President Joe Biden speaks about his intention to visit Hawaii as soon as possible, and federal assistance in dealing with the Hawaii wildfires, while delivering remarks during a visit to Ingeteam Inc.’s Milwaukee facility in Milwaukee on August 15, 2023.
President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden will travel to Hawaii on Monday, the White House announced, as search, rescue and recovery efforts continue following the devastating wildfires there.
“The President and First Lady will travel to Maui on Monday, August 21 to meet with first responders, survivors, as well as federal, state, and local officials, in the wake of deadly wildfires on the island,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
The planned visit comes amid mounting pressure on Biden, who – despite signing a federal disaster declaration last week – had only sparingly referenced the disaster, which has left at least 100 dead. The relative silence did not go unnoticed by Biden’s critics, including former President Donald Trump and other Republicans, and the Biden administration in recent days has been promoting its commitment to helping local authorities recover and rebuild.
The Bidens, Jean-Pierre said, will “see firsthand the impacts of the wildfires and the devastating loss of life and land that has occurred on the island, as well as discuss the next steps in the recovery effort.”
Biden said in Wisconsin on Tuesday that he did not want a presidential visit, which requires a significant security and operational footprint, to interfere with efforts or divert response resources on the ground.
But Hawaii Democratic Gov. Josh Green, Jean-Pierre said, “advised that the search and recovery efforts are expected to be at a stage early next week to allow for a presidential visit.”
The White House is taking care to ensure Biden’s visit to Hawaii will not disrupt recovery efforts on the island, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters Wednesday.
“Our biggest goal was to make sure that we weren’t going to disrupt the ability of our search and rescue teams to continue their operations, and when I was just briefing the president and he spoke with [Green], he asked the governor if this was going to be an appropriate time and the governor agreed,” Criswell told reporters during Wednesday’s White House press briefing.
Biden has stayed in close touch with top officials, including Green, Hawaii’s congressional delegation and Federal Emergency Management Agency leadership.
In a statement Wednesday, Green said Biden’s invitation to visit was extended “in consultation with our experts on the ground who are managing search and recovery operations” and was taking place “at a time when extra presence will not hamper disaster management efforts.”
The White House has also sought to explain in detail the steps the administration is taking to support recovery efforts in Maui, including more than 500 federal personnel on the ground. Along with US Coast Guard and Navy assistance with search and rescue, disaster loans are being made available, the US Department of Agriculture has approved child nutrition and SNAP benefits, and the Department of Defense is helping move supplies across the state, in addition to other steps.
Criswell acknowledged challenges in distributing aid across Maui, telling CNN in an interview Wednesday the administration is focused on ensuring assistance reaching those most affected by the wildfires.
“There are a lot of resources on the island, but we understand that we have to be able to get out into the community and help get that message out there,” Criswell told CNN’s Boris Sanchez. “Now that the bypass road has also opened, we’re going to be able to get our teams into the community to help go door to door, better find people that may have not registered for assistance yet or do need additional support.”
She added, “They are there. We just need to continue to work to make sure that we’re reaching everybody.”
This story has been updated with additional details.