After a much-discussed “no comment” response that drew criticism when he was asked about the Maui wildfires and the devastation they wreaked on coastal Lahaina, President Biden is firing off communications at scale addressing not only the recovery efforts underway in Hawaii but also the preparation for Tropical Storm Hilary’s landfall in California.
[NOTE: Biden’s “no comment” was specifically in response to a question about the death toll in Maui. The White House responded to the criticism with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying: “The [FEMA] administrator has been there…on the ground by the president’s request to make sure that the government has what they have, the local government has what they have, the people of Maui have what they have…about a dozen agencies on the ground, helping and assisting…hundreds of FEMA personnel.”
Visiting Maui, where the 3-figure death toll has made it the most dangerous wildfire event in U.S. history, Biden also sought to make the federal emergency response more broadly known, tweeting that more than 1,000 emergency personnel are on the ground on site, including 600 Department of Defense personnel.
This recovery will be long and challenging.— President Biden (@POTUS) August 21, 2023
But we’ll continue to be on the ground, providing support to the people of Hawai’i for as long as it takes. pic.twitter.com/mPJK8P0Sh5
In a statement before his visit to the Maui disaster scene, Biden also released a statement emphasizing his reputation for empathy in situations involving loss, and promising that “my heart, my prayers and my focus are on the victims of the Maui wildfires and their families.”
STATEMENT from @POTUS on his visit to Maui: “Jill and I are eager to meet with the brave first responders in Lahaina tomorrow, to spend time with families and community members, and witness firsthand what will be required for the community to recover.” pic.twitter.com/fPEnpTSmD7— Herbie Ziskend (@HerbieZiskend46) August 20, 2023
Biden also announced an Federal Emergency Management Agency appointment to ensure ongoing support as public attention inevitably moves on from this disaster to the next, naming “Bob Fenton, a regional leader at FEMA, as chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires.”
Biden promised on Sunday: “I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy…And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”
"The president will also tap Bob Fenton, a regional leader at FEMA, as chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires, ensuring that someone from his administration will be responsible for long-term recovery efforts."https://t.co/v50WaUb3sl— Herbie Ziskend (@HerbieZiskend46) August 21, 2023
The Fenton appointment is critical as Biden’s “focus” is already being tested (as the expansive range of presidential duty dictates) by yet another weather emergency hurtling toward the U.S., with Tropical Storm Hilary predicted to clobber Southern California.
Biden, in full disaster emergency mode this week, is also messaging about that imminent storm’s potential for destruction. “As soon as Tropical Storm Hilary’s path became clear,” Biden writes in the post below, “my Administration took immediate action to prepare.”
“As soon as Tropical Storm Hilary’s path became clear, my Administration took immediate action to prepare.” pic.twitter.com/ZlTarxYgnA— Herbie Ziskend (@HerbieZiskend46) August 21, 2023