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While in Florida, Biden says federal government will cover 100% of cost of Surfside building collapse and rescue efforts

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

During a visit to Florida one week after the Champlain Towers South condo building collapsed, President Joe Biden pledged to have the federal government cover the full cost of rescue and clean up operations for a limited time.

"I think I have the power — and we'll know shortly — to be able to pick up 100% of the cost for the county and the state for 30 days," Biden said during a briefing on the situation Thursday. "I think I'm quite sure I can do that. And so we're going to do that.

"And there's going to be a lot — you all know it because a lot of you have been through it as well — there's going to be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even a need for psychological help in the days and months that follow," he added.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who sat next to Biden during the briefing, thanked the president for his support.

"You recognized the severity of this tragedy from day one and you've been very supportive," DeSantis said.

President Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with state and the county officials as rescue efforts are underway at the site where a 12-story condominium building collapsed last week. Hours earlier, search and rescue efforts were temporarily halted because of structural concerns with the building ruins. At least 18 people were confirmed dead and 145 are still unaccounted for.

Biden met with a group of about 50 first responders before meeting with Florida officials to discuss the situation.

"What you're doing now is just hard as hell to deal with, even psychologically, to deal with," Biden told them. "And I just wanted to say thank you."

"Until we need you, no one fully appreciates what you do," the president added. "But I promise you — we know. We know. What you're doing here is incredible, having to deal with the uncertainty, and worrying about the families."

State Republican and Democratic officials who were present at the briefing at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort included Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Rick Scott (R), Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D), who represents the Surfside area, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (D).

"We live in a nation where we can cooperate," Biden said, emphasizing the bipartisan response to the disaster and touching DeSantis, a speculated 2024 presidential contender, gently on the arm. "It's really important."

The president promised full federal assistance and cooperation with the state in the wake of the tragedy.

"We're not going anywhere," Biden told the gathered officials. "Tell me what you need."

Earlier Thursday, the White House announced that FEMA had deployed 60 staff and an additional 400 personnel across five search and rescue teams at the request of local officials. The agency also made $20 million available to Florida's Division of Emergency Management to pay for unforeseen emergency expenses regarding the collapse.

DeSantis praised the federal government's cooperation during this emergency, noting that "you guys have not only been supportive at the federal level, but we've had no bureaucracy."

"When we're dealing with FEMA, we're literally getting requests routed from local to state to federal in no time," DeSantis said.

After the briefing, Biden had private meetings with families impacted by the condo collapse. A White House official told the media that the president visited with each family who had relatives in the building and planned to stay until everyone who wished to speak with him had a chance to do so.

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