Aug 21, 2023, 8:12am EDT

What Biden will say in Hawaii

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Sign up for Semafor Principals: What the White House is reading. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will interrupt their vacation in Lake Tahoe to fly to Maui today to meet with local officials, first responders, and survivors and get a firsthand look at the damage. Biden will name FEMA’s Robert Fenton, who previously served as the White House’s monkeypox response coordinator, as the long-term federal response coordinator for Maui.

Title icon

Know More

  • Biden has faced criticism from Republicans for being slow to comment extensively on the tragedy, and this trip will give him the opportunity to show the public that Hawaii is front of mind for him. “I do think that the president has a little bit of catching up to do here, but he can do it,” Bill Galston, chair of the Brookings Institution’s governance studies program and a former Clinton domestic policy aide, told Semafor.
  • Biden will also try to assure Lahaina residents that they’ll have a voice in rebuilding the historic community, amid rising concerns that big developers could swoop in to take advantage of the destruction. “He’s going to be able to reassure the people of Maui that the federal government is there to support them, but we’re doing it in a way that’s going to allow them to rebuild the way they want to rebuild,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said Sunday on CNN.
  • The federal government has sent FEMA crews as well as FBI, Defense Department, and Health and Human Services officials to Hawaii to help with the recovery efforts and identify the deceased.
  • Over 1,000 people are still unaccounted for, according to Hawaii’s Democratic Gov. Josh Green, who said on CBS that it could take weeks to comb over the remaining 15% of land impacted by the fire that hasn’t yet been searched.
  • FEMA will have to balance the wildfire recovery with Tropical Storm Hilary’s impact on California. The Biden administration has already made a request for supplemental disaster assistance as part of a $40 billion package that includes Ukraine aid, but more is expected to be needed for Maui.