President Barack Obama vowed today that there would be a sustained federal response — which sidesteps bureaucratic obstacles — to the damage from Hurricane Sandy.
Obama made a statement this afternoon during a visit to the American Red Cross, where he urged people to donate to the relief effort and to help their neighbors.
“This storm is not yet over,” he warned, per a pool report, calling the storm “heartbreaking for the entire nation.”
Obama said his “most important message” to people struggling is that “America is with you.”
And he said his message to the government is, “No bureaucracy. No red tape.”
He also praised the “spirit” and “resilience” of New York City, citing people “carrying fragile newborns to safety” and firefighters wading in water to save lives.
Obama said that more than 1,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency officials were pre-positioned with supplies, including food, medicine and generators.
And he said he has instructed federal agencies, “Do not figure out why we can’t do something. I want you to figure out how we do something. I want you to cut through red tape; I want you to cut through the bureaucracy. There is no excuse for inaction at this point.”
He gave one example of unusual aid: the possibility of using military equipment to help pump water out of New York City’s flooded subway.
The storm was tough, but “we’re tougher because we pull together, we leave nobody behind,” Obama said. “We make sure that we respond as a nation.”
Still, Obama warned, “This is going to take some time.”
Obama will stay off the campaign trail at least through Wednesday. GOP nominee Mitt Romney is holding a “relief” rally in the battleground state of Ohio, where polls show a tight battle for president.
Obama plans to travel to New Jersey Wednesday to tour damage with Gov. Chris Christie (R), who strongly praised Obama’s support during the storm in media interviews this morning.
Separately, Vice President Joseph Biden, who is slated to travel to Florida for campaign events Wednesday, praised the response of FEMA, which has become a campaign issue given that Romney seemed to indicate that he supported eliminating the agency during a Republican primary debate.
Biden said the agency has been reorganized and is now effective.
“It’s doing one helluva job,” Biden said, per pool reports. Biden also said that Obama mentioned to the governors and mayors on a conference call the possibility of deploying Department of Defense assets to help clear flooded tunnels and subways in New York City, if requested.
Obama also has urged the officials to call him if red tape is getting in the way.
“The last conversation we had he said to the governors, ‘Look folks. I’m up late at night. If you don’t get immediate response from my folks, call me. Here’s my number,’” Biden said.
A White House source said the president is focused on the storm.
“He’s very intense about it,” the source said. “In the [situation room] meeting this morning, he said, ‘I want everyone leaning forward on this. I don’t want to hear that we didn’t do something because bureaucracy got in the way.’”