- George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
President Donald Trump told Floridians reeling from Hurricane Irma he’s “there for you 100 percent” during a Thursday visit to a corner of the state where more than three-fifths of homes and businesses remained without power four days after the storm.
Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spent a little more than three hours in Southwest Florida, stopping in Fort Myers and Naples.
“We love these people … We are there for you 100 percent. I’ll be back numerous times,” the president, wearing a windbreaker and white U.S.A. baseball cap, said during a stop at a mobile home community in Naples.
Shortly after landing at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, the president thanked first responders and FEMA for their work and shook hands with Florida Power & Light President and CEO Eric Silagy, commending him for a “great job” of restoring power “way ahead of schedule.”
About 28 percent of FP&L’s 4.9 million customers were without power at noon Thursday, down from 58 percent on Monday morning immediately after the storm, according to figures from Gov. Rick Scott’s office. Statewide, 24 percent of Florida homes and businesses — more than 2.5 million customers — lacked power at noon Thursday, down from 62 percent on Monday.
Outages were 22 percent in Palm Beach County on Thursday, down from an initial 54 percent. But lack of power remains a significant problem in the part of the state Trump visited. In Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, 61 percent of customers lacked power at noon Thursday. In Collier County, which includes Naples, 66 percent of customers were without power.
Trump’s visit was an official one, but he took a little time for politics. As he did during his last visit to the state in June, Trump publicly encouraged Scott to run for U.S. Senate next year against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
“The job he’s done is incredible,” Trump said of Scott’s handling of Hurricane Irma.
Scott faces term limits as governor next year and is expected to challenge Nelson, but has not opened a campaign.
“I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate. I don’t know what he’s going to do but I know that at a certain point it ends for you and we can’t let it end. So I hope he runs for Senate,” Trump said.
Scott, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, were among the officials joining Trump at the airport.
Nelson, meanwhile, was in the North Florida town of Archer, where he handed out sandwiches and viewed the destruction there, including the rising Santa Fe River. Regarding Trump’s comments about Scott at the Fort Myers event, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Nelson said: “this is not time 4 partisan politics. This is time to get out & help.”
In Naples, the president and first lady were joined by Pence, Scott, Rubio and Energy Secretary Rick Perry at a tent where residents could get hoagies, bananas and bottled water.
Beneath a large American flag, the crowd cheered and Trump pumped his fist.
According to a media pool report, Trump stood behind a silver tin of hoagies, cut in half and wrapped in cellophane. Trump put on thin white plastic gloves to serve the sandwiches, but the right glove ripped along his thumb, exposing skin. Trump began shaking hands and pointing at the hoagies, encouraging residents to take them.
“Don’t forget to take one!” the president said. “Here’s a nice one!…Don’t forget a sandwich.”
A muscular man in a red polo shirt approached Trump. “You a workout guy?” Trump asked. “Keep it up.”
Another man in a Trump T-shirt and hat shook his hand and Trump told him to turn around to photographers. The president was smiling as the man yelled, “Make America great again!”
A woman holding a small dog shook hands with the president.
“Are you a biker?” Trump asked. “The bikers love us.” He slapped her on the shoulder with a broad grin.
“Best vote of your life?” Trump asked.
Trump, who carried Florida with 49 percent of the vote in November, got 61.1 percent in Collier County and 58.7 percent in Lee County.