Joe Biden

Remarks on the Tornado Damage in Central States and an Exchange With Reporters in Wilmington, Delaware

December 11, 2021

The President. Good afternoon, folks. Sorry to get you down here late on a Saturday afternoon, but I want to provide an update on the deadly and devastating tornadoes that moved across several States in the central United States, including touching down across 227 miles of Kentucky alone.

I'm monitoring the situation very closely since early this morning. This is likely to be one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history.

Earlier today I called the Governors of the States that have been—experienced severe impacts of the storms, including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, as well as Tennessee. I also spoke with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Governor Beshear and I started off the morning together, and he said as—I was watching it on television while talking to him, like all of you have, and he—his comment was, "It looks like a war zone, but worse."

Jill and I pray—and I'm—sincerely mean this—pray for those who have lost loved ones and for those who are uncertain of the fate of their loved ones. And the debris that you see scattered all over the hurricane's [tornado's]* path. They lost their homes. They lost their businesses. And it's a tragedy. It's a tragedy. And we still don't know how many lives were lost or the full extent of the damage.

But I want to emphasize what I told all the Governors: The Federal Government will do everything—everything—it can possibly do to help. I've spoken several times today with the head of FEMA and—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—as well as the director of FEMA, who's already been deployed—already deployed emergency response personnel to these States, search-and-rescue teams, water and other supplies. And FEMA is on the ground working with each of the States to assess the damages and focus on Federal support where it is needed most and how we can get there most rapidly.

I also—and apparently, it's just been announced—but I also approved the emergency declaration that was requested a couple of hours ago by Governor Beshear of Kentucky. That's going to accelerate Federal emergency assistance for Kentucky right now, when it's urgently needed. And I stand ready to do the same for the Governors of the other States—and I've made it clear to them—if they request emergency declarations.

I've also requested that FEMA offer additional Federal resources, including help with temporary housing, where homes have been wiped out or too badly damaged to live in. And I also asked FEMA director to let the States know—what they may not be aware of—what they might be entitled to, because they don't necessarily know all that's available from the Federal end.

We're going to continue to see—receive—I, personally, am receiving regular updates. And my staff is continuing to reach out to the mayors, the county officials, and other local leaders in these States affected by the tornadoes. And my heart goes out—I was told that, earlier this morning, that one of the—the equivalent of a county executive—one of the folks in Kentucky was lost in this tornado.

I want folks in all these States to know: We're going to get through this. We're going to get through this together. And the Federal Government is not going to walk away.

This is one of those times when we aren't Democrats or Republicans. Sounds like hyperbole, but it's real. We're all Americans. We stand together as the United States of America. And so I say to all the victims: You're in our prayers, and all those first responders, emergency personnel, and everyone helping their fellow Americans; that this is the right thing to do at the right time, and we're going to get through this.

And I'll be happy to take a question or two, if you have any, about this.

Climate Change/Increase in Severe Weather Events

Q. Mr. President, does this say anything to you about climate change? Is this—or do you conclude that these storms and the intensity has to do with climate change?

The President. Well, all that I know is that the intensity of the weather across the board has some impact as a consequence of the warming of the planet and the climate change.

The specific impact on these specific storms, I can't say at this point. I'm going to be asking the EPA and others to take a look at that. But the fact is that we all know everything is more intense when the climate is warming—everything. And obviously, it has some impact here, but I can't give you a quantitative read on that.

The President's Plans To Travel to Kentucky

Q. Mr. President, do you have any plans to visit any of the affected areas this week? And are you going to ask Congress to——

The President. Yes, I do. I spoke with—I started off this morning with the Governor of Kentucky and offered to—I said, "I'll be happy to come, but I don't want to be in the way." When a President shows up, he shows up with an awful lot of personnel, an awful lot of vehicles, an awful lot of—we can get in the way unintentionally.

And so what I'm working with the Governor of Kentucky and others who may want me to be there is, I made—make sure that we are value added at the time, and we're not going to get in the way of the rescue and recovery. But I will plan—I do plan on going.

Federal Disaster Assistance

Q. And are you going to ask Congress to approve any other disaster relief money for any of these States?

The President. Well, we'll see. Whatever is needed, I'm going to ask for. If we don't already have the wherewithal to take care of it, I'm going to ask for it.

This is the United States of America. Our citizens are badly, badly hurt, and they're scared to death right now in terms of all those folks who they can't figure where they are. "Where's my son, where's my daughter, my husband, my wife, my mom, my dad?" It's devastating.

Yes, you had a question, sir.

Deployment of National Guard to Affected Areas/Response and Recovery Efforts

Q. Mr. President, is there a role for the Federal Government in coordinating direct, on-the-ground response, whether it be directing National Guard or Federal troops that could be helpful?

The President. The answer is yes, if in fact the States conclude they need it. And so the National Guard has been called out in one State, and—but whatever is needed, it's within the authority of the President of the United States and the Federal Government to provide that help. And we're going to provide whatever is needed.

I think we've demonstrated, since we've been elected, that every major national disaster, we have been there early, often, and stayed until we got it finished. And that's what we're going to do here.

But, again, I think—what I've found as I've visited these disaster areas in other circumstances, whether it was the hurricane in Louisiana or the gigantic flooding in the Northeast or the wildfires in the West, is the real anxiety right now; is all those poor people who are wondering: "Where is my loved one? Where are they? Are they going to be okay?" And I don't think it's possible to exaggerate the extent of the fear and the concern.

And we have a lot of people that are going in, doing rescue, running machines—bulldozers, forklifts, and the like. And the way in which I've watched it down in—when the building collapsed in Florida, I watched how it takes a price on—a toll on them. "God, am I going to lift something that's going to move something that's going to affect something?"

And so that's what—I just—my heart aches for those people right now, including the rescuers, including the burden on them and what they worry about. That's what they talked to me about in Florida. That's what they talked to me about afterwards.

And so I just think that we just have to keep at it. We have to keep focused. And this is going to be the focus of my attention until we get this finished.

Natural Disasters/Federal Preparedness Efforts

Q. Mr. President, what's your message to the victims and their families? And can you talk at all about how governments can be better prepared for such disasters in the future?

The President. Well, quite frankly, I think we're as prepared as any government has ever been for dealing with the disasters.

Now, the question is—one of the questions that's going to be raised, I'm confident, is: What warning was there, and was it strong enough, and was it heeded? That's a question that's going to—I assume is going to come—be part of the discussion in the States, as well as nationally.

Because, look—as usual, you ask always the best question. And you asked me about whether or not we were going to be able to—what we're going to do about it, how we're going to handle this. And part of it is acknowledging that the likelihood of fewer weather catastrophes, absent a continued movement on dealing with global warming, it's just not going to happen. Not going to happen.

Like I said, we didn't think—and I think the best example for me has been, and what struck me the most: We always had wildfires, but who in God's name thought we'd see, this calendar year, more territory burned to the ground—every tree, every home, every road—you know, that—larger than the State of New Jersey, from the Hudson River down to Cape May?

So we have to act. But the first and urgent piece here is, we have to save anyone who's still alive. We have to care for them if we can get them to hospitals. And we have to take care of all those families.

The—I mean, look, I know you all—you're all pros asking the questions. Imagine if your home is in the path. What do you go home to? What do you worry about? I mean, everything's gone, from that baptismal photograph to the wedding picture, to the picture of your oldest daughter in a ballet. I mean, it's profound. It's just profound.

And it's—but I promise you: Whatever is needed—whatever is needed—the Federal Government is going to find a way to supply it.

Thank you all so very, very much. Thank you.

Ukraine/President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia

Q. Mr. President, can you take one on foreign policy? What made you decide to take U.S. ground combat troops off the table when it comes to Ukraine?

The President. There never were on the table. And are you ready to send American troops into war and go into Ukraine to fight Russians on the battlefield?

Look, here's the deal: I've made it absolutely clear to President Putin—it's the last thing I'll say—that if he moves on Ukraine, the economic consequences for his economy are going to be devastating—devastating—number one.

Number two, we will find it required that we'll have to send more American and NATO troops into the eastern flank—the B-9 and all those NATO countries where we have a sacred obligation—to defend them against any attack by Russia.

And number three, the impact of all of that on Russia and its attitude—the rest of the world's view of Russia would change markedly. He'll pay a terrible price.

And so it's—and we are going to continue to provide for—and we have and continue to provide for—the defense capacities for the Ukrainian people.

Thank you so much.

Q. What do you intend to say to Senator Manchin?

Q. What do you intend to say to Senator Manchin?

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:15 p.m. at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Asa W. Hutchinson II of Arkansas; Gov. Jay R. "J.B." Pritzker of Illinois; Gov. Andrew G. Beshear of Kentucky; Gov. Michael L. Parson of Missouri; Gov. William B. Lee of Tennessee; and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne B. Criswell. He also referred to the Bucharest Nine (B-9) group of North Atlantic Treaty Organization eastern flank nations.

* White House correction.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on the Tornado Damage in Central States and an Exchange With Reporters in Wilmington, Delaware Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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