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Biden surveys Florida storm damage, meets with DeSantis

POLITICO 10/5/2022 By Kelly Hooper
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are escorted by Col. Matthew Jones, Commander, 89th Airlift Wing, and his wife Christie Jones, as they walk to board Air Force One for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. © Evan Vucci/AP Photo President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are escorted by Col. Matthew Jones, Commander, 89th Airlift Wing, and his wife Christie Jones, as they walk to board Air Force One for a trip to Florida to visit areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

President Joe Biden toured storm damage on Wednesday in hurricane-ravaged Fort Myers, Fla., ahead of a highly anticipated meeting with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Florida is reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Ian, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm along the state’s Gulf Coast last week and has caused mass devastation and flooding across the state. It has killed at least 72 people — with the death count expected to rise further as search-and-rescue efforts continue — and left some beachside communities leveled and buildings reduced to rubble.

The president, along with first lady Jill Biden, surveyed the damage on Florida’s west coast via helicopter before touching down in Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers at about 2 p.m. DeSantis and his wife, Casey DeSantis, greeted the president and first lady at the wharf, where they walked along the waterfront speaking with a group of other individuals who the White House said were citizens affected by the hurricane.

Biden and DeSantis then moved to a briefing area, where the president spoke with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. DeSantis began the briefing shortly after, thanking Biden and his administration for their support before detailing recovery efforts since the storm hit. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Army Corps of Engineers Commanding Gen. Scott Spellmon also briefed the group.

The president’s meeting with DeSantis brings the two political rivals face to face just weeks ahead of November’s midterm elections. Biden and DeSantis have sparred on issues including Covid mandates, support for the LGBTQ community and, most recently, the governor’s move to fly migrants in the U.S. from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., a step the president called “reckless.” But they’ve seemingly put their differences aside this week as they focus on Florida’s recovery from the hurricane and have spoken over the phone several times.

While in Fort Myers, Biden and the first lady will also meet with small-business owners and local residents affected by Hurricane Ian before the president delivers remarks, addressing Florida’s recovery from the storm.

The White House earlier Wednesday authorized additional disaster assistance funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures, and extended the time period that the funding will be available.

“We are committed to helping the state of Florida build back stronger and more resilient, and we will be there for them each step of the way,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One while en route to Fort Myers.

Criswell, the FEMA administrator, told reporters during the same press briefing that the hurricane could be “one of the more costly disasters that we’ve seen in many years,” with damage in the billions. She added that assessments of the extent of the damage to infrastructure were just beginning.

In a statement on Wednesday, Scott asked Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to reconvene the Senate to pass additional aid for those affected by the hurricane once FEMA and local officials determined their funding needs.

“The federal government has a big role to play in Florida’s recovery, and the minute that FEMA and our state and local officials determine the true funding needs, we must act,” Scott said in the statement.

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