| 23 July 2024, Tuesday |

Biden heads to Florida to survey storm damage

US President Joe Biden will travel to Florida on Saturday to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Idalia and comfort those affected by the storm, but he will not meet with Florida’s Republican governor and future presidential challenger, Ron DeSantis.

Biden, a Democrat, told reporters on Friday that he would visit the governor during his trip, but DeSantis’ spokesman Jeremy Redfern later said that no meeting was scheduled and that “the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts.”

Responding to a question on Saturday on what had happened to the meeting, Biden told reporters, “I don’t know. He’s not going to be there.”

DeSantis, 44, is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to oust Biden from the White House but trails former President Donald Trump in polls. Biden, 80, is running for re-election.

Biden and DeSantis have spoken regularly this week about the storm, which pummeled Florida’s Big Bend region with Category 3 winds of nearly 125 mph (200 kph). On Wednesday the president said politics had not crept in to their conversations. “I think he trusts my judgment and my desire to help,” Biden said.

The White House said Biden, who is traveling with his wife, Jill, informed DeSantis about the visit during a conversation on Thursday and the governor did not raise concerns then.

“Their visit to Florida has been planned in close coordination with FEMA as well as state and local leaders to ensure there is no impact on response operations,” White House spokesperson Emilie Simons said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

DeSantis has been a sharp critic of Biden, and the two have clashed over COVID-19 vaccines, abortion and LGBT rights. But they met last year when Biden came to Florida to assess the devastation from Hurricane Ian, and Biden said at the time that they had worked together “hand in glove.”

DeSantis may not want to be photographed with Biden overlooking storm damage now as the Republican presidential primary race intensifies. Though he trails Trump, DeSantis leads the other Republican candidates in the race.

When Biden visited Florida after Hurricane Ian, a photo of DeSantis standing awkwardly to the side as Biden talked animatedly with a local couple went viral, highlighting the difference between the two politicians’ styles of public interaction.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, drew criticism for his praise of President Barack Obama in 2012 when the Democrat visited his state in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

Biden will visit Live Oak, Florida, take an aerial tour of the damage and receive a briefing about recovery efforts, the White House said. He and the first lady will also tour a community that was hit by the storm.

Biden visited Hawaii just last week in the aftermath of deadly fires there and said on Wednesday that no one could deny the climate crisis in light of the extreme weather. He is slated to travel to his home state of Delaware for the weekend after concluding the Florida trip.

  • Reuters