EXCLUSIVE: A Hawaii Democrat criticized President Biden’s response to reporters’ question about the deadly fires in his state as “shocking” and “quite disappointing.”
Bloomberg White House correspondent Justin Sink reported Sunday that Biden had nothing to say during his Delaware beach getaway on the rising death toll due to severe wildfires, which reached 96 as of Monday afternoon with hundreds more missing.
“After a couple hours on the Rehoboth beach, @potus was asked about the rising death toll in Hawaii ‘No comment,’ he said before heading home,” Sink reported on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Video footage of the exchange appeared to corroborate Sink’s account.
WHITE HOUSE SAYS BIDEN ‘PRAYING’ FOR HAWAII FAMILIES AFTER GIVING ‘NO COMMENT’ BEFORE
U.S. first lady Jill Biden (L) sits with US President Joe Biden (R) on the beach in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on August 13, 2023. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
The comment sparked a wave of backlash, including by former Hawaii state Rep. Mark Kaniela Ing, a Democrat who now serves as national director of the Green New Deal Network.
“I campaigned for you. Now, when I lose dozens of my friends, family, and neighbors. This?” Kaniela Ing wrote in a now-deleted post.
Kaniela Ing told Fox News Digital in a phone interview Monday that he found Biden’s remark “shocking” and out of character.
“When things like this happen, it’s really the time to — if you do the kind of work I do, when the wave crests, you’ve got to paddle hardest,” he said. “When tragedies like this occur, it’s shocking to see people just conducting business as usual. … On the one hand, you don’t want everyone to be in a perpetual somber mood, but on the other hand, how can you just carry on like that?”
The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP)
“I think everyone deserves some time to take care of themselves, wind down, but, as someone in leadership role, you need to be ready any moment to offer some empathy and solace and comfort to people that are facing a lot of trauma right now,” he said.
Kaniela Ing said he deleted his post because he thought Biden’s exchange with reporters may have been more nuanced than initially reported.
“Whether or not it was as dismissive as originally reported, it is quite disappointing,” he added, adding, “I would expect more.”
“He should be talking about what he’s done and what he will do,” he said. “The talking and offering words of solace and comfort, great. I’m not too hung up on that, to be honest. What I’m looking for is action.”
US President Joe Biden waves as he returns to a car after visiting the beach near his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on August 13, 2023. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Kaniela Ing said his Green New Deal Network wants three things from Biden that it believes he has fallen short on, or else “these disasters are going to keep happening more frequently and more severe.”
“Declare a climate emergency. Deny fossil fuel permits, and invest substantial federal funds to the tune of $1 trillion a year,” he said. “Hawaii came out for Biden in a big way, and I think President Biden and anyone running for president right now needs to address this head on, not just in terms of immediate relief, but in longer term recovery and accountability.”
A wildfire burns in Kihei, Hawaii late Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ty O’Neil)
When reached for comment by Fox News Digital Monday morning, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates explained that the president released a statement on the fires last week and also pointed to “the governor’s positive comments about the federal response on multiple Sunday shows.”
The White House later released a statement that read, “President Biden has mobilized and led a whole-of-government response to the wildfires in Hawaii from the beginning, working closely on it and receiving detailed briefings every day since.”
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“Yesterday he received two updates from FEMA Administrator Criswell while she was on the ground,” the statement continued. “As Governor Green stressed yesterday, within six hours of receiving Hawaii’s request, President Biden signed a Major Disaster Declaration and ordered all available federal resources in the state to help with the response. Governor Green described this as having provided “amazing support for recovery.” Senator Hirono also thanked President Biden for the immediate support federal agencies have delivered for the residents of Hawaii, as has Senator Schatz.”
“Like President Biden said on Thursday, ‘I’ve directed that we surge support to these brave firefighters and first responders and emergency personnel working around the clock […] I’m going to make sure the state has everything it needs from the federal government to recover,’” the White House statement added.