President Joe Biden will visit Florida on Wednesday to witness first-hand the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, again putting the spotlight on his icy relationship with the governor. Combatant Republican leader Ron DeSantis has floated a potential challenge to the Democratic presidency in 2024.
For now, Biden and DeSantis have put their budding political rivalry aside, and their administrations have been working together since the hurricane fatally collided with Florida’s west coast. White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday that DeSantis will work with other local officials to brief Biden on the response and recovery efforts. Jean-Pierre said the joint appearance will reassure Floridians that the state and federal governments are coordinating closely to recover and rebuild.
“We’re working as a whole,” she said.
DeSantis said Tuesday that he will huddle with his emergency management team ahead of the president’s trip to see if the state needs to ask Biden more when they meet. But he said the Biden administration had been helping since before Ian landed.
“(FEMA) is working very well with state and local governments,” DeSantis said.
The past week has been the second time Biden and DeSantis have welcomed a brief truce following the tragedy. A week after an apartment complex in Surfside, Florida collapsed last year — killing 98 people — Biden and DeSantis sat side by side in a public display of bipartisan condolences. They exchanged details on camera, and Biden patted DeSantis affectionately on the arm.
“We live in a country where we can work together,” Biden said in a joint appearance. “And that’s really important.”
But in the 16 months since that day, public hatred between DeSantis and Biden has only intensified, with the White House and the third-largest state in the U.S. seemingly forever at odds. Biden likened DeSantis to a school bully with a legislative agenda that targets disadvantaged LGTBQ kids. DeSantis has blamed Biden for rising inflation, and earlier this year he accused Democrats of refusing aid to tornado victims because the president “hates Florida.”
Tensions reached a turning point just weeks before Ian’s arrival, when DeSantis credited him with two flights of migrants taking them from the border to Martha’s Vineyard. Biden criticized the stunt as “un-American.” DeSantis threatened that future transportation could go to Biden’s home state of Delaware.
Asked if Biden would raise the issue of DeSantis transporting immigrant groups to democratic cities, Jean-Pierre said, “There will be plenty of time to discuss the differences between the president and the governors, but now is not the time. .”
Their increasingly fractured relationship has coincided with DeSantis’ meteoric rise in his party as the most popular Republican, not Donald Trump. His love of grabbing headlines and angering 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 mainstay of his campaign against Democratic opponent Charlie Crist. DeSantis, the Florida Republican, ran an ad that emphasized the close connection between Christ and the president, suggested that Christ would “do to Florida what Biden did to America,” and repeated the campaign twice. Lister’s original voice said, “Thank God for Joe Biden.”
But those tensions have taken a backseat — at least for now — in the huge cleanup left by the hurricane’s massive wake. Biden has said he has spoken to Florida leaders several times and has pledged to “go all the way.” DeSantis praised the federal government’s response to the state’s many requests for help.
The Biden administration and DeSantis also joined forces to counter questions about the timing of the evacuation order in Lee County, where a catastrophic storm surge destroyed homes and endangered the lives of those who had taken shelter there. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell defended Lee County officials on Fox News Sunday, noting the unpredictability of this particular storm.
“Once the storm was forecast to affect Lee County, I knew local officials immediately took the right steps to make sure they warned citizens to keep them out of danger,” Criswell said.
During Monday’s news conference, DeSantis tried to shut down a reporter who tried to ask the governor if Lee’s officials were giving residents enough time to leave before Ian arrived. Lee ordered an evacuation about 24 hours before the storm made landfall, although forecasts indicated a dangerous storm surge could occur along the region’s coast, but later than in neighboring northern counties.
DeSantis said the focus should be on “getting people up and stopping the endless conversation and trying to slander those who do the best job with imperfect information.”
Air Force One is expected to touch down in Fort Myers early Wednesday afternoon with the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden accompanied the president on Monday to investigate the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico.
Biden will arrive in a community still shaken by a storm that many believe is moving further north, before a late shake turns its sights on Lee and Charlotte counties. At least 100 people have died in Florida after Ian hit the Gulf Coast as a massive Category 4 storm. Rescue teams continued to search for survivors, with residents combing through the rubble and looking for temporary shelter. More than 400,000 customers in Florida are still without power, and it could take the hardest-hit communities a month to restore power.
This visit has the potential to show how two men with very different personalities deal with an immeasurably devastating tragedy.
Biden has often played the role of total comforter, guiding the nation through the post-vaccination period of the Covid-19 pandemic and guiding communities across the country through more localized tragedies. In less than two years as president, he has walked through the wreckage of tornado-ravaged western Kentucky, embraced the families of the victims of the Uwald and Buffalo mass shootings, and comforted the West displaced by wildfires people.
Speaking in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, Biden assured island residents that “all America is with you.”
DeSantis, a self-described hands-on leader, directs the nation’s response with a laser-like focus on the logistics of getting the nation back up and running. His press conferences were rarely filled with personal stories of suffering and loss — a staple of Biden’s speeches. Instead, DeSantis tends to be forward-looking and factual. He gushed about recovery statistics and laid out in sobering detail the obstacles ahead and the state’s plan to overcome collective hardship.
When CNN asked for information on Sunday to reach out to loved ones living in the storm’s path, DeSantis’ response was usually pragmatic: He focused on the state’s relationship with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Elon Musk) to enable those affected to surf the Internet publicly.
“You’ll be able to log in,” DeSantis said. “So, that’s a consolation for a lot of people.”
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly cited a hurricane that caused damage to Puerto Rico. That was Hurricane Fiona.