President Joe Biden traveled to Fort Myers Wednesday afternoon, promising to use all of the power of the federal government to rebuild the Southwest region of Florida following the devastating effects of Hurricane Ian.
The Category 4 storm made landfall six days ago, resulting in at least 72 deaths and a swath of destruction.
“I want the people of Florida to know – you have my commitment and America’s commitment that we’re not going to leave,” the president said in his concluding remarks at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers Beach. “We’re going to see you through this entire process. And it’s going to take a hell of a long time.”
A few minutes later, he said: “It’s going to take years for everything to get squared away in the state of Florida.”
The president and First Lady Jill Biden arrived from Washington, D.C. via Air Force One at approximately 12:45 p.m., and Biden then surveyed storm damage by helicopter as he pledged that federal, state and local governments will work together to help the people of Southwest Florida recover from the massive disaster.
“We have one job and one job only, and that’s to make sure that the people of Florida get everything that they need to fully, fairly recover,” Biden said.
The president met with Gov. Ron DeSantis after taking an aerial tour of the ravaged region, and DeSantis said that so far, the state and federal government are working in concert. The two men spoke at a briefing around 3 p.m.
“I think that we’ve worked as well across state, local and federal of any disaster that I’ve seen. I want to thank administrator (Deanne) Criswell from FEMA for being on the ground for being supportive, and being very responsive,” the governor said at a press briefing. “We are cutting through the bureaucracy. We are cutting through the red tape.”
DeSantis and Biden are political rivals who potentially could be running against each other for president in 2024, and have spoken critically of each other, most recently after the DeSantis administration sent two planes of nearly 50 Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard last month. Biden accused Republicans of “playing politics with human beings.”
But there was no apparent animosity exchanged between the men on Wednesday. When asked by a reporter how he thought DeSantis had handled the crisis, the president said, “I think he’s done a good job,” according to a travel pool report provided by the White House.
“We worked hand in glove. We have very different political philosophies and – but we worked hand in glove,” the president was quoted as saying. “And he’s been on – on things related to dealing with this crisis, we’ve been completely lockstep. There’s been no difference.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the White House announced that they were extending the time period for federal funding for debris removal and other emergency protective measures from 30 to 60 days. And during his remarks, the president said that it’s likely that the disaster declaration could be extended further.
“I think he’s going to have to come back and ask for some more beyond those 60 days,” Biden said. “Because it is consequential. Unless you clear the area there isn’t that much you can do.”
The president also addressed criticism from some residents on the ground that they have had to endure lengthy wait times when calling FEMA to get assistance.
“We’re going to try to speed that up by having additional personnel, and try to expand it,” he said, adding that for those who can actually access the internet, they could go online to disasterassistance.gov.
Biden also made pointed remarks about how this latest storm is indicative of the dangers that climate change presents.
“I think that the one thing that this has finally ended is the discussion about whether or not there’s climate change and we should do something about it,” he said. When addressing reporters after the press briefing, a video surfaced of Biden again bringing up the matter.
“First of all, the biggest thing the governor’s done and so many others have done is recognize that there’s this thing called global warming. The world is changing. It’s changing,” he said.
As the Florida Phoenix reported last December, Governor DeSantis has dismissed the phrase, saying that “people when they start talking about things like global warming, they use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wings things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff.”
–Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix