The request for federal aid after Beryl causes a rift between the White House and Texas

HOUSTON — The damage caused by Hurricane Beryl in Texas and calls for federal aid have created a rift between the White House and the state’s Republican leaders after the storm battered the coast this week and left millions of Houston residents without power.

President Joe Biden said he was trying to track down Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — who has been on a trade mission to Asia since last week — to get the state to formally request a major disaster declaration that would unlock federal aid. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Biden also said he was trying to reach out to Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has been serving as acting governor since Beryl made landfall Monday, before eventually connecting the next day.

Both Texas leaders have fiercely opposed Biden’s version of events, which comes amid the hurricane recovery that could leave some coastal residents without power for days or weeks.

“I have tried 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 the newspaper on Tuesday.

Abbott said in an interview from Japan with Austin television station KTBC on Wednesday that Biden had called him on the same number several times after previous disasters in Texas, but that the president had never called that number this time during Beryl.

“I know for a fact that Joe Biden is the only one who drops the ball by making up a bizarre lie,” Abbott told the station. “And why he would do that? I have no idea.”

Patrick said he spoke to Biden on the phone Tuesday and that the president had approved Texas’ request for a disaster declaration. Patrick has said the state needed to determine its needs before making a formal request. Texas has previously requested federal aid before hurricanes made landfall, including before Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017.

Delray Gooch, standing, talks with mail carrier Jason Phillips as he delivers mail after Hurricane Beryl on Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Houston. Credit: AP/Jon Shapley

Rafael Lemaitre, former national director of public affairs at FEMA, told the newspaper that major disaster declarations do not have to wait for a thorough on-site review. Governors are the primary applicants but can modify their requests as more information becomes available, Lemaitre said.

FEMA typically deploys relief workers and supplies before a hurricane makes landfall, said Beverly Cigler, a Penn State professor of public policy who specializes in intergovernmental relations and emergency management.

Once disaster strikes, an initial damage assessment is typically conducted. If the threshold for an emergency is reached, the governor sends that assessment to the White House for review, she said.

“Everything is done well in advance,” Cigler said. “But a president has to wait for a request from the state to really provide large-scale relief.”

More than 1.4 million customers and businesses in the Houston area were without power as of Wednesday evening, according to Poweroutage.us.