FORT MYERS, FLORIDA (AP) – President Joe Biden surveyed the devastation of hurricane-ravaged Florida yesterday, promising to marshal the power of the federal government to help rebuild as he comforted local residents alongside Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 foe.
Biden praised DeSantis’ handling of the storm recovery as both men – who have battled over pandemic protocols and migration as the governor mulls a presidential bid – put aside politics for a few days. The state is struggling to recover from the wreckage of Hurricane Ian, which tore through southwestern Florida last week and left dozens dead.
“Today we have one job and only one job, and that’s to make sure the people in Florida get everything they need to fully, thoroughly recover,” Biden said in a community that bore the brunt of Ian’s assault. He warned that the rebuilding effort will take months or years.
“It’s going to take a hell of a long time, hopefully without any snags in the way,” he said as DeSantis stood behind him, hands folded as he squinted into the glaring sunlight. “Later, after the television cameras have moved on, we’re still going to be here with you.”
The days after Ian’s landfall in Florida have prompted a temporary détente between Biden and DeSantis, who had spoken on the phone at least three times to coordinate recovery efforts. They spent part of yesterday’s meeting with area residents and, for Biden, absorbing the full scope of Ian’s devastation.
After Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived earlier at Fisherman’s Wharf – where homes and businesses lay in ruins amid debris and muck – DeSantis offered his hand to the president for a shake.
Next to them as they spoke was a boat that the storm had lifted into a cafe.
The solidarity, however fleeting, continued when DeSantis formally welcomed Biden to his state and praised the collaboration with officials on the ground and the federal government in Washington.
“We are cutting through the red tape and that’s from local government, state government, all the way up to the President.
“We appreciate the team effort,” DeSantis said.
Biden said DeSantis had done a “good job” when asked by reporters to assess the governor’s handling of the recovery efforts.
“We have very different political philosophies… but we worked hand in glove,” Biden said. “On things related to dealing with this crisis, we’ve been completely lockstep. There’s been no difference.”