President Joe Biden will visit hurricane-ravaged Florida with a pledge that federal, state and local governments will work together to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives, putting politics on hold for now to focus on the that they need it
Hurricane Ian has left at least 84 confirmed dead, including 75 in Florida, as hundreds of thousands of people wait for power to be restored. Biden planned to meet with residents and small business owners in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday and thank government officials who provided emergency aid and cleared debris.
With midterm elections just a month away, the crisis had the potential to bring political rivals together in common cause at least for a while. Ian’s 150km/h winds and powerful storm surge last week knocked out power to 2.6 million people 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 on Tuesday that it would be inappropriate for them to focus on political differences.
“There will be a long time, a long time, to discuss the 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 the people of Florida have what they need, especially after Hurricane Ian, we are one. We are working as one.”
Biden usually waits to visit the scene of a natural disaster, to ensure that his presence and accompanying fleet of vehicles do not hinder rescue efforts.
Before the storm, the president had planned to visit the Florida cities of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale last week, where he planned to highlight his efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid. Biden has accused Scott of wanting to end both programs by proposing that the federal laws expire every five years, although the Florida senator has said he wants to preserve the programs.
Biden and DeSantis have had plenty of differences in recent years over how to fight COVID-19, immigration policy and more. In recent weeks, they clashed over the governor’s decision to put migrants on planes or buses to Democratic strongholds, a practice Biden has called “reckless.”
The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of Biden’s first trip to Florida this year.
DeSantis confirmed Tuesday that he would meet with Biden in the hurricane zone and praised the administration’s Federal Emergency Management Agency for declaring an emergency before Ian made landfall.
“That was huge because everybody was going full steam ahead. They knew they had the ability to do it,” DeSantis said. “We appreciate it. I think FEMA has worked very well with the state and the local.”
The White House’s message of bipartisan unity marks a departure from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid to Democratic officials who criticized him, including governors. Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York. At other times, Trump seemed callous or clumsy in his response to people’s suffering.
Trump threatened to withhold federal money from California after the wildfires, saying his state officials were to blame for the deadly conflagrations, tweeting in 2018: “Billions of dollars are given every year, with so many lives lost , all because of forest mismanagement. .Fix it now, or no more Fed payments!”
Politicians’ responses to natural disasters have the power to make or break political careers.
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. The most problematic response by President George W. Bush and Louisiana lawmakers to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 still hangs over its legacies.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican who welcomed President Barack Obama to his state to survey the damage from Hurricane Sandy just days before the 2012 general election, said that during natural disasters ” the best political strategy is not to have a political strategy, to do it.” your job.”
Christie ended up being targeted by some in his own party who believed his warm welcome to Obama helped solidify the Democrat’s re-election, but he has no regrets.
“At its core, that’s what the government is there for, is to protect the safety and well-being of the people,” Christie said in an interview Tuesday. “The only thing that should be on the president’s mind, on Gov. DeSantis’ mind, on (Sen.) Marco Rubio’s mind is the confusion and the tragedy that has happened in people’s lives and how can we make it better -the”.
Christie noted that the comparisons to Sandy are not accurate: Biden is two years away from running, and DeSantis is weeks, not days, away from facing voters in his re-election bid. But Christie said any attempt to score political points would be noticed at the polls.
“Playing games is not what it’s all about,” Christie said. “This is a pretty transparent moment and people are going to get it; that’s not what they want, and they’re going to punish you for it.”
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Seung Min Kim in Washington and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida contributed to this report.