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Biden to Focus on FL Hurricane Victims 10/05 06:11

   President Joe Biden will visit hurricane-ravaged Florida with a pledge that 
federal, state and local governments will work as one to help rebuild homes, 
businesses and lives -- putting politics on mute for now to focus on those in 
need.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden will visit hurricane-ravaged Florida 
with a pledge that federal, state and local governments will work as one to 
help rebuild homes, businesses and lives -- putting politics on mute for now to 
focus on those in need.

   Hurricane Ian has resulted in at least 84 people confirmed dead, including 
75 in Florida, as hundreds of thousands of people wait for power to be 
restored. Biden planned to meet Wednesday with residents and small business 
owners in Fort Myers, Florida, and to thank government officials providing 
emergency aid and removing debris.

   With the midterm elections just a month away, the crisis had the potential 
to bring together political rivals in common cause at least for a time. Ian's 
150 mph winds and punishing storm surge last week took out power for 2.6 
million in Florida. Many in Florida are unable to access food and water.

   Joining Biden in Florida will be two of his most prominent Republican 
critics: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, according to the White 
House and Scott's spokesman. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre 
suggested Tuesday that it would be inappropriate for them to focus on political 
differences.

   "There will be plenty of time, plenty of time, to discuss differences 
between the president and the governor -- but now is not the time," Jean-Pierre 
told reporters at a White House briefing. "When it comes to delivering and 
making sure that the people of Florida have what they need, especially after 
Hurricane Ian, we are one. We are working as one."

   Biden typically waits to visit the scene of a natural disaster, to ensure 
his presence and the fleet of vehicles that accompany him will not hinder the 
rescue efforts.

   Before the storm hit, the president had intended to visit the Florida cities 
of Orlando and Fort Lauderdale last week, where he planned to stress his 
efforts to strengthen Social Security and Medicaid. Biden has accused Scott of 
wanting to end both programs by proposing that federal laws should expire every 
five years, although the Florida senator has said he wants to preserve the 
programs.

   Biden and DeSantis have had a multitude of differences in recent years over 
how to fight COVID-19, immigration policy and more. In recent weeks, they 
tussled over the governor's decision to put migrants on planes or buses to 
Democratic strongholds, a practice that Biden has called "reckless."

   The hurricane changed the purpose and tone of Biden's first trip to Florida 
this year.

   DeSantis confirmed Tuesday he'd be meeting with Biden in the hurricane zone 
and he praised the administration's Federal Emergency Management Agency for 
declaring an emergency before Ian made landfall.

   "That was huge because everyone was full steam ahead. They knew they had the 
ability to do it," DeSantis said. "We appreciate it. I think FEMA's worked very 
well with the state and local."

   The White House message of bipartisan unity marks a difference from Biden's 
predecessor, Donald Trump, who at times threatened to withhold aid to 
Democratic officials who criticized him, including Govs. Gavin Newsom of 
California and Andrew Cuomo of New York. At other times, Trump appeared 
insensitive or clumsy in his response to people's suffering.

   Trump threatened to withhold federal money from California after wildfires, 
saying its state officials were to blame for the deadly conflagrations, 
tweeting in 2018: "Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives 
lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more 
Fed payments!"

   Politicians' responses to natural disasters have the power to make or break 
political careers.

   As Florida's governor for eight years, Jeb Bush maintained a steady response 
to a parade of hurricanes and was rewarded with sky-high approval ratings. 
President George W. Bush and Louisiana lawmakers' more troubled response to 
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 still hangs over their legacies.

   Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican who welcomed President 
Barack Obama to his state to survey Hurricane Sandy damage just days before the 
2012 general election, said that during natural disasters "the best political 
strategy is to have no political strategy, to do your job."

   Christie ended up the target of some in his own party who believed that his 
warm welcome for Obama helped cement the Democrat's reelection, but he has no 
regrets.

   "At core this is what government is there for, it's to protect the safety 
and the welfare of the people," Christie said in an interview Tuesday. "The 
only thing that should be on the president's mind, on Gov. DeSantis's mind, on 
(Sen.) Marco Rubio's mind is the turmoil and the tragedy that's happened to 
people's lives and how we can make it better."

   Christie noted that the comparisons to Sandy aren't exact -- Biden is two 
years away from being a candidate himself, and DeSantis is weeks, not days, 
from facing voters in his reelection bid. But Christie said any attempts to 
score political points would be admonished at the polls.

   "Playing games is not what this is about," Christie said. "This is a pretty 
transparent time and people will get it -- that's not what they want, and 
they'll punish you for it."

 
 
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