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Tipsheet

White House Can't Explain Why Biden Still Hasn't Called DeSantis

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

As Leah pointed out after Monday's White House briefing, Karine Jean-Pierre faced questions about why President Joe Biden hadn't called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis while Hurricane Ian churned its way into the Gulf of Mexico with sights set on the Sunshine State's west coast. Jean-Pierre said none had taken place and wasn't aware of any scheduled calls. 

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That lack of communication became more glaring during Tuesday's briefing when Jean-Pierre announced that Biden had just gotten off the phone with the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater — but didn't say anything about a call to Governor DeSantis. Not for nothing, two of those mayors are Democrats and the third holds non-partisan office. 

When reporters noted the lack of a call between Biden and DeSantis, neither Jean-Pierre nor FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell could give a concrete answer as to why a call had not taken place despite federal officials approving Florida's emergency declaration and staging supplies and personnel nearby in neighboring states.

According to the FEMA chief, President Biden "directed" her to contact DeSantis rather than reaching out himself days ago, meaning Biden has had ample time to pick up the phone and check in on Florida's preparations and wish the state and its residents well. But he still apparently refuses to do so.

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Biden's choice to delegate communications with DeSantis to his FEMA administrator evidently raised some red flags in the briefing room that drew several followup questions in attempts to get a solid answer as to why Biden won't talk to Florida's governor. Biden has called other Republican governors amid natural disasters, so why not DeSantis?

Criswell's answer was straight from a how-to-deflect handbook: "The president is very focused on making sure that the federal family has the right resources available to support this, that is why I contacted the governor right away and we have a team of my senior leadership that are embedded with the governor."

So, not an answer as to why Biden hasn't called DeSantis despite calling the Florida mayors.

"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," Criswell said in yet another dodge of the question.

The lack of communication — apart from adding to the palace intrigue of the Biden administration — also raised questions of whether the disconnect between Biden and DeSantis could impede the federal response in Florida.

"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," Criswell insisted, adding her agency is "going to respond to whatever DeSantis asks of us." What's more, Biden's FEMA chief declared that the communication between the president and the governor — or lack thereof — has "zero" impact on how FEMA operates. 

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So, somewhat inadvertently, Biden's FEMA administrator confirmed that Biden is not really leading any of the response from the White House as Florida braces for Ian's landfall and it's FEMA that's in charge and actually handling federal action. 

Whether its pettiness, fear, or just Biden being behind the ball, the lack of communication between the president and DeSantis is clearly emerging as an unnecessary sideshow to the Biden administration's response to Hurricane Ian, one that's sure to receive extra scrutiny given the lack of formality normally extended from the Oval Office to state executives in times of crisis.

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