President Joe Biden has been to Florida to see first-hand the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian, once again highlighting his frosty relationship with Governor Ron DeSantis, the combative Republican leader posed to potentially challenge the Democrat for president in 2024.
For now, Biden and DeSantis have put aside their budding political rivalry and their administrations have worked together since the hurricane’s deadly collision with Florida’s west coast. It was on Wednesday.
Shortly after touring the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast communities by helicopter, Biden was met at Fisherman’s Wharf by DeSantis and his wife, Casey, where they talked for several minutes among the rubble.
In a joint appearance moments later, Biden and DeSantis stressed to reporters that their two administrations, while often at odds, work closely together on rescue and recovery efforts.
“I’m just grateful that everyone has come together,” DeSantis said, before adding, “Mr. President, welcome to Florida. We enjoy working together at different levels of government.
Biden said the cooperation had been “extraordinary,” and he highlighted the ability of Americans across the country to help in times of need and urged Floridians to one day reciprocate.
“We’re going to get you through all of this through the courage of each of you, but when you’ve done it, when you hear it’s happening somewhere else, remember it’s in the United States of America. “, said Biden. “We are all in the same boat.”
Later, Biden told reporters that DeSantis had “done a good job” leading Florida through this disaster, calling the Republican’s response “pretty remarkable.”
“We have very different political philosophies, but we worked hand in hand,” Biden said. “In dealing with this crisis, we have been in perfect harmony.”
Last week marks the second time Biden and DeSantis have welcomed a brief truce following a tragedy. A week after a condominium tower collapsed in Surfside, Fla., last year – killing 98 people – Biden and DeSantis sat side by side in a public show of bipartisan mourning. They traded niceties in front of the cameras, with Biden patting DeSantis affectionately on the arm.
“We live in a nation where we can cooperate,” Biden said during their joint appearance. “And that’s really important.”
But public animosity between DeSantis and Biden has only intensified in the 16 months since that day, with the White House and the nation’s third-largest state appearing to be perpetually at odds. Biden compared DeSantis to a schoolyard bully whose legislative agenda has targeted vulnerable LGTBQ children. DeSantis blamed Biden for rising inflation and earlier this year accused the Democrat of withholding aid for tornado victims because the president “hates Florida.”
Tensions reached an inflection point just weeks before Ian’s arrival, when DeSantis took credit for two flights carrying migrants from the border to Martha’s Vineyard. Biden called the stunt “un-American.” DeSantis threatened that future transports could be headed to Biden’s home state of Delaware.
Asked if Biden would raise the issue of DeSantis transporting groups of migrants to Democratic cities, Jean-Pierre said there would be “lots of time to discuss the differences between the president and the governor, but that’s not is not the time”.
The growing chasm in their fractured relationship coincided with DeSantis’ rapid rise within his party to become the most popular Republican not named Donald Trump. His penchant for headlines and the wrath of liberals has made DeSantis a favorite among Republican voters, some of whom want to see him challenge Biden in 2024.
As he seeks re-election next month, DeSantis has made Biden a fixture in his campaign against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist. The Florida Republican Party ran ads on behalf of DeSantis that highlight Crist’s close ties to the president, suggesting that Crist would ‘do to Florida what Biden did to America’ and repeating a phrase twice sound of Crist saying, “Thank goodness for Joe Biden.”
But those tensions have taken precedence — at least for now — over the immense cleanup left by the hurricane’s significant wake. Biden said he spoke with the Florida leader several times and promised “to be there every step of the way.” DeSantis praised the federal government’s response to numerous requests for state assistance.
The Biden administration and DeSantis have also joined forces to push back against questions about the timing of evacuation orders in Lee County, where a catastrophic storm surge decimated homes and endangered the lives of those stranded. were sheltering there. Speaking on Fox News on Sunday, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell defended Lee County officials, noting the unpredictable nature of this particular storm.
“As soon as the storm forecast announced it was going to hit Lee County, I know local authorities immediately put the right measures in place to ensure they were warning citizens to move out of danger” , Criswell said.
At a Monday press conference, DeSantis tried to silence a reporter who was trying to ask the governor if Lee officials were giving residents enough time to leave before Ian arrived. Lee ordered the evacuation about 24 hours before the storm made landfall, later than nearby counties to the north despite forecasts that showed the potential for dangerous storm surges along the region’s coast.
DeSantis said the focus should be on “uplifting people and stopping talking all the time and trying to smear people who were doing the best job they could with flawed information.”
Air Force One touched down early Wednesday afternoon in Fort Myers with first lady Dr. Jill Biden, who accompanied the president on Monday to survey damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Fiona.
Biden visited a community still reeling from a storm that many thought was heading farther north before a late swing turned eyes toward Lee and Charlotte counties. At least 100 people have died in Florida after Ian slammed into the Gulf Coast in a massive Category 4 storm. Rescue crews continue to search for survivors as residents scour the wreckage and search temporary accommodation. More than 400,000 Florida customers remain without power, and it could be a month before power is restored to the hardest-hit communities.
As part of a major disaster declaration for Florida, Biden on September 29 approved aid to 13 counties that guaranteed the federal government would reimburse 100% of the cost of debris removal and other search and rescue expenses. rescue for 30 days related to Hurricane Ian. Speaking at a press conference ahead of Biden’s arrival, DeSantis said many hard-hit communities could not begin debris removal until roads are cleared and officials there are now faced with a lack of time.
“The clock ticked,” DeSantis said. “Obviously they haven’t been able to do much debris removal when they don’t have constant access.”
Before leaving for Florida, Biden amended the disaster declaration to extend the refund period for an additional 30 days, responding to a request DeSantis had planned to make later in the day.
One community facing such hardship is Pine Island, where all the bridges broke in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. DeSantis told Matlacha that a temporary low-speed bridge will open later Wednesday that would allow vehicular traffic to Pine Island.
During his press conference, DeSantis praised the federal response to the storm.
“Local, state, FEMA coordination — there’s been less bureaucracy holding us back in this (hurricane) than probably anyone I’ve seen,” DeSantis said.
The visit showed how two men with very different temperaments approach a tragedy of immeasurable devastation.
Biden has often leaned into the role of chief comforter, guiding the nation through the post-vaccination period of the Covid-19 pandemic and communities across the country through more localized tragedies. In less than two years as president, he has walked through the rubble of tornado-ravaged western Kentucky, hugged the families of mass shooting victims in Uvalde and Buffalo, and comforted those displaced by the fires in forest in the West.
Speaking in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, Biden assured residents of the island that “all of America is with you.”
DeSantis, who presents himself as an active leader, has commanded the state’s response, focusing like a laser on the logistics of getting the state back on track. His press conferences are rarely filled with personal stories of pain and loss — a staple of Biden’s speeches. Instead, DeSantis is often forward looking and factual. It details recovery statistics and details the obstacles to be overcome and the state’s plans to overcome the collective difficulties.
Asked by CNN on Sunday to deliver a message to people who couldn’t reach loved ones living in the storm’s path, DeSantis’ response was generally pragmatic: He focused on state work with the Tesla CEO. , Elon Musk, to bring the Internet online in the affected regions. communities.
“You’ll be able to connect,” DeSantis said. “So that will be a comfort to a lot of people.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this document incorrectly referred to the hurricane that caused damage in Puerto Rico. It was Hurricane Fiona.