Biden, DeSantis, put politics aside as president tours Florida building collapse

The two meet amid speculation DeSantis may seek the GOP nomination to oppose Biden in 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has been one of the biggest Republican critics so far this year of President Biden and his Democratic administration.

But amid the horrific building collapse in Surfside, Florida – with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) working side by side with Florida authorities on the response efforts – partisan politics melted away on Thursday as the governor and the president sat side by side at a briefing close to the site of the deadly disaster.

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"Thank you, Mr. President. And you’ve recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one.  And you’ve been very supportive," the governor said as he praised Biden and the federal government’s efforts.

President Joe Biden, right, looks at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, during a briefing with first responders and local officials in Miami, Thursday, July 1, 2021, on the condo tower that collapsed in Surfside, Fla., last week. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden, right, looks at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, during a briefing with first responders and local officials in Miami, Thursday, July 1, 2021, on the condo tower that collapsed in Surfside, Fla., last week. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Biden highlighted the bipartisan approach to the tragedy, saying that "we’re letting the nation know we can cooperate."

DeSantis - a conservative congressman who was narrowly elected Florida governor in 2018 thanks in part to support from his political ally, then-President Trump - has seen his popularity surge among Republican voters in Florida and around the nation, thanks in large part to his steering of his state amid the coronavirus pandemic and his combative pushback against COVID restrictions.

That’s fueled speculation about possible national ambitions and a potential 2024 Republican presidential nomination run by DeSantis.

With the two possible major party nominees in the next presidential election sitting side by side on Thursday, the meeting was closely watched by political pundits and observers.

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While the Biden White House and DeSantis and his inner circle in Tallahassee have clashed in recent months over coronavirus recovery efforts and other key issues, there were no outward signs of disagreement on Thursday. 

"You guys have not only been supportive at the federal level, but we’ve had no bureaucracy," DeSantis emphasized.

"I promise you, there will be none," Biden responded.

Placing his hand on DeSantis’ arm, the president said that the governor and Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett "have been completely open with me" in their communications since the collapse on June 24 of the 12 story condominium tower. The death toll stands at 18, with the search continuing for 145 unaccounted-for people.

Biden said that when it comes to paying for the response to the disaster, it was likely that the federal government would "be able to pick up 100 percent of the cost for the county and the state for 30 days."

The meeting between Biden and DeSantis comes two days before the former president returns to Florida, to hold a July 4th holiday weekend rally in Sarasota. 

Former President Donald Trump waves to supporters as he leaves the stage after speaking at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Wellington, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Former President Donald Trump waves to supporters as he leaves the stage after speaking at a rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Wellington, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Republican Party of Florida - which is supporting the rally and will have a presence there but which is not officially co-hosting or co-sponsoring the event – strongly pushed back against a report that the governor’s office had asked Trump and his team to cancel the event in the wake of the building collapse.

Helen Aguirre Ferré, the Florida GOP’s executive director who previously served as the governor’s communications director, told Fox News that "we welcome the rally." 

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She emphasized that "the governor is completely supportive of the rally" and she shot down rumors of tension between DeSantis and Trump, as the governor’s popularity among Republicans nationwide is on the rise.

"It’s absolutely untrue that there’s a rift," she said.