FL Gov. DeSantis refuses to congratulate President-elect Biden

Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures when asked whether he was prepared to congratulate President-elect Biden on Dec. 15, 2020. Source: Florida Channel screenshot

The day after the Electoral College voted to make Joe Biden the president-elect, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday declined to congratulate the Democrat who defeated his political patron, Donald Trump.

Asked by a reporter whether he recognizes Biden as the next president, DeSantis held up both of his hands and said, “It’s not for me to do.”

He added: “Obviously we did our thing in Florida. The [Electoral] College voted.”

DeSantis, who has avoided questions from reporters since the election on Nov. 3, spoke with members of the Capital Press Corps after presiding over a meeting of the state Cabinet. He also took questions during a news conference in West Palm Beach later Tuesday, as reported by Local 10 News.

One day earlier, he’d been in the Florida Senate chamber as an observer as Florida’s presidential electors cast the state’s 29 votes for Trump.

Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, when told of the governor’s comments, was dismissive. She’s the only Democrat holding statewide elective office in Florida.

“That’s ludicrous,” she told reporters.

“You’re governor of the third-largest state in the nation. Joe Biden is the president-elect. Joe Biden will be president of the United States,” she continued.

“It is time for those who are questioning the legitimacy of this election to move on, start working with the Biden administration and making sure that the interests of our citizens in the state of Florida are taken care of. And that means working with the White House.”

Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo, meanwhile, issued a written statement calling upon DeSantis plus Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to recognize the outcome, saying it was “well past time” for them to do so.

“The Electoral College voted yesterday and Joe Biden received 306 votes, a decisive victory. So it is time to stop playing games with our democracy, recognize the president-elect, and partner with President-elect Joe Biden to focus on what matters — helping Floridians through this pandemic,” Rizzo said.

Rubio did refer to Biden as president-elect a few weeks after the election, NPR reported. Scott appeared to acknowledge the outcome on Fox News on Dec. 1, as reported by Florida Politics.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged the outcome Tuesday in Washington, as reported by news organizations including CNN. “The electoral college has spoken,” he said. “Today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”

DeSantis insisted Tuesday that Trump genuinely believes — despite losing dozens of legal challenges to the outcome — that the election was stolen from him.

“I don’t think it’s an act. I think it’s really something there,” DeSantis said.

“All I will say is we’re really proud of what we did in Florida. As a Republican, I obviously want Republicans to get elected,” DeSantis said.

He noted that the election and vote count in Florida, which Trump carried, worked well.

“I can tell you how transparent it was, how efficient it was. The results in any of these races, no one would have been able to say anything about it because of the way it was conducted.”

DeSantis has long been close to the president and has argued the relationship has benefited Florida, including with COVID-19 response and vaccine supplies.

“The president has been a hell of an ally for this state — I can tell you that. These hospitals, we really supported them. If they needed anything, we got it to them,” the governor said.

“I was like, ‘Well, you know, I may not be a phone call away from getting everything done soon.’ It’s unfortunate, I think, for Florida. But we did really well and we performed really well.”

Florida Democrats have sharply criticized the responses by Trump and DeSantis to the coronavirus, including Trump’s slowness and denial that it was a problem, and DeSantis’ adamant refusal to issue a statewide mask mandate or allow local government to enforce their mask ordinances.

The governor, who likely can credit his election in 2018 to support from Trump, was among the Florida Republican officials who supported the president’s quixotic legal campaign. Another was Ashley Moody, who signed a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the results in four states that went for Biden.

Additionally, 10 GOP members of Florida’s Congressional delegation backed that challenge, which the justices roundly rejected.

DeSantis compared the situation to Democratic complaints about Russian interference with the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller found “sweeping and systemic” interference including informational warfare in Trump’s support and hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s computers, according to a summary by the American Constitution Society.

He also found evidence of the breach of elections databases, links between the Russian government and Trump campaign, and suggested numerous instances of obstruction of justice by Trump.

DeSantis didn’t go into that history in depth, however.

“A lot of the frustration for folks that supported the president was, we were four years with people not accepting him. I mean, Hillary the last week of the election was saying [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin stole it. And I just think that that’s left a lot of people really frustrated with how it’s going to go,” he said.

Meanwhile, “We’re going to do the job for Florida. We’re going to push ahead. We’ll work with whoever we need to, to be able to do right by the state of Florida.”

In state party news, DeSantis indicated he would support the selection of state Sen. Joe Gruters to another term as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Published accounts have suggested he wasn’t a fan of the sitting chairman but Florida Politics has reported that any breach has been repaired.

“I haven’t weighed in. I’m not going to get involved negatively for him, so I guess you could say ‘Yes.’”

Additionally, DeSantis accused Democrats of politicizing the Trump administration’s COVID vaccine program but himself praised the effort and also his own administration’s handling of the pandemic.

“This is not like a political thing. Just kind of see what works, go forward. But I think that they’re doing a good job and I would not try to upset the apple cart.”

The administration has been sending nearly 180,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Florida. Officials had expected another 200,000 additional doses next week and another 250,000 the week after that.

Those “are on hold right now,” DeSantis said, but should arrive eventually. The reason, he said, wasn’t clear.

The good news, he added, is that a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee will decide whether to recommend emergency approval of the Moderna vaccine on Thursday and assuming it wins regulatory approval 510,000 doses could begin arriving next week.

If all promised shipments arrive, the state would have 1.6 million doses, enough to begin treating elderly Floridians who don’t live in nursing homes, the governor said.

A Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine is also on the horizon. That would allow distribution to smaller population centers such that “anyone in the public who wants it would be able to get probably it as we get into the spring,” DeSantis said.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.