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UPDATE 3-Biden plans Texas visit, pushes for speedy disaster funds in winter storm crisis

Steve Holland and Nandita Bose
·3 min read

(Adds Biden's call with Federal Emergency Management Agency)

By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden saidon Friday he will approve a disaster declaration for Texas,clearing the way for more aid in a crippling winter storm as heweighed a trip to survey the federal response.

Millions of residents in the United States' biggest oil andgas producer have dealt with power outages, and nearly half ofTexans struggled on Friday with disrupted water service. Nearlytwo dozen deaths have been attributed to the storm and a coldsnap.

The first crisis to develop in Biden's one-month-old term istesting the president's pledge to govern on behalf of Americanswho opposed his candidacy, a campaign commitment the Democratintended to contrast with Republican former President DonaldTrump.

Now, the White House is working closely with RepublicanTexas Governor Greg Abbott, who did not initially acknowledgeBiden's November election win. In December, Texas stateofficials tried https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-lawsuit-texas/analysis-texas-tries-to-overturn-the-u-s-election-result-can-it-succeed-idUSKBN28J2R0,and failed, to overturn Biden's national election win in court.

"As I said when I ran, I'm going to be a president for allAmericans," said Biden, who lost in Texas to Trump.

"If I can do it without creating a burden for folks, I planon going," he said. A presidential visit to the state is beingplanned for next week.

Biden has asked his team to expedite Texas's request for adisaster declaration, clearing the way for more federalresources, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

The White House later said in a statement that Biden calledthe acting administrator at the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency (FEMA), Bob Fenton, to let him know he would approveTexas' request as soon as the agency forwards a formal request.

The White House has been in touch with mayors in Texascities, including Houston and Austin, and officials in Dallasand other counties, to make sure they were connected to FEMA andhave access to federal government resources, an administrationofficial said separately.

Biden spoke to Governor Abbott on Thursday, and said thefederal government would work with state and local authoritiesto offer relief to affected families.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Ted Cruz continued to face abacklash for traveling to a Mexican resort city in the middle ofthe crisis. Cruz returned to Texas from his very brief trip toCancun on Thursday. He has called the trip a "mistake."

"We're not spending any time, energy or breath analyzingSenator Cruz's whereabouts or his group chat," Psaki said.

Congressional Democrats criticized Abbott and his fellowRepublicans who control the state legislature on Friday, sayingthe crisis happened because they failed to upgrade the state'sindependent electricity grid.

"This was preventable because for years Republicans haveturned their back on the fact that the Texas power grid was notable to handle extreme cold temperatures," said Democratic U.S.Representative Marc Veasey. "We're now given reports that ourgrid was minutes, if not seconds, away from a completecollapse."

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Nandita Bose; Additionalreporting by Rick Cowan; Writing by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing byDoina Chiacu, Heather Timmons and Grant McCool)