The White House said Friday that President Biden didn’t hear the question that prompted a highly criticized “no comment” when he was asked earlier this month about the rising death toll from the fires in Maui.

“He didn’t hear the question. He absolutely didn’t say ‘no comment’ in relation to Maui,” principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said in a statement. 

Dalton added that, at that point, Biden had spoken about the federal response to the wildfires days before, part of remarks marking the first anniversary of the PACT Act.

“And in fact, he had already spoken to the nation about Maui at that point, in addition to being in daily contact with senior staff, FEMA, and state officials as he marshalled a whole-of-government response to the fires,” she said.

Biden responded “no comment” on Aug. 13 after he visited the beach while on vacation in Rehoboth, Del. Earlier that day, during a bike ride, he replied, “We’re looking at it,” when asked about whether he would go to Maui. The White House had blown off criticism at the time over Biden being on vacation and his responses.

Republicans pounced on the reply, with former President Trump saying Biden gave it “with a laugh and a smile.”

“To say no comment is oftentimes fine, but to be smiling when you say it, especially again such a tragedy as this, is absolutely horrible and unacceptable,” Trump, the leading 2024 GOP White House candidate, said in a video statement. “It is a disgraceful thing that Joe Biden refuses to help or comment on the tragedy in Maui, just as he refused to help or comment on the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, for a very, very long time.”

Biden on Monday visited Maui, where he mourned the loss of life and devastation and vowed to provide aid to rebuild. The president and first lady traveled to Maui from Lake Tahoe, Nev., where they were vacationing this week, to tour damage, meet with local officials and first responders and offer support for the community.

—Updated at 2:30 p.m.