Biden, DeSantis strike ceasefire as catastrophic Hurricane Ian rocks Florida

What a difference a hurricane makes.

Just a week ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible 2024 contender, trolled the country with the idea that he would fly migrants in Texas to Delaware near the home of President Biden. Biden, in a speech rallying congressional Democrats a few days earlier, derided the Republican governor’s migrant expulsions as “playing politics with humans, using them as props.”

Now the potential 2024 opponents are talking multiple times a day as they face the stunning devastation from Hurricane Ian, a deadly storm that left 2.5 million Floridians without power and inflicted damage that DeSantis described as “historic.”

“It’s my sense that the administration wants to help,” DeSantis said Wednesday evening in an interview with Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and erstwhile adviser to former President Donald Trump.

While not exactly shining with praise, the comment does hark back to calmer times more than a decade ago, when governors and presidents worked hand in hand during federal emergencies, regardless of their political affiliations.

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news briefing on Hurricane Ian on Tuesday. (Robert Kaufmann/Fema/Planet Pix via Zuma Press Wire)

A Google search of “DeSantis rips Biden” turns up plenty of examples of the would-be White House contender blasting the president repeatedly, even dubbing him an “American Nero.” Flip the names in that search, and among the first few hits is a story about Biden’s plans to bring the attack to DeSantis in a campaign stop in Florida. Even just a few days ago, the White House was mum on whether Biden would meet with DeSantis before the hurricane hit.

Now they’re working hand in hand.

Biden said he and DeSantis had talked four or five times. “This is about saving people’s lives, homes and businesses,” the president said Thursday. On Wednesday, shortly before Ian made landfall, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that “there’s no politics in this,” answering a question about a call earlier in the day between Biden and DeSantis.

When reached for comment, a DeSantis spokesperson referred to the governor's comments on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show Wednesday night.

“We live in a very politicized time,” DeSantis said. “When people are fighting for their lives, when their whole livelihood is at stake, when they’ve lost everything. ... If you can’t put politics aside for that, then you’re just not going to be able to. So I’ll work with anybody that wants to help the people of southwest Florida and throughout our state.”

To the average observer, largely unplugged from six years of nonstop Trump coverage, it may seem obvious that a president and governor would work together to save lives and rebuild after a catastrophic national emergency.

Joe Biden with Deanne Criswell and Alejandro Mayorkas
President Biden speaks about Hurricane Ian as FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas look on. (Evan Vucci/AP)

But in the hypercharged Trump era, marked by a rise in political violence and punctuated by the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, even the formerly sacrosanct act of responding to a major national emergency has been politicized.

Trump himself routinely threatened Democratic state and local leaders handling disasters. Shortly before the 2020 election, he initially rejected, then later approved federal disaster relief for California, led by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, after crippling wildfires tore through the state. Trump issued a similar threat to California a year earlier as well.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s famous embrace of Barack Obama just days before the 2012 election for providing federal support to victims of Hurricane Sandy — a disaster that ravaged New York, New Jersey and other states — ended up becoming an Achilles' heel for the Republican governor in the 2016 campaign for the White House. In a preemptive move days before the New Hampshire primary, which Christie had been banking on to salvage his White House run, he said he shook Obama’s hand and defended seeking federal support for his constituents.

Chris Christie with Barack Obama
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greets President Barack Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2013. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

DeSantis himself blasted federal aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, voting against $9.7 billion in federal relief in 2013, shortly after taking office as a freshman congressman. “I sympathize with the victims of Hurricane Sandy and believe that those who purchased flood insurance should have their claims paid,” he said at the time. “At the same time, allowing the program to increase its debt by another $9.7 billion with no plan to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere is not fiscally responsible.”

But the sheer severity of Hurricane Ian and its devastation seems to have driven both sides, Democrats and Republicans, to what used to be a seemingly obvious answer.

“DeSantis and Biden should each do what’s right for their shared constituents,” said Michael DuHaime, Christie’s 2016 campaign manager. “Anyone who puts politics first during a public crisis doesn’t deserve the office they hold.”

Damaged homes and debris in Fort Myers, Fla.
Damaged homes and debris in Fort Myers, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)