Obama to make 1st presidential visit to Arkansas, tour storm damage

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 7, 2014 

Severe Weather

Vilonia Intermediate School is surrounded by storm debris in Vilonia, Ark., Thursday, May 1, 2014. The school was nearing the end of construction when a tornado struck the building April 27.

DANNY JOHNSTON — AP

President Barack Obama travels today to central Arkansas to view the devastation from the recent tornadoes and severe storms and meet with families, first responders and recovery workers, the White House said.

The trip comes at the invitation of Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who told Obama he hoped he would "witness firsthand not only the damage to our communities but also the resilience, selflessness, and determination of our citizens."

Pryor said the April 27 storms that "tore through large swaths of central Arkansas " killed 15, injured more than 150, destroyed 264 homes and damaged numerous businesses.

Obama signed a declaration two days later, declaring a major disaster in the state and ordering federal aid for the area affected by severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding.

The visit will be Obama's first as president to the state, which he lost in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Polls suggest he remains just as unpopular, with Gallup noting in January that Arkansas is among 8 states that have consistently ranked among the 10 most opposed to Obama every year he's been in office.

The two-term Pryor is one of several Senate Democrats considered vulnerable in the November election and he's sought to put distance between himself and the president, joining with other Democrats from conservative states to call on Obama to allow the controversial Keystone pipeline to be built.

A recent New York Times Upshot/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, though, shows Pryor with a 10 point lead over his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton.

Obama's stop comes as he travels to California for a joint fundraiser for the Democratic House and Senate committees and is feted at a dinner hosted by director Steven Spielberg's USC Shoah Foundation.

Spielberg will present Obama with the group's "Ambassador for Humanity Award," which it calls its highest honor.

“President Obama’s commitment to democracy and human rights has long been felt,” Spielberg said. “As a constitutional scholar and as president, his interest in expanding justice and opportunity for all is remarkably evident. The president’s recent appointment of the first special envoy for Holocaust Survivor Services in United States history demonstrates his staunch commitment to honoring the past while building a better future.”

Variety reports the fundraiser will be held at Disney Studios chief Alan Horn. Dinner starts at $10,000 per guest, with a photo opportunity.

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