President Joe Biden drew criticism after tried to empathise with survivors of the Maui wildfires on Monday by sharing his own story of overcoming a small house fire where, luckily, nobody was hurt and nothing of considerable value was lost.
At the Lahaina Civic Center, Mr Biden addressed a crowd of residents who are still reeling from a raging wildfire that spread across their community on 8 August – causing at least 115 people to die and 80 per cent of the town’s structures to be damaged or destroyed.
“I don’t want to compare difficulties, but we have a little sense, Jill and I, what it’s like to lose a home,” Mr Biden told the crowd.
The president went on to share a story from 2004 when lightning struck a wire that ran underneath his home and caused a “small fire that was contained to the kitchen” according to an Associated Press report.
“To make a long story short, I almost lost my wife, my ‘67 Corvette and my cat,” Mr Biden said.
The president then clarified he was “kidding” and praised firefighters for their brave work to save his family during the 2004 kitchen fire.
“We were insured, we did not have any problem, but being out of our home for a better part of a year was difficult. I can only imagine what it’s like to lose your home completely. Burned to the ground. And more importantly, all the things that matter to you,” Mr Biden continued.
The president’s comments came as he met survivors and local officials as well as surveying the devastation caused by the fire.
The president’s remarks caused several conservative commentators, such as Jenna Ellis, Jesse Watters, Sean Hannity and Will Cain, to criticise Mr Biden for his remarks, with Mr Watters calling the story “disgraceful”.
And on Twitter Ms Ellis wrote: “I’m sure the people in Maui whose loved ones burned to death are so comforted learning Biden didn’t lose his corvette or his cat in a small kitchen fire.”
President Biden in Maui on Monday night relayed a story of a kitchen fire sparked by a lightning strike in 2004:
"I don't want to compare difficulties, but we have a little sense, Jill and I ... Make a long story short, I almost lost my wife, my '67 Corvette, and my cat." pic.twitter.com/XlKJkVMOit
— The Recount (@therecount) August 22, 2023
It is the latest in a series of criticisms from Republicans who believe Mr Biden’s public response to the fires was lacking.
Shortly after the fires broke out last week, Mr Biden issued a “major disaster” classification that allowed Hawaii to utilise federal resources in the recovery and rebuilding efforts.
However, when questioned by reporters about his feelings toward the victims of the wildfires, Mr Biden gave a brief “no comment” while vacationing in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
But both Mr Biden and his administration have maintained that they are using every federal resource available to help Maui.
Following his kitchen blaze comments, Mr Biden said the federal government is focused on rebuilding their community “the way the people of Maui want to rebuild,” including by respecting traditions and understanding the history and culture of Native Hawaiians.
“We’re with you for as long as it takes, I promise you,” Mr Biden said.