LIVE OAK, Florida, Sept 2 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden traveled to Florida on Saturday to offer condolences to victims of the devastation caused by Hurricane Italia and storm victims, but he did not meet with presidential rival Governor Ron DeSantis. to come
Biden praised DeSantis during the visit, saying he was not disappointed by the governor’s absence and that DeSantis helped plan the trip.
A spokesman for DeSantis said Friday that the governor had no plans to meet with Biden, adding that “only security arrangements to set up such a meeting would halt ongoing recovery efforts.”
Biden took an aerial tour and received a briefing from local officials and first responders in Live Oak, a town hard hit by the storm. After seeing trees falling on houses, he said no “intelligent” person can doubt that climate change is happening.
But politics intervened in his journey. The president, who spoke with DeSantis several times this week, had said they would meet in person on Friday. The governor’s decision rattled the White House.
Asked if he was disappointed DeSantis didn’t show up, Biden said no.
“No, I’m not disappointed. He may have had other reasons … but he helped us plan this. He sat down with FEMA and decided where we should go, where we should go, where it would be least disruptive,” Biden told reporters. In front of the damaged house.
Biden said he was pleased that Senator Rick Scott, the former Republican governor of Florida, had come despite disagreements on many issues. Scott, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, wore a hat that read Navy on the front and 45 on the back. Trump served as the 45th President of the United States.
DeSantis, 44, spent the day visiting small communities along Florida’s Gulf Coast, about 50 miles (80 km) south, according to his official schedule.
Asked earlier Saturday what happened to the meeting, Biden told reporters: “I don’t know. He’s not going to be there.”
DeSantis is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to oust Biden from the White House, but trails Trump in polls. Biden, 80, is running for re-election.
Biden and DeSantis have spoken regularly this week about the storm, which lashed Florida’s Big Bend region with Category 3 winds of nearly 125 mph (200 kph). The president said on Wednesday that politics did not intrude into their conversations.
As the primary race heats up, it may have been politically risky for DeSantis to take a photo with Biden overlooking the storm damage. Although he is far behind Trump, DeSantis is leading the other Republican candidates in the race.
When Biden visited Florida after Hurricane Ian, a photo of DeSantis standing awkwardly by the side as Biden animatedly chatted with a local couple went viral, highlighting the contrast between the two politicians’ public communication styles.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is running for the 2024 Republican nomination, drew criticism for praising President Barack Obama when Democrats visited his state in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy.
During a visit to Live Oak, Biden received praise from Republican Senator Scott for preemptively declaring an official disaster.
The president, for his part, complemented Scott and DeSantis.
“The governor was on top of it,” Biden said.
Biden, who is traveling with his wife Jill, told DeSantis about the visit during a conversation on Thursday, and the governor said he was not concerned, the White House said.
Failure to meet them will have no impact on recovery efforts, FEMA chief Dean Criswell said.
He told reporters that the search and rescue operations have ended and authorities are focusing on restoring power to the affected areas. Less than 1% of Floridians were without power as of Saturday, though that number was significantly higher in some areas directly affected by the hurricane, he said.
DeSantis has been a vocal critic of Biden, and the two have clashed over Covid-19 vaccines, abortion and LGBT rights. But when they met last year when Biden came to Florida to assess the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, Biden said they worked together “hand in hand.”
Biden visited Hawaii last week after devastating wildfires and said Wednesday that no one can deny the climate crisis in light of the extreme weather.
He is scheduled to return to his home state of Delaware later in the week, wrapping up his trip to Florida.
Reporting by Jeff Mason in Live Oak, Florida Additional reporting by Andrea Schall in Washington Writing by Gram Slattery Editing by William Mallard, Jonathan Otis and Matthew Lewis.
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Jeff Mason is a White House correspondent for Reuters. He has covered the presidencies of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, as well as the presidential campaigns of Biden, Trump, Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. He served as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association in 2016-2017, leading the press group in advocating for press freedom in the early days of the Trump administration. His and the WHCA’s work has been recognized by Deutsche Welle’s “Freedom of Speech Award”. Jeff has asked pointed questions of domestic and foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. He is the winner of the WHCA’s “Outstanding News Coverage under Deadline Pressure” award and co-winner of the Association for Business Journalists’ “Breaking News” award. Jeff began his career in Frankfurt, Germany before being posted. Brussels, Belgium, where he covers the European Union. Jeff appears regularly on television and radio and teaches political journalism at Georgetown University. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Middle School of Journalism and a former Fulbright Scholar.