Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida makes quarantine optional for students exposed to COVID-19 Florida Republican files abortion bill similar to Texas's The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE hit back on Wednesday after President BidenJoe BidenUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Biden to tap law professor who wants to 'end banking as we know it' as OCC chief: reports MORE criticized him and other Republican governors for banning mask mandates.
Speaking at a news conference, DeSantis promised to stand in the way of “lockdown policies” and accused Biden of trying to restrict the rights of parents and children in Florida.
“Joe Biden suggests that if you don’t do lockdown policies, then you should ‘get out of the way.’ But 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 said.
“If you’re trying to deny kids a proper in-person education, I’m going to stand in your way and I’m going to stand up for the kids in Florida. If you’re trying to restrict people, impose mandates, if you’re trying to ruin their jobs and their livelihoods and their small business, if you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way and I’m standing for the people of Florida,” he continued.
DeSantis said Biden should focus on illegal immigration at the southern border, suggesting that was contributing to the spread of the virus.
“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,” the Republican governor said.
DeSantis’s outburst came a day after Biden rebuked him and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for signing directives that ban mask mandates in public schools and other places. Florida and Texas are among a handful of states, all with GOP governors, that have issued directives barring mask requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We need leadership from everyone and if some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.
“I say to these governors, please help. If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives,” Biden said.
Biden later made clear that he believes the decisions by DeSantis and Abbott are “bad health policy.”
Biden has largely avoided directly criticizing governors on their handling of the coronavirus in their states. He stepped up criticism of state leaders as the White House is grappling with an increase in cases as the delta variant spreads across the United States, fueled by the millions of Americans who remain unvaccinated.
Florida and Texas accounted for one in three COVID-19 cases last week, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff ZientsJeff ZientsGOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Government shutdown fears increase as leaders dig in Travel industry hopes for rebound with loosened COVID-19 restrictions MORE told reporters Monday.
DeSantis signed an order last week that made face masks optional in schools, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance calling on everyone in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors. The new guidance, which has prompted confusion and criticism, also recommended that vaccinated Americans in areas of high transmission wear masks indoors.
White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions Democratic anger grows over treatment of Haitian migrants MORE noted at a briefing Wednesday that a majority of governors “continue to step up and do the right thing” and she denied that Biden’s words were at all political.
“That wasn’t a partisan evaluation or assessment, that was an assessment of what isn’t happening that would help protect people’s lives and save people’s lives,” Psaki said. “We are going to keep calling that out.”
Psaki also said the White House is in touch with officials in states such as Texas and Florida about providing additional assistance to address the increase in cases.
In a tweet responding to DeSantis's remarks Wednesday afternoon, Psaki noted that 23 percent of new U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations are in Florida and said the White House hopes DeSantis will join them in the fight against the pandemic.
23% of new COVID hospitalizations in the U.S are in Florida, and their hospitals are being overwhelmed again.— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) August 4, 2021
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. https://t.co/53y97ngQ4E
The war of words between Biden and DeSantis comes about a month after the two shared a genial moment when the president visited Surfside, Fla., to meet with the governor and other local leaders and survey the damage after a condo building collapsed.
Biden and DeSantis sat shoulder-to-shoulder and exchanged compliments. DeSantis praised Biden for recognizing “the severity of this tragedy from day one” and for being “very supportive.”
The July meeting was a striking display of two political foes putting politics aside to address a tragedy; DeSantis is a rising star in the Republican Party who is viewed as a potential 2024 candidate, and Biden, the leader of the Democratic Party, has said he intends to run for a second term.
As he was exiting the East Room following his speech on Tuesday, Biden was asked why he hasn’t called DeSantis to communicate the message on the coronavirus directly.
“He knows the message. We had a long discussion,” Biden said, apparently referencing their meeting in Surfside.
—Updated at 4:34 p.m.