President Biden spoke on Tuesday about the catastrophic wildfires in Hawaii, during which he momentarily forgot the name of the island of Maui. He mentioned his preference for speeches under 18 minutes but stated he would make an exception due to the extent of the disastrous wildfires.
The president, now 80, addressed the most fatal wildfire in the U.S. in over a century, following criticism for spending time on the beach on Sunday and avoiding reporters’ questions about the fires.
While speaking in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Biden seemed to struggle to remember the name of Maui, referring to it as “the one where you see on television all of the time.”
Biden apologized to the crowd, saying he needed to keep his speeches to 18 minutes or less.
He outlined the federal government’s response to the disaster, including a one-time $700 grant from FEMA to wildfire victims. The fires have so far claimed at least 99 lives.
In the immediate aftermath, the Navy and Coast Guard supported searches and rescue operation efforts on the Big Island. However, he confused it with Maui at one point in his speech.
Biden also expressed his intention to visit Maui to assess the damage, though he has not yet set a date for the trip.
Historically, perceived neglect of natural disasters has led to political fallout for presidents, such as in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent criticism of President George W. Bush.
Biden’s silence on Sunday incited anger among some supporters, including former Hawaii legislator Kaniela Ing.
“I campaigned for you,” Ing declared on Monday. “Now, when I lose dozens of my friends, family, and neighbors. This?”
Further exacerbating the administration’s image issue, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre misstated the names of Democratic U.S. senators from Hawaii on Monday, referring to Sen. Mazie Hirono as “Harino” and mistakenly using male pronouns for her, as well as fumbling Sen. Brian Schatz’s name, calling him “Senator Schatz.”Shorts, Sharts, Shwots,”