Biden Tours Storm-Hit, Donor-Rich California as He Eyes 2024

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden visited California on Thursday to tour communities devastated by deadly storms and flooding and to assess first-hand the need for additional federal aid in a state whose deep-pocketed Democratic donors will be important to any 2024 reelection bid.

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“The country is here for you and with you,” Biden said at Seacliff State Park in Aptos, California. “We are not leaving until things are built back, and built back better than they were before. You can recover from storms. We’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Thursday’s visit took the president to a politically friendly state, one he carried easily in 2020 and which will be crucial to an expected 2024 campaign. In addition to its 54 electoral votes in the next election, California is packed with wealthy Democratic donors, and the president held a series of fundraisers there during an October West Coast swing.

But Biden still faced questions over a brewing political crisis involving the discovery of classified documents at a former office and at his home. The president defended his handling of the matter and criticized the media for its scrutiny.

“We’re fully cooperating, looking forward to getting this resolved quickly. I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there,” Biden said. “I have no regrets. I am following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do — that’s exactly what we’re doing. There’s no there there.”

Read more: Biden Says ‘No Regrets’ Over Handling of Classified Documents

Damage Assessment

Biden was met in California by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. The two boarded a helicopter for an aerial tour before visiting an oceanside boardwalk in Capitola, where small businesses were damaged by the storm. The two spoke with residents impacted and first responders to thank them for their efforts.

“It’s devastating what happened,” Biden said.

“We know some of the destruction is going to take years to fully recover and rebuild. But we got to not just rebuild, we got to rebuild better,” he added.

The visit put Biden in a setting in which he has performed well as president, assuring communities struck by natural disasters that the federal government will marshal its resources to help them recover.

He traveled to Florida in October to view storm damage from Hurricane Ian, temporarily sidestepping a political rivalry with that state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 contender.

Biden and DeSantis largely ignored their past clashes over the president’s migration policies and other issues, the president did sneak in a jab at climate-denying Republicans: “I think the one thing this is finally ended is a discussion about whether or not there’s climate change, and we should do something about it,” he said.

Their detente was short-lived. A month later, Biden assailed DeSantis as “Donald Trump incarnate,” arguing the governor was channeling the former president’s policies and mannerisms.

In Newsom, Biden also invites a side-by-side comparison with a high-profile governor who holds potential presidential aspirations. Like DeSantis, Newsom easily cruised to reelection in 2022.

Newsom has said he will not challenge Biden for the 2024 Democratic nomination, but his position as a two-term governor of the nation’s most populous state would make him a formidable candidate in a contested primary.

The trip also gave Biden another chance to draw a contrast with Republicans over policies intended to curb climate change.

“If anybody doubts the climate is changing then they must’ve been asleep.”

California in recent years has endured wildfires and extreme heat that depleted reservoirs.

Disaster Declaration

Biden approved an expedited major disaster declaration at Newsom’s request on Saturday, dispatching federal grants for debris removal, temporary housing and loans to cover uninsured property losses. On Wednesday, Biden increased federal assistance to cover all costs of eligible emergency measures for two months since the onset of the storms, up from 75% coverage.

The wave of atmospheric rivers, which brought heavy rains, snowfall and dangerous winds and spurred landslides and flooding, have caused more than $30 billion in damages, according to an estimate from AccuWeather Inc. last week. Newsom on Thursday said 21 lives had been lost.

The president last weekend made federal funding available to people in Merced, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz counties. On Wednesday, Newsom said the major disaster declaration had been expanded to add Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Deanne Criswell, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, joined Biden on the trip, telling reporters en route that additional counties would likely be added to the disaster declaration.

More than 500 FEMA and other federal personnel have already been deployed to California to work with the state in recovery efforts, according to the White House.

(Adds Biden quotes, new details from second paragraph)

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