President Joe Biden hasn’t spoken with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida about the state’s forthcoming hurricane.
The White House confirmed the information Tuesday during the press briefing, saying that Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, did speak over the phone to DeSantis on Friday about Hurricane Ian.
“The president directed me to contact the governor early on before we even did the declaration. I did that,” she said, adding that FEMA’s regional administrator, Gracia Szczech, was currently meeting with DeSantis and traveling to various parts of Florida.
Biden has called other Florida elected officials. He spoke over the phone with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor Tampa and St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welsh — both Democrats — and with Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, a centrist Republican. The storm is set to hit all three cities.
Criswell on Tuesday repeatedly dodged questions about why Biden hadn’t called DeSantis, instead stressing that FEMA worked quickly to support Florida. Biden also signed an emergency declaration to the state, which will free up federal resources.
“We are very focused on what the needs of Florida are right now. We do not bring politics into our ability to respond to these disasters,” Criswell said. “We are going to support whatever Gov. DeSantis asks of us.”
Biden acknowledged the calls with mayors later in the day before kicking off a public event in the Rose Garden aimed at discussing healthcare costs. He did not mention DeSantis.
“I told each one of them whatever they need — I mean this sincerely — to contact me directly and they know how to do that,” the president said. “I have a lot of personnel down there already. We are here to support them in every way we can.”
Presidents and governors typically hold a phone call at a time of natural disasters so presidents can offer federal support and bipartisanship. The Florida governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an Insider inquiry on the matter.
The storm is expected to make landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast as soon as Thursday morning. So far 2.5 million Floridians are in regions with mandatory evacuations, and state officials are warning that the storm is expected to be serious and bring major flooding.
DeSantis is up for reelection in six weeks. He has been a frequent Biden critic on COVID-19 mitigation measures, coronavirus vaccines and treatments, and on immigration policy.
It’s possible he will challenge Biden for president in 2024, particularly if former President Donald Trump doesn’t seek the White House again.
Biden was set to appear at a campaign event in Florida Tuesday alongside DeSantis’ Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, but the White House canceled the event due to the storm. The Biden administration has criticized DeSantis after he recently authorized planes to take Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
But DeSantis and Biden have brokered bipartisan moments. For instance, they came together roughly a year ago following the Surfside, Florida, building collapse.
DeSantis also sat near first lady Jill Biden at Surfside’s one-year memorial this year, and neither made mention of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which occurred just as the event began.
DeSantis said Sunday that the Biden administration had been supportive regarding hurricane preparation measures.
“They stand by ready to help,” he said, “so we appreciate that quick action.”