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Will Trump bungle first big snow threat like Obama did?

Snow is seen piled in front of the White House as crews clear the area after a snowstorm Jan. 25, 2016, in Washington, D.C. | Getty

Presidents can find themselves in the political cross hairs if they poorly manage a weather disaster.

Updated

President Donald Trump has already faced down North Korea over a missile launch and congressional Republicans bickering over an Obamacare repeal.

Now comes his first big snow test.

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A major late-winter storm bearing down on Washington and the wider region forced Trump on Monday to shift course from his top legislative priority on health care, to hold briefings on the threatening weather forecast.

Dealing with inclement weather is often associated with local mayors and governors, but presidents can find themselves in the political crosshairs if they poorly manage the federal response. President George W. Bush’s second term took a big hit over Hurricane Katrina, while President Barack Obama got a big boost from the timing of Superstorm Sandy just days before his 2012 re-election.

Of course, Obama also famously upset his newly adopted hometown just days after his 2009 inauguration when he bemoaned his daughter’s school being closed for the weather. “Because of what? Some ice?… We’re going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town,” Obama said.

Snow threat pushes back Trump-Merkel meeting in Washington

For Trump, an oncoming storm that could bring upwards of a foot of snow — or, this being Washington, D.C., nothing at all — presents him with his first big opportunity to showcase his disaster management skills. If the Office of Personnel Management shutters the government before a noticeable amount of snow has fallen, he could be accused of panicking. Act too late and the Washington region could be in for a major traffic snarl.

On Monday, Trump started jumping into action. He met with his homeland security adviser and the acting FEMA administrator to hear about the federal government’s storm preparations and he directed his inter-government affairs staff to maintain contact with the governors and mayors preparing for the storm, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during his Monday daily briefing.

“He has directed his acting FEMA administrator to lean forward and be prepared to help states should they require federal assistance,” Spicer added.

Trump echoed Spicer’s comments later Monday afternoon in remarks at the start of a meeting with his Cabinet, assuring reporters that the government is in “very good shape” and ready to respond.

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“FEMA and the federal government are ready to assist,” Trump said. “They are literally waiting by the phones and ready to go. Everyone should listen to their state and local officials, who will be providing regular storm updates.”

The president added that he hopes the storm will turn out to be less severe than predicted.

“The entire northeast, it seems, is under a very severe winter storm warning, so let’s hope it’s not going to be as bad as some people are predicting,” Trump said. “Usually it isn’t.”

There’s already been one casualty from the winter storm — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s scheduled Tuesday visit with Trump at the White House. The meeting has been postponed until Friday.

Trump’s government has also started to move. An OPM spokesman said the office has been monitoring the snow forecast since last week in coordination with the National Weather Service. On Monday, OPM reposted a video presentation explaining the process for dismissing or shuttering the government in the event of inclement weather.

Snow threat pushes back Trump-Merkel meeting in Washington