Biden, DeSantis project unity in response to Hurricane Ian
President Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) put their political rivalry on hold Wednesday as the two toured damage from Hurricane Ian and projected a sense of unity in vowing to help the hardest-hit parts of the state rebuild.
“Today we have one job and only one job. That is to make sure the people of Florida get everything they need to fully recover,” Biden said in prepared remarks as DeSantis stood behind him.
Asked about DeSantis’s response to the storm, Biden told reporters: “I think he’s done a good job. We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove.”
Biden and DeSantis emphasized the cooperation between the federal government and state and local officials, highlighting emergency declarations and the allocation of federal resources that allowed for a prompt response to the storm before it even made landfall.
“We were very fortunate to have good coordination with the White House and FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] from the very beginning of this,” DeSantis said.
The two men were in Fort Myers, one of the areas that sustained the most damage when Hurricane Ian made landfall last week as a Category 4 storm that destroyed homes and left millions without power. State and local officials warned rebuilding would be a years-long process in some areas.
Biden received a briefing on the response and recovery efforts from DeSantis and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and met with residents and small-business owners impacted by the storm. Biden also met with Florida Sens. Rick Scott (R) and Marco Rubio (R), as well as Rep. Byron Donalds (R).
Before arriving, Biden issued an amended disaster declaration that doubled the eligibility window for fully covered federal aid from 30 days to 60 days. In his remarks, he spoke about federal aid to provide temporary housing, insurance assistance, food, water and other critical supplies.
DeSantis, meanwhile, repeatedly thanked the federal government as a whole for cutting through red tape to expedite assistance before, during and after the storm made landfall.
The White House has downplayed any tension between Biden and DeSantis or whether other political disagreements would overshadow the meeting on Wednesday, wary of shifting attention away from the hurricane response. The president last week called their political rivalry “irrelevant” during the emergency.
The two leaders have spoken multiple times on the phone over the past week about Hurricane Ian. Wednesday was also not the first time the two leaders have been in person together. Biden and DeSantis met in July 2021 after the deadly condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., that killed roughly 100 people.
Biden and DeSantis could face one another in a potential 2024 presidential election. DeSantis is seen as a contender should he run for his party’s nomination, although former President Trump’s plans could be a factor in the Florida governor’s decision.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection to a second term in November, has raised his national profile recently and leaned into culture war issues last month by flying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Scott and Rubio are two other Republicans who are at odds with the Biden administration. Scott, the chief of the Senate GOP’s campaign team, has been bashed by Biden over his tax plan and has been a consistent foil for Biden in speeches. Rubio, who is up for reelection this year, has criticized the administration on its handling of multiple issues, from immigration to abortion rights.
DeSantis, Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and Florida’s first lady Casey DeSantis all greeted each other with handshakes.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) felt the ire of Republicans in 2012 after photographers captured pictures of him shaking hands with then-President Obama, who put his hand on the governor’s shoulder. The former governor was repeatedly put on the defensive during the 2016 GOP presidential primary for embracing Obama.
Biden earlier this week visited Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, a visit that was compared with former President Trump’s visit to the U.S. territory after the devastation from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The president sought to contrast his support for Puerto Rico with the Trump administration’s response and has emphasized that he has the plight of Puerto Rico in mind even as much of the nation’s attention has shifted to Florida and damage from Hurricane Ian.