Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared Florida a coronavirus success story, and on Tuesday, he brought that message to the White House for an audience of national reporters and President Donald Trump.
The scene made for compelling mid-day television for Fox News, which aired long segments of their Oval Office meeting. Here was DeSantis, one of Trump’s closet allies, explaining how Florida had bucked experts and the virus without clashing with the president, as other governors, including some Republicans, had done. DeSantis took aim at those governors for what he called their “draconian orders” and at the national media that projected Florida would fare worse than most anywhere in the country.
“You name (the state), Florida’s done better,” DeSantis said.
While DeSantis spoke in Washington, there was grim news back home: Florida reported its deadliest day in the two months since the outbreak began.
The news was a reminder that even success will be marked by the number of people who leave hospitals in body bags. While certain coronavirus models have suggested Florida’s peak day has passed, concerns of a second wave linger as state leaders — chiefly DeSantis — consider the speed at which to reopen when the state’s stay-at-home orders expire Thursday.
To that end, DeSantis told reporters he will unveil Wednesday what steps the his administration will take to reopen the economy. It will be a slow restart, DeSantis said, as the state focuses on “building confidence with the public that the next step will be done thoughtfully."
“I do think there’s a path to do that,” DeSantis said.
The White House has created three criteria for states to reopen: two weeks of a decline in patients with influenza- and coronavirus-like symptoms, two weeks of declining COVID-19 cases and robust testing. It appears Florida has met the first two. The third is less certain. A public health expert invited to speak at an event with DeSantis on Monday in Tampa said the state’s testing rate needed to more than double over the next month to spot a second wave of coronavirus cases.
DeSantis told reporters at the White House that there’s an excess of tests and anyone in Florida can now get one, even if they don’t have symptoms. While that is true at three state-run testing sites in Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami, many health care providers and local testing sites are still following early U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which require someone to have symptoms or a doctor referral before they can be tested.
No major announcements emerged from the DeSantis-Trump huddle, according to a pool report, which was also attended by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx, economic adviser Larry Kudlow, chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The purpose of the in-person meeting was for the administration to hear how Florida flattened its curve, DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said.
The Florida Democratic Party called the D.C. visit a stop on DeSantis’ “victory tour” — and a poorly timed one, party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said, given Florida reported 83 new deaths Tuesday.
“Apparently Trump and DeSantis find it appropriate to slap each other on the back while Floridians struggle to stay safe during this pandemic and navigate a broken unemployment system," Rizzo said.
The appearance affirmed an important alliance for Republicans in the country’s largest battleground state, at a time when both DeSantis and Trump have seen their popularity stumble. DeSantis is one of just a handful of governors whose favorability has fallen during the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, Trump’s stock is down here too and he is now in a dead heat with former Vice President Joe Biden in the Sunshine State, according to recent polls.
DeSantis defended Trump against steady criticism from other governors that the administration reacted slowly and hasn’t provided help. Florida didn’t experience any trouble getting medical supplies from the national stockpile, DeSantis said, adding that he worked closely with Kushner to monitor which Florida hospitals needed ventilators. Most went unused, DeSantis said.
Trump has lashed out in recent days at the speed at which states were reopening, though not always consistently. He egged on protests against strict stay-at-home orders in states like Michigan, but undercut Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp last week after the Republican leader said he would reopen bowling alleys and movie theaters.
Trump on Monday urged states to consider reopening schools. It was only eight days ago that DeSantis reluctantly closed Florida’s K-12 schools for the rest of the academic year. If there’s disagreement on this topic between the two Republicans, it didn’t arise publicly after the meeting. Nor did Trump question the pace DeSantis has set for Florida to reopen. Rather, he told reporters: “He’s doing a very good job."
DeSantis came to the White House armed with charts that showed Florida’s progress, which Trump held up for the cameras.
Sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office after their meeting, Trump asked if they should ban flights from Brazil, a growing hot spot for the virus, but DeSantis wasn’t sure if it was needed.
“You’ll let us know?” Trump asked.
DeSantis said he would.
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