CNN – Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has a message for President Joe Biden: He’s not getting out of the way even as his rejection of masking and public health guidance risks fueling his state’s raging Covid-19 cases.
DeSantis relished the chance to climb on a national stage to battle Biden on Wednesday, after the President accused him and Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott — who preside over the two states with most new infections over the past week — of worsening a pandemic that once seemed to have abated.
The confrontation was the latest sign of how DeSantis — who is expected to be a top contender in the next Republican presidential primary if former President Donald Trump doesn’t run — is weaponizing his stewardship of the emergency to further his own political aspirations, previewing a possible 2024 White House matchup if Biden seeks reelection.
In a new offensive against federal health authorities on Wednesday, DeSantis slammed US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice that kids — including those under 12 who cannot be yet vaccinated — should wear masks in class. DeSantis has previously threatened to withhold funding for schools that require masks for students, vowing to defend the rights of parents to decide on masking for their own kids. It’s a stance that effectively allows individuals to decide whether to fight the virus, a position at odds with experience showing community action is the only way to stop the spread.
Taking his rhetoric up a notch, DeSantis also accused New York City, which is requiring proof of vaccination for entry to bars or restaurants, of creating a “bio-medical security state” that infringed the values of a free society.
“Joe Biden suggests if you don’t do locked down policies then you should ‘get out of the way.’ But let me tell you this, if you are coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way,” said DeSantis, who has also accused the media of drumming up “hysteria” about his state’s plight. The comments, which ignited yet another politicized controversy over the pandemic, may be interpreted by critics as a new attempt by the governor to distract from bad news in his state.
On Tuesday, Biden called on local officials, including the governors of Texas and Florida, to use their power to save lives. “Please help: if you aren’t going to help, please get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing.”
Florida, which now only reports Covid-19 cases on a weekly basis, racked up 110,000 new infections over the last week. It accounted for nearly 1 in 5 of the US tally on its own, a fact that helped draw the President’s ire. Its Covid-19 hospitalizations have reached a record high and deaths are rising again. The Florida Hospital Association said it expects 60% of hospitals in the state to face a “critical staffing shortage” in the next seven days.
But the worsening picture has not budged DeSantis from a consistent position that has made him a hero among conservatives who view mask guidance and pro-vaccine campaigns as infringing on individual civil liberties.
By choosing to stress the rights of parents over schools that want to impose mask requirements, and by signing an executive order to outlaw “vaccine passports,” DeSantis has made decisions through a political prism that downplays guidance by public health experts and the science of epidemiology.