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Obama Wades Through New Jersey's Recovery


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

The most populous city in the country is drying out, and beginning a long and complicated recovery. One positive sign: Tomorrow, some New York City subway routes are scheduled to reopen. But today, gridlock ruled as people took to their cars. And that means it's carpool time.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: You have to have three people in the car. I know it is inconvenient for a lot of people. But the bottom line is the streets can only handle so much.

CORNISH: That's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who laid out restrictions for most people driving into Manhattan.

SIEGEL: Still, carpooling is low on the list of troubles caused by Sandy. In a few minutes, we'll hear from Hoboken, New Jersey, which remains flooded. And the big picture is tragic too. Sixty-six people confirmed dead: 30 in New York state and eight in New Jersey.

CORNISH: Earlier today, President Obama flew to Atlantic City. He got a look at hurricane damage, along with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and pledged his support.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are here for you, and we will not forget. We will follow up to make sure that you get all the help that you need until you've rebuilt.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley traveled along with the president, and he joins us now. Scott, what did the president see today?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, first, he got an aerial view of the damage from a helicopter. He took off from Atlantic City where the damage was not so bad. But as he flew north over some of the coastal communities, such as Seaside Heights, the effects of the storm were much worse. Not wholesale destruction of neighborhoods, but certainly some very severe property damage.

Then back on the ground, he visited a community center that's been serving as a shelter. He met with some families who've been staying there now for three days. Some had been able to go back to inspect their homes, but many are staying at the shelter because there's no electricity where they live.

One mother of an infant worry that she was running out of diapers and baby formula. The FEMA administrator who was traveling along with the president managed to get some diapers and baby formula sent over to the shelter. And then on a lighter note, Mr. Obama himself passed out some White House M&Ms to the children who were missing out on Halloween.

SIEGEL: Mr. Obama was accompanied, as we said, by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican. They've become sort of a political odd couple of this story.

HORSLEY: Yeah, they really have. Governor Christie, of course, has been a vocal supporter of Mitt Romney and a vocal critic of the president in the past. But he's really worked closely with Mr. Obama, both before and since the storm. They've spoken on the telephone about half a dozen times. They've spent some quality time face-to-face in the helicopter today. And both men have really gone out of their way to say nice things about the job the other is doing.

The White House is saying that this is a time to set politics aside in dealing with a big storm like this, and that seems to be Governor Christie's attitude as well.

SIEGEL: Tomorrow, President Obama will be back in the swing states campaigning for re-election, but he's done very little politicking there for the last three days. How has that affected the presidential race?

HORSLEY: Well, it's hard to say for sure. But overall, it certainly does not seem to have caused him in the standings. There's an ABC/Washington Post poll out this evening that shows eight in 10 people think the president is doing a good or even an excellent job in dealing with the storm. Now, obviously, that could turn south in a hurry if people start to feel as if the government's responses is not adequate.

But for now, this has really been an opportunity for Mr. Obama to demonstrate leadership, to show compassion for the people who've been affected by the storm, and, frankly, to score some political points without the explicit appearance of playing politics.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.