Hurricane Ian Temporarily Unites Political Foes Biden and DeSantis
By Susan Milligan
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has had some choice words for President Joe Biden, saying the Democratic president “hates Florida.” Biden, meanwhile, has obliquely slammed DeSantis, accusing Republican governors of “playing politics with human beings” by flying unsuspecting migrants to blue states.
On Wednesday, as the two potential 2024 presidential candidates stood somewhat awkwardly in hurricane-ravaged Fort Myers, Biden and DeSantis achieved a public detente, saying they would cooperate on federal-state efforts to help the state recover from Hurricane Ian.
“I want the people of Florida to know – you have my commitment, and America’s commitment, that we’re not going to leave. We’re going to see you through this entire process,” Biden said after touring the devastated areas by helicopter and getting a briefing on the crisis from state and local officials.
Florida already had a more resilient energy grid because of federal aid delivered when he was vice president, Biden said – and now, the government has “got to build back better.”
“We know more is coming” as a result of climate change-fueled storms, Biden added as DeSantis stood poker-faced behind him.
DeSantis offered some praise for the Biden administration, saying that his state was “fortunate to have good coordination” with the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the beginning. He thanked FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and Biden, saying officials were “cutting through the bureaucracy” to get assistance to Floridians more quickly.
DeSantis concluded his remarks by telling Biden, “Welcome to Florida. We appreciate working together.”
The common enemy of the storm didn’t make Biden and DeSantis new friends. Their joint appearance Wednesday was nothing like the bipartisan bond former President Barack Obama and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie developed when that state was hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Days before the 2012 election, Christie, a Republican, lavished praise on the Democratic president for his help, even hugging Obama after the two toured a damaged area of the state. Christie was roundly criticized by fellow Republicans for hugging a president they had hoped to defeat that year.
There was no hug Wednesday between Biden – who says it his “intention” to run for reelection – and DeSantis, who is exploring a bid for the GOP nomination in 2024.
But nor did the two men showcase their political disagreements. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this week Biden would not be bringing up the most recent dispute, where DeSantis used government money to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
“I think he’s done a good job,” Biden said of DeSantis, responding to a reporter’s question after his remarks.
“We worked hand in glove. We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove. … In dealing with this crisis, we’ve been in complete lockstep,” Biden said.
Biden told Floridians he had earlier Wednesday signed an order to extend for another 30 days cash to cover 100% of the removal of debris from affected Florida communities. DeSantis, Biden said, would probably have to ask for yet another 30 days later, and Biden would OK that as well, the president added, eliciting a nod from DeSantis.
The president said his administration was also working to shorten the wait time for Floridians calling the disaster assistance line to request help. Assistance ranges from short-term cash for immediate needs to rebuilding assistance and loans for individuals and businesses.
“This is the United States of America – and I emphasize ‘united,'” Biden said, lauding the “extraordinary cooperation” among the government entities helping Florida recover from the storm.
But “it’s going to take a lot – not weeks or months,” the president added. “It’s going to take years for everything to get squared away.”