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Remarks on the Surfside Residential Building Collapse and an Exchange With Reporters in Miami Beach, Florida

July 01, 2021

The President. Good afternoon, folks. Let me begin by saying that the degree of cooperation between local, State, and Federal officials down here has been remarkable.

I want to thank our FEMA Director for leading this national effort. But Governor DeSantis, Senators Rubio and Scott, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Mayor Cava—Cava—they've been—they've all cooperated in ways that I haven't seen in a long time. And it's really a testament to what's—how difficult things are down here. And it's what, quite frankly, we miss a lot. You know, we all—we've all been working in tandem from the moment we got the news of the collapse of the building.

And I think my colleagues will tell you we cut through the bureaucracy. The one order I gave the Federal folks was: "No bureaucracy. Just cut through it. Get to whatever they need." That's why we've decided to cover, for example, 100 percent of the search-and-rescue costs for the first 30 days. Not done often, but necessary here, in my view.

And FEMA is going to provide temporary housing and other urgent needs for the survivors. The State Department is expediting visas for family members from other countries, and there are from Latin America, South America, Europe, Israel.

And I want to give a special shout-out to the first responders—International Association of Firefighters, one of the best organizations in the country. And I particularly want to thank the president. Ed came down from Boston, and he's here with the entire group.

You know, these folks are—these folks are always showing up, no matter what. They're risking their lives. You know, there's that old expression. I know, the press that travels with me is tired of hearing me saying it, but I'm not tired of saying it. And that is—that old expression—"God made man. Then, he made a few firefighters." They're remarkable, remarkable people. There's always—they're always risking their lives to save lives, as well as the police and other first responders. I got to meet with a whole bunch of them.

And we are able to deploy nearly 500 personnel, including five other search-and-rescue teams on the ground today here because of—our FEMA Director ordered it. I want to compliment FEMA and, I might add, all those folks who are risking their lives to save lives, but also holding out hope that others will be found. Hope springs eternal.

When I talked to those first responders, I pointed out that they're under a great deal of stress and we should take advantage—they should take advantage of the mental health facilities that are going to be available. Because, you know, we talk about our military suffering from posttraumatic stress. Well, seeing what they're seeing and doing what they're doing, understanding how much trauma is involved, they—I just don't want them thinking that they should walk away from help if it's needed. You know, they stand together, and it's really impressive.

And there's also the need, in addition to State and local assistance, to determine the cause of this collapse and the adjacent buildings, how safe they are. There are two outstanding concerns. First, the remaining buildings may collapse—the remainder of the building may collapse. We need to determine if it's safe for first responders to return to the site to continue their rescue mission.

That's being done right now. And that's why I asked the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, to investigate, to see if it's safe to go back and what caused the building to collapse in the first place. Because we're committed not only to recover, but to restore the safety across the board.

But the other reason I came down was to meet with the families. The whole Nation is mourning with these families. They see it every day on television. They're going through hell. And those who survived the collapse, as well as those who are missing loved ones.

I realize I'm a little late because I spent a lot of time with the families—a whole lot of time. And I apologize for taking so long to get here, because I thought it was important to speak to every single person who wanted to speak to me. So, after what you all covered when I opened up the meeting, I spent the remainder of the time, and I—and such incredible people.

I sat with one woman who had just lost her husband and her little baby boy; didn't know what to do. I sat with another family that lost almost the entire family: cousins, brothers, sisters. And to watch them and to—they're praying and pleading that: "God, let there be a miracle. Let them be something happen for me that's good."

Because I have, like many of you do, some idea what it's like to suffer that kind of loss so many of them are suffering. You know, they had basic heart-wrenching questions: "Will I be able to recover the body of my son or daughter, my husband, my cousin, my mom and dad? How can I have closure without being able to bury them if I don't get the body? What do I do?"

Jill and I wanted them to know that we're with them and the country is with them. Our message today is that we're here for you, as one Nation—as one Nation. And that's the message we communicated. We'll be in touch with a lot of these families continuing through this process. But there is much more to be done. We're ready to do it.

And again, I thank the Governor, I thank my colleagues, my—Senator Scott and Senator Rubio, I thank Debbie Wasserman Schultz for their total, complete cooperation. There's no—there's no disagreement, no bickering. Everybody is on the same team. It's what America is all about. It's about pulling together, leaving nobody behind. And that's what made me feel—the one thing that made me feel good about this is the—is a cohesion that exists. There's no Democrat or Republican out there; they're just people wanting to do the right thing for their fellow Americans.

So may God bless the victims and their families, and may God protect our first responders.

And I'll take a couple questions right now.

Search-and-Rescue Efforts at the Champlain Towers South Condominium Building in Surfside, Florida

Q. Mr. President, what were you told today about the likelihood—you said, "Hope springs eternal"—but that somebody will be able to be pulled out alive from this? And what were you able to convey to the families about that possibility?

The President. Well, look, first of all, the families are very realistic. They know the longer it goes—and one of the things that the local FEMA personnel as well as the local first responders did is, they took all of the families to the site to see: to see what it looked like up close. And they're all realists. They all look, and they see those floors just literally feet—cement upon cement upon cement.

You know, I—when I talked to some of the families, some of the people who did escape, survived, got out, they talked about watching the building collapse and watching as they were in the garage—one floor come down—literally a whole floor on top of another floor. They know that the chances are, as each day goes by, diminished slightly.

But at a minimum—at a minimum—they want to recover the bodies. They want to recover the bodies. There's a lot of very religious people who are in there. Members of the—the rabbis in the Jewish community were talking about the need to make sure that they recover the body and be able to bury them. Give them—and you know, the—anyway.

So I think they're very realistic, Mike [Mike Memoli, NBC News]. But I don't think that that, in any way, suggests that it's too—that we should stop. I think that we should move on, continue to try to recover the bodies.

In the meantime, that's why NIST and others are determining whether or not it's safe to send the first responders back. When they'd asked me about this, I'd point out that the last thing they would want and we would want is, in the process of trying to recover—and the possibility—there's still a possibility someone could be alive, someone could still be breathing, someone could be there—that the last thing you want to have happen is have that building collapse and kill 10, 20, 30, 50 firefighters or wound them, or first responders.

So—but Mike, they're—you know, they're realistic. I—it just brought back so many—so many memories. It's bad enough—it's bad enough—to lose somebody. But the hard part—the really hard part—is to not know whether they're surviving or not, just not have any idea.

When the accident took my wife and my family, the hardest part was: Were my boys going to get out? Are they going to make it? And not knowing. Not knowing, when you're flying home from Washington to get the news. You know, you just don't know. So it's—but I was amazed—as you know, unfortunately, I've done a lot of these circumstances where I've met with families who have had great loss. And what amazed me about this group of people was the resilience and their absolute commitment, their willingness to do whatever it took to find—to find an answer. I walked away impressed by their strength.

And—and Nancy [Nancy Cook], Bloomberg, do you have a question?

Q. Yes——

The President. I was told.

Collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condominium Building in Surfside, Florida/Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels

Q. Oh, thank you. Yes. What did you learn, if anything, about the collapse of the building? Is there anything more you learned from investigators or the FEMA Administrators today?

The President. No, it's underway. I don't—and the Director of FEMA is with me here. We don't have any firm proof of what's happened. There's all kinds of rational speculation about whether or not the rebars are—were rusted; whether or not the cement—whether it was limestone or not; whether or not—but a lot of the families who survived talked about how upset they were that, in the last years that they've been here, how there was one condominium complex built across the street, and a road was purchased. And while they were living there, they would hear the drilling, and they'd feel their building moving and shaking.

There are all kinds of discussions about whether or not they thought that water level rising—what impact it had. And interesting to me—I didn't raise it—but how many of the survivors and how many of the families talked about the impact of global warming. How much—and they didn't know exactly, but they talked about sea levels rising and about how there were—and—and the combination of that and the concern about incoming storms—incoming tropical storms.

And so—but I don't think there is, at this point, any definitive judgment as to why it collapsed and what can be done to prevent it from happening and what other buildings may have to be inspected to determine if they have the same problems.

I'm supposed to head out and catch up with the Governor. So I want to thank you all for taking the time.

Manhattan District Attorney's Investigation of the Trump Organization/Supreme Court Decision Upholding Arizona State Voting Restrictions/Voting Rights Protections

Q. Mr. President, can we ask you about two matters away from where we are now? The first is: While you've been speaking, a top associate of the former President has been in a New York court, pleading not guilty to various financial charges. Do you have a reaction to that?

And secondarily, if I can, does the Supreme Court's ruling today on an important voting rights decision add to the sense of urgency you feel about pursuing voting rights legislation at this time?

The President. I know nothing about the first circumstance because I've been gone. I don't have any idea, so I'm not going to comment on that. And even if I did, I wouldn't comment on an ongoing case if it's an ongoing case.

With regard to the second point: I think I did get a summary on the way down on the plane of the Supreme Court decision. It is mildly positive, in the sense that there's a remedy available based on the particular voting decision.

I think that it is critical that we make a distinction between voter suppression and suspension. The ability of a State legislative body to come along and vote—their legislature—vote to change who is declared the winner, I find to be somewhat astounding.

But the Supreme Court rule did not rule that way today, to the best of my knowledge. And—but I'll have much more to say about that, because I plan on speaking extensively on voting rights and—as well as going on the road on this issue.

So thank you all very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:29 p.m. at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort. In his remarks, he referred to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne B. Criswell; Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County, FL; and Edward Kelly, president, International Association of Firefighters.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on the Surfside Residential Building Collapse and an Exchange With Reporters in Miami Beach, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/350655

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