Amid mounting evidence of the devastation of wildfires in Maui, the White House on Tuesday gave the first public indication that President Biden will visit Hawaii.
White House deputy chief press secretary Olivia Dalton has confirmed officials are considering an in-person trip, after Biden took heat for his terse ‘no comment’ on Hawaii even as the scale of the tragedy loomed.
The president was staying at his Delaware beach house at the time.
“We are currently having active conversations about when a visit to Hawaii might be possible,” Dalton told reporters traveling on Air Force One en route to Wisconsin.
President Joe Biden is considering a trip to visit the devastation in Hawaii, the White House said Tuesday, days after declining to comment on the devastation.
Dozens of people clung to the Lahaina shoreline as wildfires tore through the town last week
“As the president said, we will be on Maui as long as it takes to provide everything they need,” she added.
As Dalton faced the press, Biden was calling Hawaii officials from the presidential plane.
He called FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Hawaii Governor Josh Green of AF1 while en route to Milwaukee, according to the White House. Biden previously called out Green, a Democrat, on Friday.
His comments come as Biden prepares to vacation in Lake Tahoe after meetings at Camp David on Friday.
The grim news about the impact of the fires has been constant. Parts of historic Lahaina, where 19th-century buildings housed antiques and tourist surf schools, were all but wiped out.
Dalton’s comments, made in a ‘gag’ with traveling reporters in flight, came a day after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was grilled in the briefing room from the White House to explain why Biden had not addressed the issue in detail or announced a trip.
The president visited other devastation, including deadly wildfires in California and the aftermath of hurricanes in Louisiana.
“You can expect to hear from the president on this issue,” was all Jean-Pierre would allow.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton, seen here in June, made the comments aboard Air Force One
Hawaii’s governor has warned that the death toll is likely to rise as search teams search street by street through neighborhoods where the blazes have caused widespread destruction.
Biden was vacationing in Rehoboth Beach for a week earlier this month. He is heading to Nevada for another vacation on Friday after hosting a summit at Camp David with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, with plans to travel to Lake Tahoe.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the devastation caused by the fire was “something the president is clearly deeply concerned about”
She cited her comments from Thursday on the matter.
‘But let’s not forget that we heard him on Thursday, just when he was in Utah before talking about the PACT law, which as you know marked the anniversary of an extremely important issue for many Americans. And he took that time to talk to her. So I’m sure you’ll hear from the president,’ she said in a comment that didn’t preclude further questions.
She said the devastation caused by the fire was “something the president is clearly deeply concerned about.”
With more than 3,000 Hawaiians registered with FEMA for assistance, the Biden administration is seeking an additional $12 billion for the government’s disaster relief fund as part of its request for additional funding from Congress.
“Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii, but not just our prayers — every asset we have will be at their disposal,” Biden said last week in Utah, in comments mentioned by Jean-Pierre. “They saw their homes, their businesses destroyed and some lost loved ones. And it’s not finished yet.
On a bike ride on the beach on Sunday, when asked about a visit, Biden told reporters, “We’re looking at it.”
Former President Donald Trump, who endured criticism for throwing paper towel rolls at residents while viewing the impact of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2018, was among the Republicans who criticized Biden for stepping back amid the pain.
He released a campaign video about his rival on Monday, the same day Trump would face indictment in Fulton County, Georgia, on racketeering allegations.
“Saying no comment is often fine, but smiling when you say it, especially in the face of a tragedy like this, is absolutely horrific and unacceptable,” Trump said.