AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Enormous piles of warped furniture, ruined belongings, a totaled car with its hood up and residents wondering how they are going to deal with the mess left behind - this is what President Biden saw today on a tour of how the remnants of Hurricane Ida battered parts of New Jersey and New York. And it was the backdrop for a case he made for more investments to make the country more resilient to climate change. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid joins us now.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right, so tell us a little more about what the president did on this tour.
KHALID: He visited neighborhoods, and he met with families just to see the extent of the damage from Hurricane Ida firsthand. And, you know, the storm didn't just hit the Gulf Coast, it ripped through parts of the East Coast, leading to major flooding and even some fatalities. Biden met today with local leaders in New Jersey and New York to discuss some of what the federal government can do to deal with the storm damage. But this trip, as you mentioned, Ailsa, was about more than the immediate storm and its destruction. He spoke about climate change and the need for action.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy. And the threat is here. It's not going to get any better. The question - can it get worse? We can stop it from getting worse.
KHALID: Biden pointed to his infrastructure package and said that the changes he wants Congress to pass legislatively would help protect communities and allow them to become more resilient to climate change in the future.
CHANG: Well, Congress is back in session now, so I'm wondering how is the president trying to turn political attention back to his legislative agenda and away from, for example, what's unfolded in Afghanistan?
KHALID: Well, there's a government-funding deadline at the end of this month. And today, as Biden was touring storm damage in the Northeast, the White House sent a request to Congress for emergency funds to deal with severe weather. The president wants $14 billion to cover damages from natural disasters before Ida. You know, that might be - such as things as the wildfires on the West Coast. And then they want an additional $10 billion to cover damages from Hurricane Ida. That number could even be larger, they say.
The White House, you know, had been wanting to focus on the president's big economic agenda all of August, sending Cabinet members across the country to promote it. But really, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover did overshadow a lot of that.
CHANG: Right. I mean, it's not just Afghanistan. There's been a surge in COVID cases across the country because of the delta variant.
KHALID: That's right. And, you know, some states have seen hospitals dealing with very large numbers of COVID cases, more young people contracting the virus as schools have begun to reopen. And this is particularly problematic in places that have low vaccination rates.
The president is planning to deliver a major address on Thursday to talk about how he intends to tackle this latest setback and boost vaccination rates. You know, people are wondering what else the federal government can really do at this point in lieu of widespread mandates.
I will say vaccination rates differ widely across the country. And so what can the president do, I think, is really a question of - to encourage people who are unvaccinated to get a shot while at the same time deal with rolling out a strategy for people who need a booster shot. And Ailsa, this is of course all happening ahead of colder weather, when people are going to spend more time indoors.
CHANG: That is NPR's Asma Khalid.
Thank you, Asma.
KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.