WASHINGTON − President Joe Biden’s trip to Florida Saturday to survey damage from Hurricane Idalia threatened to be marred by a political kerfuffle over why Florida’s GOP governor – a potential political rival – did not meet with the president.
“I don’t know,” Biden told reporters when asked what happened as he left the White House Saturday morning for Live Oak, Florida.
“He’s not going to be there.”On Friday, however, Biden had said he would be meeting with Gov.
Ron DeSantis, one of the Republicans vying to take him on in next year’s presidential election.But DeSantis’ office said there were no such plans and suggested such a meeting could complicate the response to the hurricane.President Joe Biden speaks in front of a home damaged by fallen trees and debris following a survey of damage caused by Hurricane Idalia, Saturday, Sept.
2, 2023, in Live Oak, Fla.“In these rural communities, and so soon after impact, the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts,” spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in a statement.Administration officials countered that the trip had been planned in coordination with DeSantis’ office.“This was a mutually agreed upon area because of the limited impact,” said Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who was with DeSantis in Florida Wednesday and Thursday.
“They’re well on their way to the road to recovery.”When Biden and DeSantis spoke Thursday, there was “just no indication that he was not going to be there,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with Biden to Florida.“Of course, he’s welcome to be with the president today,” she added.
“That is something for him to answer.
We can’t speak to that.”DeSantis told reporters Friday he’d mentioned to Biden “it would be very disruptive to have the whole security apparatus that goes” with the president “because there are only so many ways to get into” many of the hardest hit areas.“What we want to do is make sure that the power restoration continues and the relief efforts continue and we don’t have any interruption in that,” DeSantis said.The governor’s absence Saturday will have “absolutely no impact to the ongoing response and recovery,” Criswell told reporters.But it’s a distraction when Biden hoped to solely focus on meeting storm victims and thanking first responders.The first question he was asked by reporters after walking through a damaged neighborhood in Live Oak was whether he was disappointed by DeSantis’ absence.
Biden said he wasn’t.”He may have had other reasons.
But he did help us plan this,” Biden said.He also noted that Florida Sen.
Rick Scott, a Republican with whom he has clashed, praised the federal response.”I found that reassuring,” Biden said.Scott, who attended a briefing on response efforts at an elementary school with Biden and other officials, said the president did “a great job” by approving an emergency disaster declaration before the storm hit and quickly approving individual assistance.”It’s a big deal to everyone in these communities,” Scott said.President Joe Biden talks with Sen.
Rick Scott, R-Fla., during a briefing about response and recovery efforts to the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia at Suwannee Pineview Elementary School, Saturday, Sept.
2, 2023, in Live Oak, Fla.Biden and DeSantis, are no strangers to teaming up during disasters.Last October, they put aside their differences to work together during the response for Hurricane Ian, which killed 149 people in Florida and produced more than $100 billion in damages.
Biden visited Florida in the aftermath of the catastrophic storm, telling reporters then, “We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove.”In July 2021, Biden traveled to Surfside, Fla.
to meet with DeSantis and first-responders following the collapse of a condo tower that killed 98 people.Biden and DeSantis played nice following the condo tragedy as well, with the governor praising the Biden administration for limiting bureaucratic red tape in his dealings with the federal government.Biden said Wednesday he and DeSantis have stayed away from politics in their talks this week about Hurricane Idalia.Florida Gov.
Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference with Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett, right, Wednesday, Aug.
30, 2023, in Perry, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.
(AP Photo/John Raoux) ORG XMIT: FLJR105″I know that sounds strange, especially how the nature of politics is today,” Biden said.
“I think he trusts my judgment and my desire to help, and I trust him to be able to suggest that this is not about politics.
This is about taking care of the people of his state.”As Biden seeks reelection, the White House has asked for an additional $4 billion to address natural disasters as part of its supplemental funding request to Congress.
That would bring the total to $16 billion and highlight that wildfires, flooding and hurricanes have intensified during a period of climate change, imposing ever higher costs on U.S.
taxpayers.”I just can’t imagine people saying `No, they’re not going to help,” Biden said, expressing confidence the funding will be approved.Biden joked while delivering pizzas to workers at FEMA’s Washington headquarters on Thursday that he’d spoken to DeSantis so frequently about Idalia that “there should be a direct dial” between the pair.
Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall pointed to the experiences after Ian and Surfside collapse in saying earlier this week that Biden and DeSantis “are very collegial when we have the work to do together of helping Americans in need, citizens of Florida in need.”But DeSantis is also among the Republicans who criticized Biden’s response to the deadly wildfires in Hawaii as slow, tone deaf and insensitive.Republicans pounced on Biden when he initially said “no comment” while relaxing on a beach in Delaware when asked about the rising death toll of the Hawaii wildfires.
The White House later said he didn’t hear the question.DeSantis was among those who piled on.
“Are you kidding me?” the Florida governor said at last week’s Republican primary debate.
“As somebody that’s handled disasters in Florida, you’ve got to be activated.
You’ve got to be there.
You’ve got to be present.”Also during the debate, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy attacked former New Jersey Gov.
Chris Christie for hugging then-President Barack Obama during a tour of damage from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Some Republicans have long blamed Christie for helping Obama’s re-election with that embrace.“Give me a hug just like you did to Obama,” Ramaswamy said, “and you will help elect me just like you did Obama too.”Contributing: Associated Press and Joey Garrison, USA TODAY.This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden toured hurricane damage, but did not be see Ron DeSantis View comments