President Joe Biden speaks about the government response and recovery efforts around wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, and the ongoing response from the federal government to Hurricane Idalia at the White House on Wednesday, Aug. 30, in Washington.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, accused by Republicans for weeks of not responding robustly enough to wildfires in Hawaii, on Wednesday emphasized how quickly he has reacted to Hurricane Idalia, which came ashore in Florida and now menaces three other states that voted against him in 2020.
In White House remarks, Biden said he spoke with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis yet again, as well as Georgia’s Brian Kemp, South Carolina’s Henry McMaster and North Carolina’s Roy Cooper.
“Early Monday morning, long before the storm made landfall, I spoke with Gov. DeSantis and approved an early request for an emergency declaration to enable him to have the full support, ahead of time, to protect the people’s lives of the state of Florida,” Biden said, adding that his most recent conversation with DeSantis was just an hour or so earlier during his meeting with Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the Oval Office. “I guess he’s maybe tired of hearing both of us, but it seemed like he welcomed it.”
Biden said that politics — DeSantis has been among the most strident of his critics as the Florida governor seeks the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — has not been part of their conversations.
“I think he trusts my judgment and my desire to help, and I trust him to be able to suggest that this is not about politics, this is about taking care of the people of the state,” he said.
Biden also spoke in detail about his visit last week to the Hawaiian island of Maui to see the devastation and promised that federal help would continue as long as it was needed. “I want to be clear with the people of Maui about what to expect,” he said. “The work we’re doing is going to take time.”
Republicans have accused Biden of having ignored the fires because he was on vacation, although there is no indication that his administration did not respond in a timely manner to requests from state and local governments for assistance. He said he welcomed a GOP congressional investigation into his response.
Idalia came ashore in Florida’s Big Bend region, a sparsely populated rural area known for its marshy shoreline and lack of the sandy beaches that attract both tourists as well as large-scale residential development.
The offshore waters are also far shallower than off other parts of the state, meaning that storm surge builds up quickly and cannot easily dissipate into deeper ocean.
Criswell said that some parts of affected areas saw surge as high as 15 feet above sea level, and local responders were getting calls from residents who refused to evacuate and are now stranded.
Last autumn, as DeSantis was running for a second term as governor and waving off questions about his presidential aspirations, Biden visited Fort Myers Beach to view damage from Hurricane Ian. He praised DeSantis’ management of the state’s storm response and even allowed DeSantis to speak at the event from behind a lectern bearing the presidential seal.
DeSantis’ handling of the storm helped boost his popularity among independent voters and even some Democrats, allowing him to open up a larger lead over Democratic nominee Charlie Crist and ultimately winning by nearly 20 points.