Ron DeSantis says Pensacola shooting 'could have been prevented with better vetting’

DeSantis, Rick Scott and other Republicans have taken a strong stance on Saudi Arabia in recent days. President Donald Trump?
AP file photo of then Gov. and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
AP file photo of then Gov. and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott
Published Dec. 8, 2019|Updated Dec. 8, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis thinks more could have been done to prevent the mass shooting in Pensacola last Friday.

The Republican governor criticized the military training program that allowed a Saudi national to train at the Naval Air Station Pensacola during a news conference on Sunday.

“To have this individual be able to take out three of our sailors, to me that is unacceptable, and I think it could have been prevented with better vetting,” DeSantis said.

The comments came hours after Sen. Rick Scott, another Republican, said the United States should suspend that program, which allows military members from foreign allies into the country for training. Scott argued the program needed a “full review.”

“We cannot be taking risk for our sailors,” Scott said during an interview Sunday morning on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” program.

Scott also argued that the Saudi government needed to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

On Friday, the gunman went on a rampage across the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, killing three and wounding eight. A sheriff’s deputy eventually killed the shooter.

The victims were Cameron Scott Walters, 21, of Richmond Hill, Ga.; Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, of Coffee County, Ala. and Mohammed Haitham, 19, of St. Petersburg.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that law enforcement officers are questioning several other Saudi nationals who are students in the training program. The Associated Press reported that the shooter hosted a dinner party for other students earlier in the week where he showed videos of mass shootings.

Related story: St. Petersburg track star among the victims of Pensacola shooting

Related story: Florida base shooter watched shooting videos before attack, officials say

DeSantis said at the news conference that the evidence points to the shooter having a “deep-seated hatred for the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican whose congressional district includes Pensacola, said the shooting should “inform” America’s ongoing relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of the United States’ key military allies in the Middle East.

Gaetz said on ABC’s “This Week” that he expects Saudi intelligence officials to help Americans track down anyone who helped finance or plan Friday’s shooting.

“I was given every assurance by the Saudi ambassador that that would occur,” Gaetz said.

The comments made by DeSantis, Scott and Gaetz — some of President Donald Trump’s most important Republican allies in Florida — struck a different tone than remarks offered by the president himself since the shooting.

Rather than calling for action on the part of the Saudi government or discussing the shooter’s motive, Trump remarked about how King Salman of Saudi Arabia has offered his condolences to the victims and their families.

“The King said that the Saudi people are greatly angered by the barbaric actions of the shooter, and that this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people who love the American people,” the president tweeted.

This was a breaking story that was updated throughout the day Sunday.