All five living former U.S. presidents are set to participate in a fundraiser for hurricane relief efforts on Saturday, but they won’t be joined by the current job holder — President Donald Trump is marking the occasion at his golf course.
In a rare joint appearance, former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter will attend a benefit concert at Reed Arena at Texas A&M University, part of a larger effort to aid the millions of U.S. citizens suffering from hurricane damage.
“It’s important that those affected by these devastating storms know that even if the path to recovery feels like a road that goes on forever, we’re with them for the long haul,” said President George H.W. Bush.
A number of U.S. territories and mainland states are still reeling from the impact of several hurricanes, each of which struck in the past few months. Texas and Florida are both grappling with a number of deaths along with billions of dollars in damage. Even worse off are the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands are still facing power and water shortages on a horrifying scale; one island, St. John, has been in complete darkness for more than 40 days.
Puerto Rico, meanwhile, is facing a humanitarian crisis. More than a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 storm, less than 17 percent of the island currently has power. More than 29 percent of Puerto Ricans are also without water; those who do have access are being instructed by health officials to boil it prior to consumption. Food shortages have been reported across the island and health worries are mounting. Leptospirosis, a disease caused by animal-borne bacteria, has killed a number of islanders and many are also reporting other illnesses, including conjunctivitis (“pinkeye”) and, most recently, dengue.
These crises have prompted a rare show of political unity. Despite wildly different legacies, the five former presidents banded together in a “One America Appeal” after Hurricane Harvey “to encourage their fellow citizens to support recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey — which inundated the Texas Gulf Coast with unprecedented flooding.” The effort has now been expanded to include all areas impacted by the hurricanes and promises to donate all proceeds to relief efforts, something Saturday’s concert will offer as well.
Experts say this display of unity during a hard time is incredibly helpful.
“Presidents have the most powerful and prolific fundraising base of any politician in the world. When they send out a call for help, especially on something that’s not political, they can rake in big money,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, told the Associated Press.
But the concert’s joint appearance will arguably be most notable for who it doesn’t include. Per White House pool reports, Trump is instead spending Saturday at his golf course in Virginia — the 74th day he has spent at a golf club as president.
Trump has come under fire for his response to the hurricanes, especially the crisis in Puerto Rico. After initially ignoring the catastrophe while tweeting about the National Football League, Trump proceeded to blame the island’s problems on its pre-existing debt. He later threatened to end recovery efforts and directly targeted San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, after she criticized the White House’s response to the island’s problems. Nonetheless, Trump congratulated himself on Thursday for his administration’s handling of the crisis, saying he would rank federal relief efforts “a 10.”
That attitude has prevailed throughout the crisis. In a similar moment last month, Trump lauded his administration’s response before heading off to one of his golf courses.
“The loss of life, it’s always tragic. But it’s been incredible,” Trump said before leaving for his New Jersey club. “The results that we’ve had with respect to loss of life. People can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking.”
A poll released earlier this month showed that only 32 percent of U.S. citizens approve of the administration’s handling of the crisis in Puerto Rico specifically. That poll was conducted before Trump’s visit to the island, where he took another opportunity to blame islanders for posing a budgetary problem.
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack — because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico,” the president said.
It is unclear what impact national criticism had on Trump’s attendance at the concert and a spokesperson for President George H.W. Bush declined to say whether Trump was even invited.