President Biden will meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Wednesday when he travels to the state to tour damage from Hurricane Ian.
DeSantis and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell will give Biden a briefing “on the current response and recovery efforts,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday.
Biden will visit Fort Meyers, one of the areas that sustained the most damage when Hurricane Ian made landfall last week as a Category 4 storm. While there, Biden will speak with and thank federal, state and local officials for their response and recovery efforts.
White House officials have spent the past week trying to keep the focus on the storm and recovery efforts in the state, where millions were left without power, homes were destroyed and state and local politicians warned rebuilding would be a years-long process in some areas.
Jean-Pierre and others have repeatedly downplayed any tension between Biden and DeSantis or whether other political disagreements would overshadow a meeting on Wednesday, weary of shifting attention away from the hurricane response.
“There are plenty of times to discuss the differences between Joe Biden and Ron DeSantis, but that is not around the subject of helping the people of Florida when they have been devastated by one of these super powerful storms that took dozens and dozens of lives, that has devastated an entire swath of the state,” White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Monday on MSNBC.
Biden and DeSantis have spoken three times over the phone to coordinate on storm response efforts in the past week, and the two have projected an aura of cooperation and professionalism publicly.
But overshadowing it all is the possibility that Biden and DeSantis could face one another in a potential 2024 presidential election and that the Florida governor has elevated his national profile through battles with the administration.
The White House has sparred with DeSantis over his ban on mask mandates in schools, his support for a law that restricts discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom and, most recently, his decision to fly migrants from Texas to Massachusetts.
Wednesday’s meeting will not be the first time the two officials have tried to put politics aside, though.
Biden and DeSantis sat side-by-side in July 2021 after a condo collapse in Surfside, Fla., killed roughly 100 people.
The president at the time praised DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and others for cooperating “in ways that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
DeSantis likewise expressed gratitude to Biden and the federal government for recognizing the severity of the tragedy and offering support.
That interaction offers a likely preview of how the two men would conduct themselves should they share a stage on Wednesday.
“There are optics that are important and so this whole conversation has been a waste of time because of people not wanting to offend their political base,” GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee spokesperson Doug Heye said. “Shame on any Democrat who would be upset with the president of the United States meeting with the governor of Florida and shame on any Republican who would be upset with the governor of the Florida meeting with the president of the United States.”
Source: The Hill