As COVID-19 ravages Florida, its Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis seems to have honed in on a strategy: blame President Joe Biden. A day after Biden publicly expressed frustration with Republican governors who are preventing businesses and schools from implementing mask and vaccine mandates, DeSantis fired back. “Some governors aren’t willing to do the right things to make this happen,” Biden had told reporters Tuesday. “I say to these governors, please help. If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.” DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have both issued executive orders banning mask mandates.
DeSantis insisted he is ready to object to any COVID-19 restrictions that would prevent business from operating normally. And he pointed the finger at Biden, saying he is the one who is “helping facilitate” the spread of COVID-19 by not securing the country’s Southern border with Mexico. “You have hundreds of thousands of people pouring across every month,” DeSantis said. “Not only are they letting them through, they’re farming them out all across the country, putting them on planes, putting them on buses. Do you think they’re worrying about COVID for that? Of course not.” As might be expected, DeSantis didn’t provide any evidence to support his allegations that “whatever variants there are around the world, they’re coming across that Southern border.” The governor had earlier blamed media “hysteria” for concerns over hospital capacity.
The lashing out at Biden was the latest bit of evidence of how much DeSantis, widely seen as a possible presidential contender, is relishing his time on the national spotlight and is turning his opposition to COVID-19-related mandates into a rallying cry. As if there was any doubt the Florida governor is using the war of words to raise his national profile, he included criticism of Biden in a fundraising email on Wednesday. “Joe Biden has the nerve to tell me to get out of the way on COVID while he lets COVID-infected migrants pour over our southern border by the hundreds of thousands,” reads the email. He later went on Fox News and repeated the same talking points.
DeSantis is focusing on his confrontation with Biden at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging while deaths are also increasing in his state. Hospitals in Florida are also seeing a new kind of patient as more children are being hospitalized with COVID-19. Kids under 12 are the group that has seen the sharpest increase in cases over the past month, according to a Miami Herald analysis. Overall, the state’s hospitals are now seeing more COVID-19 patients than at any time during the pandemic, according to a Financial Times analysis of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. Models predict occupancy at the state’s intensive care units could reach a record high by this weekend.