Biden and DeSantis will test their accord during Florida visit

“They’re going to talk about what else are the needs in Florida to get to a place of recovery, to get to a place of rebuilding,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday. “This is going to be, as you said, above politics.”

It will be a rare moment of bipartisan calm just a month ahead of Election Day — and four years before the next presidential election, when DeSantis is expected to be a leading Republican contender. But such meetings, even amid disaster, present political risk if either is seen as being too accommodating — or warm — to rival political leaders.

Before the hurricane, DeSantis clashed with the president over everything from vaccine and mask mandates to immigration policy. The governor’s decision last month to fly nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard also drew a fierce backlash from Democrats and Biden, who called such transports “reckless” and “un-American.”

Yet DeSantis, who has asked for and gotten expanded federal aid to deal with the damage caused by the storm, has complemented federal authorities several times on the response and did so again on Tuesday, on the eve of Biden’s visit. The storm, one of the worst in Florida history, killed at least 72 people.

Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said it’s not surprising that DeSantis has worked well with the federal government.

“Saving lives, protecting families, rebuilding homes and opening up our economy are bigger than petty politics,” Ziegler said. “Gov. DeSantis is leading our response and his willingness to work directly with President Biden — who controls a large pipeline of federal resources taxpayers in Florida have paid for — is just another of DeSantis’ willingness to do whatever it takes to deliver for Florida’s best interest.”

Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee challenging DeSantis in November, has slowly started to ramp up criticism of DeSantis over the governor’s handling of the storm, including questioning whether or not DeSantis should have pressed local authorities in Lee County to order evacuations sooner than they did.

But Crist said DeSantis is making the right decision to set aside his differences with Biden right now.

“That’s the only guy who can help Florida as much as you need,” Crist said in an interview.

Crist knows first-hand the risks associated with meeting a rival president and the consequences that come with it. Crist was Florida’s governor and a Republican when he appeared alongside — and then gave a hug to — then-President Barack Obama, who had flown to Florida to tout the massive federal aid package enacted in response to the Great Recession.

It proved to be the catalyst for GOP opposition against Crist, who a year later left the Republican Party ahead of the 2010 US Senate race that he lost to Marco Rubio.

Crist, who later mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor as a Democrat in 2012, before the winning election to Congress, said he has no regrets about “the hug” or his decision to be seen as warm and friendly to Obama.

“It was about the people of Florida,” Crist said. “It was not about Republicans and Democrats. The president was coming here to help us to get out of the Great Recession. It was $12 billion and I was grateful…Some things are more important than the political implications.”

Another GOP governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey, also endured scorn from Republicans for putting politics aside and working with Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That disaster — like Hurricane Ian — came right before the election, and it too featured an alleged hug between governor and president.

Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, was asked about the backlash against Christie when he appeared on MSNBC on Monday, as well as what Biden and DeSantis had already discussed.

“I think it’s the opposite of politics,” Klain said. “Whatever the political fallout was from the fact that a Republican governor worked with a Democratic president in response to Superstorm Sandy, that’s the way it should be. And that’s what we’ve also done here. The president spoke to Gov. DeSantis a number of times. He’s spoken to Republican and Democratic local officials.”

One clear political advantage for DeSantis is that he is in a position of strength right now. He’s heading into his reelection ahead in the polls and enjoying a tremendous financial advantage. Republicans are also confident in Florida, given the continued swing of the electorate away from Democrats and to the GOP.

And while DeSantis has put his combative side on pause since Hurricane Ian, there are signs that it may soon reemerge as the recovery phase of the storm kicks into full gear. During a mid-afternoon storm briefing Tuesday in Fort Myers, DeSantis said three people recently arrested for looting had entered the country illegally.

“It’s really sad the situation our country finds itself in because of the open border,” DeSantis said.

Hours earlier at the White House, Jean-Pierre was asked whether Biden and DeSantis would discuss his recent push to transport migrants from Texas.

“There will be plenty of time to discuss differences… but now is not the time,” she said.

Daniel Lippman contributed to this story.

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