President Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Florida Saturday to survey the damage wrought byand the state, local and federal response to it.
The president and first lady took an aerial tour of storm-affected areas, before traveling to Live Oak, Florida, where they received a briefing on response and recovery efforts and met with first responders, federal personnel and local officials. The president also toured damage on the ground in Live Oak.
“No winds this strong had this area in a hundred years. I pray God it will be another hundred years before this happens again,” Mr. Biden told reporters in Live Oak.
Prior to making his trip, the president had said he would be meeting withduring the visit, but DeSantis’ spokesperson, Jeremy Redfern, said the governor’s office did not have plans for the two to meet, and DeSantis was absent from Biden’s visit. Instead, Biden was greeted by Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida.
Mr. Biden on Saturday dismissed the controversy, responding, “No, I’m not disappointed,” when asked about not meeting with DeSantis. “He may have had other reasons. Because — but he did help us plan this. He sat with FEMA and decided where we should go, where would be the least disruption.”
Mr. Biden also said he has “been in frequent touch with Gov. DeSantis since the storm made landfall.” DeSantis was captured on video earlier this week taking a call from Mr. Biden, a conversation which appeared cordial.
DeSantis on Friday had voiced concerns with the president’s “security apparatus” being disruptive to recovery efforts and power restoration in the hardest-hit areas that are difficult to access.
DeSantis Saturday instead spent time distributing food in the hard-hit coastal town of Horseshoe Beach, located about 75 miles southwest of Live Oak.
In a statement Friday night, White House spokesperson Emilie Simons said the Biden’s trip had been “planned in close coordination with FEMA as well as state and local leaders to ensure there is no impact on response operations.”
Residents of theare grappling with the aftermath of a Category 3 hurricane that flooded and splintered homes and businesses. Mr. Biden approved DeSantis’ major disaster declaration request, and says the Sunshine State will receive whatever it needs.
“And as I said, you know, and to the people of Florida and throughout the southeast, I’m here to make clear that our nation has your back,” the president said during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, adding, “We’re not going to walk away. We’re not going to give up. We’re not going to slow down.”
Power outages continue to plague the state, particularly in Taylor, Madison, Lafayette, Hamilton, Swanny, Jefferson and Dixie counties, DeSantis said Friday, though power has been restored to hundreds of thousands of homes and other buildings.
The storm has brought a moment of bipartisanship between a Democratic president running for reelection and a Republican governor running for the GOP nomination. Mr. Biden told reporters he hasn’t sensed politics or political motivation in his calls with DeSantis.
Following the trip, Mr. Biden and the first lady flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. This marked Mr. Biden’s second trip in two weeks to a state devastated by a natural disaster, after helast month. The island is still reeling from wildfires and working to rebuild its infrastructure.
The president has stressed the need toin light of the disasters in Hawaii and Florida, saying no one can “deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore.” This is a point of contention between the president and DeSantis. DeSantis supports improving infrastructure against major storms but doesn’t say that climate change has affected their impact.
— Cristian Benavides contributed to this report.