President Joe Biden will visit hurricane-ravaged Florida with a pledge that federal, state and local governments will work as one to help rebuild homes, businesses and lives — putting politics on mute for now to focus on those in need.
Hurricane Ian has resulted in at least 84 people confirmed dead, including 75 in Florida, as hundreds of thousands of people wait for power to be restored. Biden planned to meet Wednesday with residents and small-business owners in Fort Myers, Florida, and to thank government officials providing emergency aid and removing debris.
With the midterm elections just a month away, the crisis had the potential to bring together political rivals in common cause at least for a time. Ian's 150 mph winds and punishing storm surge last week took out power for 2.6 million in Florida. Many in the state are unable to access food and water.
Joining President Biden in Florida will be two of his most prominent Republican critics: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, according to the White House and Scott's spokesman. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested Tuesday that it would be inappropriate for them to focus on political differences.
"There will be plenty of time, plenty of time, to discuss differences between the president and the governor — but now is not the time," Jean-Pierre told reporters at a White House briefing. "When it comes to delivering and making sure that the people of Florida have what they need, especially after Hurricane Ian, we are one. We are working as one."
President Biden typically waits to visit the scene of a natural disaster, to ensure his presence and the fleet of vehicles that accompany him will not hinder the rescue efforts.
Before the storm hit, the president had intended to visit the Florida cities of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale last week, where he planned to stress his efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid. He has accused Scott of wanting to end both programs by proposing that federal laws should expire every five years, although the Florida senator has said he wants to preserve the programs.
President 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 President Biden has called "reckless."
The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of the president's first trip to Florida this year.
DeSantis confirmed Tuesday he'd be meeting with President Biden in the hurricane zone and he praised the administration's Federal Emergency Management Agency for declaring an emergency before Ian made landfall.
"That was huge because everyone was full steam ahead. They knew they had the ability to do it," DeSantis said. "We appreciate it. I think FEMA's worked very well with the state and local."
The White House message of bipartisan unity marks a difference from President Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid to Democratic officials who criticized him, including Govs. Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York. At other times, Trump appeared insensitive or clumsy in his response to people's suffering.
Trump threatened to withhold federal money from California after wildfires, saying its state officials were to blame for the deadly conflagrations, tweeting in 2018: "Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!"
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.