DeSantis will not meet with Biden in Florida on Saturday

Ron DeSantis will not meet Joe Biden on Saturday when the president comes to Florida to survey damage from Hurricane Idalia, the governor’s administration said Friday.

The governor’s office, in a statement, said the visit will disrupt recovery efforts.

“We don’t have any plans for the Governor to meet with the President tomorrow,” said Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis’ spokesperson, in a statement. “In these rural communities, and so soon after impact, the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts.”

The White House on Friday night said the president and first lady Jill Biden will still travel to Florida Saturday, along with Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It remains unclear where and what time they will be in Florida.

“Their visit to Florida has been planned in close coordination with FEMA as well as state and local leaders to ensure there is no impact on response operations,” the White House said in a statement.

A White House official, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about the trip, said Biden informed DeSantis Thursday and the governor “did not express concerns at that time.”

The two rivals and political enemies were expected to meet on Saturday to jointly survey damage from Hurricane Idalia, a devastating storm that struck Florida earlier this week and left more than 6,000 homes damaged and at least one person dead.

DeSantis and Biden previously appeared together and projected unity after almost 100 people were killed in a terrifying condo collapse north of Miami Beach in 2021, and they worked together last year after Hurricane Ian demolished seaside communities along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

But this would have been their first event together since DeSantis announced he was running for president.

Senior White House officials said recently it was important for the president to speak with DeSantis after a 21-year-old white man killed three Black Floridians in a racially motivated Jacksonville shooting last week and, again, in the aftermath of the latest hurricane so Biden could offer federal support.

Yet in a sign of how quickly the trip was put together, Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott was still waiting on details on Biden’s visit less than 24 hours before the trip.

DeSantis, during a Friday morning press conference, also said he warned Biden by phone that Saturday’s trip could be “very disruptive” to some of the hardest hit communities because the White House’s “whole security apparatus” could congest roadways in the rural areas.

The hurricane made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Wednesday near Keaton Beach on the Gulf Coast. The area is one of the most rural regions in Florida, far away from major cities.

Biden and DeSantis signaled a willingness to put aside politics before Saturday’s visit. On Thursday, Biden joked that he’s spoken so frequently with DeSantis about the storm response that “there should be a direct dial, the two of us — Gov. DeSantis and I.” Biden also approved a major disaster declaration for Florida and sent Criswell to the state Thursday.

“I think [DeSantis] trusts my judgment and my desire to help, and I trust him to be able to suggest that this is not about politics, this is about taking care of the people of his state,” Biden said earlier this week.

For his part, DeSantis said this week that helping people affected by Idalia is a top priority. “That has got to triumph over any type of short-term political calculation or any type of positioning,” he said. He also toured damaged areas with Criswell.

DeSantis frequently rails against Biden’s policies on immigration, LGBTQ issues, the economy and pandemic policies. He has sued the administration numerous times, including over border policies, university accreditation and for failing to approve a measure that would allow Florida to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.

On the Republican presidential debate stage on Aug. 23, the governor portrayed Biden as a useless leader relegated to his basement. He called out the president for what he said was an insufficient, tone-deaf response to the Maui wildfires.

“As somebody that’s handled disasters in Florida, you’ve got to be activated,” he said. “You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be present.”

Biden and his administration also doesn’t shy away from criticizing DeSantis. In recent months, Vice President Kamala Harris has taken a more public role in attacking the governor. Harris skewered DeSantis over Florida’s 6-week abortion ban — which the governor signed into law — and criticized him after he defended a middle-school curriculum that would instruct students that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Speaking in Orlando at the African Methodist Episcopal church in August, Harris said “there is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact: There were no redeeming qualities of slavery.”

Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic party, on Friday criticized DeSantis for announcing that he won’t meet with Biden.

“In times of crisis, the American people expect our leaders to put aside their differences and find strength in unity,” she said in a statement. “By refusing to meet with President Biden, he’s proving again what we’ve known for years — Ron will always put politics over people.”

Adam Cancryn contributed to this story.

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