FORT MYERS, Fla. (Reuters) — U.S. President Joe Biden traveled to Florida on Wednesday, Oct. 5 to pledge support to help the state recover from Hurricane Ian during a visit that includes a meeting with Governor Ron DeSantis, a possible rival in the 2024 presidential race.
The Democratic president and the Republican governor are at odds over scores of issues, including climate change, which experts blame for Florida’s increasingly wet, windy and intense hurricanes.
Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived in Fort Meyers early Wednesday afternoon, two days after visiting Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory battered by Hurricane Fiona last month.
More than 100 people died and nearly 400,000 homes and businesses remained without power in Florida on Tuesday, five days after Hurricane Ian crashed across the state.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said it would cost the federal government billions of dollars to repair the damage from the storm.
“We are still very much in the lifesaving and stabilization mode. They are just beginning the assessments of what the actual extent of damages to the infrastructure. It’s going to be in the billions,” Criswell told reporters on Air Force One.
During his trip Biden will survey Florida’s badly damaged Fort Myers by helicopter, before meeting with residents and disaster-relief officials, as well as DeSantis, according to the White House.
Biden has been in regular communication with DeSantis during the crisis and the federal government picked up a significant share of the initial disaster relief. Last week, Biden said his relationship with DeSantis is “irrelevant” but “very fine.”
When Biden visited Florida in July after a condominium complex collapsed and killed nearly 100 people, he said, “we’re letting the nation know we can cooperate when it’s really important,” as he and DeSantis sat shoulder to shoulder.
On climate change, Biden has made reducing carbon emissions a focus of his presidency, while DeSantis backed funding to harden Florida’s defenses against flooding but also opposed some previous disaster-relief aid and pushed pension funds not to consider environmental impact when they invest.
Before Hurricane Ian hit, Biden had planned a rally in the political battleground state last week. Then, Democratic officials expected the president to attack the governor’s approach, which has included shunning COVID-19 lockdowns, mocking Biden’s age and abilities, penalizing Walt Disney World Resort for opposing state laws limiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, and flying Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
By Reuters. (Reporting by Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Heather Timmons)