President Biden, accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden, touched down on the Hawaiian island on Monday, embarking on a tour of the region devastated by a tragic wildfire that has already claimed at least 115 lives, with the grim expectation that the death toll will continue to climb as search and rescue operations persist.
The town of Lahaina, nestled along Maui’s western coast, bore the brunt of the devastation, with reports indicating that over 1,700 structures have been reduced to ashes.
As scrutiny around the mental acuity of the 80-year-old President mounts – he’s also the frontrunner for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination – his visit to Maui has stirred up several questions.
During his time on the island, Biden engaged with local officials and first responders, vowing unwavering federal support “for as long as it takes” to facilitate the island’s recovery from the catastrophic wildfire.
Speaking beneath a 150-year-old banyan tree that bore scars from the inferno, he conveyed, “The nation mourns alongside you, stands in solidarity with you, and will exert every effort to aid your recovery.”
Biden has also faced criticism for reportedly responding with “no comment” when questioned about the Hawaii wildfire while cycling near the Delaware coast.
Reporters inquired about the death toll, and Biden’s response raised eyebrows. Nevertheless, earlier, when queried about halting his cycling to address the ongoing fire, he responded, “We’re looking into it.”
Yet, Biden’s speech was marked by challenges in accurately pronouncing the names of Hawaiian members of Congress and local officials.
For instance, Senator Brian Schatz’s name was mistakenly rendered as “Brian Schantz,” and there was a misstep when attempting to name Hawaiian Democratic representative “Jill… uh… To.. Tokuda.”
Adding to the controversy, Biden suggested that he could empathize with the islanders due to a minor 2004 house fire at his Delaware residence.
He recounted, “I don’t want to draw direct comparisons, but Jill and I have a small sense of what it means to lose a home. Years back, about 15 years ago, I was in Washington appearing on Meet the Press. It was a sunny Sunday.”
“Lightning struck our home, which is near a small lake – more like a pond – and it hit a wire that extended beneath our house into the heating and air conditioning ducts. To cut a long story short, I almost lost my wife, my ’67 Corvette, and our cat.”
However, according to a statement by the Cranston Heights Fire Company in 2022, the fire had been rapidly contained, with their report noting, “In terms of the fire service, this incident could be considered minor as it did not escalate into multiple alarms and did not necessitate a widespread emergency response throughout the county.”