WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump urged any U.S. residents still in Hurricane Irma’s path Saturday to “just get out of its way” and not worry about possessions, as he monitored the powerful storm’s advance on Florida from the secluded Camp David presidential retreat.
Irma was expected to strike the Florida Keys at daybreak Sunday.
Trump called it a “storm of enormous destructive power” and asked “everyone in the storm path to heed all instructions, get out of its way.”
“Property is replaceable but lives are not and safety has to come first,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting at the Maryland retreat, where he was spending the weekend with his wife, first lady Melania Trump. “Don’t worry about it. Just get out of its way.” Trump shared a brief video of his remarks on Twitter.
Irma hammered Cuba on Saturday with punishing winds and rain before setting her sights on Florida, where massive evacuations were being carried out.
Trump said the U.S. was grieving for those who were killed by Irma even before she reached the U.S. mainland. The storm left more than 20 people dead in the Caribbean. He said the administration is monitoring the situation “around the clock” and is in “constant communications” with governors and other officials from the affected areas.
“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, pledging — as he did after Hurricane Harvey — that recovery and rebuilding will happen quickly.
Trump has been receiving regular briefings on both Irma and Jose, along with updates on recovery and relief efforts that continue in southeast Texas and Louisiana after Harvey, the White House said. Harvey brought record rainfall and severe flooding to Houston and surrounding areas of the Texas Gulf Coast in late August before it moved on to Louisiana.
Elaine Duke, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, was scheduled Saturday to brief Trump and the rest of the team on the storms.
In between storm updates, Trump spent part of his fourth Cabinet meeting discussing administration priorities and how to advance them during what’s left of his first year in office.
Trump recently launched a public push to rewrite the tax code to make it simpler and more competitive by cutting taxes for corporations and the middle class. He said at Saturday’s meeting that he would press for Congress to complete its work on a bill even sooner this year.
“I think now, with what’s happened with the hurricane, I’m going to ask for a speedup. I wanted a speedup anyway, but now we need it even more so,” he said in a longer video of the meeting that was released by the White House.
North Korea was also on the agenda. Trump said the Cabinet would discuss North Korea’s “latest provocative and destabilizing actions” and “the steps the United States will take to keep our people safe and, frankly, to keep the people of the world safe in this case.”
North Korea deepened concerns about advances in its development of nuclear weapons by conducting its strongest nuclear test explosion to date last weekend. Trump said earlier this week that military action against a nuclear-armed North Korea remained an option.
Trump sided with Democrats this week to raise the U.S. borrowing limit and keep the government operating through early December in a bid to speed federal assistance to hurricane victims. Congress acted quickly to pass the $15.3 billion deal and send it to Trump, who signed it Friday after he arrived at the Maryland retreat.
The agreement allowed Trump to taste victory after months of legislative setbacks and whet his appetite for more wins.
In addition to overhauling the tax code, the president also wants new spending to upgrade roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Trump has also given Congress six months to resolve the status of individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children after he decided earlier this week to end an Obama administration program that allowed them to live, work and attend school without fear of being deported.
The president and Mrs. Trump invited members of the Cabinet and their spouses to Camp David for the weekend, the White House said. It marked Trump’s fourth visit to the retreat. He met there in August with members of his national security team, but Saturday was the first time Trump had entertained the entire Cabinet there, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who turned 67 on Friday.
In a bit of deja vu, Trump was at Camp David when Harvey struck Texas last month.
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