LIVE OAK, Fla. (AP) — President Joe Biden saw from the sky the impact of Hurricane Idalia on part of Florida on Saturday before embarking on a walking tour of a city recovering from the storm. Governor Ron DeSantis, the Republican presidential candidate, was notably absent. He declined to join Biden after suggesting the Democrat’s presence could hamper disaster response efforts.
Biden, asked about his rival’s absence, said he was not disappointed with the turn of events, but welcomed the presence of Rick Scott, one of two Republican U.S. senators from the State.
He pledged the full support of the federal government to Floridians.
“I’m here today to deliver a clear message to people in Florida and across the Southeast,” Biden said after the walking tour. He spoke outside, near a church that had parts of its tin roof ripped off by strong Idalia winds and a house half crushed by a fallen tree.
“As I told your governor, if your state needs anything, I am ready to mobilize that support,” he continued. “Anything they need in connection with these storms. Your nation supports you and we will be with you until the job is done.
Earlier, the mayor of Live Oak, which is about 80 miles east of Tallahassee, the state capital, thanked Biden and first lady Jill Biden for coming and “showing us that we are important to you”.
“Everyone thinks Florida is rich, but it’s not one of the wealthiest counties in the state and there are people who are hurting,” Frank Davis said, adding that he doesn’t was aware of no loss of life or serious injury.
At Suwannee Pineview Elementary School, where the Bidens were briefed on the storm damage, local officials hailed the White House’s early declarations of disaster and the rapid flow of federal aid. “What the federal government is doing … is very important,” Scott said.
Helping Floridians and their communities get back on their feet was the focus during the briefing on response and recovery efforts, with DeSantis’ glaring absence seemingly not a concern for residents and officials.
Deanne Criswell, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters as the president flew out of Washington that his team and the governor’s team had “worked collectively” to determine that Biden would go to Live Oak. She said her teams “have heard no concerns about any impact on the communities we will be visiting today”.
On Friday, hours after Biden announced he would meet with DeSantis, the governor’s office released a statement saying there were no plans to do so. “In these rural communities, and shortly after impact, the only security preparations necessary to stage such a meeting would end ongoing recovery efforts,” said DeSantis spokesman Jeremy. Redfern, in a statement.
DeSantis’ office said his public schedule on Saturday included stops at Keaton Beach, about 60 miles southwest of Live Oak, and Horseshoe Beach, about 75 miles away, with the latest event beginning at 1:45 p.m.
Criswell said on board the flight that power was being restored and roads were all open in the area Biden was traveling to. “Access is not impeded,” she said, adding that her team was in “close coordination” with the governor’s staff.
Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning along Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region as a Category 3 storm, causing widespread flooding and damage before moving north to inundate Georgia and the Carolinas.
As Biden left Washington on Saturday morning, reporters asked what happened at the meeting. “I don’t know. He won’t be here,” the president said of DeSantis.
The political disconnect between the two sides is a break from the recent past, since Biden and DeSantis met during the president’s tour of Florida after Hurricane Ian hit the state last year, and after the collapse of the Miami Beach Surfside condo in the summer of 2021. But DeSantis is now in the running to unseat Biden, and he only left the Republican presidential primary trail with Idalia heading to his state.
Meanwhile, putting aside political rivalries in the wake of natural disasters can be tricky.
Another 2024 presidential candidate, former New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, has long been widely criticized in Republican circles for kissing then-President Barack Obama while touring the damage. by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to his state. Christie was even asked about the incident last month during the first Republican presidential debate.
Biden and DeSantis initially suggested that helping storm victims would trump partisan differences. But the governor began to suggest that a presidential trip would complicate the logistics of the response as the week progressed.
“There is a time and a place to have a political season,” the governor said before Idalia made landfall. “But there’s a time and a place to say it’s something life-threatening, it’s something that could potentially cost someone their life, it could cost them their livelihood. “
The governor was telling reporters about Biden on Friday: “one thing I mentioned to him on the phone” was that “it would be very disruptive to have the whole security apparatus that goes with ‘the president’ because he doesn’t There are only a number of ways to do this. getting into » many of the hardest hit areas.
“What we want to do is make sure that the power restoration continues and the relief efforts continue and that it’s not interrupted,” DeSantis said.
The political consequences of the post-Idalia period are heavy for the two men.
As Biden seeks re-election, the White House has requested an additional $4 billion to deal with natural disasters as part of a request for additional funding from Congress. That would bring the total to $16 billion and highlight that escalating extreme weather is imposing ever-increasing costs on US taxpayers.
DeSantis has built his White House campaign around dismantling what he calls the Democrats’ “woke” policies. The governor also frequently draws applause at GOP rallies by declaring it’s time to send ‘Joe Biden back to his basement’, a reference to the Delaware Democrat’s home, where he has spent much of his life. time during the early lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic.
But four months before the start of the first rounds of voting in the Iowa caucuses, DeSantis is still far behind former President Donald Trump, the dominant frontrunner in the Republican primary. And he has repeatedly undergone shakeups to his campaign direction and reboots of his image in an attempt to refocus his message.
The super PAC backing DeSantis’ candidacy also halted door-to-door operations in Nevada, which votes third on the Republican presidential primary schedule, and in several states holding Super Tuesday primaries in March — another sign of trouble.
Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.
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