“They’re going to talk about what other needs there are in Florida to get to a place of recovery, to get to a place of rebuilding,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday. “This is going to be, like you said, above politics.”
It will be a rare moment of bipartisan lull just a month before Election Day, and four years before the next presidential election, when DeSantis is expected to be a leading Republican contender. But such meetings, even in the midst of a disaster, present a political risk if they are seen as too accommodating, or warm, to rival political leaders.
Before the hurricane, DeSantis clashed with the president over everything from vaccine and mask mandates to immigration policy. The governor’s decision last month to fly nearly 50 Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard also drew a fierce backlash from Democrats and Biden, who called the moves “reckless” and “un-American.”
Yet DeSantis, who applied for and got expanded federal aid to deal with storm damage, has congratulated federal officials multiple times on the response and did so again on Tuesday, on the eve of Biden’s visit. . The storm, one of the worst in Florida history, killed at least 72 people.
Christian Ziegler, vice president of the Florida Republican Party, said it’s not surprising that DeSantis has worked well with the federal government.
“Saving lives, protecting families, rebuilding homes and opening up our economy are more important than petty politics,” Ziegler said. “Gov. DeSantis is leading our response, and his willingness to work directly with President Biden, who controls a vast amount of federal resources that Florida taxpayers have paid for, is just another of DeSantis’ willingness to do whatever it takes to meet the best interests of Florida.”
Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate who challenged DeSantis in November, slowly began to mount criticism of DeSantis over the governor’s handling of the storm, including questioning whether or not DeSantis should have pressured local authorities in the county. of Lee to order the evacuations sooner than they did.
But Crist said DeSantis is making the right decision to put aside his differences with Biden at this point.
“That’s the only guy that can help Florida as much as you need it to,” Crist said in an interview.
Crist knows firsthand the risks associated with meeting with a rival president and the consequences that come with it. Crist was governor of Florida and a Republican when he appeared alongside, then hugged, then-President Barack Obama, who had flown to Florida to promote the huge federal aid package enacted in response to the Great Recession.
It turned out to be the catalyst for GOP opposition against Crist, who a year later left the GOP ahead of the 2010 US Senate race he lost to Marco Rubio.
Crist, who then ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial run as a Democrat in 2012 before winning congressional elections, said he doesn’t regret the “hug” or his decision to be seen as warm and friendly with Obama.
“It was about the people of Florida,” Crist said. “This was not about Republicans and Democrats. The president was coming here to help us get out of the Great Recession. It was $12 billion and he was grateful… Some things are more important than the political implications.”
Another Republican governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey, also endured scorn from Republicans for putting politics aside and working with Obama after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That disaster, like Hurricane Ian, came just before the election and also presented a supposed hug between governor and president.
Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, was asked about the backlash against Christie when he appeared on MSNBC Monday, as well as what Biden and DeSantis had already discussed.
“I think it’s the opposite of politics,” Klain said. “Whatever the political fallout may have been from the fact that a Republican governor worked with a Democratic president in response to Superstorm Sandy, so it must be. And that is what we have also done here. The president spoke several times with Governor DeSantis. He has spoken with local Republican and Democratic officials.”
A clear political advantage for DeSantis is that he is in a position of strength right now. He is heading for re-election ahead of him in the polls and enjoying a tremendous financial advantage. Republicans are also banking on Florida, given the continued shift away from the electorate from the Democrats and the GOP.
And while DeSantis has put his combative side on hold since Hurricane Ian, there are signs he may soon resurface as the storm’s recovery phase gets underway. During a mid-afternoon storm briefing Tuesday in Fort Myers, DeSantis said three people recently arrested for looting had entered the country illegally.
“It’s really sad the situation our country is in because of the open border,” DeSantis said.
Hours earlier at the White House, Jean-Pierre was asked if Biden and DeSantis would discuss their recent push to transport immigrants from Texas.
“There will be plenty of time to discuss the differences … but now is not the time,” he said.
Daniel Lippman contributed to this story.