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Biden, DeSantis expected to pause political sparring for tour of Hurricane Ian devastation

The Republican governor and Democratic president have been acrimonious at times, but expected to play nice amid Ian’s wreckage

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President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Gemunu Amarasinghe, Associated Press

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are en route to Florida, where they’ll tour by helicopter the devastation left by Hurricane Ian late last week. Then they’ll join Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis for an operational briefing.

The New York Times said the president is expected to be on the ground near Fort Myers, which sustained heavy damage, for about four hours and will make remarks.

According to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Biden will meet with the owners of small businesses and with residents who were impacted by Ian, ABC News reported. He’s also expected to thank the officials who are working hard to restore electrical power and remove debris, as well as offering kudos to members of search and rescue teams, among others.

The article said Jean-Pierre “deflected” when asked if Biden and DeSantis would make joint remarks. The two are often seen as acrimonious political rivals.

“With damage most likely to be in the tens of billions of dollars and rising death toll, the scale of loss has been enough to pause the unrelenting bluster of politics: Mr. Biden has promised to put differences aside when he meets with Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and a frequent sparring partner, for a briefing later in the day,” per The New York Times.

In February, according to the article, “DeSantis accused the president of being a ‘fella who just hates Florida.’”

Not their ceasefire

“The past week marks the second time Biden and DeSantis have welcomed a brief truce in the aftermath of a tragedy. A week after a condominium tower collapsed in Surfside, Florida, last year — killing 98 people — Biden and DeSantis sat side-by-side in a public display of bipartisan mourning. They exchanged niceties in front of the cameras, with Biden affectionately patting DeSantis on the arm,” CNN reported Wednesday.

Hurricane Ian was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall in Florida late last week, killing at least 100 people and wiping out power to millions. In its wake, homes and businesses were destroyed, coastlines smashed and some homes submerged, while others were knocked from their foundations. Ian is calculated to be one of the most expensive storms in U.S. history.

Offering aid

Biden signed a disaster declaration which will free up funds and cover the cost of “debris removal and emergency protective measures.” But as the midterm elections near and ahead of the 2024 presidential election cycle, which is expected to include DeSantis as a candidate, both men have been criticized by the opposing parties and others.

“As federal relief funds have flowed unimpeded to his state since Hurricane Ian, Mr. DeSantis — who as a freshman congressman voted against a funding plan that would have helped victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2013 — has turned from a smirking bomb thrower to an agreeable partner. He has spoken several times by phone with Mr. Biden in recent days. He has also played nice on television, even with more flammable personalities like Tucker Carlson of Fox News,” The New York Times reported.

Monday, Biden addressed the insertion of politics into a disaster. “As I’ve made clear: At times like these, our nation comes together, put aside our political differences and get to work,” he said of his plans to visit Florida. “We show up when we’re needed. Because if we lost our home, if we lost a loved one, we’d hope that people would show up for us as well.”

According to a fact sheet from the White House, more than 3,400 federal responders are in Florida helping with assessment and recovery. The Army Corps of Engineers has deployed more than 550 engineers and others to look at the safety of bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

Earlier this week, during a visit to Puerto Rico, Biden announced $60 million in aid to the island, which was hit by Hurricane Fiona shortly before Ian’s rampage.