After arriving in Maui via Air Force One on Monday, President Joe Biden boarded a helicopter, taking in from the air the miles of charred remains left behind by the deadliest American fire in a century.

Biden was traveling to the historic coastal town of Lahaina, which experienced some of the worst damage. Authorities have confirmed at least 114 people died in Maui wildfires, and there are still 850 names on the list of missing persons.

Visiting a disaster zone is a presidential ritual that’s both expected and comes with considerable political risk. When President Trump stopped in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria he was slammed for being insensitive when he tossed rolls of paper towels into a crowd. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, President George W. Bush was photographed looking out the window of Air Force One while flying over New Orleans and criticized for not seeing the destruction up close.

Biden has gained a reputation for his empathetic responses to natural disasters, mass shootings and other moments of tragedy. But he has been criticized for not speaking sooner about the devastating fire and not traveling to see the scene earlier. The White House has said that President Biden put off his arrival in Hawaii so he wouldn’t disrupt the ongoing search and recovery operations.

“I wish I had a nickel for every time a president of both parties has been criticized for not rushing to a disaster scene fast enough,” says Larry Sabato, a prominent political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “The other complaint is, ‘Can you believe this guy froze up our roads and monopolized our police and fire trucks when they have important work to do?’”

“So you can’t win,” Sabato says. “You’re either there too early or too late. You either don’t say enough or you say too much.”

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