"There was just no indication that he was not going to be there." The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a group of reporters aboard Air Force One before landing in Florida that Biden expected DeSantis to meet with him on his recent visit. Biden went to Florida to visit the communities affected by Hurricane Idalia.
The president spoke with the governor. It was an understanding that the president said to him he was coming to Florida. We never heard any disagreement with it.
These statements contradict the message conveyed from DeSantis' inner circle: The governor had warned the president that he would not be able to join him on Saturday as he visited the affected areas.
Another White House official, who asked Politico to remain anonymous, backed up Jean-Pierre's statement by saying that the Republican "did not express concerns" when Biden notified him of his visit.
So why didn't they assess the damage together, as initially communicated? Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for the governor, said, "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 administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), Deanne Criswell, refuted this explanation. Criswell said she understood the concern about logistical problems in rural areas, but that the area visited by Biden had been chosen by both teams because it was the least disruptive.
I can understand, you know, concerns in those (coastal and rural) areas, because access was limited. And that’s why our teams worked collectively to find this area. This was a mutually agreed upon area because of the limited impact. They’re well on their way to the road to recovery.
This unofficial explanation could be influenced by the approaching primaries and the subsequent presidential race. It seems that DeSantis didn't want to give the president a photo op that he could later use in his favor. It could be used to hurt DeSantis' candidacy.
When asked about this, the FEMA administrator dodged the question, stating that it was up to DeSantis to answer. Jean-Pierre agreed. When asked why the governor had met with the president on similar occasions in 2021 and 2022, the spokeswoman said:
That is a question for the governor. This is not about politics. It doesn't matter if it's a red state or a blue state, the president's going to show up and be there for the community. And that's what you're seeing.
Governor Ron DeSantis has no plans to give President Joe Biden a cheap photo op when he comes to Florida to survey the wreckage from Hurricane Idalia on Saturday.
“We don’t have any plans for the Governor to meet with the President tomorrow,” Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for… pic.twitter.com/6Ut2GhfmS9
— Kyle Becker (@kylenabecker) September 2, 2023
During his visit to Live Oak, Florida, Biden was cordial to DeSantis. The president said he was not disappointed by the governor's absence and suggested he may have other reasons for not being in attendance. He explained that the governor helped plan his visit by meeting with FEMA to decide where they could go that would be the least disruptive.
He also repeated numerous times that he had spoken to DeSantis, including in his speech in front of the rubble at Live Oak:
As I’ve told your governor, if there’s anything your state needs, I’m ready to mobilize that support. Anything they need related to these storms. Your nation has your back and we’ll be with you until the job is done.
I was in Live Oak today to deliver a clear message to the people of Florida and throughout the Southeast:
If there’s anything your states need as you recover from Idalia, I’m ready to mobilize that relief.
Your nation has your back, and we’ll be with you until the job is done. pic.twitter.com/obE6sQOWb7
— President Biden (@POTUS) September 3, 2023
Republican Senator Rick Scott was also present. Biden thanked "the guy who we don't agree very much at all" for showing up.
Good to be in Live Oak this afternoon & thank the incredible @SecondHarvestBB volunteers for all they’re doing to help folks recover.
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) September 2, 2023
Less than 40 miles away, in Madison County, DeSantis organized his own meet and greet with hurricane victims.
Today I met with residents in Madison County who were heavily impacted by Idalia.
Operation BBQ Relief has been serving hot meals at Madison County High School and they will continue to be in the community to meet outstanding needs. pic.twitter.com/qCHemZGp33
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) September 2, 2023