Source: CNN

President Joe Biden told The Houston Chronicle on Tuesday that federal officials had not been able to get in touch with Texas state leaders for days – leading to a delayed distribution of emergency-relief supplies in the wake of Hurricane Beryl.

The president told The Chronicle he had been trying to “track down” the governor to start the process of requesting aid. “I’ve been trying to track down the governor to see – I don’t have the authority to do that without a specific request from the governor,” Biden told the paper.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has been in Asia for the past several days, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has assumed the role of acting governor during the state’s response to the storm in his absence. The White House told the paper that officials have tried to reach Patrick and Abbott “multiple times.”

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

“We’ve been working on this for two days and we finally got the request,” Biden said, according to The Chronicle. “We positioned an awful lot of stuff in Texas ahead of time, but I had to get a specific request for this.”

Biden’s statements to The Chronicle are a rare example of the president publicly airing disagreements with state officials as they contend with a major natural disaster. Presidents, including Biden, have typically worked to focus on unity and reaching across the aisle in the wake of major storms. Touring Louisiana in 2021 after a hurricane struck that state, Biden said “there’s nothing political about this. It’s just simply about saving lives and getting people back up and running, and we’re in this together.”

Patrick rejected Biden’s characterization of the White House’s outreach, accused him of politicizing the deadly storm. Beryl made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in Texas on Monday, and Patrick said he first spoke with the president on Tuesday.

“I am disappointed that President Biden is turning Hurricane Beryl into a political issue,” Patrick said on X. “We had a cordial call today that ended up with him granting my request for a major disaster declaration. But that’s not good enough for him. He is falsely accusing me that I was not reachable. He obviously did not know his own employees from FEMA were side-by-side with me for 3 days! All he had to do was call them and have them hand their phone to me.”

State officials, Patrick wrote, had to determine Texas’ needs before asking the federal government for help – a process that required officials traveling to impacted areas.

“To quote President Biden, this is a load of malarkey, and he’s shoveling it!” Patrick wrote, using a term often used by Biden.

Abbott, in his own post, took aim at Biden’s mental fitness. “Biden’s memory fails again,” the governor tweeted, adding that Biden has his number and “not once did he call me during Beryl.”

Abbott spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris also called Biden’s comments “a complete lie,” writing on X: “Biden and his Administration know exactly how to get in contact with the Governor and have on numerous occasions in the past, most recently on Friday when FEMA called and spoke with him.”

Since making landfall earlier this week, Beryl has killed at least eight people in Texas and Louisiana and has left more than 2 million customers without power.

Biden’s interview with The Chronicle comes as the White House and Biden campaign have been working to get the president face time with more journalists in the wake of his faltering performance at last month’s presidential debate.

Patrick has been critical of Biden’s debate performance, saying that he “looked totally lost” and that “it was a Trump knockout in every round.”

CNN’s Nikki Carvajal contributed to this report.

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