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GOES-16 satellite image of Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico as it made landfall on September 20, 2017. Photo: CIRA

President Trump went to FEMA on Wednesday for an annual hurricane forecast briefing, but this one was anything but normal, a transcript reveals and audio obtained by the Washington Post shows.

The big picture: The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was among the most damaging on record, causing tens of billions in damage and possibly more than 4,000 deaths between the mainland U.S. and Puerto Rico. Hurricane Harvey, which caused the heaviest rainstorm ever observed in the U.S., had total costs of $125 billion alone.

Why it matters: President Trump was roundly criticized for the government's sluggish response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in September 2017. A recent study found that storm may have killed more than 4,500 people, which would be a higher toll than Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005. The briefing was aimed at familiarizing the president with the forecast for the upcoming hurricane season, as well as preparation underway at FEMA and other agencies.

Be smart: Typically, the annual hurricane briefing involves the secretary of Homeland Security, FEMA director, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Center director, and other specialists. For example, here's video of President Obama's 2016 hurricane season briefing. Trump's briefing, however, involved nearly the entire cabinet, from Small Business Administration leader Linda McMahon to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence.

  • First Lady Melania Trump made her first public appearance since May 10 at the event.

All praise, no prep: The public and private portions of the meeting featured Trump praising his cabinet and touting his accomplishments, while barely acknowledging the threats posed by another hurricane season. The private briefing, a tape of which was obtained by the Post, featured more glad-handing, and displayed the president's inability to stay on topic.

For example, the Post's Josh Dawsey reported:

When Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan began speaking, Trump within 10 seconds moved the conversation to negotiating airplane prices. He said the government was getting ripped off on ships and planes because the “ordering process for the military is so bad. . . . It’s not a competitive bid.”
“We saved $1.6 billion on Air Force One,” he said. “Can you believe it? I got involved in the negotiations. The press refuses to report that, but that’s okay. . . . People were really surprised.”

“What a great Cabinet this has turned out to be,” Trump said, according to the Post. “Our level of popularity is great."

According to a NOAA spokesman, Neil Jacobs, the assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction, did have the opportunity to brief the room about the actual hurricane outlook. The forecast calls for a near to slightly above average Atlantic season. The first named storm, Alberto, has already made landfall on the Gulf Coast.

One weird thing: While reporters were in the room, Trump made comments suggesting that Houston residents were at fault for needing to be rescued by the Coast Guard as floodwaters rose during Hurricane Harvey.

"People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane.  That didn’t work out too well.  That didn’t work out too well," Trump said.

Go deeper: Hurricane season is kicking off

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from NOAA.

Go deeper

36 mins ago - World

Army to award Purple Hearts to troops injured in Iran missile attack

Damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing U.S. and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar in January 2020. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

The Army has approved 39 more Purple Hearts for U.S. soldiers wounded in an Iranian military ballistic missile attack on an Iraq base in January 2020, the Army Times first reported Wednesday.

Why it matters: Most of these soldiers sustained brain injuries, per the Army Times. Then-President Trump dismissed their injuries at the time as "headaches" and "not very serious," sparking backlash from some veterans groups.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems invoke Robert Byrd to sell Manchin on Senate rules changes

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Diana Walker, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A small group of Senate Democrats is privately invoking the legacy of late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd in an effort to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their plans to change the chamber's rules, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Manchin — who holds Byrd's Senate seat — has often referenced his predecessor's strong moral conviction and insistence on preserving the Senate as an institution, as justification for some of his tough positions.