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Biden and DeSantis offer praise for joint response to Hurricane Ian

President says the federal government is ‘not leaving’

President Joe Biden speaks in a neighborhood impacted by Hurricane Ian at Fishermans Pass in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden speaks in a neighborhood impacted by Hurricane Ian at Fishermans Pass in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday. (Olivier Doulery/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his administration would stay as long as it takes to help Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Ian.

“We’re not leaving until this gets done, I promise you that,” Biden said in Fort Myers, Fla., after touring storm damage from the air.

“I’m sure it’s much worse on the ground, but you can see a whole hell of a lot of the damage from the air,” Biden said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been to a whole lot of disaster areas in the last couple of months, the last six months.”

Biden, who said that, all told, he may have visited the sites of a dozen major disasters, had plenty of praise Wednesday for DeSantis, a Republican and potential 2024 campaign rival, calling the governor’s work “pretty remarkable.”

“We’ve worked hand in glove. We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove,” the president said. “We’ve been completely lockstep, there’s been no daylight.”

DeSantis, likewise, praised Biden and his administration.

“We are cutting through the bureaucracy, we are cutting through the red tape,” the governor said. “And that’s from local government, state government, all the way up to the president, so we appreciate the team effort.”

Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott, who was with Biden along with DeSantis, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and GOP Rep. Byron Donalds, said Wednesday that the Senate should reconvene if necessary to quickly advance stand-alone disaster assistance.

“The federal government has a big role to play in Florida’s recovery, and the minute that FEMA and our state and local officials determine the true funding needs, we must act,” Scott said in a statement. “I will do everything in my power as a United States Senator to get a robust Hurricane Ian supplemental aid package passed, and today I am urging Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to commit to immediately putting a clean bill on the floor.”

The Senate replenished FEMA’s disaster relief fund as part of last week’s continuing resolution, a much larger spending bill that Scott opposed. As has become customary, the stopgap bill funding government operations through mid-December included language granting access to the full-year appropriation for the disaster fund up front rather than just a prorated amount for the CR’s duration. That meant an additional $18.8 billion to bring the fund’s balance up to $34 billion.

The Senate’s scheduled to hold only pro forma sessions until after November’s midterm elections.

Scott and Rubio wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Sept. 30, seeking support for a supplemental to respond to both the aftermath of Ian in Florida and Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico. The president visited Puerto Rico on Monday and pledged support for the commonwealth, as well.

Jay Tilton, a spokesman for Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said the chairman “looks forward to working with the senators and other communities impacted by natural disasters during negotiations” on the fiscal 2023 omnibus package, which could come up for debate during the post-election lame-duck session.

But, if the aid moves as part of an omnibus spending bill rather than as a separate vehicle, that could complicate the vote for lawmakers who are often loathe to support large spending bills, including a number of Florida Republicans.

“Today we have one job, and only one job, and that’s to make sure the people of Florida get everything that they need to fully, thoroughly recover,” Biden said Wednesday.

Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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