WASHINGTON — If President Joe Biden was hoping to shame Florida’s Republican governor into helping with his ongoing efforts to get Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, it appears to have backfired, as Ron DeSantis has instead used the criticism to raise money for his reelection.
“Joe Biden says he will ‘get me out of the way’ to impose new federal directives,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising email on Friday morning. “Well, I’ve got news for Joe, I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE.”
At a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks later on Friday, DeSantis called Biden’s newly announced private sector vaccine mandate “unconstitutional,” saying it would “ultimately lose in court.” In the meantime, the governor said he would fight to block its enforcement on Florida workers.
“I’m standing for them. We’re going to protect their jobs against federal overreach,” he said in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Biden has twice in two days criticized Republican governors who are obstructing efforts to vaccinate those who still haven’t received the shots and to encourage everyone to wear face masks indoors until the pandemic subsides.
“I am so disappointed that particularly some of the Republican governors have been so cavalier with the health of these kids, so cavalier of the health of their communities. We’re playing for real here. This isn’t a game,” the president said Friday during a school visit a few miles from the White House.
In a speech on vaccines delivered from the State Dining Room on Thursday, Biden managed to single DeSantis out without ever mentioning his name.
“Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight with them and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools,” Biden said, referring to DeSantis’ mask mandate ban.
DeSantis and his campaign team concluded that Biden was indeed talking about him and seemed happy to run with that.
“When Joe Biden calls me out for standing up for Floridians, he doesn’t even have the courage to call me by my name,” the fundraising email stated.
A link in the email goes to DeSantis’ political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, which is collecting money for his reelection in 2022. DeSantis has also been visiting early voting states and is widely believed to be laying the groundwork for a 2024 run for the GOP presidential nomination.
DeSantis aggressively promoted the COVID-19 vaccines for Florida’s substantial elderly population when they became available late last year. But by late February, he had largely moved on to boasting about beating the coronavirus while refusing to enact lockdowns or mask mandates. And in recent months, even as Florida set new records for COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths, DeSantis has sued to block cruise lines from demanding that passengers prove they have been vaccinated. He’s also trying to stop local school districts from requiring students to wear masks by withholding state funds.
Biden said Thursday that his administration would make sure that anyone who faced such punishments would be supported with federal money.
“Any teacher or school official whose pay is withheld for doing the right thing, we will have that pay restored by the federal government 100%,” Biden said. “I promise you, I will have your back.”
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