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Biden says he plans to visit Maui soon as he mourns devastation from wildfires


By Betsy Klein and Kevin Liptak, CNN

(CNN) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he will travel to Maui soon to visit the devastation left behind by wildfires that ravaged the Hawaiian island last week, leaving scores dead and untold damage.

In his first comments on the disaster since late last week, Biden said he wanted to ensure a possible presidential visit wouldn’t impede recovery efforts.

“My wife Jill and I are going to travel to Hawaii as soon as we can, that’s what I’ve been talking to governor about,” he said. “I don’t want to get in the way – I’ve been to too many disaster areas, but I want to go and make sure we got everything they need. I want to be sure we don’t disrupt the ongoing recovery efforts.”

The remarks were Biden’s first public comments about the unfolding disaster in Hawaii since last Thursday, when he similarly began a prescheduled speech addressing the devastation. The period of silence had not gone unnoticed by Biden’s critics, including former President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Biden’s aides have pointed to the president’s frequent phone calls with FEMA leadership, Hawaii’s congressional delegation and its governor as evidence of his sustained engagement. So far, Democrats have publicly supported Biden’s response. The president has been in regular contact with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, who has publicly praised the administration’s response and the president’s “full support.” Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii also thanked Biden for his speed approving a federal disaster declaration during an appearance of CNN’s “State of the Union” as she described her experience witnessing the wildfires’ devastation.

That included a photo Biden tweeted from aboard Air Force One speaking by phone with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Green, maps and binders spread out before him on his desk.

During his remarks, Biden pledged that the state would have “every asset, every asset they need” for ongoing recovery and rebuild efforts.

The president mourned the loss of life and “generations of native Hawaiian history turned into ruin” while reiterating a robust federal response, even as some on Maui have voiced frustration at the slow pace of aid.

“You always hear this phrase, and I’ve been to so many disasters in my career, it’s almost hollow, but our prayers, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Hawaii – but not just our prayers, every asset, every asset they need will be there for them. And we’ll be there in Maui as long as it takes, as long as it takes, and I mean that sincerely,” Biden said.

“We’ve been working with the state to make sure survivors who’ve lost their homes have a place to call home until we can rebuild,” Biden said inside a wind turbine plant.

“I immediately approved the governor’s request for expedited major disaster declaration. That’s a fancy word of saying whatever you need, you’re gonna get,” he added.

Biden sought to empathize with families who have lost loved ones as the death toll rises.

“Think about this: All that area they’ve got to plow up, they can’t do it now because they don’t know how many bodies are there,” he said. “They don’t know what’s left. Imagine being a mom or dad. Imagine being a husband or wife, a mother, father.”

In an appearance on “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested it will “take some time” for Biden’s visit, as the president wants to ensure that he won’t disrupt the recovery process.

Also on Tuesday, the White House explained in detail the steps the administration is taking to support recovery efforts in Maui Tuesday morning.

  • There are more than 500 federal personnel on the ground.
  • The US Coast Guard and US Navy are supporting search and rescue. The US Army is helping with fire suppression and FEMA is involved in fire containment, as well as food, water and shelter distribution.
  • The Small Business Administration is making disaster loans available to impacted businesses, homeowners, renters and nonprofits.
  • The US Department of Agriculture has approved child nutrition and SNAP benefits.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services has approved a public health emergency and is assisting with disaster mortuary operational response.
  • The US Army Corps of Engineers is helping with roads, electric services and hazardous waste removal alongside the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The Department of Defense is helping move supplies across the state.

Former President Barack Obama asked for contributions for wildfire victims in Maui, according to a video released Monday. Obama has a home in Hawaii and has previously visited impacted areas.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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