Republicans and right-wing media personalities criticized U.S. President Joe Biden’s response to the wildfires in Hawaii after he told reporters he had “no comment” on the rising death toll while on vacation over the weekend.
The White House and some Democrats in Hawaii, meanwhile, praised Biden and the federal government over the swift declaration to unlock federal disaster resources.
Nearly 100 people have died, making it not only the state’s worst natural disaster, but the deadliest wildfire the U.S. has seen in a century. The state’s response — including the decision to not cut off power in the area — has also come under scrutiny.
On Friday, Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the state, saying, “Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii, but not just our prayers: Every asset we have will be available to them.”
The controversy began Sunday, after Biden responded “no comment” to a question shouted by a reporter about the rising death toll from the disaster— Biden was heading back from the beach in Delaware. His response was reported by Bloomberg’s Justin Sink.
When asked if he was planning to visit the state, Biden reportedly said: “We’re looking at it.”
Republicans, including former Trump administration officials, immediately criticized Biden. Former Treasury official Monica Crowley said Biden “doesn’t give AF about the suffering people of Maui.”
Matt Wolking, who works for the PAC supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential bid, called it “revolting.”
A White House official said Biden has “mobilized and led a whole-of-government response to the wildfires in Hawaii from the beginning, working closely on it and receiving detailed briefings every day since.”
Some Hawaii Democrats have praised his actions. Gov. Josh Green thanked him for approving the emergency declaration within six hours.
“It was incredible. Within six hours. And so, that opened up ... FEMA and amazing support for recovery,” Green told MSNBC.
Former U.S. president Donald Trump had also faced criticism over his response to destructive California wildfires in 2018, blaming local officials and threatening to withhold federal funding before expressing sympathy for the victims. He approved a disaster declaration 24 hours after it was requested.