As Storm Hits, DeSantis Pauses Political Bomb-Throwing

WASHINGTON — As a once-in-a-century hurricane batters Florida’s Gulf Coast, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis faces a very different calculus in his dealings with President Biden and the federal government.

DeSantis, a Republican widely seen as having White House ambitions, is one of his party’s top political provocateurs, often appearing on national television to criticize an administration in Washington he denounces as authoritarian. As recently as February, Mr. DeSantis fired Mr. Biden as someone who “hates Florida,” baselessly claiming that he “tarnishes” storm victims for political reasons.

But now, as Hurricane Ian threatens to inflict significant damage on Florida, Mr. DeSantis must rely on assistance from the same federal government whose public health guidance he has ridiculed during the pandemic. Beyond that, he must work with the very president he has criticized and who could soon run to replace him.

“We all need to work together, regardless of party lines,” DeSantis said on Fox News Tuesday night, adding that he was “grateful” for the help from the Biden administration.

“The administration wants to help,” he said. “They realize this is a really significant storm.”

The disaster-driven pause in partisanship is a notable change for Mr. DeSantis, a politician who came to power during a highly polarized social media era and won his 2018 primary thanks to endorsements from Donald J. Trump that he garnered afterward. to defend Mr. Trump dozens of times on Fox News.

The governor’s term has been marked by a series of fights that appeal to the Trump-aligned Republican base, particularly on social issues and the response to the pandemic. One question that immediately arose when the storm hit Florida was how long DeSantis, who is seeking re-election in November against Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Democratic governor, would put politics aside.

During a briefing Wednesday morning, Mr. DeSantis did not mention the president or answer questions from reporters, though he praised the support his state had received from various federal agencies.

Biden, unlike DeSantis, has for decades sold himself as a dealmaker on the other side of the aisle.

On Wednesday morning, the president made a point of announcing that they had been in contact.

“I talked to Governor DeSantis for some time yesterday,” he said at a White House hunger briefing. “My team has been in constant contact with him since the beginning.”

Mr. Biden, who has also spoken with several Florida mayors, said he had told Mr. DeSantis that the federal government was “alert and in action” and had approved all requests for federal aid from Florida.


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“I have made it clear to the governor and mayors that the federal government stands ready to help in any way possible,” Biden said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also emphasized temporary unity.

“There is no politics in this, when we talk about extreme weather,” he said. “This is about the people of Florida, this is about two people who wanted to have a conversation about how we can be partners with the governor and his constituents and make sure we’re delivering for the people of Florida.”

Jean-Pierre declined to say how long Biden and DeSantis spoke Tuesday.

Hurricane Ian is the first major storm to hit Florida since Mr. DeSantis took office in early 2019. He is operating with a storm playbook long honed by Florida governors, where the state’s response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was widely criticized for being too slow and ineffective.

When he ran for president in 2016, Jeb Bush, a two-term governor, frequently highlighted Florida’s hurricane preparedness and rebuilding efforts under his leadership. Mr. DeSantis’s immediate predecessor, Rick Scott, polished off a somewhat awkward public persona while guiding Florida through a series of hurricanes during his tenure.

DeSantis is unlikely to go the way of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose warm regards for president barack obama during an October 2012 visit to survey damage from Hurricane Sandy, he drew disdain from fellow Republicans during his subsequent presidential campaign.

Christie said in an interview Wednesday that, 10 years later, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” She continued: “For me it was always that the job I was chosen for was the most important thing and politics at that time was secondary.”

He added: “I didn’t think there was anything more to it. That is a decision that Governor DeSantis will have to make.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Mr. DeSantis said Mr. Biden “hates Florida” and “toughens up” storm victims because of politics. (There is no evidence that Mr. Biden withheld federal emergency aid for political gain, although Mr. Trump often threatened to use a similar tactic when he was in the White House.)

Mr. DeSantis also spent months attacking federal public health guidance on the pandemic. In August, he denigrated Dr. Anthony S. Fauci days after the doctor announced that he would retire as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Someone has to grab that little leprechaun and throw him across the Potomac,” Mr. DeSantis said. he said at a rally in Orlando.

And two weeks ago, DeSantis flew two planes full of undocumented Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in an attempt to highlight his opposition to Biden’s immigration policy.

“The biggest trick was Biden taking office and reversing Trump’s policies,” Mr. DeSantis told reporters in Florida days later. He also suggested that the next migrant plane could land in Delaware, near the president’s weekend home.

Democrats were furious. Mr. Biden said that Mr. DeSantis was “playing politics with human beings, using them as props,” adding: “What they are doing is just wrong. It is anti-American. It’s reckless. Asked days later what his response was to DeSantis’s threat to send the next plane to Delaware, Biden responded: “You should come visit. We have a beautiful coastline.”

Michael D. Shear contributed report.