President Biden is in Florida meeting with people hit hard by Hurricane Ian
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Biden visited Fort Myers, Fla., today to get a firsthand look at the devastation brought by Hurricane Ian. His message to Florida residents? That the White House has their backs.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're not leaving. We're not leaving until this gets done. I promise you that.
KELLY: With him standing a few steps away was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has clashed with Biden on pretty much everything from COVID to the economy to immigration.
Well, we're going to dive into this recovery response on a couple of fronts, first with NPR's Lexie Schapitl, who joins us from the White House. Hey, Lexie.
LEXIE SCHAPITL, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So President Biden, he was in Florida for just a few hours. What'd he manage to see?
SCHAPITL: So Ian really pummeled Florida when it made landfall last week. It was one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States. And Fort Myers in particular saw a lot of destruction. Buildings got swept away by the storm. Debris and sand just blanketed streets.
So today, President Biden saw much of that damage as he toured the area in a helicopter. He talked to local business owners and residents who were affected by the storm. And he spoke in front of a strip of restaurants and shops that have been badly damaged.
KELLY: And to help repair some of that damage, the White House had an announcement today that there will be more federal aid for Florida than was first announced. Do we know how much more? Any details?
SCHAPITL: Yeah. So this is going to be a really long and costly recovery process. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said today the cost will definitely be in the billions. And it could be one of the most expensive disasters the U.S. has seen in years.
So today, President Biden extended federal funding to last 60 days instead of 30 days. That means the federal government will cover 100% of the costs for things like search and rescue, debris removal and shelter and food. And in his remarks, the president stressed that this process is really just beginning.
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BIDEN: Not weeks or months - it's going to take years for everything to get squared away in the state of Florida, to fully recover and rebuild.
SCHAPITL: He also acknowledged that many people in Florida are waiting hours to get an answer from FEMA call centers and said the administration is working on fixing that.
KELLY: Before I let you go, Lexie, can we talk about this meeting between Biden and Governor DeSantis, who, as I said, does not see eye-to-eye with Biden on just about anything? What was that meeting like, the tone? How did it go?
SCHAPITL: It wasn't exactly the warmest scene. The two did shake hands when the Bidens arrived, but they sort of stayed at arm's length as they walked and talked with some of the affected residents. But Biden thanked - DeSantis thanked Biden for his support and said the federal and local coordination was going really well in response to the storm. Biden said he and DeSantis have, quote, "worked hand in glove," that they were in complete lockstep, even though they have very different political philosophies.
Like you mentioned, DeSantis has criticized Biden's COVID response, his handling of inflation and most recently, his border policy. But disasters like this are typically a time when people can put political differences aside. And it wouldn't look good for DeSantis or Biden to be bringing political fights into this trip while residents are still getting back into their homes and more than a hundred people have been killed in the state.
KELLY: That's NPR's Lexie Schapitl, reporting today from the White House. Thank you, Lexie.
SCHAPITL: Thank you for having me.
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