President Joe Biden said Thursday that he plans to travel to Florida Saturday morning after Hurricane Idalia battered the state earlier this week.
“I’m going to Florida Saturday morning,” Biden said, after delivering brief remarks at Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters after thanking staff for their work responding to the storm. On Friday, he confirmed to CNN’s Arlette Saenz that he would meet with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis while in the state.
Biden will “visit the areas most impacted by the hurricane,” White House homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters at the White House Thursday. She noted Biden “has been receiving regular updates from [FEMA] Administrator Criswell and from me on the latest developments with Hurricane Idalia, and also of course with the ongoing recovery operations in Hawaii on the island of Maui.”
Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida Wednesday morning as a powerful Category 3 storm and has been downgraded to a tropical storm as it makes its way up the East Coast, causing flooding, significant property damage and power outages across Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
The news of the trip comes hours after Biden formally approved a major disaster declaration for the state. Biden spoke with DeSantis by phone earlier Thursday to inform him of the declaration.
“This morning, President Biden called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to convey that he has signed a Major Disaster Declaration and ordered all available federal resources to help with the continued response to Tropical Storm Idalia,” the White House said in a statement.
The statement added, “The president reiterated that the people of Florida have his full support as they recover from the storm.”
In remarks from the FEMA National Response Coordination Center, Biden took the opportunity to call on Congress to pass funding for the federal Disaster Relief Fund.
“I’m calling on Congress to make sure you’re able to have the funds to be able to continue to show up and meet the needs of the American people to deal with immediate crises that we’re facing right now, as well as the long-term commitments we have to make to finish the job in Maui and elsewhere,” Biden said.
Biden also offered a sideways swipe at lawmakers who’ve questioned the need for additional funding for the agency, questioning how, in the wake of twin disasters this month, anyone could question the need for more funding.
“We need this money done, we need this disaster relief request met, we need to do it in September, we can’t wait,” Biden said.
Biden spoke with DeSantis multiple times ahead of and during the hurricane. The governor was set to meet with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to assess needs on Thursday. He joked Thursday that he should have the Republican governor “on direct dial” given how often they’re speaking.
Speaking about his interactions with the GOP presidential candidate, Biden offered praise for DeSantis Wednesday.
“I think he trusts my judgment and my desire to help, and I trust him to be able to suggest that this is not about politics, it’s about taking care of the people of the state,” he said.
Per Sherwood-Randall, the president has been “talking daily,” with Criswell, who traveled to Florida Wednesday after the hurricane made landfall in the state.
“He has directed us to do everything that we can to accelerate recovery wherever people are impacted by extreme weather, whether it is in Maui, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas or any of the other communities that have been impacted by extreme weather events since the beginning of his administration,” the homeland security adviser said.
Pressed on if Biden plans to meet with DeSantis while on the ground in Florida, she declined to say, noting the administration is “just planning the visit,” but later added “every time I’ve been to Florida with the president, he has met, of course, with Gov. DeSantis and traveled the disaster zone, whether it’s from last year’s hurricane or when the Surfside condominium building collapsed.”
“They are very collegial when we have the work to do together of helping Americans in need, the citizens of Florida in need,” she added.
The immediate focus in Florida on Thursday for FEMA is accounting for those in Hurricane Idalia’s path and efforts toward power restoration, Criswell told “CNN This Morning.”
Criswell, who arrived in the state Wednesday afternoon, is spending Thursday with state and local officials assessing the storm’s impact and what additional resources and funding are still needed.
She offered some good news: “People did heed the warning to evacuate and the primary searches, I believe, are complete. We expect the secondary searches in those areas to be done by Friday, which is really great news that people got out of harm’s way as the storm surge had the potential to be truly life threatening.”
The “biggest concern” now, she said, is power, with Florida Power and Light adding mutual aid resources to get the lights back on and Army Corps of Engineers on standby to assist. The next priority, she added, is efforts to start removing debris.
Criswell also spoke on the question of federal funding for disaster response, as Biden has made clear he’s ready to blame congressional Republicans if there isn’t enough money for disaster assistance. The White House sent a request for an additional $12 billion for disaster relief funding earlier this month, pairing it with requests for more security aid for Ukraine, but that request faces a challenging negotiation process in Congress.
She noted that FEMA has been projecting a deficit for its Disaster Relief Fund “sometime in September and so on.” This week, she said, FEMA officially entered a process called “immediate needs funding.”
“That means that we are going to prioritize the remaining funding that’s within the Disaster Relief Fund to go to lifesaving activities,” she said, adding that the practice has been used eight times in the past and “it allows us to make sure that we can have all funding available to support those lifesaving activities.”
Criswell emphasized that recovery work “doesn’t stop” but that “it just delays the obligations until the DRF has either replenished or into the next fiscal year.”