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Abbott Rips Biden Over Beryl Call: ‘He Just Flat Out Made It Up’

(Bloomberg) -- Texas Governor Greg Abbott fired back at President Joe Biden’s contention that he had trouble tracking him down to free up emergency funds for hurricane relief, saying the allegation was “completely false and bizarre.” 

“You would think that if a president were to make an attack like that on a governor, he would have the receipts to prove it,” Abbott said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg Television during a trip to Asia to attract investment. “When Joe Biden said this time he called me, he just flat out made it up.” 

The political sniping is taking place as Houston continues to reel from Hurricane Beryl. The storm created widespread blackouts that cut electricity at one point to more than 2.5 million customers and has led to seven deaths, according to the Associated Press. At least 1 million homes and businesses are likely to be without power until at least Wednesday night, according to the region’s main electric utility, CenterPoint Energy Inc. 

The Houston Chronicle quoted Biden on Tuesday night as saying he’d “been trying to track down the governor” and other state leaders to get their request for a major disaster declaration to free up emergency federal assistance. 

Biden said he had to reach out to the governor’s office to trigger the formal ask, which Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made and the president approved on Tuesday afternoon. Patrick is serving as acting governor during Abbott’s trip. Both men are Republicans and have been very critical of Biden, a Democrat, especially over migration. 

The president spoke earlier this week to Patrick as well as Houston Mayor John Whitmire and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, said a Biden administration official. About 300 federal employees are deployed in support of Texas and they’re working with state and local counterparts, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Beryl’s cost in the US, counting both damages and economic losses, could reach $28 billion to $32 billion, AccuWeather Inc. estimated. The storm, which made landfall on the Texas coast early July 8 as a Category 1 hurricane, has exposed weaknesses in the state’s infrastructure. 

Abbott said he would instruct the Public Utility Commission of Texas to conduct a study about why electricity disruptions are “repeatedly happening” in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

“They should not be losing power,” he said. “I want to find out, was there a structural flaw with regard to the electrical delivery system? Was that the cause of it? If so, what needs to be done to shore it up? Or was this a personnel issue of not having enough power personnel in all the right locations to get power back up and going again?” 

Climate Risks

Hurricane Beryl cast a sharp spotlight on the economic repercussions that accompany major storms, said Nick Samuels, senior vice president for Moody’s Ratings. 

More than a third of Texas’ gross-domestic product is at a high-risk from hurricane damage like strong winds and severe flooding, with Harris County — which includes Houston — being particularly vulnerable, the company estimated. 

“These risks necessitate climate adaptation investments by state and local authorities,” Samuels said. 

Federal funding is crucial for such infrastructure development, which can be extraordinarily expensive. The US Army Corps of Engineers recommended a roughly $30 billion plan to reduce the cost of coastal storm damages on the Texas Gulf Coast. 

‘Ruling It Out’

While Abbott emerged as one of Biden’s biggest Republican critics on border security, he said he wasn’t interested in a cabinet position if former President Donald Trump retakes the White House in this year’s election. 

“I’m ruling it out,” Abbott said. 

The governor spoke from Japan during a long-planned trip to win more business for his state. He also unveiled plans to open a state economic-development office in Taiwan. 

In South Korea, he said he was particularly focused on wooing suppliers of Samsung Electronics Co., which is dramatically expanding its semiconductor manufacturing in central Texas. 

“If we’re able to land those, this is going to be game-changing for the entire economy of the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “Thousands upon thousands of jobs will be added, with billions of dollars of investment made in Texas.”

--With assistance from Amanda Albright and Justin Sink.

(Updates with Biden actions in sixth paragraph.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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