Aug 22, 2023

President Biden Delivers Remarks on the Maui Wildfires Transcript

President Biden Delivers Remarks on the Maui Wildfires Transcript
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President Biden Delivers Remarks on the Maui Wildfires. Read the transcript here.

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Camera Crew (00:00):

Just take two steps back and we’ll do one single one.

President Biden (01:06):

We’re trying to get a beat on that. [inaudible 00:00:56].

Well, hello people of Maui.

Speaker X (01:06):


President Biden (01:10):

You’ve shown such absolute incredible courage and that’s not hyperbole. I want you to know on behalf of the United States of America, of all of the nation, the American people stand with you. Governor Josh Green, you’ve been incredible, from the day we’ve spoken on this, you’ve been way ahead of the curve. Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke, Brian Schatz our Senator, Senator Mazie who… By the way, Mazie, I told my granddaughter whose name is Mazie as well. She said, “That’s why I like her.” Anyway.

Senator Mazie Hirono (01:40):

Thank you.

President Biden (01:41):

But her name is Mazie as well. And Jill Tokuda, Representative Ed Chase and Mayor Rick Bissen. Rick, when we talked on the phone, you look like you played in defensive tackle for, I don’t know who, but somebody good. But at any rate, I want to thank you for your leadership and during this unimaginable tragedy. To my left is the Banyan tree beloved by this community for over 150 years. Here in the former capital of the Kingdom Hawaii that has stood for generations as a sacred spot of exceptional significance. One of the people that took me under his wing when I first got to the senate was Danny Noway. He used to talk about the Kingdom of Hawaii. He came from Japan, but it was amazing to listen to him. Today is burned, but it’s still standing. The trees survive for a reason. I believe it’s a very powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis. And for as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you, the whole country will be with you.

We will be respectful of the sacred gowns and the traditions that rebuild the way the people of Maui want to build, not the way others want to build. We’re going to rebuild the way the people of Maui want to build. But it’s going to be hard. It America’s deadliest wildfire in over a century. And Jill and I walked the front street, what’s left of it. We’ve surveyed the damage from the air as well. The devastation is overwhelming. To date, 114 dead, hundreds of people unaccounted for. I remember when I got the call, my first wife and daughter, I was a young Senator and I got a call in Washington. I hadn’t been sworn in yet. I wasn’t old enough. And I was hiring staff in the capitol at Teddy Kennedy’s office and I got a phone call saying, from my fire department and the young first responder panicking, “You got to come home. There’s been an accident.”

Said, “What happened?” He said, “Your wife, she’s dead. Come home.” The tractor trailer had broadsided her and killed her in a car accident along with my little daughter. And I remember all the way down from Washington home wondering what a lot of people here are wondering, “What about my two boys? How are they? They were in the car.” I never got a read on that. Were they going to be all right? They were badly injured. Were they going to make it? Had they made it? It wasn’t until I walked into the emergency room that I saw that they were there. The difference between knowing somebody’s gone and worrying whether they’re available to come back are two different things. And I remember one of the people who helped me the most was Danny Noway. He helped bring me back. So I know the feeling that, as many of the people in this town, this community, that hollow feeling you have in your chest like you’re being sucked into a black hole, wondering, “Will I ever get by this?”

And it’s one thing to know, but it’s quite another thing to have to wait to wonder whether your family member is going to be okay. Imagine being a parent wondering whether their child is, where it is. I remember as I said. Press reports of grandfathers crying for lost neighbors while trying to be strong for the ones who survived. Of a woman distributing clothing to survivors who says she didn’t lose her home, but she lost her hometown. But I also want all of you to know the country’s grieves with you stands with you and will do everything possible to help you recover, rebuild and respect culture and traditions when the rebuilding takes place. My administration has been in constant contact with the governor and congressional delegation and local leaders. As soon as I got the governor’s request, I signed the master, the major disaster declaration that mobilized the whole of government response, which means whatever you need, you’re going to get.

For example, the Coast Guard Navy immediately supported maritime search and rescue operations while the army helped fire suppression. Here’s what we’ve been doing since. First, we focused on search and rescue, which is still going on. Right now there are over 450 search and rescue experts working round the clock. Second, I’ve identified FEMA’s Administrator Griswell to lean forward as she always has done to help survivors get immediate aid. FEMA is quickly provided five 55,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 beds, 10,000 blankets, working to help remove the debris, repair roads, and restore power. Additionally, my Department of Housing Urban Development is working with the state to make sure survivors can move from emergency shelters into temporary housing to finally have a permanent place to call home as well. Small business administration is making low interest federal disaster loans available to Hawaiian businesses. Many of them we’ve seen here burned to the ground.

Homeowners and renters and nonprofits if you need help, you can visit FEMA’s Disaster Recovery Center at Maui College or go to Today I’m appointing Bob Fenton whose here. Where are you, Bob?

Bob Fenton (07:21):

I’m right here, sir.

President Biden (07:23):

There he is. I’m appointing Bob Fenton as our Chief Federal Response Coordinator for Maui to lead our long-term recovery work. He’s one of the nation’s most experienced disaster response and recovery experts in America. And I’m directing him to make sure the community has everything. Everything the federal government can offer to heal and to rebuild as fast as possible. And we’re focused on what’s next. That’s rebuilding for long-term and doing it together to help get us back on our feet to rebuild the way we want to rebuild by making sure your voices are heard, by respecting your traditions, by understanding the deep history and meaning of this sacred ground and establishing your community. Not to change its character but reestablish it.

We’re also going to bring capabilities to help you rebuild so your critical infrastructure is more resilient in the future. That all this matters. Let me close with this. From stories of grief, we’ve seen so many stories of hope and heroism, of the aloha spirit. Every emergency responder put their lives in line for us to save others, our everyday heroes, neighbors helping neighbors, native Hawaiian leaders offering solace and strength. And this banyan tree, one called it The Diamond In The Rough Of Hope. Another referred to, Fire Cannot Reach Its Roots. What he said, Fire Cannot Reach Its Roots. That’s Maui, that’s America. And to the people of Hawaii, we’re with you for as long as it takes, I promise you. May God bless all those we’ve lost. May God find those who we haven’t determined yet. And may God bless you all. May God protect our troops. Now I’m going to happy to turn this over to the governor. Governor Green.

Governor Josh Green (09:25):

Thank you, Mr. President. Before my formal remarks to brief, I wanted to say that I was deeply moved by the President as he shared with us by phone about his experiences of loss and how Senator Noway helped bring him back. And how as time has passed, he’s back here with us in Hawaii. You could feel a deep, deep commitment to playing that forward and caring for our people. So thank you, Mr. President.

Friends, we’ve been through so much together in recent years. We had three years of the COVID pandemic which left us isolated. We’ve had volcanic eruptions in 2018 and ’22 which ravaged Big Island. And there are scars here in our people’s lives from opioids and homelessness. But none of this has been as tragic as the fire in Lahaina which over these past 13 days has come down on us like a mountain. The amount of loss we’ve experienced in such a short time will be difficult for us to even fathom, but we’ll hold each other up.

Our hearts are broken and we’ll heal. But with the assistance of President Biden, The Federal Government and the love and compassion of resources throughout our state, we know we have the support to lift us up as we find those who are lost. We’ll deal with the tragedy. The President within six hours, six hours met our needs with The Federal Movement. Six hours. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. So it’s our deepest appreciation to you and Dr. Biden. Thank you. The people of Lahaina will need time, we know, to heal, to recover, to grieve. And thank you Mr. President for understanding that and for sharing, as we have shared, that Lahaina belongs to its people and we’re committed to rebuilding the way the people of Lahaina want.

We want to emphasize that, again, this land is for the people of Maui and it’s reserved as they return and rebuild. So we’ve instructed with the wisdom of the President and the wisdom of other first responders and FEMA to reach out to our Attorney General and enhance criminal penalties for those who take advantage of our victims. She’ll share more about that in coming days. Right now, I want to speak to the world, and when I say this, of course, no one can travel to West Maui right now. We will share when that is possible again. Only returning residents and authorized emergency relief workers should come here now, but all of the other areas of Maui, friends, and the rest of Hawaii are safe. They’re open, they’re available.

The mystique and love here, the Aloha is here for you. And the reason I say that is because when you come, you’ll support our local economy and help speed the recovery of the people that are suffering right now, the thousands and thousands of family members that may have had loss, who will still have to care for the others that remain. Briefly to support those who have been affected by the fire, the American Red Cross has stepped up. Please support them. They’re supporting our people. The Hawaii Community Foundation, again, another place you can lean in. We will assure that those resources go to the people that are suffering bring.

Finally, there may never be another time in our state’s history ever when we need to summon the spirit of aloha as deeply as we summon it today. So for the good of everyone who has been impacted, share aloha, thank you for making that a part of what we are. The world is watching and we’ll show them the true strength of our culture, our people, and all that we believe. And as they watch us heal, protect and nurture one another, the world will be reminded why it loves and embraces Hawaii, and we embrace it. Aloha.

Got too emotional. Next, I’m honored to introduce Brian Schatz, a dear friend and our senator.

Brian Schatz (13:53):


Speaker X (13:58):


Brian Schatz (14:01):

Although we wish the circumstances were different, we do want to say mahalo to the President and the First Lady and welcome for making this historic trip in our time of need. We in Hawaii have been through hurricane, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, but we’ve never seen such a robust federal response. Thank you.

Lahaina is one of the most special places on the planet. It was the seat of power for the Hawaiian Kingdom. It was a whaling town, it was a plantation town, and most recently a vibrant, multicultural coastal community. And it was gone in an instant. These fires have completely devastated families and communities, and the loss is unimaginable. We mourn parents, grandparents, and kids, aunties and uncles, friends and neighbors. To the first responders who put their own lives at risk to save others and to everyone on Maui who has been working around the clock to help this community while your own lives have been turned upside down mahalo.

Please know that we are going to do everything we can to get you the help that you need. This is the deadliest natural disaster that Hawaii has ever seen. And as a result, this is the biggest federal response that Hawaii has ever seen. But we will need more support from everyone. The Maui community will pull together and chart its own future. But the scope of this tragedy means that we will need everyone in Hawaii and across the country. The work will continue and we will be there every step of the way. I’d now like to introduce my partner and the United States Senate, Mazie Hirono.

Senator Mazie Hirono (15:52):

Thank you. Mr. President, First Lady, thank you so much for being here to listen to the local people and to see for yourself the devastation that will require a lot of federal resources. Mr. President, you and Vice President Kamala Harris were among the first people to call me in the early days of this growing disaster and the fires that raced through this town consumed practically everything in its path. Lives were lost. Our hearts go out to all of the people who lost loved ones and who lost everything in a matter of minutes. I was at The County Collection Distribution Center earlier this morning in the Sears parking lot. And what this devastation has led to are the people of Maui coming forward to donate their time, their resources, their homes to help their neighbors. And I even saw tourists who were helping volunteering at this center, at this collection facility in the last days of their vacations here because they know that their help would matter.

And of course, the federal family of agencies starting with FEMA. Bob, you have been through many of these disasters. You are person who will help us recover. So all of our family of federal agencies, FEMA, the DO, Department of Defense, Interior, HUD, Army Corps of Engineers, SBA, they were all here from the very beginning to provide the help that we need. And my hope is that Lahaina and Upcountry will rebuild in a way that we will listen to the people here.

And that hope is represented by this banyan tree that stands here. While all around things burn, the Banyan tree stands and it is a symbol of hope. And when I talk with the arborist who is here to make sure that this tree survives, he said that the tree will tell us what it needs, and our job is to listen. And that is our job, to listen to the people of Maui, to listen to the people of Lahaina as we rebuild. Mahalo [foreign language 00:18:10] to all of you who are here and most especially to the President, First Lady. We will rebuild and we will rebuild listening to the voices and the values of the people here. Now I turn to Jill Tokuda, our newest member.

Jill Tokuda (18:33):

Thank you, Senator Hirono. We all stand here and we can feel the intense heat coming down on us. And I can tell you, it breaks my heart to think about just how hot it was here to do the damage that we see, less than two weeks ago, all of our hearts breaking for what has happened here in the loss that we’ve experienced. Mr. President, First Lady Biden, Mahalo not only for your presence here today, but for the love and aloha you have shown our Maui Ohana from the very, very beginning. Your actions from the earliest days of this tragedy, your visit here today demonstrates your commitment and connection with our local community. This is a national disaster, it’ll demand a national response. You being here with us, connecting with our community makes that absolutely clear. The Banyan tree that we stand in front of has become an iconic symbol of our heartbreak and our hope.

The pain we feel as we recall happier times under her branches, our undying hope that under the charred and scarred exterior, there is still life and renewal. And while this tree is a symbol, her roots, our people have been scattered far and wide. And while we go here and we look and we search, we know that so many of her roots, her people still wait here to be found. Others, not often seen, are in places like the beaches of Hanukkah, the homesteads of [foreign language 00:20:07] gathered in shelters and our communities clinging together. I have spent time among her roots, our people spread out across Maui and like the urgent care and attention being given to our beloved Banyan tree, her roots, our people need that same urgent care and attention. They need everything from basic identification and documents, tents and water trailers, mental health care.

We can heal the body, but this, this takes so much longer to recover from something like this. Basic wifi connections, air quality monitoring and testing, especially for many who still live in and around these areas. The needs are great, but so are the struggles of courage. I’ve sat and hugged a wife still looking for her husband till this day. I’ve heard of a child who does not want to leave the ocean because he thinks the fires will burn him. And I’ve seen the fear on the face of a survivor in their eyes because the wind blew too hard and it took her back to that moment. We know some of our most difficult days still lie before us.

It’s going to be long. It’s going to leave us feeling heavy with loss, frustrated, angry that we can’t move faster. But if our roots, our people are to not just survive but thrive. If there is to actually be renewal and life beneath these scars, these burns, then we must all draw, as has been said, on the wisdom of our Kupuna and the lessons that have taught us to live and lead with aloha and lokahi. We must remember that our strength is on our connections to one another, our ability to communicate and care with each other. The challenge we face before us will no doubt test our aloha. But if there’s one thing I know absolutely 110% for sure, aloha always wins. Mahalo. I now bring up Mayor Bissen for some words.

Mayor Bissen (22:12):

Thank you. Mr. President, Dr. Biden, First Lady. Aloha [foreign language 00:22:18].

Speaker X (22:17):


Mayor Bissen (22:20):

We are hurting because so many have lost so much. We are hurting because we know we have changed forever. We are hurting because not only we’ve lost our historical places and our homes, but we’ve lost our loved ones. This is a historical town. There’s much to be learned from this place. Just behind me is the Pioneer Inn here on Maui. My mom worked there for 17 years in the ’70s, in the ’80s, I would spend much time here with her. That courthouse there is the original Lahaina Courthouse.

As a young prosecutor in 1987, I started my career in that courtroom. There’s much memories for all of us and that’s why we hurt because we don’t have those anymore. But what we do have is help, all the help that’s been mentioned by every person standing here, and more importantly, the heroes there facing horror and going after that. And that’s the reason we can move forward. It’s because we have the help, the community has come together. And when I say community, I mean the world’s community. Not just Maui, not just Hawaii, not just the United States of America, but all countries have come forward to help us. We’ve brought that together. So what that leaves us with is hope.

We have hope that we can put this together as we comfort those who have hurt so much and we try to heal. And so again, I’m here on behalf of the people of the county of Maui, Moloka’i, Lanai, to thank every one of you who have given to us, who have donated, who have offered their services, and especially the leaders behind me, who in each of their own ways have also helped us. And I want to just say how responsive the President has been. He called yesterday, asked for the help we needed, we talked a little bit about that, and within two hours, one of his cabinet members called me back to answer my question. So we’ve been getting all the help that we need. Again, because we want to let our people know that there is hope. [foreign language 00:24:37].

Speaker X (24:38):

Thank you.

[inaudible 00:24:41].

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