Biden: Families of victims of Surfside building collapse 'realistic' about rescue

Biden: Families of victims of Surfside building collapse 'realistic' about rescue
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President BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE said Thursday that the families of victims in the Surfside condo building collapse were “realistic” about the ongoing rescue effort. 

Biden arrived in Surfside, Fla., as the search and rescue effort entered its eighth day, and the president met with the families.

“First of all, the families are very realistic, they know the longer it goes,” Biden said. "And one of the things that the local FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] personnel, as well as the local first responders did, is they took all the families to the site to see what it looked like, to see what it looked like up close.”

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The president added in a press conference that the families want to recover the bodies of their loved ones “at a minimum.” The death toll rose to 18 on Wednesday with at least 145 people unaccounted for. 

Biden empathized with the victims, saying his visit brought up many memories for him, noting that losing part of his family in a car accident also involved a period of waiting.

“It’s bad enough to lose somebody, but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’re surviving or not,” he said. “When the accident took my wife and my family, the hardest part was were my boys going to get out, were they going to make it. And just not knowing.” 

He added that the families had “basic heart wrenching questions” like seeking closure without a burial of their loved one if their body isn't recovered.

“We’re here for you as one nation, as one nation, and that’s the message we communicated,” he said, adding that the White House will continue to be in touch with the families.

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Biden and first lady Jill BidenJill BidenFirst Lady visits schools to discuss COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Biden travels west as Washington troubles mount MORE made an unexpected stop after his remarks, two blocks from the collapsed condo site at a tent city, where a photo wall was erected honoring the victims and those missing. They walked up to the wall with first lady carrying a bouquet of white flowers.

Not much is known about what caused the building to collapse, and Biden added there was no firm evidence pointing to a reason. The president said families he met with told him the building would sometimes move or shake and mentioned the impact of the water level rising. 

“How many of the survivors and how many of the families talked about the impact of global warming,” he said. “They didn’t know exactly, but they talked about sea levels rising and the combination of that and the concern about incoming tropical storms. I don’t think there is, at this point, any definitive judgment as to why it collapsed and what can be done to prevent it from happening.” 

Biden has been supportive of an investigation into the collapse, and federal officials at the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced Wednesday that they are launching a “full technical investigation” that could be a years-long process. 

The president said he was meeting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Republican politicians: Let OSHA do its job Ben & Jerry's unveils new flavor in support of Cori Bush's public safety reform bill MORE (R) again following the press conference, before leaving for Washington. 

He thanked DeSantis, Florida Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Milley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod MORE (R) and Rick Scott (R), Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles Florida Democrat says vaccines, masks are key to small-business recovery DNC members grow frustrated over increasing White House influence MORE (D-Fla.), and local leaders for their work, mentioning there has been “no disagreement, no bickering. Everybody’s on the same team.”

“There’s no Democrat or Republican out there, just people wanting to do the right thing for their fellow Americans,” he added.

Biden’s emphasis on his relationship with DeSantis during the crisis comes amid speculation that the governor is a potential contender for the Republican nomination in 2024. 

“They’ve all cooperated in ways I haven’t seen in a long time … it’s what, quite frankly, we miss a lot,” he said of the Florida politicians. 

The president also thanked first responders, adding that they shouldn’t walk away from help if it’s needed based on the trauma they have experienced.

“Hope springs eternal,” he said about the rescue effort.

Biden told DeSantis on Thursday that the federal government intends to pick up “100 percent of the costs” to the county and the state for the response for 30 days.