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vocabulary

White House defends Trump's Harvey tweet with a creative definition of 'firsthand'

On Wednesday morning, after President Trump's trip Tuesday to Corpus Christi and Austin to monitor the response to Tropical Storm Harvey, the president tweeted a message of empathy for the great people of Texas.

It was a nice gesture. But his assertion that he witnessed the "horror & devastation" of Harvey "first hand" was curious, as the Washington bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News noted politely.

So a curious reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about it aboard Air Force One on Wednesday afternoon. "What did he mean by he had seen the horror and devastation firsthand?" the reporter asked. Sanders replied:

He met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster. He talked extensively with the governor, who certainly is right in the midst of every bit of this, as well as the mayors from several of the local towns that were hit hardest. And detailed briefing information throughout the day yesterday, talking to a lot of the people on the ground — that certainly is a firsthand account. [White House]

That actually isn't the typical definition of a firsthand account, at least as it pertains to horror and devastation. But Trump cleared things up a bit on Instagram.

A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on Aug 30, 2017 at 9:41am PDT

Presidents don't usually witness ongoing natural disasters firsthand because America takes presidential security very seriously and, on a related note, because a presidential motorcade would take away time and resources from police and other first responders who are trying to rescue people. You can read arguments for and against presidents ever visiting disaster areas at The Week.