President Joe Biden received advice from local leaders in Hillsborough Township, as part of his visit to New Jersey to see the impact of Hurricane Ida’s remnants.
Air Force One touched down around 11 a.m. at JFK International Airport, where the president was greeted by Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy before walking the tarmac to Marine One, which took him to his first meeting.
Biden’s first stop was in Manville, where fires broke out in homes and businesses swamped by the storm on Friday. Many of those fires were inaccessible to firefighters because of the floodwaters.
The president is meeting with state and local leaders in Somerset County to discuss their desperate needs before turning his attention to touring one of the areas left in ruins from Ida’s remnants.
Many businesses on North Main Street have been wiped out, with garbage and debris piled high on curbs. Inside, there are signs of the water that rose two to three feet and destroyed anything in its path. Residents face a long rebuild.
Meanwhile, FEMA is on the move in several counties trying to get assistance to the folks who need it most. In Manville, it could take millions just to return life to normal for residents and businesses still working to clean up.
Biden declared that a major disaster exists in New Jersey and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the counties of Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset.
Local officials said he should expand the area covered to include Hudson, Essex, Morris and Union counties.
Republican Senator Tom Kean, Jr. wasted no time before exploiting the situation to boost his prospects against Rep. Tom Malinowski, an ally of the president who defeated the GOP state Senate Minority Leader in a race for Congress last year.
Malinowski could be one of the most vulnerable House Democrats seeking re-election in 2022 and Kean is hoping for a rematch but he faces a primary challenge from Rik Mehta, who was the 2020 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate against Sen. Cory Booker, and Summit hairstylist Robert G. Trugman.
“I’ve been touring Morris and Union counties and meeting with homeowners and business owners who suffered devastating flood damage as a result of Ida,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), Malinowski’s likely opponent. “It’s clear they have the same urgent need for federal support as the six New Jersey counties that have already been declared major disaster areas.”
Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli was left on the sidelines to complain about the timing of what he called Gov. Phil Murphy’s “failed storm response” comparing paperwork in New Jersey with the state of emergency declaration that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued 13 hours earlier.
Biden used the muddy backdrop to call for federal spending to fortify America’s infrastructure so that in the future it can better stand up to powerful storms, with his plan calling for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending nationwide currently pending in Congress.
“I’m hoping to be able to see the things we are going to be able to fix permanently with the bill that we have in for infrastructure,” Biden said as he left the White House, when asked what he hoped to see on the tour.
“What was Governor Murphy and his administration doing during this time?” Ciattarelli asked. “More than two dozen people died, potentially because some of them weren’t aware of the seriousness of the approaching storm. It is incumbent upon the legislature to investigate what happened behind the scenes and why Governor Murphy was so slow to act.”
Republican lieutenant gubernatorial nominee Diane Allen said Murphy failed to learn from his previous storm responses, saying he was underprepared for one 2018 snowstorm and over reacted to the next storm one week later.
“This is not the first time we’ve seen inconsistent and disorganized planning around a storm from this administration,” Allen said.