of this grave hardship, we will rebuild even stronger than before. We’re going to be in fantastic shape in a very short period of time.”

On Monday, the president approved part of Iowa’s disaster aid request for many counties, encompassing about $45 million in aid. However, the governor’s total disaster aid application included a litany of nearly $4 billion in damages. The Monday approval did not include individual assistance aid, which would help homeowners and farmers with their private property damage.

More:Iowa’s derecho disaster declaration does not include aid for homeowners, farmers

During the briefing, Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart and others asked the president to approve that request for individual assistance. The mayor said that even though people might have homeowner’s insurance, those policies still require a premium and don’t often cover food that spoiled in the power outages or trees that have fallen in yards.

“That could be tens of thousands of dollars for lots of homeowners,” he said. “And so adding the individual assistance component to the disaster declaration would really help so many people get those trees out of their yard and not have such a financial burden for them.”

“OK, we’ll take care of it, mayor” the president said.

Trump landed in Cedar Rapids at 11:26 a.m. Tuesday, after Air Force One flew low over nearby cornfields. A crowd of about 50 people, both supporters and protesters, waited to catch a glimpse of the president across the road from the tarmac.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Hart were on hand to greet the president and participated in the briefing.

Reynolds thanked the president for quickly responding to her disaster aid request.

“First of all, I just want to extend my gratitude for the incredible turnaround time,” she said. “In less than 24 hours, you were able to approve the major disaster declaration, and that provides a lot of assurance to our communities that have been impacted by the derecho.”

Ernst urged Trump to to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to support Iowa’s ethanol industry as it faces pressure both from the storm and from the effects of the pandemic. Ernst has been critical of the administration, which has granted some oil refineries exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard. She told Trump that new exemption requests should be tossed out.

“It’s very tough right now,” she said. “From COVID we saw a decrease in driving, and so the sales of ethanol have not been up where they should be. And we’ve seen that all across the industry the impact. And now, after the crop damage, it just sets our farmers, even farther back.”

Trump said he’d speak to administration officials.

“I’ll speak to them myself,” he said.

Trump was in Iowa for about an hour before he departed without leaving the airport. He did not have any public events in Iowa or tour any of the storm damage, except from Air Force One.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic opponent, also called local officials after the storm, including U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer and Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer.

Finkenauer’s spokesperson, Jason Noble, said the congresswoman asked Biden to use his position to help elevate the crisis. Greer said he appreciated the vice president’s call.

“Biden seemed very receptive,” Greer said. “I find him to be a good listener, and I sensed his compassion was genuine.”

The Biden campaign was critical of Trump’s visit.

“One photo-op in Iowa does not make up for four years of failed leadership from this White House,” Biden’s Iowa State Director Lauren Dillon said in a statement.

More:A week after the derecho, many struggle to find shelter for Cedar Rapids refugees

Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at tjett@registermedia.com, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

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