A week after Vivek Ramaswamy slammed former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the GOP presidential debate for embracing then-President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy, it appears that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to avoid a similar visual.
Ahead of President Joe Biden’s Saturday tour of Hurricane Idalia’s damage, DeSantis’ office refuted the president’s claim that he would be meeting with the governor during the visit, claiming it would negatively impact recovery efforts in the state.
While the White House and governor have been mutually complimentary in the immediate aftermath of the devastating storm, and DeSantis is suggesting partisan politics are not at play here, the specter of Christie’s hospitality to Obama days before the hotly contested 2012 election—and the conservative criticism Christie still receives over it—seems to be looming over this decision.
After thanking staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters for their work responding to the storm, Biden said on Thursday that he would be going to Florida on Saturday morning. He then confirmed on Friday that he would be meeting with DeSantis. The president’s trip announcement came after he formally issued a major disaster declaration for the state.
On Friday evening, however, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the governor had no plans to meet with Biden this weekend.
“We don’t have any plans for the Governor to meet with the President tomorrow,” DeSantis spokesperson Jeremy Redfern told CNN. “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.”
At a separate news conference, DeSantis also said that he told Biden a visit “would be very disruptive to have the whole kind of security apparatus,” adding that “we want to make sure that the power restoration continues, that the relief efforts continue.”
The White House, meanwhile, said on Friday that Biden’s trip was being planned so as to disrupt the recovery efforts as little as possible.
“President Biden and the First Lady look forward to meeting members of the community impacted by Hurricane Idalia and surveying impacts of the storm,” White House spokesperson Emilie Simons said. “They will be joined by Administrator (Deanne) Criswell who is overseeing the federal response. 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.”
After DeSantis’ office snubbed the president on Friday evening, a White House official noted that the governor had been aware of Biden’s visit ahead of time and did not issue any objections at the time.
“The president informed the governor yesterday before his visit to FEMA,” the official said. “The governor did not express concerns at that time. The visit was closely coordinated with FEMA, state and local officials to ensure there is no impact to ongoing response operations.” During a Saturday morning appearance on CNN, Criswell asserted that the meeting had been “mutually agreed” upon between the Biden administration and the governor’s office before DeSantis apparently pulled out on Friday night.
“Yeah, there has been a tremendous amount of coordination. I traveled with the governor on Thursday and we went to some of the more rural coastal communities and access is fairly limited there,” the FEMA administrator said. “And so when the president contacted the governor to let him know he was going to be visiting, we mutually agreed. The governor’s team and my team mutually agreed on a place that would have minimal impact into operations.”
Preparing for his visit on Saturday, Biden told reporters that he didn’t think the governor would be joining him as he surveyed the damage. Asked what message he had for the conservative presidential hopeful, Biden merely replied: “We’re going to take care of Florida.”
Biden: I don’t believe DeSantis is going to be there today
Reporter: Do you have a message for him?
Biden: We’re going to take care of Florida pic.twitter.com/mkgnK5BxcS
— Acyn (@Acyn) September 2, 2023
While DeSantis wasn’t present as the president got a firsthand look at Idalia’s devastation in Live Oak, Biden was joined by Sen. Rick Scott—a former governor of the Sunshine State. And the right-wing senator had nothing but praise for the president’s disaster response.
“What the federal government is doing is a big deal. I want to thank you for doing that very quickly,” Scott said during a meeting with local officials and first responders.
Throughout Biden’s tenure in the White House, DeSantis has been one of the loudest critics of the president, claiming the country is in steep decline because of Biden’s policies. He also took a direct shot at Biden during last month’s debate, accusing him of staying “on the beach” while wildfires ravaged Maui. (Biden, for his part, said he waited until Hawaii’s governor gave him the all-clear to visit the island two weeks after the fires destroyed Lahaina.)
At the same time, Biden and DeSantis have put aside politics in the face of disasters in Florida before. For instance, DeSantis appeared alongside Biden after the 2021 Surfside condo collapse and Hurricane Ian in 2022, praising the federal response both times. In fact, DeSantis touring Ian’s damage with the president came just weeks before he romped to a landslide reelection victory in the governor’s race.
But now that DeSantis is running for president, and his poll numbers are sagging as former President Donald Trump continues to dominate the GOP field, the tables have turned.