Scott McClellan left the White House well versed in disaster response, having served as press secretary under former President George W. Bush during multiple major hurricanes, including Katrina.
“These are moments, a natural disaster of this magnitude, that can define a presidency for history,” said McClellan told KING 5.
The Texas native is currently monitoring response efforts in the wake of Harvey from his office at Seattle University where he now serves as VP of Communications.
"This is going to be a long recovery effort," he acknowledged.
"One of the most important things for the President to do in a situation like this is to show the support of the United States," McClellan continued. "We are behind these response efforts; we are behind the first responders. We are there to for those most affected in the direct line of this tragedy."
McClellan, who left the White House in 2006, was critical of the initial response to Hurricane Katrina, calling it a breakdown at the federal, state and local level.
“The federal government, in the end, has to be the backstop, to come in when those local resources and state resources are overwhelmed,” said McClellan, who stressed the importance of partnerships between the different layers of government.
“There's only so much preparation that you can do ahead of time, but you want to make sure you're doing everything humanly possible to be prepared for a situation like this, then mobilizing all resources necessary,” said McClellan.
The former press secretary says that means the President and top administration officials need to have a clear-eyed view of the situation on the ground. He recalled playing clips from national and local newscasts for former President Bush, so he could have a better understanding of the issues that faced a devastated Louisiana following the 2005 monster storm.
President Donald Trump made his first visit to Texas on Tuesday in the wake of now Tropical Storm Harvey, promising more visits in coming days and weeks.
“We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as this is the way to do it,” said the President at a roundtable with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other local authorities in Corpus Christi. “We won’t say congratulations. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to congratulate. We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”
Trump and the cabinet officials who traveled with him avoided the areas hardest hit where rescue operations were still underway.
McClellan said it will be important for the President to visit the region most impacted as soon as it’s safe and appropriate to do so, to make sure the local authorities and individuals affected have the resources they need to recover.
“The President needs to be a comforter-in-chief at this point, if you will, providing comfort and reassurance to those most affected and hopefully hearing from those on the ground that have been affected by this," he said, "so he can make sure in his mind that the first responders and the response efforts are working.”