FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — President Joe Biden reviewed the devastation of Hurricane-ravaged Florida on Wednesday, vowing to muster the power of the federal government to help rebuild as he comforted local residents alongside Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential enemy of 2024.
Both men said they are putting politics aside for now.
“Today we have one job and one job, and that’s to make sure Florida residents get everything they need to fully recover,” Biden said in this southwestern community. from Florida who bore the brunt of Ian’s assault.
“It’s gonna take a long time, I hope without a hitch on the way,” he said. “Later, after the television cameras have moved away, we will still be here with you.”
Earlier, DeSantis and his wife Casey greeted President and First Lady Jill Biden as they arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf, where homes and businesses lay in ruins amid debris and mud after Hurricane Ian last week. .
Biden and DeSantis spoke alone next to a boat the storm had lifted at a cafe, then moved separately among local residents hard hit by the hurricane. Biden kissed a woman.
The scale of the devastation was immense. Biden’s motorcade drove through wind-shorn trees, some uprooted, others with branches pulled back by the storm. The fields beside the highway were still flooded, forming stagnant lagoons.
Shop and restaurant signs were blown off; crumbling mattresses piled up in the neighborhood streets, a building was knocked on its side like a chess piece. An armada of laborers and repair trucks struggled to recover.
Hurricane Ian resulted in the deaths of at least 84 people, including 75 in Florida, and many people are still waiting for power to be restored. 150 mph winds from Ian and punitive storm surge last week knocked out power for 2.6 million in Florida. Many people are still unable to obtain food and water.
During a briefing with local officials, Biden stressed that the rebuilding effort will take months or years.
“The one thing I can assure you is that the feds will be there until this is over,” Biden said.
A month before the midterm elections, the crisis brought together political rivals common cause at least for a while.
DeSantis, along with Senator Rick Scott, have been among Biden’s most prominent Republican critics. The two, along with Republican Senator Marco Rubio and other state and local officials, accompanied the president on Wednesday.
Ahead of the trip, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested it would be inappropriate for them to focus on political differences.
“There will be plenty of time, plenty of time, to discuss the differences between the president and the governor — but now is not the time,” Jean-Pierre told reporters during a White House briefing. “When it comes to providing and making sure Florida residents have what they need, especially after Hurricane Ian, we are one. We work in unison. »
Before the storm hit, the president had planned to visit the cities of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale in Florida last week, where he planned to highlight his efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid. Biden has accused Scott of wanting to end both programs by proposing that federal laws expire every five years, although the Florida senator has said he wants to preserve the programs.
Biden and DeSantis have had a host of differences in recent years over how to deal with COVID-19, immigration policy and more. In recent weeks, they have sparred over the governor’s decision to put migrants on planes or buses to Democratic strongholds, a practice Biden called “reckless.”
The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of Biden’s first trip to Florida this year, which took place in an area devastated by winds and rising waters. Boats, including huge yachts, capsized and were thrown inland.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters on Air Force One that the cost of reconstruction will be enormous: “It will definitely be in the billions and possibly one of the costliest disasters we’ve seen. since many years.”
DeSantis made a point of praising FEMA as well as local and state agencies on Wednesday, saying the coordination between them has been exceptional after Ian’s aftermath.
“There’s been less bureaucracy holding us back in this one than probably anything I’ve ever seen,” DeSantis said during a Matlacha briefing. He gave a 30-minute midday briefing on hurricane recovery efforts, including reports that running water had been restored to much of the affected area.
The White House’s message of bipartisan unity marks a difference from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid to Democratic officials who criticized him, including Democratic governments. Gavin Newsom from California and Andrew Cuomo from New York.
Trump threatened to withhold federal money of California after the wildfires, claiming his state officials were to blame for the deadly fires, tweeting in 2018: “Billions of dollars are given away every year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of forests. Remedy now, or more Fed payments!”
Politicians’ responses to natural disasters have the power to make or break political careers.
As Governor of Florida for eight years, Jeb Bush maintained a steady response to a parade of hurricanes and was rewarded with sky-high approval ratings. The response of President George W. Bush and Louisiana lawmakers to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 weighs on their legacy.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the Republican who hosted President Barack Obama in his state to investigate the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy days before the 2012 general election, said that during natural disasters , “the best political strategy is to have no political strategy, to do your job.”
Kim reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Bobby Caina Calvan in Fort Myers and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Fla. contributed.
For more AP coverage of Hurricane Ian: apnews.com/hub/hurricanes