Biden Speaks to Texas Governor as Federal Government Helps With Storm Response

February 19, 2021 Updated: February 19, 2021

President Joe Biden late Thursday called the governor of Texas, pledging to “work relentlessly” to get the state what it needs to get through its current crisis.

Texas has seen an unusual winter storm that’s left thousands without power.

Biden conveyed to Gov. Greg Abbott his support for Texas residents while reiterating that the federal government “will continue to work hand-in-hand with state and local authorities in Texas to bring relief and address the critical needs of the families affected,” the White House said in a call summary.

“He also shared his intentions to instruct additional federal agencies to look into any immediate steps that could be taken to support Texans at this time,” the White House said. “The President also expressed that his administration was at the ready should the State of Texas or any other impacted region need additional federal disaster support or assistance as severe storms move across the U.S.”

Biden and Abbott shared a phone call earlier in the week and the president is updated on the situation in Texas and surrounding states more than once a day, according to the White House.

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A water bucket is filled as others wait in near freezing temperatures to use a hose from public park spigot in Houston, Texas on Feb. 18, 2021. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

Biden over the weekend approved a federal emergency declaration request for Texas from Abbott due to the severe weather. The declaration authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to mobilize and provide assistance.

“I thank President Biden for quickly issuing a Federal Emergency Declaration for Texas as we continue to respond to severe winter weather conditions throughout the state,” Abbott, a Republican, said at the time. “This disaster declaration provides Texas with additional resources and assistance that will help our communities respond to this winter weather.”

Since then, FEMA has sent 60 generators and fuel to support water treatment plants, hospitals, and nursing homes. FEMA has also provided 729,000 liters of water, over 60,000 blankets, and 225,000 meals.

The storm has crippled swathes of Texas, leaving people without power in freezing temperatures.

Some 325,000 Texans did not have power as of Thursday afternoon, though power had been restored to nearly 2 million others.

ERCOT, the organization that operates the state’s power grid, initially asked for rotating outages after the storm hit. The council said Thursday that it made significant progress restoring power and is continuing to work around the clock.

Abbott told reporters in a briefing that he will seek a major disaster declaration from Biden, which would allow people to apply for individual assistance from FEMA to restore damage to their homes.

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Overhead power lines are seen during record-breaking temperatures in Houston, Texas on Feb. 17, 2021. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Texas officials have taken aim at ERCOT believing the grid was mishandled amid the brutal cold.

“We have already begun the process to make sure that events like this never again happen in Texas. And that starts with reforming the agency in charge of electric reliability in Texas, which is ERCOT,” Abbott said at the briefing.

The agency had assured officials five days before the storm hit that they were ready for the cold weather, the governor said.

Abbott also said he has asked the state legislature to mandate the winterization of generators and the power system.

Liz Sherwood-Randall, deputy national security advisor, told reporters at the White House that the Texas grid is siloed on purpose and that it wouldn’t be physically feasible for the federal government to connect it to the national grid.

“I do think, going forward, there’s an important conversation to be had around how we can enhance the resilience of our critical infrastructure to meet the needs of all our citizens,” she said. “For now, we’re focused obviously on these days.”

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