WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden heads to Florida on Saturday to survey damage caused by Hurricane Idalia and comfort people affected by the storm, but he will not be meeting Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican governor and a potential presidential rival.
Biden, a Democrat, told reporters on Friday he would see the governor during the trip, but DeSantis’s spokesman Jeremy Redfern said later that no meeting was planned and that “the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts.”
DeSantis, 44, is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to oust Biden from the White House but trails former President Donald Trump in polls. Biden, 80, is running for re-election.
Biden and DeSantis have spoken regularly through the week about the storm, which pummeled Florida’s Big Bend region with Category 3 winds of nearly 200 kph (125 mph). On Wednesday the president said politics had not crept into their conversations. “I think he trusts my judgment and my desire to help,” Biden said.
The White House said that Biden, who is traveling with his wife, Jill, informed DeSantis about the visit during a conversation on Thursday, and that the governor did not raise concerns then.
“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,” White House spokesperson Emilie Simons said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
DeSantis has been a sharp critic of Biden, and the two have clashed over COVID-19 vaccines, abortion and LGBTQ rights. But they met last year when Biden went to Florida to assess the devastation from Hurricane Ian. Biden said at the time that they had worked together “hand-in-glove.”
DeSantis may not want to be photographed with Biden overlooking storm damage now as the Republican presidential primary race intensifies. Although he trails Trump, DeSantis leads the other Republican candidates in the race.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, drew criticism for his praise of President Barack Obama in 2012 when the Democrat visited his state in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.
Biden visited Hawaii last week in the aftermath of deadly fires there and said on Wednesday that no one could deny the climate crisis in light of the extreme weather. He is slated to travel to his home state of Delaware for the weekend after concluding the Florida trip.