Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

Trump holds rally, amid debris, in Florida’s Panhandle

It’s believed the more than 200 days since Hurricane Michael struck is the longest a modern Congress has taken to deliver aid after a storm. That makes Panama City Beach an unusual setting for Wednesday’s political rally.
President Donald Trump speaks as he tours areas of Tyndall Air Force Base that were damaged by Hurricane Michael, Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Listening in a suit with a blue tie is Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks as he tours areas of Tyndall Air Force Base that were damaged by Hurricane Michael, Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Listening in a suit with a blue tie is Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Published May 9, 2019
Updated May 9, 2019

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Denise Miller is a family nurse practitioner who, the way she sees it, is working harder than the government since Hurricane Michael ravaged this Panhandle community in October.

“It makes me feel good to come to work and help people in my community,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of homeless, people living in damaged houses with black mold sinus infections … I’m seeing this. I’m treating this. It’s deplorable.”

She’s never been a fan of President Donald Trump herself, she said. But as Hurricane Michael relief has lagged for more than 200 days, even her pro-Trump family members are becoming disillusioned, said Miller, 55.

“They’re absolutely shocked we haven’t seen the assistance we need,” she said.

Yet after Trump flew into Panama City Beach on a massive helicopter, Marine One, several thousand sign-waving, red-capped fans filled an outdoor amphitheater. Before he took the stage Wednesday in the fading evening light, the crowd chanted, “Four more years!”

Trump immediately started talking about disaster funding when he took the stage, announcing $448 million in additional federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Michael recovery, as well as 90 percent federal cost share for hurricane costs.

“No games, no gimmicks, no delays, we’re just doing it,” Trump said of the funding, before complaining that Democrats were stalling the disaster funding over Puerto Rico’s insatiable needs for more and more money. “We’re not going to let anybody hold it up … With Florida you drive on. With Puerto Rico it’s a little tougher.”

Earlier Wednesday, Trump was embraced by a contingent of Florida VIPs: Republican U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state elected officials as he arrived at Tyndall Air Force Base. The base was severely affected by the Category 5 hurricane. Almost every building appeared damaged in some way, including a collapsed hangar.

The White House said almost all 700 structures on the base were damaged, roughly one-third were destroyed, and 11,000 base personnel were evacuated.

Trump’s opposition to more hurricane aid for Puerto Rico has sparked a standoff with congressional Democrats that is blocking assistance to the island and elsewhere, including the Florida Panhandle.

After touring the base, Trump promised officials that it will be rebuilt “better than ever.”

Area officials said Panhandle communities that were in the storm’s bullseye— Panama City, Mexico Beach and surrounding Bay County — had received about $1.1 billion in federal aid through mid-April. Mountains of debris have been removed, traffic lights work again and countless homes and businesses have been repaired.

But there’s still much left to do. The Florida Panhandle, known for its uncrowded white sand beaches and sweet oysters, is slowly gaining new dimensions to its identity. School buses still have blue tarps on them, waiting to be fixed. A leather armchair lies, overturned, in a field, as other mounds of metal debris begin to rust.

At least 100 identical plastic yard signs reading “Pres. Trump Help Tyndall Now,” lined the road from Panama City to neighboring Panama City Beach.

At the rally, DeSantis spoke before Trump took the stage, saying he had asked Trump to make this visit. DeSantis also said he successfully lobbied Trump to keep the air force base open after “people in the bureaucracy said, ‘just shut it down.’”

“He didn’t flinch, he didn’t wring his hands. He said, ‘You go tell those folks we’re going to rebuild Tyndall,’” DeSantis said. “I think he’s already done more for any community on the heels of one of these hurricanes.”

DeSantis then accused Democrats of “playing games” with the disaster funding.

It’s believed this is the longest a modern Congress has taken to deliver aid after a storm. In contrast, relief funding after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston on Aug. 17, 2017, was passed two weeks later. Hurricane Michael hit Florida’s panhandle on Oct. 10, when Republicans held control of Congress. Democrats took control of the House on Jan. 3.

The most recent $17.2 billion supplemental aid package proposed by House Democrats would provide $600 million in food assistance and at least $500 million in other help for Puerto Rico plus relief to the Panhandle and victims of California wildfires, Hurricane Florence and the recent flooding in the Midwest.

Miller was in her turquoise scrubs at the Bay County Public Library on Wednesday, a place that started as an emergency staging area shortly after Michael hit and has since become a processing area for more than a hundred local charities.

Robert and Jean Clark were among those seeking help after their mobile home in neighboring Panama City was completely obliterated by Michael. The metal roof was ripped off “like a can of sardines,” they said, and Jean has been having chest pains from the post-disaster stress.

But they don’t think Trump bears blame for the lack of federal disaster funds.

“It’s the federal government. I was part of it for 24 years in the Navy,” Robert said. “There’s too much politics, and not enough ‘let’s do something.’”

They credit Trump with doing his best in the Washington swamp. They say the economic boom has made it easier for them to help themselves recover while they await more aid in their Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer.

“It’s the Democrats that are using this as a ploy. They’re holding it up because they want him to give up the wall in order for there to be any money to come,” Jean said. “He’s not the politician. He’s a businessman.”

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on Tuesday, the first day of the annual session. The same day, the advocacy group Equality Florida denounced four bills filed by Republican lawmakers, calling them “the most overtly anti-LGBTQ agenda from the Florida legislature in recent memory.” [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Most of the bills try to eliminate local ordinances, and Republicans say they’ve been unfairly labeled.
  2. Attorney Joseph Bondy tweeted this photo of his client, Lev Parnas (right) with former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi on Friday, Jan. 17. Bondi on Friday was named on of President Donald Trump's impeachment lawyers. [Twitter]
    Parnas’ lawyer tweeted out the photo of the former Florida attorney general along with #TheyAllKnew.
  3. Florida Senator Rob Bradley, R- Fleming Island, watches the action on the first day of the session, 1/14/2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    A popular bill would allow judges to dole out punishments less than the mandatory minimum sentences spelled out in state law for many drug crimes if the defendant meets certain criteria.
  4. Vice President Mike Pence take selfies with supporters after giving a campaign speech during the "Keep America Great" rally at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, January 16, 2020.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    ‘Come November the American people are going to have our say,’ Pence said.
  5. Rep. Stan McClain, an Ocala Republican, presents a bill that would allow Florida public colleges and universities to sponsor charter schools, during a January 2020 meeting of the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    Alternative authorizers have been found unconstitutional in the past. But that isn’t stopping the effort.
  6. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, members of the Florida Cabinet, left, and the Florida Supreme Court, right, stand at attention as the colors are posted in the Florida Senate during the first day of the Florida legislative session in Tallahassee, Tuesday, January 14, 2020.  [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The court ruled that Amendment 4‘s “all terms of sentence” include the payment of all court fees, fines and restitution.
  7. Thousands rallied and marched from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Thousands of school workers from around the state thronged Florida's Capitol on Monday to press Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature to more than double the nearly $1 billion the governor is proposing for teacher raises and bonuses.  (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP) [TORI LYNN SCHNEIDER  |  AP]
    The PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee cutting exercise would come in nearly 25 percent below Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal.
  8. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,, center, speaks as fellow candidates businessman Tom Steyer, from left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. listen, Tuesday during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
    The candidates’ proposals reveal differences in how they plan to approach the issue.
  9. Vice President Mike Pence points to supporters before speaking during a campaign rally at the Huntington Center, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) [TONY DEJAK  |  AP]
    Vice President Mike Pence will take the stage in New Tampa, at the Venetian Event Center at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, at 1:30 p.m. It wasn’t planned that way.
  10. <Samsung D70 / D75 / S730 / S750>
    For the first time since he was nominated by Gov. Ron DeSantis for the job of Florida Surgeon General, Scott Rivkees appeared before senators to answer questions that have been percolating for nine...
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement