The White House came out with an explanation for President Joe Biden’s “no comment” remark on the devastating Maui wildfire death toll, nearly two weeks after he initially made the quip.
The president faced criticism for responding “no comment” and not speaking about the death toll for several days while relaxing on the beach in Delaware. The White House defended Biden’s Maui response for weeks but only addressed the “no comment” blunder Thursday.
The “no comment” remark was made Aug. 13 after a reporter shouted a question about the death toll at the president while he was entering a vehicle.
White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton told The New York Times the president didn’t hear the question and that he wasn’t talking about Maui.
“He didn’t hear the question,” Dalton told the outlet. “He absolutely didn’t say ‘no comment’ in relation to Maui. And in fact, he had already spoken to the nation about Maui at that point, in addition to being in daily contact with senior staff, FEMA and state officials as he marshaled a whole-of-government response to the fires.”
Biden’s opponents seized on the “no comment” remark to criticize his apparent lack of empathy, with former President Donald Trump releasing a video one day after Biden’s remarks.
“To say ‘no comment’ is oftentimes fine, but to be smiling when you say it, especially against such a tragedy as this, is absolutely horrible and unacceptable,” Trump said. (RELATED: ‘No, Not Now‘: Biden Skirts Questions On Maui Disaster, Walks Away From Press)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioned Biden’s “no comment” during the first GOP presidential primary debate Wednesday.
“Biden was on the beach while those people were suffering,” DeSantis said. “He was asked about it, and he said, ‘No comment.’ Are you kidding me? As somebody that’s handled disasters in Florida, you’ve got to be activated. You’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be present. You’ve got to be helping people who are doing this.”
Biden traveled to the Hawaiian island Monday, taking a one day break from his vacation in Lake Tahoe.