In Florida, President Biden Will Visit Families of Victims and Missing

Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, are scheduled to meet with families of the victims of the condo collapse in Surfside, Fla.,

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President Biden is set to act as consoler in chief during his visit to Florida.

President Biden is scheduled to fly to Florida on Thursday, a week after a condominium complex in Surfside partially collapsed.
President Biden is scheduled to fly to Florida on Thursday, a week after a condominium complex in Surfside partially collapsed.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
  • July 1, 2021, 4:59 a.m. ET

President Biden will resume his role as consoler in chief on Thursday by traveling to Florida, where workers continue to comb through the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo complex one week after the building partially collapsed, killing at least 18 people and leaving 145 unaccounted for.

In Surfside, Fla., the president will meet directly with family members of those killed or missing in the still unexplained destruction of the residential structure.

For Mr. Biden, who has faced his own personal tragedy — including the deaths of his wife and daughter, and later his grown son — it is a role that is all too familiar. His successful campaign for the presidency was built in part on his ability to display an empathy for those suffering that often eluded former President Donald J. Trump, especially in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed 600,000 American lives.

When space shuttles explode or mines collapse, presidents have often expressed grief, horror and sadness with the cameras running, hoping to help the public grapple with the difficult emotions that flow from tragedy. But Mr. Biden’s task on Thursday may be among the trickier ones in recent memory.

Because rescuers have not publicly given up the possibility that survivors may be found under the rubble, the president cannot simply eulogize the dead. Families are clinging to hope, no matter how slim. And yet, Mr. Biden’s visit is an indication that the efforts at the collapse site are moving to a new, less hopeful phase.

No survivors have been found since last Thursday, shortly after the collapse.

The visit comes just three months after the president traveled to Georgia to express grief for the victims of a mass shooting that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent, amid a spasm of racial violence across the country.

“I know they feel like there’s a black hole in their chest they’re being sucked into, and things will never get better,” Mr. Biden said after a meeting with leaders of Atlanta’s Asian American community. “But our prayers are with you. And I assure you, the one you lost will always be with you, always be with you.”

White House officials declined to say much on Wednesday night about what the president will say in Florida.

After arriving in Surfside in the morning, Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, are scheduled to receive a briefing by Daniella Levine Cava, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and frequent critic of the president.

Mr. Biden will thank emergency workers after the briefing, and then will meet privately with family members for several hours at the St. Regis hotel in Miami Beach. After those closed-door sessions, the president is scheduled to deliver remarks to the nation from the hotel before leaving to return to Washington.

The White House did not say whether Mr. Biden would visit the actual site of the building’s collapse. Earlier in the week, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the president was determined not to let his presence get in the way of the search-and-rescue teams.

For most of the families, the visit will be a high-profile interruption of their desperate vigil as they wait for word from the pile of crushed concrete and bent steel that used to be the homes of their loved ones. For a handful of them, Mr. Biden’s appearance will serve as a kind of grim exclamation point.

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