Biden will tour with Ian damage in Florida with the DeSantis feud on hold for now


President Joe Biden is visiting Florida on Wednesday to see firsthand the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, putting a new spotlight on his frosty relationship with Gov. Ron DeSantis, the embattled Republican leader who would potentially challenge the Democrat for the presidency in 2024.

For now, Biden and DeSantis have put aside their budding political rivalry, and their administrations have been working together since the hurricane’s deadly collision with Florida’s west coast. DeSantis will join other local officials in briefing Biden on the response and recovery efforts, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday. The joint action will assure Floridians that the state and federal government are coordinating closely to restore and rebuild, Jean-Pierre said.

“We work as one,” she said.

DeSantis said Tuesday he would huddle with his emergency management team ahead of the president’s trip to see if there is more the state needs to ask Biden for when they meet. But he said the Biden administration has been helpful since before Ian went ashore.

“(The Federal Emergency Management Agency) has been working really well with the state and local” governments, DeSantis said.

The past week marks the second time Biden and DeSantis have welcomed a brief truce in the wake of a tragedy. A week after a condo tower collapsed in Surfside, Florida, last year — killing 98 people — Biden and DeSantis sat side by side in a public display of bipartisan grief. They exchanged pleasantries in front of the cameras, with Biden affectionately patting DeSantis on the arm.

“We live in a nation where we can cooperate,” Biden said during their joint appearance. “And that’s really important.”

But the public animosity between DeSantis and Biden has only intensified in the 16 months since that day, when the White House and the nation’s third-largest state appear to be perpetually at odds. Biden has compared DeSantis to a schoolyard bully whose legislative agenda targets vulnerable LGTBQ children. DeSantis has blamed Biden for rising inflation, and earlier this year he accused the Democrat of withholding aid for tornado victims because the president “hates Florida.”

Tensions reached a tipping point just weeks before Ian’s arrival when DeSantis took credit for two flights of migrants from the border to Martha’s Vineyard. Biden criticized the stunt as “un-American”. DeSantis threatened that future shipments could be directed to Biden’s home state of Delaware.

Asked whether Biden would raise the issue of DeSantis transporting groups of migrants to Democratic cities, Jean-Pierre said there will be “the right time to discuss differences between the president and the governor, but now is not the time.”

The growing rift in their estranged relationship has coincided with DeSantis’ rapid rise within his party to become the most popular Republican not named Donald Trump. His penchant for grabbing headlines and angering liberals has made DeSantis a favorite among Republican voters, some of whom want to see him challenge Biden in 2024.

As he seeks re-election next month, DeSantis has made Biden a staple of his campaign against his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist. The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads on DeSantis’ behalf highlighting the close ties between Crist and the president, suggesting that Crist would “do to Florida what Biden has done to America” ​​and twice repeating a soundbite of Crist , which says, “Thank God for Joe Biden.”

But those tensions have taken a back seat — at least for now — to the massive cleanup left in the hurricane’s major wake. Biden has said he has spoken with the Florida leader several times and promised to “be there every step of the way.” DeSantis has praised the federal government’s response to the state’s many requests for help.

The Biden administration and DeSantis have also joined forces to push back against questions about the timing of evacuation orders in Lee County, where a catastrophic storm surge decimated homes and put the lives of those sheltering at the scene at risk. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell defended Lee County officials and noted the unpredictable nature of this particular storm.

“As soon as the storm predictions were that it was going to affect Lee County, I know that local officials immediately put the proper measures in place to make sure they alerted citizens to get them out of harm’s way,” Criswell said.

At a news conference Monday, DeSantis tried to shut down a reporter who tried to ask the governor if Lee officials gave residents enough time to leave before Ian’s arrival. Lee ordered evacuations about 24 hours before the storm made landfall, later than neighboring northern counties despite forecasts showing the potential for dangerous storm surge along the region’s coast.

DeSantis said the focus should be on “lifting people up and stopping incessantly talking and trying to cast aspersions on people who were doing the best job they could with imperfect information.”

Air Force One is expected to land early Wednesday afternoon in Fort Myers with first lady Dr. Jill Biden, who accompanied the president on Monday to survey the damage to Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Fiona.

Biden will arrive in a community still reeling from a storm that many thought was heading further north before a late waver turned its sights on Lee and Charlotte counties. At least 100 people died in Florida after Ian slammed into the Gulf Coast as a massive Category 4 storm. Rescue teams continue to search for survivors, while residents comb the wreckage and search for temporary housing. More than 400,000 Florida customers remain without power, and it could be a month before electricity is restored in the hardest-hit communities.

The visit has the potential to show how two men with vastly different temperaments approach a tragedy of immeasurable destruction.

Biden has often leaned into the role of comfort-in-chief, guiding the nation through the post-vaccination period of the Covid-19 pandemic and communities across the country through more localized tragedies. In less than two years as president, he has walked through the wreckage of tornado-ravaged western Kentucky, hugged the families of mass shooting victims in Uvalde and Buffalo, and comforted those displaced by wildfires in the West.

Speaking in Ponce, Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Biden assured the island’s residents that “all of America is with you.”

DeSantis, who styles himself a hands-on leader, has commanded the state’s response with a laser-like focus on the logistics of getting the state back up and running. His news conferences are rarely peppered with personal stories of suffering and loss — a staple of Biden speeches. Instead, DeSantis is often forward-looking and matter-of-fact. He rattles off recovery statistics and lays out in sober detail the obstacles ahead and the state’s plans to overcome the collective difficulties.

Asked by CNN Sunday to give a message to people who couldn’t reach loved ones living in the path of the storm, DeSantis’ response was typically pragmatic: He focused on the state’s work with Tesla CEO Elon Musk to get the Internet online in the affected communities.

“You will be able to log in,” DeSantis said. “So that will be a comfort to a lot of people.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this incorrectly referenced the hurricane that caused damage to Puerto Rico. It was Hurricane Fiona.

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