Karine Jean-Pierre defends Biden after criticism for 'no comment' response to fatal Maui wildfires

U.S. President Joe Biden sits with others on the beach in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on August 13, 2023. | MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre are defending the administration's response to the wildfires in Maui after he caused outcry for responding with “no comment” when asked about the situation over the weekend.

On Sunday, Bloomberg White House Correspondent Justin Sink sent out a tweet indicating that Biden was asked about the death toll from wildfires in Hawaii that have left nearly 100 people dead after “a couple hours on the Rehoboth Beach” in Delaware. Sink noted that Biden responded with a “No comment.” The journalist did not provide a video of the president’s remarks on the matter.

Video footage surfaced Monday, documenting a reporter asking Biden if he had “any comment on the rising death toll in Maui.” As Sink previously reported, Biden answered the question with “No. No comment.” While another reporter encouraged Biden to “come talk about the Hawaii response,” the president got into a vehicle and departed from the vacation destination.

RNC Research amplified the video on social media as criticism of Biden’s remark extended beyond his critics. Chris Cilizza of CNN addressed the video footage by declaring, “Not a great moment for Biden here.” 

Biden published a lengthy thread on Twitter Monday after his “no comment” remark had generated considerable backlash.

“As residents of Hawai’i mourn the loss of life and devastation taking place across their beautiful home, we mourn with them,” he wrote. “Like I’ve said, not only are our prayers with those impacted – but every asset we have will be available to them.”

The remainder of the Twitter thread outlined the Biden administration’s response to the wildfires in Hawaii thus far. He began by noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made temporary sheltering assistance available for “residents who were displaced from their homes by the wildfires, allowing survivors to shelter in hotels or motels temporarily as they develop a long-term housing plan.”

“We’re laser focused on getting aid to survivors, including Critical Needs Assistance: a one-time $700 payment per household offering relief during an unimaginably difficult time,” he added. “We have staff on the ground dedicated to helping survivors navigate the registration process.”

Biden also pointed out how his administration was “translating materials into the most common languages spoken in the islands and working closely with community-led organizations” as part of an effort to ensure that “all residents receive critical information so they can take steps to move forward in their recovery.” He encouraged residents to apply for FEMA assistance at or by using the FEMA app and highlighted the availability of a Family Assistance Center at the Kahului Community Center.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also defended the administration’s handling of the Hawaii wildfires at a press briefing Monday, where she found herself subject to criticism for mispronouncing the names of both of the state’s U.S. senators and referring to one of them by the wrong gender pronoun. Specifically, Jean-Pierre mispronounced the name of Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and communicated to reporters that “he thanked the president for the immediate support of federal agencies” even though Hirono is a woman. 

Additionally, Jean-Pierre repeatedly mispronounced the name of Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, including by calling him “Senator Shorts” before eventually getting the pronunciation right. RRH Elections, which describes itself as a “Republican blog for election news & analysis,” commented on Jean-Pierre’s remarks by pointing out that “Joe Biden won Hawaii by nearly 30 points in 2020 and the state has an all-Dem Congressional delegation.” 

“When Hawaiians are literally dying from a natural disaster, Washington Democrats don’t even know their names.” 

An update posted on the Maui County, Hawaii, website Sunday night reveals that two of the four wildfires that broke out last week are 100% contained, stressing that the phrase “fully contained” does not mean the fire has been extinguished but rather “fully surrounded by a perimeter, inside which it can still burn.” Only one of the four fires, the Pu ‘ukoli ‘i / Kaanapali fire, has been completely extinguished after burning one acre in the course of a day. 

The Lahaina fire, which broke out Tuesday, has been 85% contained and has burned 2,170 acres. The Upcountry/Kula fire, which also broke out Tuesday, is now 60% contained and has burned 678 acres. Maui County reported that “hot spots in gulches and other hard to reach places, along with land divisions and fences, make establishment of complete control lines difficult” while vowing that “air support will be deployed during daylight hours to hit hot spots” during daylight hours Monday.

As of Sunday night, the Maui Police Department has measured the death toll from the wildfires at 96. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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