Biden to Focus on FL Hurricane Victims 10/05 06:11
President Joe Biden will visit hurricane-ravaged Florida with a pledge that
federal, state and local governments will work as one to help rebuild homes,
businesses and lives -- putting politics on mute for now to focus on those in
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden will visit hurricane-ravaged Florida
with a pledge that federal, state and local governments will work as one to
help rebuild homes, businesses and lives -- putting politics on mute for now to
focus on those in need.
Hurricane Ian has resulted in at least 84 people confirmed dead, including
75 in Florida, as hundreds of thousands of people wait for power to be
restored. Biden planned to meet Wednesday with residents and small business
owners in Fort Myers, Florida, and to thank government officials providing
emergency aid and removing debris.
With the midterm elections just a month away, the crisis had the potential
to bring together political rivals in common cause at least for a time. Ian's
150 mph winds and punishing storm surge last week took out power for 2.6
million in Florida. Many in Florida are unable to access food and water.
Joining Biden in Florida will be two of his most prominent Republican
critics: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, according to the White
House and Scott's spokesman. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
suggested Tuesday that it would be inappropriate for them to focus on political
"There will be plenty of time, plenty of time, to discuss differences
between the president and the governor -- but now is not the time," Jean-Pierre
told reporters at a White House briefing. "When it comes to delivering and
making sure that the people of Florida have what they need, especially after
Hurricane Ian, we are one. We are working as one."
Biden typically waits to visit the scene of a natural disaster, to ensure
his presence and the fleet of vehicles that accompany him will not hinder the
Before the storm hit, the president had intended to visit the Florida cities
of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale last week, where he planned to stress his
efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid. Biden has accused Scott of
wanting to end both programs by proposing that federal laws should expire every
five years, although the Florida senator has said he wants to preserve the
Biden and DeSantis have had a multitude of differences in recent years over
how to fight COVID-19, immigration policy and more. In recent weeks, they
tussled over the governor's decision to put migrants on planes or buses to
Democratic strongholds, a practice that Biden has called "reckless."
The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of Biden's first trip to Florida
DeSantis confirmed Tuesday he'd be meeting with Biden in the hurricane zone
and he praised the administration's Federal Emergency Management Agency for
declaring an emergency before Ian made landfall.
"That was huge because everyone was full steam ahead. They knew they had the
ability to do it," DeSantis said. "We appreciate it. I think FEMA's worked very
well with the state and local."
The White House message of bipartisan unity marks a difference from Biden's
predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid to
Democratic officials who criticized him, including Govs. Gavin Newsom of
California and Andrew Cuomo of New York. At other times, Trump appeared
insensitive or clumsy in his response to people's suffering.
Trump threatened to withhold federal money from California after wildfires,
saying its state officials were to blame for the deadly conflagrations,
tweeting in 2018: "Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives
lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more
Politicians' responses to natural disasters have the power to make or break
As Florida's governor for eight years, Jeb Bush maintained a steady response
to a parade of hurricanes and was rewarded with sky-high approval ratings.
President George W. Bush and Louisiana lawmakers' more troubled response to
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 still hangs over their legacies.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican who welcomed President
Barack Obama to his state to survey Hurricane Sandy damage just days before the
2012 general election, said that during natural disasters "the best political
strategy is to have no political strategy, to do your job."
Christie ended up the target of some in his own party who believed that his
warm welcome for Obama helped cement the Democrat's reelection, but he has no
"At core this is what government is there for, it's to protect the safety
and the welfare of the people," Christie said in an interview Tuesday. "The
only thing that should be on the president's mind, on Gov. DeSantis's mind, on
(Sen.) Marco Rubio's mind is the turmoil and the tragedy that's happened to
people's lives and how we can make it better."
Christie noted that the comparisons to Sandy aren't exact -- Biden is two
years away from being a candidate himself, and DeSantis is weeks, not days,
from facing voters in his reelection bid. But Christie said any attempts to
score political points would be admonished at the polls.
"Playing games is not what this is about," Christie said. "This is a pretty
transparent time and people will get it -- that's not what they want, and
they'll punish you for it."