Biden to tour tornado damage in Kentucky on Wednesday

Severe Weather

President Joe Biden participates in a briefing on the federal response to tornado damage, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Monday that he will travel to Kentucky on Wednesday to view damage from last week’s devastating tornadoes that killed at dozens of people and displaced thousands more.

Biden announced the upcoming trip following a briefing with homeland security and disaster response officials in the Oval Office to discuss what more the federal government can do to support those affected by the natural disaster. The White House said he would visit Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for a briefing on the response operations, and then to hard-hit Mayfield and Dawson Springs to survey the damage.

Biden said he was developing the itinerary in consultation with local officials to ensure that his presence doesn’t distract from the ongoing emergency response.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden is not expected to give a speech when he visits Kentucky, but will rather be focused on meeting with local officials and “trying to be a source of comfort to people who have gone through a devastating couple of days in their communities.”

“That visit is really about him receiving an update of the work that’s happening on the ground, hearing directly from leaders on what they need more from the federal government, if anything, and he’s going to be very responsive to that,” she said.

Biden, who has already signed emergency declarations for Kentucky, said he stands ready to do the same for Illinois. He added that he has ordered his administration to make every resource available to local and state officials in Kentucky and the other states impacted by the storms.

The president said his message to governors was that the federal government would help them get “Whatever they need, when they need it.”

“We’re going to get this done,” Biden added. “We’re going to be there as long as it takes to help.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who hails from Kentucky, said, “This is the worst storm to hit Kentucky in my lifetime.” McConnell said he’ll travel “at the end of the week” back to Kentucky — an indication he would not be joining Biden’s trip Wednesday.

McConnell earlier Monday thanked Biden in a tweet for his actions to help the state.

“Thank you @POTUS for your rapid approval of Kentucky’s Major Disaster Declaration,” he said. “Our entire congressional delegation came together to support @GovAndyBeshear’s request. I appreciate the Administration’s quick work to speed resources to help deal with this crisis.”

Biden said he was worried, beyond the lives lost, about the emotional toll the disaster is putting on all those impacted.

“I worry quite frankly about the mental health of these people,” he said. He said his administration was working to help people gain “peace of mind” so that they can “actually put their head on a pillow, lie down and be able to know their kids are going to be okay.”

AP writers Lisa Mascaro and Alexandra Jaffe contributed.

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