Deep rift between Gov. Rick Scott and President Obama looms larger

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, is shown at a Sunday news conference with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, left, near the nightclub where the mass shooting occurred. [Associated Press] 
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, is shown at a Sunday news conference with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, left, near the nightclub where the mass shooting occurred. [Associated Press] 
Published Jun. 15, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — For more than five years, Gov. Rick Scott has been a fierce critic of the federal government in general and President Barack Obama in particular.

From a high-speed rail system to health care expansion to opening ties with Cuba, the Republican governor has been a vocal and partisan opponent of the Democratic president, has repeatedly sued the administration and recently chided Obama to "be a partner" in helping Florida fight the Zika virus.

With Florida always vulnerable to threats of hurricanes, Scott could need federal help more than any other governor.

But his cumulative criticism may have taken a toll. At a time when he seeks federal intervention on multiple fronts, he's getting the cold shoulder from Washington.

The president, who has been critical of the Republican Congress' lack of action on Zika funding, has not replied to Scott's 2-week-old request for emergency Zika aid.

As of late Tuesday, Scott was waiting for a reply to his request Monday to declare a state of emergency after Sunday's massacre in Orlando.

As the magnitude of the horror in Orlando became known, Obama reached out to "my good friend," Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat, but Scott is still waiting to hear from the president.

"No, he has not called. A staffer has called, but no, he has not called," Scott said in a Fox & Friends interview Tuesday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Scott will be invited to the president's arrival in Orlando on Thursday and that "hopefully" the two can talk.

"As we always do, we will invite the governor to be a part of the president's arrival," Earnest said, "and hopefully the president will have the opportunity to see Gov. Scott there."

Scott's on-air comments Tuesday were supportive of Obama's toughest critic, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"The Second Amendment didn't kill anybody. Evil, radical Islam, ISIS — they killed," Scott told Fox & Friends. "We have got to start standing up for this country."

Echoing Trump's remarks on immigration, Scott said: "We've got to vet people before they come into our country."

(Omar Mateen, the gunman who took 49 lives at the Pulse nightclub before he was killed in a shootout with police, was born in New York and was a U.S. citizen.)

As governor, Scott is the titular head of the Republican Party of Florida.

He was silent several weeks ago when U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff, his friend, called Obama an "animal," even as Beruff's GOP rivals and other officials condemned him.

From his first weeks in office in 2011, Scott set the tone for his dealings with Washington: He rejected the Obama administration's offer of $2.4 billion for a high-speed rail network between Tampa and Orlando.

Two years ago, after the beheading of freelance Florida journalist Steven Sotloff by Islamic State militants, Scott pointedly criticized Obama for a lack of leadership, days after the president said "we don't have a strategy yet" for dealing with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

"The president's got to start showing up and acting like a president," Scott told reporters in Boca Raton, the Palm Beach Post reported.

After Scott sent Obama a letter Monday asking for a federal emergency declaration in Orlando in response to a terrorist attack, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made a similar request.

Scott spoke by phone Monday evening with a senior adviser to Obama, Valerie Jarrett, about his request for aid. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said he was told it is "under review."

McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau reporter Lesley Clark contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.