President Biden will meet with Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday to discuss the state and federal response to Hurricane Ian, a meeting that offers a possible preview of the 2024 White House race.
The meeting will take place in Fort Myers, where state and local officials, including DeSantis, are expected to brief Biden on ongoing rebuilding efforts after the storm. The meeting will require Biden and DeSantis, who have clashed publicly over immigration, the coronavirus and other issues for months, to represent a united front in the face of a natural disaster, an outcome one political observer says could help both politicians.
“They both need each other right now,” said Davis Houck, a professor of political communication at Florida State University. “The president appears with a popular Republican governor and critic, which will make him appear bipartisan.”
“DeSantis, who is running for re-election this year, can share the stage with the commander in chief and present voters with a different image than they may only know of him as a partisan fighter,” Houck added.
HURRICANE IAN’S DEVASTATION IS LIKELY TO GET WORSE IN FLORIDA AS RIVERS CONTINUE TO RISE DAYS AFTER THE DEADLY STORM
DeSantis is widely seen as a likely challenger to Biden. While Biden and DeSantis allies deny the visit is political at all, experts say that won’t stop members of their respective political parties from seeing it that way.
“Both sides will be evaluating each other, especially as DeSantis has been billed as the successor to former President Donald Trump,” said Brian Fonseca, director of the Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University. “Everyone will look at the optics carefully.”
DESANTIS: FLORIDA’S HURRICANE IAN RECOVERY WILL BE ‘OPERATION 24/7’
The visit comes as the White House has mobilized the federal government to provide resources and aid to Florida and other states affected by Hurricane Ian. While officials on the ground praised the White House’s responses, Republicans criticized the White House for what they say is a series of missteps.
The administration came under fire last week after it emerged that Biden had not spoken directly to DeSantis as the hurricane moved toward Florida. Although the president had spoken with several mayors from cities in the path of the storm, Republican lawmakers criticized the White House for allegedly snubbing the governor.
The controversy quickly died after Biden called DeSantis the same day the story broke. But the White House faced more criticism after Vice President Kamala Harris said “equity” needed to be at the core of efforts to respond to climate-related disasters.
Republicans, including DeSantis, were quick to criticize the comments as inappropriate.
“I think he’s trying to play identity politics with a storm and a natural disaster,” the governor said during a Monday appearance on Fox News Channel. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
The White House defended Harris, saying the comments were taken out of context.