View of a damaged property after the arrival of Hurricane Idalia in Horseshoe Beach, Florida, August 31, 2023.
Julio Cesar Chavez | Reuters
President Joe Biden standing in front of a home damaged by a fallen tree said it was “but for the grace of God” the damage wasn’t worse.
“No winds this strong hit this area in one 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 survey the damage done by Hurricane Idalia and meet with locals and recovery personnel. The president said he’s directed 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 has called on Congress to provide $16 billion in stopgap funding to bolster FEMA’s disaster relief fund which the agency said will be exhausted in the first half of September if it is not replenished. Speaking Saturday in Florida, Biden once again called on Congress to act.
“These crises are affecting more and more Americans, and every American regularly expects FEMA to show up when they are needed,” Biden said. “I’m calling on the United States Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to ensure the funding is there.”
Biden initially said he would meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whom he’s spoken to so frequently in the wake of Idalia that the president joked Thursday, “There should be a direct dial.” In a statement Friday night, however, Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for DeSantis, said the governor did not have plans to meet with the president, citing security difficulties.
“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,” Redfern said.
Speaking to reporters en route to Florida, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said the White House and governor’s office mutually agreed on the location for Biden’s visit earlier this week and said no security concerns were voiced at that time or before the statement from DeSantis’s office was released.
DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, has been a strong critic of Biden, but the two have come together in the past. Biden met with DeSantis after Hurricane Ian last year.
Biden in his remarks noted he has been in “frequent touch” with DeSantis throughout the storm and its aftermath, adding “the governor was on top of it.”