President Joe Biden surveyed the devastation of hurricane-ravaged Florida on Wednesday, promising to marshal the power of the federal government to help rebuild as he comforted local residents alongside Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 foe.
Biden praised DeSantis’ handling of the storm recovery as both men — who have battled over pandemic protocols and migration as the governor mulls a presidential bid — put aside politics for a few days. The state is struggling to recover from the wreckage of Hurricane Ian, which tore through southwestern Florida last week and left dozens dead.
“Today we have one job and only one job, and that’s to make sure the people in Florida get everything they need to fully, thoroughly recover,” Biden said in a community that bore the brunt of Ian’s assault. He warned that the rebuilding effort will take months or years.
“It’s going to take a hell of a long time, hopefully without any snags in the way,” he said as DeSantis stood behind him, hands folded as he squinted into the glaring sunlight. “Later, after the television cameras have moved on, we’re still going to be here with you.”
The days after Ian’s landfall in Florida have prompted a temporary détente between Biden and DeSantis, who had spoken on the phone at least three times to coordinate recovery efforts. They spent part of Wednesday meeting with area residents and, for Biden, absorbing the full scope of Ian’s devastation.
The solidarity, however fleeting, continued Wednesday afternoon when DeSantis formally welcomed Biden to his state and praised the collaboration with officials on the ground and the federal government in Washington.
“We are cutting through the red tape and that’s from local government, state government, all the way up to the president. We appreciate the team effort,” DeSantis said.
Biden said DeSantis had done a “good job” when asked by reporters to assess the governor’s handling of the recovery efforts.
“We have very different political philosophies … but we worked hand in glove,” Biden said. “On things related to dealing with this crisis, we’ve been completely lockstep. There’s been no difference.”
With the midterm elections just a month away, the crisis was bringing together political rivals in common cause at least for a time.
Biden and DeSantis have had a multitude of differences in recent years over how to fight COVID-19, immigration policy and more. In recent weeks, they tussled over the governor’s decision to put migrants on planes or buses to Democratic strongholds, a practice that Biden has called “reckless.”
Along with DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott has also been one of Biden’s most prominent Republican critics. He, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and other state and local officials joined the President and Governor. Rubio, like DeSantis, is up for reelection in November.
Biden resorted to profanity at one point, but only in an apparently jocular comment picked up by a microphone and causing much comment on social media.
The White House message of bipartisan unity in a time of crisis marked a difference from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid from the states of Democrats who criticized him, including Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York.
Published with permission of the Associated Press.