View of a damaged property after the landfall of Hurricane Idalia in Horseshoe Beach, Florida, August 31, 2023.
Julio Cesar Chavez | Reuters
President Joe Biden standing in front of a house damaged by a fallen tree said it was “but for the grace of God” the damage would not have been worse.
“No wind this strong has hit this place in a hundred years,” Biden said, speaking in Live Oak, Florida. “Pray God it will be another hundred years before this happens again.”
Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Florida on Saturday to assess the damage done by Hurricane Idalia and meet with locals and recovery personnel. The president said he ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to do “everything they can” to help rebuild.
Idalia hit Florida’s Big Bend region on Wednesday as a Category 3 storm, leading to widespread power outages and flooding. The White House called on Congress to provide $16 billion in stopgap funding to bolster FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which the agency said would run out in the first half of September if it is not replenished. Speaking Saturday in Florida, Biden again called on Congress to act.
“These crises affect more and more Americans, and every American routinely expects FEMA to show up when they’re needed,” Biden said. “I’m calling on the United States Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to make sure the funding is there.”
Biden initially said he would meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, with whom he spoke so often after Idalia that the president joked Thursday, “There should be a direct dial.” However, in a statement late Friday, Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for DeSantis, said the governor had no plans to meet with the president, citing security concerns.
“In these rural communities, and soon after impact, the security preparations alone to set up such a meeting will shut down ongoing recovery efforts,” Redfern said.
Speaking to reporters en route to Florida, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said the White House and governor’s office agreed on the location for Biden’s visit earlier this week and said there were no security concerns. announced at the time or before the release of the statement from DeSantis’ office.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, has been a vocal critic of Biden, but the two have met in the past. Biden met with DeSantis after Hurricane Ian last year.
Biden in his remarks noted that he has been “in frequent contact” with DeSantis throughout the storm and its aftermath, adding that “the governor is on top of it.”