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Biden to tour hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico, Florida areas

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | October 3, 2022 at 4:45 a.m.

President Biden is planning to travel to Puerto Rico today and to Florida on Wednesday to tour hurricane damage in two places that have been significantly affected, the White House announced late Saturday night.

The president, who will be joined by first lady Jill Biden, has spoken repeatedly about the devastation from the hurricanes -- first when Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico nearly two weeks ago and then in recent days as Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida -- and his desire to visit each place.

"Our hearts ... are heavy," Biden said of hurricane damage on Saturday night, speaking in remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Phoenix Awards. "We owe Puerto Rico a hell of a lot more than they've already gotten."

He said the nation would do "whatever it takes to help search and rescue, recovery, and rebuilding."

"It's going to take a long time, so we cannot tire," he said. "Whatever it takes, I mean it, whatever it takes."

Ten days after Hurricane Fiona struck Sept. 16, more than 365,000 people on the island remained without power, raising questions about the inability of the federal and local efforts to rebuild the island's fragile electric grid.

Biden noted the island's difficult history with hurricanes on Sept. 22, just days after the storm swept through the island.

"To the people of Puerto Rico, who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years later, I know that we're -- they should know that this -- we are with you," he said. "We're not going to walk away. We mean it."

It will be Biden's first trip as president to Puerto Rico.

It is unclear whether on his trip to Florida the president will meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who has been a political adversary but also someone he has spoken to several times amid the storm. Biden was scheduled to be in Florida on Tuesday for a rally with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist, who is running to unseat DeSantis, but it had to be canceled due to the hurricane.

Biden and DeSantis -- who have publicly rebuked each other over policy and politics -- in recent days have maintained a more cordial relationship amid the disaster. Biden has called the governor several times, and DeSantis has said that Florida is getting what it needs from the federal government.

As the hurricane approached in the last week, Biden and DeSantis had stayed away from political attacks. Asked by a reporter in Washington about his relationship with DeSantis, the president called it irrelevant.

"In fact, very fine. He complimented me," Biden said. "He thanked me for the immediate response we had. He told me how much he appreciated it. He said he was extremely happy with what's going on."

The president added: "This is not about anything having to do with our disagreements politically. This is about saving people's lives, homes, and businesses."

DeSantis has changed his tone as well in recent days. In the past, he criticized federal hurricane assistance as a "boondoggle" and a "put it on the credit card mentality." But last week, DeSantis urged the federal government to come to his state's aid.

"You know, when people are fighting for their lives, when their whole livelihood is at stake, when they've lost everything -- if you can't put politics aside for that, then you're just not going to be able to," the governor said.

"We really appreciate FEMA's responsiveness to this disaster," he told one of Biden's appointees at a news conference on Friday. "So thank you very much and thank you for being here."

After a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters Thursday, just after Hurricane Ian made landfall, Biden said he would travel as soon as possible to support the local first responders and federal officials who were already rescuing people from rooftops.

"When the conditions allow it, I'm going to go to Florida to thank them personally so we don't get in the way." Biden said at the time. "I'll do our best -- we're going to do our best to build Florida back as quickly as possible. But we're not going to be leaving."

"We're going to build it back with the state and local government," he added. "However long it takes, we're going to be there. That's my commitment to you."

The two also came together last year after the collapse of a condominium tower in Surfside, Fla. But since then, the relationship has been far frostier until this past week.

Biden said Thursday of a recent conversation with DeSantis, "It's not a matter of my disagreements with him on other items."

Asked if he planned to meet the governor during his trip, Biden responded, "I'll meet with everybody who's around. The answer is yes, if he wants to meet."

Information for this article was contributed by Matt Viser of The Washington Post and by Michael D. Shear of The New York Times.

Print Headline: Biden to tour hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico, Florida areas

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