Remarks by President Biden Before a Command Briefing from Incident Commander Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Governor Ron DeSantis, Local Leaders, and First Responders
St. Regis Hotel
10:41 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: (In progress) — and I’ve got to say that, you know, having been to, unfortunately, a lot of — like many of us have — a lot of disaster sites because of natural disasters, it’s — what you’re doing, in coordination among you all, has been just admirable. It really is impressive.
And so I just want to say thanks and listen and find out what I can do as President and what I can unleash, in terms of help, for whatever you need.
The governor and the mayor have been completely open with me, asked whatever they — whatever they’ve asked, I think we’ve been able to deliver. And I think there’s more that we can do, including — I think I have the power — and we’ll know shortly — to be able to pick up 100 percent of the cost for the county and the state for 30 days.
MAYOR LEVINE CAVA: Oh, my goodness, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: I think I’m quite sure I can do that. And so we’re going to do that.
And there’s going to be a lot — you all know it because a lot of you have been through it as well — there’s going to be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even a need for psychological help in the days and months that follow.
And so, we’re not going anywhere.
MAYOR LEVINE CAVA: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: No, for real. But, again, I just want to, you know, start the day, if I could, getting as thorough briefing as you’re able to give me, and tell me what you need. And that goes for both the senators and the congresswoman and anyone in Florida, just to pick up the phone to the Oval. For real. I’m not joking about it.
And I think the Gov will tell you — anything you ask for, we got. And we have another group of teams coming from FEMA today. How many people will it be?
PARTICIPANT: At the end of the day, there should about 500 on the ground.
THE PRESIDENT: Five hundred on the ground.
So, again, this is your show. We just want to make sure that whatever you need — and, you know, including — well, anyway, I’m talking too much. Why don’t I — I want to hear from you guys.
MAYOR LEVINE CAVA: All right. Well, Mr. President, we cannot thank you enough for being here with us, for showing your extraordinary support from day one. You called me that morning. We hustled into a little room in the Family Reunification Center so I could take the call, and you said whatever we need. And I said, “Bring FEMA,” and here they are, on the ground.
So it’s been an incredible collaboration from the beginning, with the federal, with the state. We had our Florida Emergency Management Director, Kevin Guthrie, here immediately. The governor has been here every single day. The senators, I believe, the same, and our state and municipal leaders as well.
So the collaboration from the elected leadership to the police departments; all the municipals, of course, under the leadership of our incredible Miami-Dade Police Department, and Freddy Ramirez, our director; and, without a doubt, the fire department and our chief — our Fire Chief, Alan Cominsky, who has led the effort of these first responders who are in the — in the world’s hands.
Everybody is praying and watching these incredible men and women as they proceed, day after day, and literally have to be pulled off the pile, Mr. President. They are here to save lives. That is what they live for. And it is truly — it is truly humbling.
So, we all know this is an unprecedented devastating disaster unlike anyone has ever seen. It’s shocked the world. And the fact that we’ve all come together is what gives us hope, is what gives us strength and inspiration; it does for me every single day — as we talk to the family members, as you’ll soon be doing, as they are waiting and waiting for news of their loved ones, as you said, and also those who have been displaced. I mean, it’s — it’s just a crisis all around.
But we are working together to handle the crisis to get the answers about what happened here. And we can update you on that. And we are going to be examining every inch of this catastrophe with the full might of the federal, state, and local government to do so.
So, we want to make sure we all — the world wants to make sure that a tragedy of this nature never, ever happens again.
So, I — we have a briefing for you. And I want to start with our governor. And I want to thank you, Governor DeSantis. Your team has been amazing, but you personally have been amazing. You’ve been a steady, calming, reassuring, but forceful voice every step of the way. And it’s been a pleasure to partner with you, truly. Thank you. Thank you.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Thank you. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say just one more thing. You know what’s good about this — the way you’ve cooperated? We’re letting the nation know we can cooperate.
MAYOR LEVINE CAVA: Yes, sir. That’s right.
THE PRESIDENT: And when it’s really important —
MAYOR LEVINE CAVA: That’s right.
THE PRESIDENT: — when it’s really important — I was talking to Debbie about it on the way down — we come together. This is — this is life and death.
And so, I don’t think — I just got back from about 12 days in Europe. They wondered whether we can do this. And you’re doing it. I mean, just the simple act of everybody doing whatever needs to be done is a — and it really makes a difference, Gov.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: Well, thank you, Mr. President. And you’ve recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one. And you’ve been very supportive.
We, in Florida — you know, you’ll drive up and down these coastal roads, you’ll see these buildings. And I’ve driven by that building; probably never thought twice. And then something like this happens and you recognize in each individual unit there’s an amazing story.
And lives have been shattered irrevocably as a result of this. We’ve already identified, unfortunately, fatalities — people who’ve been 92 years old, have been a matriarch of a wonderful family. We have families with kids missing. And we even have young newlyweds who hadn’t even been married a year who were in the tower when it collapsed.
And so the cooperation has been great. The local — both the municipal and the county have been fantastic. And you guys have not only been supportive at the federal level, but we’ve had no bureaucracy. When we’re dealing with FEMA, we’re literally getting requests routed from local to state to federal in no time —
THE PRESIDENT: I promise you, there will be none.
GOVERNOR DESANTIS: — and the approval is happening. Yeah.
And so that — that really, I think, is important. And so we’ve had people — this is the first response in Florida’s history, outside of a hurricane, where all of our search-and-rescue teams were mobilized. So they’ve been going in and out of the rubble, searching, trying to find people, trying to rescue people — at a minimum, trying to identify anyone who may be deceased to bring closure to the families, which is very important.
But they’re tired, and this has taken a toll on them. And so, the fact that we now have that search-and-rescue team from Virginia here — and I know we have some more on the way — that’s going to be helpful because this is grueling.
And obviously, the families’ lives have been shattered. Mental health is going to be important. We’re going to need some mental health support for some of the folks who’ve been in that rubble because it’s not easy to do.
And — but we thank you for the support. And we do appreciate the collaboration for local, state, and federal.
And, you know, what we just need now is we need a little bit of luck, we need a little bit of prayers, and, you know, we would like to be able to see some miracles happen.
But I can tell you this: We’re not going to stop until we identify everybody and until we do what we need to do. So, thank you, Mr. President.
MAYOR LEVINE CAVA: Thank you, Mr. President. I want to acknowledge the leadership of the First Lady, Casey DeSantis, as well, who is very, very focused on children and mental health issues and is bringing that agenda to our discussions. And, of course, we’ve been including all of that, as you’ll learn from the briefings. But we know how important First Ladies are, so we just wanted to be sure to give a shout out.
(The press is escorted out of the briefing.)
10:52 A.M. EDT