President Biden called three Florida mayors Tuesday as Hurricane Ian nears Florida’s western coast — but didn’t call Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, with whom he has clashed on issues such as COVID-19 policies and migration.
Presidents frequently speak directly with governors during emergency events — both to demonstrate political unity and to help coordinate federal and state relief efforts.
As the devastating Category 3 storm approached, Biden instead spoke with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. Castor and Welch are Democrats, while Hibbard is a Republican.
DeSantis is a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate and has frequently criticized Biden’s performance.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at her regular press briefing that Biden “held separate calls” with the mayors and “discussed planning and preparation for Hurricane Ian.”
Biden “underscored his commitment to the people of Florida and made clear that impacted communities will have the full support of the federal government to augment state and local emergency response efforts,” Jean-Pierre added.
Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, joined Biden for his calls with the mayors and Criswell said that Biden delegated to her the responsibility of liaising with DeSantis on Friday.
“The president directed me to contact the governor early on before we even did the declaration. I did that,” she said. “My regional administrator is with the governor right now making sure that we’re understanding what the needs are and our focus is on the current life safety needs.”
The FEMA chief, appearing at the regular White House briefing, said that Biden has already signed an emergency declaration boosting federal aid to the Sunshine State.
“He really wanted to make sure that the mayors knew that he has committed the full force of the federal family to make sure that we are there to support them and what they need and then they can reach out to me [and] they can reach out to him anytime with any needs that they may have in the aftermath of this storm,” Criswell told reporters.
Criswell also warned that the hurricane could dump 25 inches of rain in parts of Florida amid a significant storm surge and 125 mile-per-hour winds.
“By the time it reaches the shores of Florida the storm is going to slow down to approximately five miles per hour and this is significant because what this means is that Floridians are going to experience the impacts from the storm for a very long time,” Criswell said.
When pressed by reporters about whether Biden was allowing politics to impede federal assistance, Criswell said, “We do not bring politics into our ability to respond to these disasters.
“We are going to support whatever Gov. DeSantis asks of us.”