DeSantis Won’t Meet With Biden During Florida Trip to Survey Hurricane Damage

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
September 2, 2023US News
DeSantis Won’t Meet With Biden During Florida Trip to Survey Hurricane Damage
President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden depart the White House in Washington en route to Florida on Sept. 2, 2023. (Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images)

A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced that the Republican would not be meeting with President Joe Biden as the incumbent is set to travel to the Sunshine State on Sept. 2 to survey the damage from this week’s Hurricane Idalia, suggesting that doing so could interfere with recovery efforts.

“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,” Jeremy Redfern said in a statement on Sept. 1.

President Biden, a Democrat who is running for re-election next year, told reporters at the White House earlier this week that he would meet with Mr. DeSantis during his trip to Florida over the weekend.

However, when Mr. DeSantis was asked about President Biden’s impending visit, the governor expressed concern that the visit could be “very disruptive” to ongoing relief operations.

“One thing that I did mention to him on the phone is where these communities, the hardest hit communities, it would be very disruptive to have the whole kind of security apparatus that goes because there are only so many ways to get into these places,” he said.

In response to Mr. DeSantis’s office preemptively calling off the meeting, White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons said in a statement that “President Biden and the first lady look forward to meeting members of the community impacted by Hurricane Idalia and surveying impacts of the storm.”

Ms. Simons added that the first family’s visit to Florida has been planned “in close coordination” with members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as state and local leaders “to ensure there is no impact on response operations.”

FEMA Administrator Deanna Criswell, meanwhile, told CNN on Sept. 2 that President Biden personally contacted Mr. DeSantis ahead of his visit.

“When the president contacted the governor to let him know he was going to be visiting … the governor’s team and my team, mutually agreed on a place that would have minimal impact into operations,” Ms. Criswell said. “Live Oak, you know, the power is being restored. The roads aren’t blocked, but there’s families that are hurting there,” she added.

After landing at the airport in Gainesville, a city in northern Florida, President Biden is set for an aerial tour on his way to Live Oak for an afternoon briefing on response and recovery efforts and a meeting with federal and local officials and first responders. He then plans to see firsthand the storm’s effect on the community and will make remarks afterward.

President Biden plans to visit the state before flying to his home state of Delaware for the weekend. He regularly visits states that have been affected by natural disasters, including Florida in October 2022, when he met with Mr. DeSantis and surveyed areas damaged by Hurricane Ian.

Biden and DeSantis
President Joe Biden and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meet with local residents impacted by Hurricane Ian at Fishermans Pass in Fort Myers, Fla., on Oct. 5, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Recovery Efforts

Idalia made landfall on Aug. 30 along Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region as a Category 3 Hurricane, causing widespread flooding and damage before moving north to drench Georgia and the Carolinas.

The major storm left hundreds of thousands of Floridians without power, but Mr. DeSantis described the rapid progress recovery teams have made throughout the region to make sure residents have power, food, water, shelter and can send their kids back to school.

Mr. DeSantis addressed members of the press from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on Sept. 1, saying 476,000 power accounts have been restored, with 91,000 still left without electricity across the state.

Duke Energy, meanwhile, said in a statement that 95 percent of all Duke customers in Taylor and Columbia Counties will have their power restored by 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 2, and 95 percent of all customers in Madison and Hamilton Counties will be restored by 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 3. The energy company indicated earlier this week that 95 percent of customers across the state who experienced the worst of the storm should have their power restored no later than 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 3.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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