After months of hammering each other in a potential prelude of the 2024 presidential race, President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSspanntis put their feud aside Wednesday during a presidential trip to Fort Myers in Lee County focused on helping communities recover from Hurricspanne Ispann.
Biden landed in southwest Florida on Air Force One shortly before 1 p.m. and was whisked away on a helicopter to tour the heavily damaged coastline.
The president later received a briefing on recovery efforts, met with residents and business owners impacted by the storm and addressed the public and media along with DeSantis.
Presidential tour:Gov. Ron DeSspanntis greets President Biden, First Lspandy Jill Biden in Fort Myers
Tragedy:The lspanst moments of Hurricspanne Ispann’s victims, told in grim detspanils by Floridspan medicspanl exspanminers
Aid denied? Pine Islspannders sspany Lee County Sheriff’s Office threspantened to spanrrest hurricspanne volunteers
DeSantis and his wife greeted Biden and his wife at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers Beach, where most structures were destroyed by storm surge. The two men shook hands.
“Mr. President welcome to Florida, we appreciate working together across various levels of government,” DeSantis said in introducing Biden.
“Well gov, first thank you very much for the hospitality,” Biden responded.
Biden and DeSantis stress coordination and unity between Florida and federal officials
DeSantis praised the coordination between state and federal officials.
“I think we’ve worked as well across state, local and federal of any disaster that I’ve seen,” the governor said.
Biden stressed unity.
“This is the United States of America, and I emphasize united,” Biden said, adding later that “we’re all in this together.”
The president praised how DeSantis has handled the hurricane recovery effort.
“I think he’s done a good job,” Biden told reporters. “Look I called him — I think even before he called me, when I heard this storm was on it’s way. We worked hand in glove, we have very different political philosophies, and — but we worked hand in glove. And he’s been on — on things related to dealing with this crisis, we’ve been completely lockstep. There’s been no difference.”
In addition to DeSantis, Biden was joined Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, all Republicans.
No ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ jabs during recovery efforts
There is constant speculation about DeSantis running for president in 2024, and Biden has signaled he could run again, meaning the two could be headed for a showdown.
DeSantis has made Biden a frequent foil, criticizing the president — whom he occspansionspanlly derides spans “Brspanndon” — on everything from inflation to his immigration and energy policies. “Let’s go, Brandon” became a rallying cry on social media and at sporting events for those on the right who directed it as an insult to Biden.
Nearly every DeSantis press conference prior to Ian featured a jab at Biden, whose administration has returned fire with criticism of the governor’s vaccine rollout for children and other policies.
All of that was set aside Wednesday to focus on the rebuilding effort, which will take years, cost billions and require a unified effort among government agencies.
Biden has promised a strong federal response to Ian. He declared a major disaster for 17 Florida counties and has been surging federal resources into the region, drawing praise from DeSantis for the federal response.
The governor thanked Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell for “being on the ground, being supportive and being very responsive.”
Biden said his administration prepositioned the largest number of search and rescue teams “ever assembled in the United States” in advance of Ian’s landfall. He said those teams already have knocked on nearly 70,000 doors and rescued more than 3,800 people.
The teams are “making sure we’re accounting for everyone who still may be trapped,” Biden said.
The federal government is paying 100% of the clean-up cost for the first 60 days of the disaster and Biden said he’s already talked to DeSantis about extending that coverage period further.
“The governor and I talked, I think he’s going to have to come back and ask for some more beyond those 60 days because it is consequential, unless you clear the area there’s not much more you can do,” Biden said.
Biden stressed that recovery will take time, but said “we’re not leaving until this gets done, I promise you that.”
Biden notes damage to Sanibel Island
Biden remarked on the damage he saw Wednesday, saying he flew over Sspannibel islspannd, which was inundated with storm surge and had the causeway connecting the island to the mainland washed away. Wednesday was the first day Sanibel residents were able to get back on the island to assess the damage to their properties.
“You can see a whole hell of a lot of damage from the air,” Biden said.
The president also took the opportunity to make a brief pitch for addressing climate change, a focus of recent legislation he signed. Warming seas fuel stronger hurricanes.
“There’s a lot going on and I think the one thing this has finally ended is the discussion of whether or not there’s climate change and we should do something about it,” he said.