President Joe Biden is traveling to Maui ten days after wildfires devastated Lahaina.
Biden waited several days before publicly commenting on the fires and was, in turn, criticized for not responding to the tragedy. More than 100 people have died as a result of the fire.
The president and First Lady Jill Biden will take a break from their vacation in Lake Tahoe, where they are staying in the home of environmentalist and billionaire investor Tom Steyer, to travel to Hawaii. The Bidens will take a helicopter tour of the charred city before the president delivers a speech.
“I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life,” Biden said in a statement on Aug. 20 ahead of his trip. “I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy. And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”
“From day one we immediately authorized three Fire Management Assistance Grants and as soon as Governor Green requested a Major Disaster Declaration, I signed it,” he said. “My Administration has mobilized a whole-of-government response effort with more than 1,000 federal personnel on the ground in Maui, including nearly 450 search and rescue team members.”
Biden said he and his wife will meet with first responders in Lahina, visit with families impacted by the fires and “witness firsthand what will be required for the community to recover.” The Biden administration has approved approximately $8 million in assistance, including $3 million in rental assistance, for 2,500 households
The wildfire broke out on Aug. 8. The island was experiencing high winds – recorded at times between 45 to 67 mph – as Hurricane Dora approached from the south. Combined with the dry conditions, the National Weather Service had warned of an increased risk of wildfires. A brush fire was reported just after midnight on Aug. 8 and ultimately burned 1,000 acres in Olnda and Kula.
A brush fire was reported just before 7 a.m. in Lahaina, where the Lahanian bypass was forced to close and residents were directed to evacuate. Hundreds of people were reported to be jumping into the ocean off of Front Street to avoid the flames, per Hawaii News Now.
Reporters asked Biden about his plans to travel to Hawaii while the president was riding his bike in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on Aug. 13, to which he responded “We’re looking at it.”
When asked about the death tool – which was over 90 at the time – Biden said, “No comment.”
His statement was widely denounced as inappropriate. While appearing on “The Ingraham Angle,” former Assistant Treasury Secretary Monica Crowley said Biden had shown more sympathy for Ukraine amid its war with Russia than Americans facing tragedy. Crowley compared Biden’s “no comment” remark to his distant reaction to the Norfolk Southern train derailment in Ohio.
“Joe Biden and his family have enriched themselves via Ukraine and that corrupt regime and corrupt players in Ukraine to the tune of tens of billions of dollars,” Crowley said. “So, of course, he’s prioritizing Ukraine over the American people. But this is what you get with ‘America Last’ – President Trump put America first. Joe Biden has America and America’s interests and the American people last.”
Biden amended the Hawaii Disaster Declaration on Aug. 18, increasing the level of federal funding state authorities can use to remove debris and enact emergency protective measures as they mitigate the impact of the wildfires.
“Direct Federal assistance has been increased to 100 percent of the total eligible costs for a continuous 30-day period of the State’s choosing within the first 120 days from the start of the incident period,” said the White House.
According to the White House, the Bidens rented Steyer’s home for fair market value, per Fox Business. Steyer unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020 and founded the green energy project Galvanize Climate Solutions in 2021. The president and first lady were joined by several members of their family in Nevada, including Hunter Biden.