Florida Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis handed out Chik-fil-A to survivors of Hurricane Idalia while visiting with wife Casey as the pair steered clear of President Joe Biden during his own tour of the state Saturday.
Biden and wife Jill took an aerial tour of the ravaged coastline on the way to Live Oak, where he landed to receive a briefing on response and recovery efforts from local officials there and later walk the city streets to meet residents with Senator Rick Scott.
But DeSantis, a Republican president candidate, refused to participate in Biden’s visit, suggesting a meeting could hinder disaster response efforts — and went on to hold a separate, simultaneous tour of ravaged Keaton Beach, a coastal town about 50 miles from Live Oak.
It’s the second consecutive post-disaster embarrassment for Biden in as many weeks after he was roundly criticized for being late to assess the damage done by the Maui wildfires.
The Florida governor specifically criticized Biden at campaign events and at the first GOP presidential debate, saying he was ‘on the beach’ having a vacation while the Hawaiian island suffered.
Florida Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis handed out Chik-fil-A to survivors of Hurricane Idalia, steering well clear of President Joe Biden
Casey DeSantis, Florida’s First Lady, headed to Horseshoe Beach, where the state’s first couple handed out chicken sandwiches before visiting first responders
Biden and wife Jill took an aerial tour of the ravaged coastline on the way to Live Oak, where he landed to receive a briefing on response and recovery efforts from local officials there and later walk the city streets to meet residents with Senator Rick Scott
The Bidens left by the end of the day from Gainesville Regional Airport on Air Force One
DeSantis and his wife also headed to Horseshoe Beach, where the state’s first couple handed out chicken sandwiches before visiting first responders.
‘God bless our amazing military men and women, first responders and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to help Floridians through Hurricane Idalia – @GovRonDeSantis and I greatly appreciate your service, thank you!’ Casey tweeted Saturday.
On Friday, hours after Biden initially said he would be meeting with DeSantis, the governor’s office issued a statement contradicting him and saying there were no plans for such a get-together.
The political disconnect is a stark break from the recent past, since Biden and DeSantis met when the president toured Florida after Hurricane Ian hit the state just last year, and following the Surfside condo collapse in Miami Beach in summer 2021.
‘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,’ DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in a statement.
Deanne Criswell, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters as the president flew down from Washington: ‘Our teams worked collectively to find this area. This was a mutually agreed upon area because of the limited impact.’
She insisted her teams ‘have heard no concerns over any impact to the communities that we’re going to visit today.´´
Criswell said aboard the flight that power is being restored and the road are all open in the area where Biden was going.
DeSantis, a Republican president candidate, refused to participate in Biden’s visit, suggesting a meeting could hinder disaster response efforts
DeSantis went on to hold a separate, simultaneous tour of ravaged Keaton Beach, a coastal town about 50 miles from Live Oak
On Friday, hours after Biden initially said he would be meeting with DeSantis, the governor’s office issued a statement contradicting him and saying there were no plans for such a get-together
Biden stands with first lady Jill Biden, left, Sen. Rick Scott, second from right, and Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell, right, during a briefing at Suwannee Pineview Elementary School, Saturday
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One for departure at Gainesville Regional Airport
‘Access is not being hindered,’ she said, adding that her team had been in ‘close coordination’ with the governor’s staff.
In a cross-aisle olive branch, Florida’s junior Republican US Senator Rick Scott did join Biden in Live Oak to meet with first responders.
Biden said: ‘Well, no, I’m not disappointed. He may have had other reasons because, but he did help us plan this. He sat with FEMA and and decided where we should go, where would be the least disruption.’
He then praised Senator Scott for the show of bipartisanship.
‘And I’m very pleased. The guy who, we don’t agree with very much at all, the distinguished former governor and senior senator, he came talked about, to me and to you all, about how incredible, what an incredible job the federal government was doing. And I found that reassuring.’
Also greeting Biden in Live Oak were Mayor Frank Davis, wife Amanda Davis, and Suwannee County Chair Franklin White. Biden left by the end of the day on Air Force One.
Meanwhile, DeSantis posted photos from his separate tour on X, writing: ‘Keaton Beach sustained major damage from Hurricane Idalia when it made landfall here.’
‘This will not be an easy recovery, but local officials are working nonstop to get this community back on its feet. We will be there to provide support,’ he added.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden speak with a woman during their tour of Hurricane Idalia storm destruction, Live Oak, Florida
Biden greets first responders during a briefing about response and recovery efforts to the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia in Live Oak, Florida
Both Biden and DeSantis at first suggested that helping storm victims would outweigh partisan differences. But the governor began suggesting that a presidential trip would complicate response logistics as the week wore on.
‘There’s a time and a place to have political season,’ the governor said before Idalia made landfall. ‘But then there’s a time and a place to say that this is something that’s life threatening, this is something that could potentially cost somebody their life, it could cost them their livelihood.’
By Friday, the governor was telling reporters of Biden, ‘one thing I did mention to him on the phone’ was ‘it would be very disruptive to have the whole security apparatus that goes’ with the president ‘because there are only so many ways to get into’ many of the hardest hit areas.
‘What we want to do is make sure that the power restoration continues and the relief efforts continue and we don’t have any interruption in that,’ DeSantis said.
Biden joked while delivering pizzas to workers at FEMA’s Washington headquarters on Thursday that he’d spoken to DeSantis so frequently about Idalia that ‘there should be a direct dial’ between the pair.
Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall pointed to the experiences after Ian and Surfside collapse in saying earlier this week that Biden and DeSantis ‘are very collegial when we have the work to do together of helping Americans in need, citizens of Florida in need.’
Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning along Florida’s sparsely populated Big Bend region as a Category 3 storm, causing widespread flooding and damage before moving north to drench Georgia and the Carolinas.
The post-Idalia political consequences are high for both men.
Biden meets with first responders on Saturday in Live Oak, Florida
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell speaks to Joe and Jill Biden and Senator Rick Scott
Joe and Jill Biden greet first responders following a briefing on the response and recovery efforts to the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, at Suwannee Pineview Elementary School
President Joe Biden arrives with first lady Jill Biden aboard Air Force One on his way to tour Hurricane Idalia storm destruction after landing in Gainesville, Florida
As Biden seeks reelection, the White House has asked for an additional $4 billion to address natural disasters as part of its supplemental funding request to Congress.
That would bring the total to $16 billion and highlight that wildfires, flooding and hurricanes have intensified during a period of climate change, imposing ever higher costs on U.S. taxpayers.
DeSantis has built his White House bid around dismantling what he calls Democrats´ ‘woke’ policies.
The governor also frequently draws applause at GOP rallies by declaring that it´s time to send ‘Joe Biden back to his basement,’ a reference to the Democrat´s Delaware home, where he spent much of his time during the early lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic .
But four months before the first ballots are to be cast in Iowa´s caucuses, DeSantis still lags far behind former President Donald Trump , the Republican primary´s dominant early front-runner.
And he has cycled through repeated campaign leadership shakeups and reboots of his image in an attempt to refocus his message.
The super PAC supporting DeSantis´ candidacy also has halted its door-knocking operations in Nevada, which votes third on the Republican presidential primary calendar, and several states holding Super Tuesday primaries in March – a further sign of trouble.