On Saturday, White House officials said they were caught off guard by the news that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had decided not to meet with President Biden when the president visits the state later today in the wake of Hurricane Idalia.
Biden had previously said he would meet with the governor while touring areas of Florida damaged by the hurricane, but the DeSantis team contradicted the president.
“In these rural communities, and so soon after impact, the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts,” said DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern.
While speaking on Air Force One, reporters asked Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre what changed as the White House had said there was a location agreed upon for the president’s visit and that security preparations were made.
“There was just no indication that he was not going to be there,” Jean-Pierre said of DeSantis.
Criswell had surveyed the damage with DeSantis on Wednesday and Thursday and said that the area Biden will visit was “mutually agreed on,” noting that Biden spoke with DeSantis by phone on Thursday.
“What we look at is operational impacts, and this area, the power is being restored, the roads are all open, and the access has not been hindered. And, so, that’s why this was a mutually agreed upon area for the president,” Criswell said.
The officials declined to say whether they thought politics was a factor, due to DeSantis’ bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to challenge Biden for the White House.
“We’re going to let the governor speak for himself,” Jean-Pierre said, noting that DeSantis is “welcome to meet with the president today.”
“The president spoke with the governor. It was an understanding that the president said to him he was coming to Florida. We never heard any disagreement with it,” she added.
Biden met with DeSantis in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian last year, and for another disaster in 2021. When asked what was different this time, Jean-Pierre avoided the question.
“That is a question for the governor,” she told reporters. “It is not about politics. It doesn’t matter if it’s a red state or a blue state, the president’s going to show up and be there for the community. And that’s what you’re seeing.”
Idalia made landfall on Wednesday as a Category 3 hurricane in the Big Bend region. Winds reached up to 125 mph, shredding homes, tearing roofs away, breaking tall trees and flooding streets.
It was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved north, hitting Georgia and the Carolinas and resulting in one confirmed death.
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