Florida Gov. DeSantis attacks Biden: ‘I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you’

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FORT LAUDEREDALE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis, facing the Florida surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, delivered extraordinary and impassioned remarks on the issue Wednesday — attacking President Joe Biden.

“This is a guy who ran for president saying he was going to quote ‘shut down the virus.’ And what has he done? He’s imported more virus from around the world, by having a wide open southern border,” he said. DeSantis offered no evidence to support the claim.

The governor concluded his 4 1/2-minute broadside with this message to the president: “So why don’t you do your job? Why don’t you get this border secure, and until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about COVID from you. Thank you.”

Responding on Twitter, White House press secretary Jen Psaki wrote that “23% of new COVID hospitalizations in the U.S are in Florida, and their hospitals are being overwhelmed again. We are doing everything we can to help the people of FL, and they’re stepping up by getting vaccinated — we hope @GovRonDeSantis joins us in this fight.”

DeSantis portrayed himself as the leader who is standing up for individual freedom against what he depicted as a malevolent, big-government Biden. He made a litany of accusations against the president, many of them amped-up versions of what Biden or his administration has said and done that have an element of truth but DeSantis depicted as ineptitude, incompetence or malice.

“The question is we can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state,” DeSantis asserted. “And I can tell you, Florida, we’re a free state. People are going to be free to choose to make their own decisions about themselves, about their families, about their kids’ education and about putting food on the table. ... Let me tell you this: If you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way. I’m not going to let you get away with it.”

DeSantis made multiple assertions in Panama City after he announced awarding of government money aimed at continuing recovery efforts from Hurricane Michael, then departed without answering questions. The audience cheered. Earlier Wednesday, DeSantis held a virtual roundtable with hospital executives from across the state, several of whom praised his leadership.

In Panama City, DeSantis claimed that the Biden administration is “helping to facilitate (the spread of COVID-19) in our country,” by doing nothing to stop the flow of people from around the world “and who knows what new variants” at the southern border and sending them throughout the U.S. Republican politicians often talk about a threat from immigrants at the border to energize their political base. Most people trying to cross at the Mexican border are being turned away, according to PolitiFact.

“And what is his big solution? What is he so upset about Florida? His solution is he wants to have the government to force kindergartners to wear masks in school. He doesn’t believe the parents should have a say in that. He thinks that should be a decision for the government. Well, I can tell you, in Florida the parents are going to be the ones in charge of that decision,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis portrayed the idea of requiring masks for schoolchildren — those under age 12 can’t be vaccinated — as some sort of Biden-big government effort to interfere with the rights of parents.

Though DeSantis opposes, and has vowed to block, schools from requiring masks, there is broad public support for mandating masks for children when classes start later this month.

Several Florida school boards want to require masks. A St. Pete Polls survey, conducted for the Florida Politics website and released Tuesday, said 62% of likely voters believe schools should require students to wear masks.

“DeSantis is going around saying he wants to protect Florida parents’ ‘freedom’ to not require masks in schools — as Covid cases are spiking in FL risking our economy and our health. The truth is if the DeSantis had done his job right from Day 1, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist wrote on Twitter. Earlier Wednesday, Crist held his own virtual roundtable, addressing a safe return to school during the pandemic.

DeSantis also claimed Biden “rejects science” because “he denies the fact that people that recover from COVID have long-lasting immunity.” Recent studies, however, have shown that post-infection immunity is not as long-lasting and strong as vaccinations.

DeSantis’ comments were a response to what Biden said Tuesday. The president criticized DeSantis and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, both of whom have blocked mask mandates even as coronavirus is surging in their states.

“If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of people trying to do the right thing,” Biden said.

Also on Tuesday, a reporter asked Biden why he doesn’t call DeSantis. “To say ‘happy birthday?’ What?” the president said.

Biden said Tuesday he supported New York City’s move to require proof of vaccination for activities including eating indoors at restaurants, going to gyms and attending Broadway shows.

DeSantis’ take: “So his vision is, just like in New York City, restaurants should ban young kids from being able to go in because they’re not eligible for vaccination, and law-abiding citizens have to produce proof of their medical records just to go to the gym or attend an event or just to participate in everyday society, he wants that.”

That’s not accurate; New York City’s program wouldn’t apply to children who are ineligible for vaccination.

DeSantis continued, arguing that it is hypocritical to support such a vaccine passport during the pandemic while not supporting some state requirements that people show picture identification to vote. “So no voter ID, but have to show your medical papers just to able to live an everyday life. Give me a break.”

Just five weeks ago, Biden and DeSantis were publicly cooperating in the aftermath of the Surfside condominium collapse, with the president providing federal assistance and the governor welcoming it. The two appeared side by side on July 1.

But the comity hasn’t continued. With Florida emerging as the nation’s coronavirus leader, Democrats have re-intensified their criticism of the Republican governor who has staked the physical and economic health of Florida on a platform of minimizing government mandates during the pandemic.

DeSantis is facing reelection in 2022, a prelude to a widely anticipated candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Tuesday’s St. Pete Polls survey found DeSantis was effectively tied with Crist and faring only slightly better than the other leading Democratic candidate, Nikki Fried.

In a Twitter post after DeSantis spoke in Panama City, Fried pointed to one positive development amid the surge: More Floridians are getting vaccinated. “Let DeSantis keep whining, because we are winning. More and more Floridians are getting vaccinated.”

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(Orlando Sentinel staff writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report.)

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