President Joe Biden declined to respond to inquiries about his forthcoming trip to Maui on Thursday, following previous criticism for not speaking more on the disaster.
When asked by a reporter on the tarmac about the Hawaii trip, Biden replied that he would be there on Tuesday and then ignored the reporter by continuing to walk away.
The White House revealed on Wednesday that he would be visiting the island, which has been ravaged by wildfires, on August 21. His first comments regarding the fires were last Thursday at the beginning of a speech, after which he remained largely quiet before addressing the subject again on Tuesday in a different speech.
On Sunday, Biden seemed to indicate “no comment” concerning the increasing death toll, which CNN reports has reached 111.
He also evaded the press on Monday and Tuesday, even making a joke about having to discuss Hawaii on Tuesday.
President Biden spoke on Tuesday about the catastrophic wildfires in Hawaii, during which he momentarily forgot the name of the island of Maui. He mentioned his preference for speeches under 18 minutes but stated he would make an exception due to the extent of the disastrous wildfires.
He further detailed the assistance being provided, saying, “Almost 500 federal personnel have been deployed to Maui to help communities and survivors get back on their feet. FEMA, search and rescue teams, are sifting through the ashes,” and mentioned that he approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii.
Historically, perceived neglect of natural disasters has led to political fallout for presidents, such as in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent criticism of President George W. Bush.
Biden’s silence on Sunday incited anger among some supporters, including former Hawaii legislator Kaniela Ing.
“I campaigned for you,” Ing declared on Monday. “Now, when I lose dozens of my friends, family, and neighbors. This?”
Further exacerbating the administration’s image issue, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre misstated the names of Democratic U.S.
senators from Hawaii on Monday, referring to Sen. Mazie Hirono as “Harino” and mistakenly using male pronouns for her, as well as fumbling Sen. Brian Schatz’s name, calling him “Senator Schatz.”Shorts, Sharts, Shwots,”