WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will visit hurricane-devastated Florida with a promise that federal, state and local governments will work together to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives — and put politics on hold for now to focus on the focus on those in need.
Hurricane Ian has resulted in at least 84 confirmed human deaths, including 75 in Florida, while hundreds of thousands wait for power to be restored. Ian’s 150mph wind and Punishing storm surge last week took power for 2.6 million in Florida. Many people do not have access to food and water.
Biden planned to meet with residents and small business owners in Fort Myers, Fla. on Wednesday and thank government officials who are providing emergency relief and clearing debris.
With the midterm elections just a month away, the crisis had the potential to bring political rivals together common cause at least for a time.
Joining Biden in Florida are two of his most prominent Republican critics: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, according to the White House and spokesman for Scott. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested Tuesday that it would be inappropriate to focus on political differences.
“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 the people of Florida have what they need, especially in the wake of Hurricane Ian, we are one. We work as a unit.”
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 impede rescue efforts.
Before the storm hit, the President had planned to visit the cities of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida last week to underscore his efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid. Biden has accused Scott of wanting to end both programs by suggesting federal laws should expire every five years, though the Florida senator has said he wants to preserve the programs.
Biden and DeSantis have had a variety of disagreements over the past few years over how to fight COVID-19, immigration policy, and more. In recent weeks, they have been at odds over the governor’s decision to take migrants to Democrat strongholds on planes or buses, a practice Biden has called “reckless.”
The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of Biden’s first trip to Florida that year.
DeSantis confirmed Tuesday that he would meet with Biden in the hurricane zone, and he commended the government’s Federal Emergency Management Agency for declaring an emergency before Ian landed.
“It 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 has worked very well with the state and local communities.”
The White House’s message of bipartisan unity differs from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid from Democratic officials who criticized him, including governors. Gavin Newsom from California and Andrew Cuomo from New York. At other times, Trump has come across as insensitive or awkward in his response to people’s suffering.
Trump threatened to withhold federal funds from California after wildfires, who said his state officials were responsible for the deadly fires, tweeted in 2018: “Billions of dollars are given every year with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of forests. Remedy now or no more Fed payments!”
Politician responses to natural disasters have the power to make or break political careers.
As Florida’s governor for eight years, Jeb Bush consistently responded to a hurricane parade and was rewarded with sky-high approval ratings. The more troubled response of President George W. Bush and Louisiana lawmakers to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 still hangs over her legacy.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the Republican who welcomed President Barack Obama to his state just days before the 2012 general election to survey the damage from Hurricane Sandy, said that when natural disasters hit, “the best policy strategy your work is not having a political strategy.”
Christie became a target for 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, government is there to protect the safety and well-being of people,” Christie said in an interview on Tuesday. “The only thing that should be on the minds of the President, Gov. DeSantis and (Sen.) Marco Rubio is the turmoil and tragedy that has befallen people’s lives and how we can make it better.”
Christie noted that the comparisons to Sandy aren’t accurate — Biden is two years away from being a candidate himself and DeSantis is weeks, not days, before facing voters on his reelection bid. But Christie said any attempts to score political points would be admonished in the election.
“Playing games is not what this is about,” Christie said. “This is a pretty transparent time and people are going to get it — that’s not what they want and they’re going to punish you for it.”
(Copyright (c) 2022 Sunbeam Television. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)
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