By Maegan Vazquez, Betsy Klein and Kate Sullivan, CNN
President Joe Biden on Tuesday pledged his administration’s full support in Hurricane Ida relief efforts and made his case for using his infrastructure plan to take immediate action to address the effects of the climate crisis.
“My message to everyone grappling with this devastation is: We’re here. We’re not going home til this gets done. I really mean that. We’re not leaving. We’re going to continue to shout as long as it takes to get real progress here, folks,” Biden said after touring damage caused by the hurricane in Queens, New York.
The President continued: “And we have to take some bold action now to tackle the accelerating effects of climate.”
“Folks, the evidence is clear: Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy, and the threat is here. It’s not going to get any better,” Biden said. “The question is, can it get worse? We can stop it from getting worse.”
The President again pitched his sweeping infrastructure plan, which he argues would better protect the nation from future extreme weather events and cut emissions.
“We’ve got to listen to the scientists and the economists, and the national security experts: They all tell us this is code red. The nation and the world are in peril,” the President added. “That’s not hyperbole. That is a fact.”
He continued: “They’ve been warning us the extreme weather would get more extreme over the decade, and we’re living it in real time now. We can look around the wreckage and the ruins and the heartbreak from so many communities to feel it. You don’t understand, you can feel it, you can taste it, you can see it.”
Biden said he believed the recent extreme weather events across the country, including deadly wildfires in the West, were causing even climate skeptics to see “that this really does matter.”
“People are beginning to realize this is much, much bigger than anyone was willing to believe,” Biden said.
The President thanked local leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for their work in mobilizing and coordinating relief efforts. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was working intensely with state and local officials to assess damage and mobilize resources.
The President said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was working with the state of New York to ensure those on Medicare and Medicaid get the emergency care they need.
“They’re going to make sure it’s equitable so that the hardest hit, including lower-income folks, communities of color and the elderly and the most vulnerable get help and get it first. They are the ones in the greatest need,” Biden said.
Earlier in the day, Biden was in New Jersey to receive a briefing on the hurricane damage and described it as “profound.” He called this moment an inflection point for doing something about climate change.
“You really took a hit,” Biden told the local officials of Hurricane Ida, expressing his condolences and thanking first responders for their courage.
After Ida made its way through Louisiana and Mississippi, its remnants — a tropical depression — led to heavy rain, flooding and tornadoes along the northeast.
In addition to the 13 storm-related deaths in Louisiana, there have been at least 50 storm-related deaths in the Northeast, spanning Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Biden has approved disaster declarations for New Jersey and New York.
Of the dozens killed in the East, many died in flooded homes — including many in flooded basements — or while overtaken by water in or outside their vehicles.
The visit marks the President’s second trip in the span of a week to survey damage brought by the storm. On Friday, Biden visited several sites in Louisiana, which included meetings on disaster response and touring neighborhoods ravaged by the hurricane.
After it swept out of the Gulf and into the Northeast, the rains from Ida wreaked havoc. Major interstates across the Northeast flooded. Water rushed into a number of New York City subway stations, and more than 800 subway riders had to be evacuated. As of Monday, nearly half a million businesses and homes in Louisiana remained without power, according to PowerOutage.US.
Biden also made the case for more climate-resilient infrastructure during his visit to Louisiana, pointing to his proposals to Congress.
“Things have changed so drastically in terms of the environment. We’ve already crossed certain thresholds. We can’t build back roads, highways, bridges, anything to what it was before. We gotta build back to what it is now, what’s needed now,” Biden said on Friday. “And I know the heads of the energy companies understand this really well. We have a significant piece of legislation, both the infrastructure bill and a budget thing, a reconciliation bill, that calls for significant investment in being able to deal with what is about to come.”
And state and local leaders are sounding an urgent alarm on climate change and calling for action on infrastructure legislation so states can be better prepared for extreme weather events in the future.
“We haven’t experienced this before, but we should expect it the next time, and that means we have to continue investments in infrastructure, working in partnership with our federal government, and support from (New York Democratic) Senator (Chuck) Schumer and President Biden,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said.
The rainfall from Ida broke a record in New York City that had been set just one week earlier, something Mayor Bill de Blasio said is “the biggest wake-up call we could possibly get.”
The trip to the Northeast also comes as Biden contends with multiple crises, including a worsening Covid-19 pandemic, renewed concerns about America’s economic recovery thanks to the latest jobs report, a potential wrench in his infrastructure and spending proposal, fallout from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Texas’ new abortion restrictions.
This story and its headline have been updated with additional developments on Tuesday.
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CNN’s Jason Hoffman, Madeline Holcombe and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.