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Biden surveys Ida storm damage in New Jersey, New York — warns of ‘code red’ moment on climate change

“The threat is here, it’s not going to get any better. The question is, can it get worse?” President Biden said in New York on Sept. 7 following Hurricane Ida. (Video: The Washington Post)

NEW YORK — President Biden on Tuesday warned of a "code red" moment on climate change as he toured two northeastern states ravaged by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, while his administration prepared to ask Congress for billions in federal aid to respond to last week's storm and other natural disasters.

Biden, in his second Ida-related visit in less than a week, used his trip to press for robust action to combat climate change and focus attention on his expansive domestic infrastructure agenda in Congress. Predicting that natural disasters will continue to occur with "more frequency and ferocity," Biden said the "nation and the world are in peril" and implored passage of his "Build Back Better" plan, which will be drafted on Capitol Hill this month and is expected to include funding to deal with the warming planet.

In his visits Tuesday, Biden also referenced findings from a Washington Post report that found nearly 1 in 3 Americans live in a county hit by a weather disaster in the past three months — illustrating the expansive reach of the destruction wrought by climate change.

“Folks, the evidence is clear: Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy, and the threat is here. It’s not going to get any better,” Biden said in New York after he toured a street in Queens torn up by Ida. “The question — can it get worse? We can stop it from getting worse.”

Though the damage caused by Ida was the prime focus Tuesday, Biden also highlighted other recent natural devastations such as the wildfires in the West, which have burned millions of acres.

Throughout the day, Biden repeatedly warned that no area of the country was immune from the destructive impact of climate change — saying in Queens that “it’s about time we stop the regional fights.”

“This is not a situation that’s going to go away,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), among the many state and federal officials who accompanied Biden Tuesday. “The way I operate, I’m acting as if this same event could happen again in 10 more days.”

 Before visiting New York, Biden was briefed by officials in northern New Jersey about Ida-related damage in the state. He also toured the Lost Valley neighborhood of Manville, N.J., a small borough bordered by two rivers that have been prone to flooding after major storms, where he shook hands and chatted with residents, and embraced a young child who had handed the president a note.

Asked by reporters about the scope of the flood damage in Manville, Biden said he saw water marks that were as high as the windows of the homes.

“Literally over your head,” Biden noted.

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In tandem with Biden’s trip Tuesday, administration officials said the White House plans to ask Congress for at least $24 billion in additional federal aid to respond to hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and natural disasters dating back to early last year.

Of that preliminary figure, more than $14 billion is needed to assist various states that are still recovering from catastrophic weather events separate from Ida. On Ida specifically, the administration estimated that at least another $10 billion will be necessary, although that number is likely to climb higher as officials continue to survey the damage.

“Given the scale and scope of these natural disasters, everyone must work together to get Americans the help they desperately need,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who also accompanied Biden in Queens.

The administration is asking lawmakers to include those additional dollars in legislation that must pass before the end of September to continue operating the federal government — adding another dilemma this month to a Congress that is already trying to not only craft Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda but to perform the basic functions of government.

In addition to averting a government shutdown, Congress must lift the government’s borrowing limit in the coming weeks to avoid defaulting on federal debt. Republican lawmakers have said they will oppose efforts to raise the limit, blaming the White House’s massive infrastructure and social spending programs even though increasing the debt limit deals with liabilities that have already been incurred, not policies that have yet to be enacted. Democrats have pointed out that much of the borrowing at issue was done during the Trump administration.

Democrats have indicated that they want to handle both government funding and the debt limit in one package this month. Including disaster aid for Ida in that bill — the strategy outlined by the Biden administration Tuesday — could make it more difficult for GOP lawmakers from hard-hit states to oppose the measure.

To that end, a half-dozen House Republicans representing Louisiana, as well as the state’s two GOP senators, wrote to the White House last week, asking for emergency supplemental aid — a package that would be independent of must-pass government funding due by Sept. 30.

Ida, which came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane, killed dozens across the Gulf Coast and in the Northeast, including more than 40 in New Jersey and New York.