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Louisiana Flooding Puts A Lot Of Rep. Grave's District Under Water


When President Obama touches down in Baton Rouge, La, later today, it will have been 11 days since the flooding began in that state. Obama has critics who say he should've cut his vacation short and gotten there earlier. Louisiana's Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is not one of them. Here he is on MSNBC last week.


JOHN BEL EDWARDS: In all honesty, if he's going to visit, I would just as soon it be a week or 10 days, 14 days from now. We have to take hundreds of local first responders, police officers, sheriff's deputies and state troopers to provide security for that type of visit. I would just as soon have those people engaged in the response rather than trying to secure the president.

GREENE: Now, one person trying to become president, Donald Trump, visited late last week. That also brought its share of security and logistical wrangling. Neither Trump nor Obama are as familiar with this part of the country as Congressman Garret Graves. The Republican represents Louisiana's 6th District, much of which remains underwater this morning. He's on the line from his home in Baton Rouge.

Congressman, we've been thinking of everyone in your state. And thanks for taking the time in what I know has been an awful stretch for you.

GARRET GRAVES: No, I appreciate you all doing this and bringing more attention to what's going on here.

GREENE: Do you feel like you haven't gotten enough attention, as much as you should be getting?

GRAVES: I do. And I know this isn't a hurricane where you have days that lead up to this disaster. But it's really amazing. The devastation is profound and just goes for tens and tens of miles in every direction. It's a pretty incredible disaster.

GREENE: What does it look like, as you look at those miles and miles?

GRAVES: You can literally get into a car, and I could take you on a ride for probably 30 or 40 miles. And all you would see is 10-foot piles of debris in front of every single home and business in our community.

GREENE: So what are you telling constituents as they deal with just devastation like that?

GRAVES: David, I'll tell you. I don't think I've cried since I was a kid. And the number of times that I've embraced people with tears in my eyes over the past several days is - it's just amazing - you know, people standing there saying, I just lost both of my cars. I lost my home. I lost all my clothes. I lost my appliances. I lost all my family heirlooms and pictures. What do I do?

And I got to tell you, it's really difficult giving them a good answer because the traditional response to a disaster like this simply doesn't address even the fundamental needs that many people in this community have right now.

GREENE: You say traditional response. I mean, there is some aid money that's automatically - comes through. But a lot of people are saying the federal government needs to do a lot more. And I just wonder, I mean, it's - you know, it's Republicans, your party, who are often very wary of federal spending in times of disasters and other times. What are you telling your fellow Republicans right now?

GRAVES: Look, you're right. And I want to be clear. I'm a fiscal conservative as well. However, in this situation, when FEMA comes in and offers folks - I think I've been told - on average, two to $3,000 for a situation like this - let me be clear. You have traditional disasters. And I've been through oil spill, flooding, hurricanes. I've worked all those.

This is just very different in that this - we had 31 inches of rain in some of these areas. That is the annual average national rainfall, meaning that's the average rainfall in a year's time for the United States. And we got it in just a couple days.

GREENE: I know, it's just a stunning number. Well, can I ask you - I mean, if we look back a few years to Superstorm Sandy, there were members of Congress in the Northeast who were begging for federal funding. And I know you were not in Congress at that point, but there were members of the Louisiana delegation who joined others in stopping that federal aid. Does that give you a credibility problem now, as Louisiana's really asking for help?

GRAVES: You know, look, I don't want to pretend to understand everything that was in the Sandy package to know that if it was overly funded or not - if it was overfunded or not. But I will tell you that whenever someone has a tragedy like this, like Hurricane Sandy, I do think that Congress has an obligation to step in to tailor the response to that disaster. And, you know, again, it's easy for me to sit here and say - give you an answer right now. But I do think I would've supported that based upon my understanding of the impacts in that area.

GREENE: Does this - does seeing this in your home state make you a little less of a fiscal conservative?

GRAVES: I don't think so because I actually look at it like this. If someone is upside down on their mortgage, if someone doesn't have cars, if their job is underwater, these people are likely on a trajectory to become a federal responsibility through different poverty programs. And I look at it like the most fiscally appropriate thing to do is to help them get back on their feet right now, to avoid them becoming a long-term liability under many of these programs.

GREENE: And, Congressman, we just have a few seconds left. I just wonder, what is your take on when presidents and presidential candidates come to visit? Is it a distraction?

GRAVES: You know, number one, I think when Trump came it certainly brought national attention. And in a case like this, I don't think that people in Washington can really understand what is going on down here and really help us tailor a recovery package without seeing it firsthand. It really is profound...

GREENE: OK, Congressman, sadly, we're out of time. We'll be thinking of the people of Louisiana. Congressman Garret Graves of Louisiana. Thank you, sir.

GRAVES: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.