President Biden, whose empathy amid loss is his chief political characteristic, will travel today to console families in Florida who are enduring the excruciating search for loved ones inside a seaside condo that suddenly collapsed a week ago.
The devastating structural failure, which so far has resulted in 18 confirmed deaths with another 145 people still unaccounted for, could become the deadliest non-intentional building collapse in American history. It has raised new questions about the safety of high-rises that run for miles along the South Florida coast, along with similar developments across the nation.
Biden, who will be joined by first lady Jill Biden in Florida, is awaiting findings from a team of six federal scientists and engineers collecting information on the ground. He hopes to use results from their investigation to determine how infrastructure like residential towers can be better fortified against catastrophic failure, according to officials.
But before then, there are grieving families to comfort and exhausted rescue personnel to thank – a presidential responsibility Biden takes as seriously as any.
“There’s nothing worse than having to wait and wonder what happened,” Biden said last week. “It’s a tough, tough time. There’s so many people waiting. ‘Are they alive? Will they be – what will happen?’ And so our heart goes out to them.”
The White House was still finalizing details of Biden’s visit on Wednesday but said he would meet with first responders and search-and-rescue teams to thank them, along with families awaiting word of their loved ones. His schedule has more than three hours blocked off to meet with the dozens of families affected by the tragedy. He plans to deliver remarks from the St. Regis hotel afterward.
He will meet with Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a chief acolyte of former President Donald Trump who is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, during a midday briefing alongside other officials in Surfside, near where the collapse occurred.
The two men have mostly sought to put aside politics in the wake of the disaster – though Biden raised eyebrows last week when he told reporters he was “waiting on a call from him if he needs the help.”
They eventually connected in a phone call that one official described as professional and focused on providing Florida the help it needed. Biden signed an emergency declaration that freed up federal resources and Federal Emergency Management Agency search-and-rescue teams. And DeSantis has appeared alongside Democrats throughout this week during news conferences near the site of the collapse.
“They’re all in,” DeSantis said of Biden’s administration during a news conference last Friday. “And so we really appreciate having the support of the President.”
Read more about Biden’s visit here.