President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Houston on Friday in the aftermath of deadly winter weather in Texas last week. The first couple visited a food bank and mass vaccination site, where the president delivered remarks about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bidens were greeted at the airport by Texas lawmakers including Gov. Greg Abbott and his wife, the state's First Lady Cecilia Abbott, who welcomed the Dr. Biden with a bouquet of yellow roses.
Others who welcomed the Bidens included Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Al Green, and Sen. John Cornyn.
Notably, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz — who faced criticism after a controversial trip to Cancún, Mexico, amid the weather — was not in Texas to meet the president, instead delivering a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida.
Unusual frigid temperatures crippled the state's power grid last week, leaving millions in the dark and battling the cold as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the grid, worked to restore power.
At one point more than 7 million people were also under boil water notices, the Associated Press reported.
At least 40 deaths have been linked to the weather in Texas.
Deputy National Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, also on hand for Friday's events, told reporters that emergency and disaster declarations in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana "have allowed FEMA and others to serve more than 2 million meals and nearly 2 million gallons of water over 60 generators and more than 100,000 gallons of fuel and lots and lots of blankets to Texans."
The president's first stop on Friday was to the Harris County Emergency Operations Center, which he called a "hell of an operation" to the staffers gathered there.
"It's probably the best one in the country. … You're saving peoples' lives. As my mother would say, you're doing God's work," the president, 78, said.
He and the first lady, 69, then toured the Houston Food Bank alongside Abbott, 63, and Abbott's wife.
After arriving there, President Biden spoke to volunteers who filled boxes on steel shelves and placed them on bright green conveyed shelves.
"Incredible," he said when asked what he thought of the operation. "Amazing. It's absolutely amazing, and we could do so much more."
The president and Texas governor were then moved to a separate room to pack meals for seniors, which provides a monthly box of food to roughly 11,000 low-income people in the Houston area.
Dr. Biden and Texas' first lady also toured the food bank, joining volunteers in packing bags for the school meals program.
"We're here to help, so put us to work!" Dr. Biden said upon entering the room, according to accompanying reporters, who added that the first lady packed canned peaches while the governor's wife packed boxes of raisins.
President Biden had said that he wanted to time his Texas trip when his presence — and the accompanying travel and security logistics — would not be an obstacle to recovery.
"When the president lands in a city in America it has a long tail," he said last week.
Earlier this week, the president marked the half a million U.S. lives killed by COVID-19 with a candlelight vigil at the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses that included a moment of silence.
"We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic, or a blur, or on the news. We must do so to honor the dead, but equally important, care for the living," he said in a speech delivered from the South Portico of the White House. "As a nation, we cannot and we must not let this go on."
About 2.5 million people have died from COVID-19 around the globe, according to a New York Times tracker. Internationally, more than 111 million people have been confirmed to have contracted the virus.
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