- Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo Ramirez says Biden to bring “unity” to community.
- Biden to help families grieve and give comfort, presidential expert Barbara Perry said.
- Biden will meet with first responders and families ““who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy.”
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will reprise his role as comforter-in-chief Thursday as he heads to a south Florida community reeling from the collapse of a condo building that left 18 people dead and scores missing.
Biden, who is en route to Surfside, Florida, a week after a 12-story condo building collapsed, has throughout his presidency emphasized empathy and his own story of loss. That will likely be front and center during his visit, as local officials hope to put politics aside.
“I think that the president coming will bring some unity here for our community,” Miami-Dade Police Department Director Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez said at a news conference Wednesday. He added that it will bring support to the families to have “our governor, our mayor, all of us together.”
“It’s a great message for the family,” he said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday the president and first lady Jill Biden will meet with first responders and families “who have been forced to endure this terrible tragedy.”
In a statement late Wednesday, the White House said the president will receive a group briefing Thursday morning from Incident Commander Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Gov. Ron DeSantis, local leaders, and first responders in Surfside.
It’s unclear whether the president will visit the site of the collapse. Psaki said the White House does not want to take resources away from the search and rescue mission.
Biden’s personal tragedies
Throughout the campaign trail and into his presidency, Biden has often shared his personal tragedies with America, which is in a pandemic that has left more than 600,000 dead. In 1972, Neilia Hunter Biden, Biden’s wife, and 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident. Beau, Biden’s oldest son, died of brain cancer in 2015.
Biden has often used his story to empathize with those who have lost friends and family members throughout the pandemic. In April, the president visited Atlanta just days after a shooting rampage left eight dead, six of whom were women of Asian descent. While Biden at the time used the moment to condemn racism against Asian Americans, which has been on the rise amid the Covid-19 pandemic, he also gave advice to families who were grieving.
“The day will come when their memory brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye, as unbelievable as that is now,” he said in Atlanta in April. “It will take a while, but I promise you it will come, and when it does, that’s the day you know you’re going to make it.”
Barbara A. Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, said that presidents visiting the site of a tragedy often feels like a “member of our family” who is “coming to us to help us grieve and to give us comfort.”
Perry noted that Biden’s own biography has shown Americans that “there is empathy in him because of what he suffered.”
The Biden administration has sent resources to the state following the deadly collapse.
Last week, Biden declared a federal emergency in Florida that authorized federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
‘Getting to the bottom of it’
Psaki said Monday that the president believes the reasons for the collapse must be investigated.
“Certainly we want to play any constructive role we can play with federal resources in getting to the bottom of it and preventing it from happening in the future,” she said.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology sent a team of scientists and engineers to gather information that will be used to determine if a full investigation will be conducted, Psaki said Tuesday.
‘Significantly worse’:Doomed Miami condo’s concrete deterioration was accelerating in April, condo letter says
More than 50 federal personnel are on the ground, including building science experts, structural engineers and geotechnical experts, according to Psaki.
Although Biden has been promoting a $973 billion bipartisan infrastructure package, it will likely not be brought up during Biden’s visit to Surfside. The president will likely avoid making the event political as he focuses on the grief of the family.
“It would be inappropriate to use this as an example of why the infrastructure bill needs to pass,” Perry said. “You don’t go to the memorial service where people have lost their loved ones and make a political pitch that that’s just not appropriate.”
Contributing: Maureen Groppe
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_