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Biden, Florida's DeSantis stress unity in Hurricane Ian recovery

Biden, a Democrat, and DeSantis, his potential Republican presidential rival, have clashed over issues, including COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, abortion and LGBTQ rights. But during the visit, they largely set differences aside, as Biden pledged federal support for a cleanup and rebuilding effort that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and take years.

U.S. President Joe Biden visits Florida
President Joe Biden speaks about the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian and relief efforts as he visits Fisherman's Wharf while touring hurricane-damaged areas on Wednesday, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey DeSantis, in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- President Joe Biden met with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday to tour the devastation from Hurricane Ian, and stressed the need for a united federal and state effort for the lengthy recovery ahead.

Biden, a Democrat, and DeSantis, his potential Republican presidential rival, have clashed over issues, including COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, abortion and LGBTQ rights. But during the visit, they largely set differences aside, as Biden pledged federal support for a cleanup and rebuilding effort that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and take years.

Biden and DeSantis greeted each other warmly and stood shoulder to shoulder as they met with victims of the hurricane.

"Mr. President, welcome to Florida. We appreciate working together across various levels of government," DeSantis told Biden during remarks after the tour.

"Today we have one job and only one job, and that's to make sure the people of Florida get everything they need," said Biden said, who referred to DeSantis as 'Guv.' "We're in this together."

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Biden opened his remarks by saying the storm showed climate change was real and needed to be addressed. Climate change is making hurricanes wetter, windier and altogether more intense, experts say.

Biden and his wife, Jill, arrived in Fort Meyers early Wednesday afternoon, two days after visiting Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory battered by Hurricane Fiona last month.

Biden got an aerial view of the destruction during a helicopter flight and called the destruction horrific.

More than 100 people died and nearly 400,000 homes and businesses remained without power in Florida on Tuesday, five days after Hurricane Ian crashed across the state.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said it would cost the federal government billions of dollars to repair the damage from the storm.

"We are still very much in the lifesaving and stabilization mode. They are just beginning the assessments of what the actual extent of damages to the infrastructure. It's going to be in the billions," Criswell told reporters on Air Force One.

Biden has been in regular communication with DeSantis during the crisis and the federal government picked up a significant share of the initial disaster relief. Last week, Biden said his relationship with DeSantis is "irrelevant" but "very fine."

"It's going to take a lot, a lot of time. Not weeks or months - it's going to take years for everything to get squared away in the state of Florida, to fully recover and rebuild," Biden said. "We've seen extraordinary cooperation, at every level of government as the governor said. And the cooperation began before the storm hit."

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When Biden visited Florida in July after a condominium complex collapsed and killed nearly 100 people, he said, "we're letting the nation know we can cooperate when it's really important," as he and DeSantis sat shoulder to shoulder.

On climate change, Biden has made reducing carbon emissions a focus of his presidency, while DeSantis backed funding to harden Florida's defenses against flooding but also opposed some previous disaster-relief aid and pushed pension funds not to consider environmental impact when they invest.

Before Hurricane Ian hit, Biden had planned a rally in the political battleground state and Democratic officials expected the president to attack the governor's approach, which has included shunning COVID-19 lockdowns, mocking Biden's age and abilities, penalizing Walt Disney World Resort for opposing state laws limiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, and flying Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

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