HomePoliticsBiden examines storm damage in Florida, without DeSantis

Biden examines storm damage in Florida, without DeSantis

By Jeff Mason

LIVE OAK, Florida (Reuters) -President Joe Biden traveled to Florida on Saturday to survey the devastation wrought by Hurricane Idalia and comfort the storm’s victims, but he did not meet with Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential presidential rival, who made sure chose not to come.

Biden, who praised DeSantis during the visit, said he was not disappointed by the Republican governor’s absence and said DeSantis had helped plan the trip.

The DeSantis spokesman said Friday that the governor had no plans to meet with Biden, saying that “the security preparations alone required to set up such a meeting would halt ongoing recovery efforts.”

Biden, a Democrat, took an aerial tour and briefed local officials and first responders in Live Oak, a city hard hit by the storm. He saw houses with fallen trees on them, and said that no “intelligent” person could doubt climate change.

But politics hung over his trip. The president, who has spoken to DeSantis several times this week, had said on Friday that they would meet in person. The governor’s decision surprised the White House.

When asked if he was disappointed that DeSantis didn’t show up, Biden said no.

‘No, I’m not disappointed. He may have had other reasons. … But he did help us plan for this,” Biden told reporters as he stood in front of a damaged house. “He was with FEMA and decided where to go, where the least disruption would be,” the president said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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Biden said he was glad Senator Rick Scott, a Republican former governor of Florida, had come despite their differences on many issues.

Scott, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, the 45th U.S. president, wore a hat that read “Navy” on the front and “45” on the back. Scott later said he wore the hat in reference to his term as Florida’s 45th governor.

DeSantis, 44, spent the day about 50 miles south, touring small communities along Florida’s Gulf Coast on his official schedule.

The governor is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to oust Biden from the White House, but trails Trump in polls. Biden, 80, is running for re-election.

Biden and DeSantis have spoken regularly this week about the hurricane, which battered Florida’s Big Bend region with Category 3 winds approaching 125 mph. On Wednesday, the president said politics had not crept into their talks.


It could have been politically dangerous for DeSantis to be photographed with Biden overlooking the storm damage as the nomination race heats up. Although well behind Trump, DeSantis leads the other Republican candidates in the race.

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When Biden visited Florida last year after Hurricane Ian, a photo of DeSantis standing awkwardly to one side as the president spoke animatedly to a local couple went viral, highlighting the difference between the styles of public interaction between the two politicians.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also running for the 2024 Republican nomination, drew criticism for his praise of then-President Barack Obama in 2012 when the Democrat visited his state after superstorm Sandy.

During his visit to Live Oak, Biden received praise from Republican Senator Scott for declaring an official disaster early on.

For his part, the president complemented Scott and DeSantis. “The governor was on top of it,” Biden said.

The White House said Biden, who was traveling with his wife Jill, informed DeSantis of the visit during a call Thursday, and the governor expressed no concerns.

Their inability to meet will not have any impact on recovery efforts, said FEMA head Deanne Criswell.

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She told reporters that search and rescue operations had been completed and officials were now focusing on restoring power in the affected regions. Less than 1% of Florida residents were without power on Saturday, she said, though that figure was significantly higher in some areas directly affected by the hurricane.

DeSantis has been a harsh critic of Biden, and the two have clashed over COVID-19 vaccines, abortion and LGBT rights. But when they met last year during Biden’s visit to Florida to assess the devastation of Hurricane Ian, the president said they had worked “hand in hand.”

Biden visited Hawaii last week after deadly wildfires there. On Friday, he expressed confidence that Congress would approve his administration’s request for an additional $4 billion to combat natural disasters.

“I’m confident because I can’t imagine Congress saying, ‘We’re not going to help,'” he told reporters.

After concluding the trip to Florida, he traveled to his home state of Delaware, where he planned to spend the weekend.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Live Oak, Florida; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; additional writing by Gram Slattery; editing by William Mallard, Jonathan Oatis, and Matthew Lewis)

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