DeSantis returns to his comfort zone

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — In his first press conference since dropping out of the 2024 race, Gov. Ron DeSantis railed against chaos at the southern border and at sanctuary cities, Covid restrictions and even his debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

But he didn’t mention his failed presidential bid or Donald Trump.

Instead, the governor used the event at a central Florida magnet high school to raise questions about a top priority for GOP Speaker Paul Renner, jab President Joe Biden and called on state legislators to set aside $80 million for create a new semiconductor institute at the University of Florida.

In many ways, it was a return to his comfort zone for the Florida governor, who spent months on the campaign trail in Iowa and other early voting states touting his accomplishments in Florida but also getting grilled by national reporters on his fights with 2024 rivals Donald Trump and Nikki Haley as well as dire poll numbers or campaign stumbles.

But before the friendly audience in Florida on Friday, the governor was greeted with cheers and loud applause when he criticized the Biden administration and illegal immigration.

During the nearly hourlong press conference, DeSantis was asked about legislation the GOP-led Florida House passed this week that would prohibit anyone under 16 from accessing some social media platforms — a priority of Renner’s that also scored some Democratic support.

DeSantis told the audience that while he was concerned about the negative impact of social media on minors, he was not yet on board with legislation that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to have an account on various platforms.

“I’m sympathetic to, as a parent, what’s going on with our youth,” DeSantis said. “But I also understand that to just say that someone that’s 15 just cannot have it no matter what, even if the parent consents, that may create some legal issues.”

It marked the second time since dropping out of the presidential contest on Sunday that DeSantis weighed in on the legislative arena. Earlier in the week on social media, DeSantis threatened to veto a bill that would have created a fund to help pay for Trump’s legal bills. The legislation was a top priority for Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, but the lawmaker withdrew her legislation after DeSantis commented.

DeSantis didn’t say he would veto the social media bill, but instead questioned the “breadth” of the legislation as it now stands. Similar bills in other states have immediately drawn lawsuits from the tech industry. The governor said he had discussed the bill, which has the support of Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, with Renner and wants to work with him on a final version.

“I think social media has been a net negative for our youth, without question,” DeSantis said. “Now, having said that, there have been other states that have tried to do similar things that have met resistance in the courts. Not to say courts are always right about this, but anything I do, I want a pathway for this to actually stick.”

Renner, in a statement to POLITICO, said the legislation will eventually be in shape to earn the governor’s backing.

“When it comes to protecting children and defending childhood, Governor DeSantis and I have been in lockstep,” Renner said in a statement. “We are confident that by the time the bill makes it to the Governor’s desk, it will be narrowly crafted to provide social media companies the flexibility to do what is in the best interest of Florida’s children.”

But as he’d done during the past several years and recently on the campaign trail, the governor also took time to lash out at a familiar foe — Biden — over immigration and a newly announced Biden administration decision to pause future applications to export liquefied natural gas.

“I just scratch my head and just wonder what is going on,” DeSantis said. “We have so much energy in this country. To be able to export that to allied countries is huge for national security. You want to weaken China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, export more LNG to countries around the world.”

Before he dropped out, DeSantis was spending time attacking the media over its coverageof former Trump and criticizing both the former president and Haley. He didn’t get asked any questions about ending his campaign or his political futures from the handful of reporters who attended the event held.

Instead, DeSantis was queried primarily about legislative matters, including a bill that could allow the Florida State Guard — which was resurrected in 2022 after the state defense force had been shuttered since World War 2 — to engage in operations outside the state.

That led the governor to criticize the brewing dispute between Texas authorities and the Biden administration over the border, giving him an opening to also say the reason he pushed for the state guard was because the Biden administration was pushing to require members of the existing Florida National Guard to take a Covid-19 vaccine.

“We did the Florida State Guard so people would able to go to the state guard and not be subjected to this,” said DeSantis, who also was critical of some of the foreign deployments placed on the National Guard soldiers by the federal government. “You control your own destiny with your state guard.”