President Joe Biden visited Fort Myers on Wednesday to “reaffirm his commitment to supporting the people of Florida as they recover and rebuild” from Hurricane Ian, a ferocious storm that struck the Sunshine State a week ago, unleashing widespread destruction of homes and businesses, according to White House officials.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told White House reporters on Tuesday that Biden, along with first lady Jill Biden, were scheduled to meet with small business owners and local residents impacted by the storm.
The massive storm made landfall last Wednesday near Cayo Costa just west of Fort Myers, and triggered dramatic search-and-rescue efforts — some by helicopters and airboats — in several hard-hit areas of the state, mostly southwest Florida.
USA Today Network-Florida reporters will provide updates throughout Biden’s visit to Fort Myers and surrounding areas.
Biden, DeSantis project unity on visit to Hurricane Ian disaster zone. They even shook hands.
After months of hammering each other in a potential prelude of the 2024 presidential race, President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis put their feud aside Wednesday during a presidential trip to Fort Myers in Lee County focused on helping communities recover from Hurricane Ian.
Biden landed in southwest Florida on Air Force One shortly before 1 p.m. and was whisked away on a helicopter to tour the heavily damaged coastline.
The president later received a briefing on recovery efforts, met with residents and business owners impacted by the storm and held a press conference with DeSantis.
DeSantis and his wife greeted Biden and his wife at Fisherman’s Wharf in Fort Myers Beach, where most structures were destroyed by storm surge. The two men shook hands.
“Mr. President welcome to Florida, we appreciate working together across various levels of government,” DeSantis said in introducing Biden at the press conference.
“Well gov, first thank you very much for the hospitality,” Biden responded.
— USA Today Network-Florida Politics reporter Zac Anderson
President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden depart Fort Myers
4:09 p.m: President Biden waved before entering Air Force One at Southwest Florida International Airport. The Bidens will be returning to Washington.
Bidens head back to airport
3:35 p.m.: President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden departed and are heading back to the airport. The motorcade left at 3:20 p.m.
Hurricane Ian: Fort Myers Beach man remembered as welcoming
Watch live video of press conference
3:15 p.m. President Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis are speaking in Fort Myers about the Hurricane Ian recovery efforts in Florida. Click here to watch the live video »
DeSantis praises federal role in hurricane recovery
3:12 p.m.: Gov. Ron DeSantis thanked President Joe Biden for traveling to Florida to survey the hurricane damage and praised the “good coordination” between his administration and the White House in response to the hurricane recovery.
“We appreciate working together across various levels of government,” DeSantis said with Biden and other officials standing by his side.
DeSantis particularly praised the administration’s doubling from 30 days to 60 days the amount of time the federal government will pay for 100% of debris removal and other costs. For some communities, the governor said, the cost of debris removal would eclipse their entire budgets.
Biden said DeSantis will likely need to ask for an additional extension.
“Unless you clear the area,” Biden said, “there’s not much else you can do.”
Biden, who took an aerial tour of the hurricane damage and received a briefing on the recovery efforts, said he has instructed his administration to bring together “every element” of the federal government to help with immediate needs and long-term rebuilding.
“Today, we have one job and only one job, and that's to make sure that people in Florida get everything that they need to fully thoroughly recover,” he said.
After Biden finished his remarks, reporters asked how he thought DeSantis has handled the hurricane response.
“I think he’s done a good job,” Biden said. “We have very different political philosophies, but we’ve worked hand in glove … In dealing with this crisis, we’ve been in complete lockstep."
President Biden ended his remarks at 3:16 p.m.
– Michael Collins and Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
Gov. Ron DeSantis greets President Biden at Fisherman's Wharf
2:16 p.m.: President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden arrived at Fisherman's Wharf at 2:07 pm. He was greeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife. Biden is expected to receive a briefing with state, local and federal officials.
Hurricane Ian: Joe Biden brings rebuilding help to hurricane-ravaged SWFL
Biden gets to next destination
1:35 p.m.: President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden exit M1 and head to the president's next destination, which is a briefing by federal, state and local officials.
Aerial tour of Hurricane Ian-ravaged areas
1:11 p.m.: President Biden is currently on an aerial tour of Fort Myers touring the Hurricane Ian ravaged areas.
Cecil Pendergrass, chairman of the Lee County Commission, joined Biden on the aerial assessment, which lasted about half an hour.
Others who joined the tour: Administrator Deanne Criswell, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Liz Sherwood-Randall, Assistant to the President, Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy National Security Advisor, and Anthony Bernal, Assistant to the President and Advisor to the First Lady.
Next up is a briefing by federal, state and local officials followed by a meeting with small business owners and local residents.
Biden is expected to speak after 3 p.m. about what he’s seen and heard.
— Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
FEMA activates hotel program for temporary housing
At Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request, the federal government has turned on a program offering temporary housing for those impacted by federal disasters. That means eligible Floridians can stay in participating hotels, according to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
FEMA will also be working with the state to activate the federal direct housing program, which includes bringing in mobile homes for temporary shelter.
— Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
Biden lands at RSW; first responders welcome him to Fort Myers
12:45 p.m.: Firefighters from Cape Coral and other first responders were among those waiting for President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden after Air Force One landed in Fort Myers Wednesday.
The greeters did not include Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s senators, all Republicans. But all three are expected to join the president later in his visit.
The elected officials who met Biden included U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., whose district includes Fort Myers.
Cecil Pendergrass, chairman of the Lee County Commission, was also on hand to welcome Biden.
— Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
Biden to tour Fort Myers via helicopter, meet with local officials, victims, business owners
12:41 p.m.: President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will arrive in Fort Myers early Wednesday afternoon to see firsthand the storm-ravaged areas aboard a helicopter and then receive an “operational briefing” on current response and recovery efforts, White House officials said.
The Bidens are then scheduled to meet with small business owners and local residents affected by Hurricane Ian and thank the federal, state, and local officials working around the clock to help the region recover from one of the nation’s most powerful storms in its history.
Before he and the first lady return to Washington, Biden will speak to his administration’s “commitment to supporting the people of Florida as they recover and rebuild from the devastating storm.”
— USA Today Network-Florida Enterprise/Politics Editor Sergio Bustos, Anderson, Zachary
Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis: A 2022 hurricane could preview the 2024 election
11:44 a.m.: There's nothing like a Florida hurricane to whip up presidential politics.
When President Joe Biden flies to Florida on Wednesday to survey damage from Hurricane Ian, he'll be in proximity to a pair of potential 2024 re-election opponents: Former President Donald Trump and current Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump is giving a speech in which he will likely blast Biden — again — over issues that will animate the 2024 election, from inflation to border security. Biden and DeSantis, meanwhile, are planning a low-key meeting over recovery efforts in the wake of the deadly storm that ripped through the middle of Florida, killing more than 100 state residents and causing millions of dollars in property damage.
Read full story here
— USA Today reporter David Jackson
Biden extends federal funding for debris removal
9:53 a.m.: Shortly before leaving Washington to assess recovery efforts in Florida, President Joe Biden extended the federal government’s commitment to paying for debris removal and emergency protective measures.
Under the major disaster declaration Biden issued Sept. 29, the government is obligated to cover 100% of costs for 30 days.
Today’s announcement extends the full funding by another 30 days.
Biden has issued a disaster declaration to make federal funding available to the Seminole Tribe of Florida and residents in 17 Florida counties: Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas, Sarasota, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia. More are expected in the coming days.
— USA Today White House correspondent Maureen Groppe
Biden, DeSantis set aside differences in disaster
Major disasters can be legacy-defining moments for major political figures like President Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been a frequent critic of the president.
The two could, in fact, face off in 2024. DeSantis is widely considered a top Republican candidate if former President Trump decides not to run.
Biden has said his political disagreements with DeSantis are irrelevant to his administration's response and has offered the governor “the fullest federal support.”
DeSantis has put aside his challenges to Biden on immigration (the Venezuelan migrants DeSantis ordered flown to Martha’s Vineyard) and other issues to work closely with the federal government.
DeSantis will be among the officials today to brief Biden on response and recovery efforts.
“We are working as one,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Hurricane Ian: President Joe Biden visits Fort Myers, Florida