As Storm Hits, DeSantis Pauses Political Bomb-Throwing

Author: Yuvi September 29, 2022

As Storm Hits, DeSantis Pauses Political Bomb-Throwing

WASHINGTON — As a once-in-a-century hurricane hammers Florida’s Gulf Coast, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is confronting a vastly different calculus in his dealings with President Biden and the federal government.

Mr. DeSantis, a Republican widely seen as holding White House ambitions, is one of his party’s foremost political provocateurs, often appearing on national television to rail against an administration in Washington he denounces as overbearing. As recently as February, Mr. DeSantis dismissed Mr. Biden as someone who “hates Florida,” saying baselessly that he “stiffs” storm victims of relief for political reasons.

But now, as Hurricane Ian threatens to inflict significant damage across Florida, Mr. DeSantis must rely on assistance from the same federal government whose public health guidance he has ridiculed during the pandemic. Beyond that, he must work with the very president he has castigated and may soon run to replace.

“We all need to work together, regardless of party lines,” Mr. DeSantis said on Fox News on Tuesday night, adding that he was “thankful” for the Biden administration’s assistance.

“The administration wants to help,” he said. “They realize this is a really significant storm.”

The disaster-driven pause in participation is a notable shift for Mr. DeSantis, a politician who came to power during a highly polarized social media era and won his 2018 primary thanks to an endorsement from Donald J. Trump that he earned after defending Mr. Trump scores of times on Fox News.

The governor’s tenure has been characterized by a series of fights appealing to the Trump-aligned Republican base, particularly on social issues and the pandemic response. One question that immediately arose as the storm bore down on Florida was for how long Mr. DeSantis, who is seeking re-election in November against Representative Charlie Crist, a Democratic former governor, would put politics aside.

During a briefing on Wednesday morning, Mr. DeSantis did not mention the president or take questions from reporters, though he did praise support his state had received from several federal agencies.

Mr. Biden, in contrast to Mr. DeSantis, has for decades sold himself as an across-the-aisle deal maker.

On Wednesday morning, the president made a point to announce that they had been in contact.

“Yesterday, I spoke with Governor DeSantis for some time,” he said at a White House conference on hunger. “My team has been in constant contact with him from the very beginning.”

Mr. Biden, who also spoke with several Florida mayors, said that he had told Mr. DeSantis that the federal government was “alert and in action” and that he had approved every request from Florida for federal help.

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“I made it clear to the governor and the mayors that the federal government is ready to help in every single way possible,” Mr. Biden said.

The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, also the temporary unity.

“There’s no politics in this, when we talk about extreme weather,” she said. “This is about the people of Florida, this is about two people who wanted to have a conversation on how we can be partners to the governor and his constituents and make sure that we are delivering for the people of Florida.”

Ms. Jean-Pierre declined to say how long Mr. Biden and Mr. DeSantis spoke for on Tuesday.

Hurricane Ian is the first major storm to strike Florida since Mr. DeSantis took office in early 2019. He is operating with a storm playbook long honed by the governors of Florida, where the state’s response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was widely criticized as too slow and ineffective.

When he ran for president in 2016, Jeb Bush, a two-term governor, frequently highlighted Florida’s hurricane preparedness and rebuilding efforts under his leadership. Mr. DeSantis’s immediate predecessor, Rick Scott, burnedished a somewhat awkward public persona while shepherding Florida through a series of hurricanes during his tenure.

Mr. DeSantis is unlikely to follow the path of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose warm greeting for President Barack Obama during an October 2012 visit to inspect damage from Hurricane Sandy drew scorn from fellow Republicans during his subsequent presidential campaign.

Mr. Christie said in an interview on Wednesday that, 10 years later, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” He went on, “To me it always was that the job that I’ve been elected to do was the most important thing and the politics at the time was secondary.”

He added: “I didn’t think there was anything else to it at all. That’s a decision that Governor DeSantis is going to have to make.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Mr. DeSantis said Mr. Biden “hates Florida” and “stiffs” storm victims because of politics. (There is no evidence that Mr. Biden has withheld federal emergency relief for political purposes, though Mr. Trump often threatened to use a similar tactic when he was in the White House.)

Mr. DeSantis also spent months assailing federal public health guidance about the pandemic. In August, he denigrated Dr. Anthony S. Fauci days after the doctor announced that he would retire as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac,” Mr. DeSantis said at a rally in Orlando.

And two weeks ago, Mr. DeSantis flew two planes filled with undocumented Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in an attempt to highlight his opposition to Mr. Biden’s immigration policy.

“The biggest stunt was Biden coming in as president and reversing Trump’s policies,” Mr. DeSantis told reporters in Florida days later. He also suggested that the next plane of immigrants might land in Delaware, near the president’s weekend home.

Democrats were infuriated. Mr. Biden said Mr. DeSantis was “playing politics with human beings, using them as props,” adding: “What they’re doing is simply wrong. It’s un-American. It’s reckless.” Asked days later what his response was to Mr. DeSantis’s threat to send the next plane to Delaware, Mr. Biden replied: “He should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.”

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

29 September, 2022, 2:55 am

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