“I’m not disappointed,” Biden said Saturday afternoon, referring to DeSantis’ absence. “Maybe he had other reasons. »
While the governor was not present on Saturday, Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who has long drawn DeSantis, met Biden upon his arrival at Live Oak, where he repeatedly praised the administration’s efforts.
“Thank you for being here,” Scott said, shaking hands with Biden while donning an embroidered “45” hat, a reference to Scott being Florida’s 45th governor.
He also praised Biden and his leadership at FEMA, saying the president “did a great job” preparing resources ahead of the hurricane and moving relief quickly.
“I want to thank the senator, and I sincerely mean it,” Biden replied, adding that he had told Scott that federal aid would stay “as long as it takes.”
Biden and the first lady toured the storm-ravaged region on Saturday, where they conducted an aerial tour of storm-hit communities and participated in a briefing with federal personnel, local officials and first responders. Biden then visited the community of Live Oak and met with residents affected by Hurricane Idalia, a devastating storm that hit Florida earlier this week and damaged more than 6,000 homes and killed at least one person.
DeSantis did not hold a public press conference on Saturday, although in the days before and after the hurricane, the governor held public briefings, sometimes several times a day, to provide updates. about the storm and recovery efforts. His office said around noon, the governor was leaving Keaton Beach, near where the storm made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, and later said DeSantis also helped distribute meals to Horseshoe. Beach, a small community in Dixie County on the Gulf Coast.
The governor’s office did not provide further details on Saturday about why he skipped the meeting with Biden.
White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre told reporters on Air Force One that Biden briefed DeSantis on his trip in a phone call Thursday and that the governor gave no indication that he would not. would not meet the president.
“We will let the governor speak for himself. Of course, he is welcome. Of course, he is welcome alongside the president today,” said Jean Pierre. “Our goal, and we’ve said it – you’ve heard the president say it – is not about politics. It doesn’t matter if it’s a red state or a blue state, the president is going to show up and be there for the community.
White House officials reiterated on Saturday that the trip was planned in close coordination with FEMA and state and local leaders to avoid any impact on ongoing response operations. The President was accompanied by Deanne Criswell, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The location of Biden’s visit was mutually agreed upon by the White House and the governor’s office, Criswell said, adding that DeSantis did not tell the FEMA administrator he would not meet. Biden before his office released a statement. She said she understands the continuing concerns about some of the rural coastal areas she visited with DeSantis on Thursday that still have limited access, but that both parties agreed the president could travel to Live Oak due of “limited impact”.
“They’re on the right path to recovery,” Criswell said.
In Suwannee County, remnants of the hurricane were visible all along the route of Biden’s motorcade, with huge downed trees lining the road and residents in their yards cleaning up the debris.
Outside a local school, the roof of a breezeway leading to the building showed obvious signs of damage, with parts of the cladding torn or missing entirely. “SCHOOL CLOSED,” reads the sign outside Suwannee Pineview Elementary School, which now serves as an emergency shelter, and where Biden met with local officials and first responders, “until new order “. Inside, displaced residents lined the hallways, resting in chairs and rollaway beds.
Flanked by local officials and Criswell later Saturday, Biden again thanked Scott, who has pushed for disaster relief legislation, for his “cooperation” and called on Congress to ensure that the FEMA has adequate funding to “address” immediate crises, as well as our long-term commitments to the safety and security of the American people.
“And he shares my view on FEMA; they do an amazing job. But in a sense, the work has only just begun, we have a lot of work to do. All the officials in Florida, I want to thank them,” Biden said.
He also said he had been in “frequent contact” with DeSantis since the storm hit, and acted quickly after the governor requested a major disaster declaration.
Saturday would have been Biden and DeSantis’ first event together since the governor of Florida announced his candidacy for president.
The two leaders have clashed repeatedly on a number of issues, with DeSantis lashing out at Biden’s policies on immigration, the pandemic, LGBTQ issues and the economy. While Biden is quick to criticize DeSantis, in recent months Vice President Kamala Harris has also taken a more public role attacking the governor, confusing DeSantis over Florida’s 6-week abortion ban and lambasting him after defending the state’s new black history. standards.
For DeSantis, who has made a name for himself taking on his opponents, touching a bipartisan chord on Saturday could have allowed him to once again show the nation that he can get things done during a natural disaster — even with political opponents.
Kimberly Leonard contributed to this report.