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Politics chat: Biden's visit to Florida

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

For the second time in recent weeks, President Joe Biden visited a community hit by a disaster. In August, it was Maui. Yesterday, it was Live Oak, Fla., following Hurricane Idalia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm here today to deliver a clear message to the people of Florida and throughout the Southeast. As I told your governor, if there's anything your state needs, I'm ready to mobilize that support.

RASCOE: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was in the press corps traveling with Biden and joins us now. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

RASCOE: So tell us about the scene there in Live Oak during the Biden visit.

KEITH: There is a certain rhythm to these unfortunately common disaster visits. So the president and first lady surveyed the damage from the air in Marine One. He went into a neighborhood with massive downed trees everywhere. And they also visited an elementary school multipurpose room where Biden was briefed by local officials, FEMA and other first responders. U.S. Senator Rick Scott was there, and he praised the president for rapidly approving a major disaster declaration and surging federal help into the state. And pretty much everyone there praised the federal response so far. But as President Biden said, there is still a lot of work to do. Biden also called on Congress to urgently pass $16 billion in aid to replenish the FEMA disaster relief fund. That's more than they thought they would need just a few weeks ago. But there have been a lot of disasters, and it is still early in the hurricane season.

RASCOE: So Senator Rick Scott was with the president, but I gather that another prominent Florida Republican was not.

KEITH: Indeed. With these sorts of nonpolitical visits, it is standard for the governor to meet with the president. But Governor Ron DeSantis opted not to appear with President Biden. Of course, DeSantis is running for the Republican nomination for president. And having a feel-good bipartisan moment with the guy you're trying to boot from office is maybe a better fit with Biden's brand than with DeSantis'. I should add that this would have been their third disaster appearing together - the Surfside condo collapse in 2021 and Hurricane Ian last year.

RASCOE: What are the president and governor saying about, you know, not meeting?

KEITH: Well, the president really downplayed it, talking about his repeated conversations with Governor DeSantis, even thanking him for helping to plan the trip, which was a subtle response to DeSantis' stated reason for skipping the meeting. A DeSantis spokesman had explained the snub, saying that the security around the meeting would disrupt recovery efforts. But the FEMA administrator, Deanne Criswell, said that there had been a lot of collaboration on the visit, that the location Biden visited had power restored - search-and-rescue efforts were done - and was mutually agreed upon with the governor's team on the ground to minimize disruption.

So I asked her if the lack of a meeting or the lack of a photo-op would affect the recovery in any way, and she said not at all. And there was ample opportunity for Biden or his press secretary on this trip to call DeSantis out as putting politics ahead of the people of this state. But they just didn't do that. They kind of just shrugged and talked about working to help the people of Florida recover.

RASCOE: And, Tam, Congress is back this week with some really high-stakes issues on the agenda. They like to leave things to the last minute, as always.

KEITH: Always, yes. So for starters, there's this disaster relief money. The White House is also asking Congress to urgently approve more funding to help Ukraine as it tries to make progress defending itself against Russia. But they also need to fund the government for the coming year, and that fiscal year starts at the end of this month. When the debt ceiling crisis was resolved earlier this year, it included an agreement on spending levels for the fiscal year starting next month. But almost immediately, the most conservative bloc of House Republicans said they wanted more spending cuts. So the U.S. could well be headed for another government shutdown or at least a lot of drama around a government shutdown. One note - Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conservative Republican, close ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, said that she won't vote to fund the government without the House first launching an impeachment inquiry into the president.

RASCOE: NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.