Reporters repeatedly pressed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Deanne Criswell at Tuesday’s White House briefing about the lack of communication with Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Hurricane Ian.
A handful of reporters questioned the reasoning and impact of President Joe Biden’s lack of communication with DeSantis about Hurricane Ian that is barreling toward central and northwest Florida. The hurricane is classified as a Category 4 storm in the Gulf of Mexico as it has reached maximum sustained winds of 155 miles-per-hour moving north-northwest at 13 mph.
NBC News Chief White House Correspondent Peter Alexander asked Criswell if there are any plans for Biden and DeSantis to directly communicate on the hurricane, given that he has spoken to several mayors. The FEMA administrator said she personally met with DeSantis on Friday and that her agency has been in contact with the Florida governor.
“You spoke to several mayors down there, one of the mayors said that the primary concerns was complacency,” Alexander said. “I’m curious, the president spoke to big leaders. First question to you is about complacency, the second is you’ve spoken to the governor of the state, why hasn’t the president? Is there a scheduled call for the two men to speak obviously as the preeminent leaders of the country and of that state?”
Criswell first confirmed that she does have concerns about complacency as the part of Florida directly threatened by the storm has not witnessed this level of potential destruction in nearly a century. She then explained that Biden directed her to contact DeSantis prior to the state of emergency declaration and revealed that her regional administrator is currently in Florida with the governor to discuss the current needs of the state.
Another reporter asked about the administration’s current relationship with Florida officials. Criswell described the communication with state officials as “excellent” and that FEMA officials are working with the State Emergency Management director to prepare and provide the proper resources. (RELATED: Jean-Pierre Defends Biden’s Lack Of Communication With DeSantis Amid Potential Hurricane Disasters)
Washington Post White House reporter Matt Viser followed up on Alexander’s question, pointing out that Biden has reached out to governors in the past regarding natural disasters and other crises.
“In the past, President Biden has made calls to governors in situations of natural disasters, Kay Ivey in Alabama, Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas, or the governor in Texas. Can you articulate how those determinations are made and why it hasn’t been made in this case to have the president call the governor?”
Criswell answered that the president is focused on making sure the federal government provides all the necessary resources to Florida and therefore had her and FEMA officials get in contact with DeSantis.
“But he’s made conversations with the mayors, so is there any reason why not the governor?” he pressed.
“Again, we have a strong team that’s in place supporting the governor right now working side by side with him and his staff. We’ll continue to stay engaged with him,” she answered.
Playboy White House Correspondent Brian Karem then pointed out that it is standard for presidents and governors to be in direct communication with one another in a time of emergency. He then asked if their lack of communication has “impeded efforts” of the administration to provide relief for the state.
Criswell assured that politics plays no role in FEMA’s response and that her agency will support any demands or needs of DeSantis and his administration.
“No, we are very focused on what the needs of Florida is right now. We do not bring politics into our ability to respond to these disasters. We are going to support whatever Governor DeSantis asks of us. We signed his emergency declaration within hours of him sending it in, we’ll continue to do that as we see what the impacts of this storm are,” she said.
“So, the communication between the president and the governor has no impact on how you all operate,” Karem clarified.
“Zero,” Criswell replied.
The president and DeSantis each signed a state of emergency declaration to authorize FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide all essential resources to the people of Florida. After the president approved of the declaration Saturday, FEMA vowed their assistance will “save lives” and protect the health, property and safety of Floridians.