Hurricane Politics: Biden Funds Florida Aid Despite Rude DeSantis

Florida National Guard

LIVE OAK, Florida, September 2, 2023 (ENS) – President Joe Biden saw from the sky Hurricane Idalia’s impact across a swath of Florida before he set out on a walking tour of a city recovering from the storm Saturday. Absent was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who declined to join Biden after he said that the Democratic president’s presence could hinder disaster response efforts.

Biden, when asked about his rival’s absence, said he was not disappointed by the turn of events, but welcomed the presence of Rick Scott, one of the state’s two Republican U.S. senators.

While the governor was a no-show Saturday, Scott, who has his political differences with DeSantis, met with Biden when he arrived in Live Oak and complimented the administration’s efforts to help hurricane victims.

Three people died in Florida after Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida on August 30 as a Category 3 storm with winds of 125 mph.

“Thank you for being here,” Scott said, shaking Biden’s hand. He praised the president for his FEMA leadership, saying Biden “did a great job” preparing resources ahead of the hurricane and getting relief out quickly.

“I want to thank the Senator, and I mean it sincerely,” Biden responded, saying that he’d told Senator Scott the federal government would remain “as long as it takes.”

The president pledged the federal government’s total support for Floridians.

“I’m here today to deliver a clear message to the people of Florida and throughout the Southeast,” Biden said after the walking tour. He spoke outdoors near a church that had parts of its sheet metal roof peeled back by Idalia’s powerful winds and a home half crushed by a fallen tree.

With the sun in his eyes, President Joe Biden speaks with reporters and Hurricane Idalia survivors, September 2, 2023, Live Oak, Florida (Screengrab from video courtesy C-SPAN)

“As I’ve told your governor, if there’s anything your state needs, I’m ready to mobilize that support,” he continued. “Anything they need related to these storms. Your nation has your back and we’ll be with you until the job is done.”

Earlier, Mayor Frank Davis of Live Oak, which is about 80 miles east of Tallahassee, the state capital, thanked President Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden for coming and “showing us that we’re important to you.”

“Everybody thinks Florida is rich, but this is not one of the richest counties in the state and there are people who are suffering,” said Mayor Davis, adding he knew of no loss of life or serious injury from the hurricane.

Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning along Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region as a Category 3 storm, causing widespread flooding and damage before moving north to lash Georgia and the Carolinas.

Locals Praise Flow of Aid

At Suwannee Pineview Elementary School, where the Bidens were briefed on the storm damage, local officials praised early disaster declarations by the White House and the quick flow of federal aid.

“What the federal government is doing … is a big deal,” Senator Scott said.

Helping Floridians and their communities get back on their feet was the emphasis at the briefing on response and recovery efforts.

Deanne Criswell, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, told reporters as the president flew from Washington that her team and the governor’s team had “worked collectively” to determine that Biden would visit Live Oak. She said her teams “have heard no concerns over any impact to the communities that we’re going to visit today.”

On Friday, hours after Biden said he would be meeting with DeSantis, the governor’s office issued a statement saying there were no plans for that. “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,” DeSantis spokesperson Jeremy Redfern said in a statement.

DeSantis Visits Victims Elsewhere

DeSantis’ office said his public schedule Saturday included stops in Keaton Beach, about 60 miles southwest of Live Oak, and Horseshoe Beach, about 75 miles away, with the last event beginning at 1:45 p.m.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, left; Kevin Guthrie, executive director, Florida Division of Emergency Management, and Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, update the public on the impact of Hurricane Idalia, August 31, 2023 (Screengrab courtesy C-SPAN)

FEMA’s Criswell said aboard the flight that power is being restored and the roads are all open in the area where the Bidens were going. “Access is not being hindered,” she said, adding that her team had been in “close coordination” with the governor’s staff.

As Biden left Washington on Saturday morning, reporters asked what happened with the meeting. “I don’t know. He’s not going to be there,” the president said of DeSantis.

“No I am not disappointed, ” Biden said. “He may have had a good reason. What he did was help us plan this. He sat with FEMA and decided where we should go, where would be the least discussion.”

About the presence of Senator Scott, the president explained, “He came and talked to me and to you all about what an incredible job the federal government was doing. I found that reassuring. And so I think we can pull all of this together, I really do.”

The political disconnect between both sides is a break from the recent past; Biden and DeSantis met when the president toured Florida after Hurricane Ian hit the state last year and following the Surfside condo collapse in Miami Beach in summer 2021.

But DeSantis is now running to unseat Biden, and he only left the Republican presidential primary trail with Idalia barreling toward his state.

Putting aside political rivalries following natural disasters can be tricky.

Another possible 2024 presidential candidate, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, has long been widely criticized in GOP circles for embracing then-President Barack Obama during a tour of the damage that 2012’s Hurricane Sandy did to his state. Christie was even asked about the incident last month, during the first Republican presidential debate.

Both Biden and DeSantis at first suggested that helping storm victims would outweigh partisan differences. But as the week wore on the governor began suggesting that a presidential trip would complicate response logistics.

The post-Idalia political consequences are high for both men.

As Biden seeks reelection, the White House has asked for an additional $4 billion to address natural disasters as part of a supplemental funding request to Congress. That would bring the total to $16 billion and highlight that intensifying extreme weather is imposing ever higher costs on U.S. taxpayers.

DeSantis has built his White House bid around dismantling what he calls the Democrats’ “woke” policies. The governor also frequently draws applause at GOP rallies by declaring that it’s time to send “Joe Biden back to his basement,” a reference to the Democrat’s Delaware home, where he spent much of his time during the early lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic.

But four months before the first ballots are to be cast in Iowa’s caucuses, DeSantis still lags far behind former President Donald Trump, the Republican primary’s dominant early front-runner. And he has cycled through repeated campaign leadership shakeups and reboots of his image in an attempt to refocus his message.

The super PAC supporting DeSantis’ candidacy also has halted its door-knocking operations in Nevada, which votes third on the Republican presidential primary calendar, and several states holding Super Tuesday primaries in March – a further sign of trouble for Florida’s governor.

Text (except for headline): Originally published by Voice of America, September 2, 2023. Public domain.

Featured image: Staff Sgt. Anthony Gaines, left, and Sgt. Ryan Rhoden with the Florida National Guard’s 868 Engineer Company, use chainsaws to break down fallen trees. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Spencer Rhodes, 107th MPAD)

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