DeSantis looks at 2024 run as Florida's legislature wraps up session
Tallahassee, Florida — The Republican supermajority in Florida's legislative chamber wrapped up a marathon 60-day session on Friday, delivering a slate of bills to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his signature.
So, is he now finally ready to run for president?
"We'll get on that relatively soon. You either got to put up or shut up about that," DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in the Capitol.
Asked about Republican criticism that he's taking too long to join the race, DeSantis called it "chatter" and dismissed it as "just not something that I worry about."
While bills related to lowering prescription drug prices, tax cuts for home goods and creating more affordable housing easily passed with bipartisan support, Republicans used their overwhelming majorities to push through proposals popular with conservatives that complement DeSantis' core issues.
"I don't know that there was any meat left on the bone after this legislative session," DeSantis said. "I think a lot of other states could learn a thing or two from how you do it in Florida."
He is expected to officially launch a presidential campaign from Florida in late May to early June, though plans remain fluid, according to a person familiar with DeSantis' planning.
Generra Peck, the campaign manager for his 2022 reelection bid, is expected to play a leading role in the 2024 campaign once it's announced, according to the person familiar with the planning.
Though he's not yet officially a candidate, DeSantis has spent the last two months traveling like one.
He launched a national tour to publicize his memoir and agenda, dubbed the "Freedom Blueprint," that took him to all four early presidential primary states, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, as well as battleground states Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin this Saturday. A whirlwind international trade mission took him to Japan, South Korea, Israel and the United Kingdom in an attempt to burnish his thin foreign policy record.
In Tallahassee, Republicans have been quick to pass nearly all of DeSantis' agenda items.
He has signed a six-week abortion ban, a bill that creates permitless concealed carry of a firearm, and a measure banning state investments in environmental, social and governance goals, commonly known as "ESG."
The Legislature has also sent him an immigration policy bill allocating $12 million more to transport migrants out of Florida and an expansion of the state's ban on sexual orientation and gender identity in classroom instruction. The state ban applied to schoolchildren from the 3rd-8th grade, and will now extend to 8th graders and under.
And on Friday, DeSantis signed a bill to void a legal agreement made to retain aspects of Disney's control in its central Florida district, an issue the governor has continually highlighted after the corporation objected to what critics called the "Don't Say Gay" bill in 2022.
In addition to passing an agenda that has received his blessing, the Florida Legislature sent an election bill to his desk that repealed the "resign to run" requirement for officials running for president and vice president. Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee contend the breakneck speed of passage was not influenced by an impending presidential campaign by the governor.
Republican Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said the notion the Legislature passed that repeal for the governor "is totally irrelevant," and that the governor did not ask her to pass it.
"If you are from the state of Florida and you want to run for president, go for it, because whoever is president is going to do a lot of good for their state no matter who they are," she told CBS News.
On Disney, and whether the legislature would have targeted the company if they didn't weigh in on the sexual orientation and gender identity education ban, Passidomo said, "No" and that they should have adjusted the special privileges Disney had in its central Florida district earlier.
Disney is suing DeSantis and the state in federal court over the attempts to nullify the agreement to retain developmental powers in the district. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board, which represents the part of central Florida that Disney World is in, is counter-suing the company in state court.
State Senator Clay Yarborough authored the bill expanding the prohibition on instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity.
"His promises have been kept for the people of Florida. Protecting children, protecting the constitution," Yarborough told CBS News about DeSantis. "You asked, 'Well if he wasn't doing [a potential 2024 run], would we still do this legislation?' This is still a good policy for Florida. This is still the right policy that we need to be working on."
Florida Democrats, stuck in a super minority and powerless to stop the conservative red-meat bills being moved by the Republican majority, have decried the agenda as "anti-freedom" and predict measures like the six-week abortion ban or permitless concealed carry could cause headaches for him if he makes it to a general election.
On Wednesday, Florida Capitol Police arrested several protestors who squatted at the governor's office to demand a meeting with him and to protest Republican measures on banning gender-affirming care, education, Disney and abortion.
State House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell said Republicans have been "so emboldened" this session and predicted the agenda could be politically risky.
"Throwing red meat to the [conservative base] might help you in the primary. But when it comes time for the general election, candidates generally have to pivot more towards the center. He hasn't shown an ability to do that," she said.
A super PAC supporting DeSantis, "Never Back Down," has raised at least $33 million since launching in February. This doesn't include small-dollar online donations because those are being held in a separate account that can be transferred to a DeSantis campaign once he announces.
The PAC is expected to play a big role in the ground game operations for a DeSantis 2024 campaign and has already run multiple advertisements in the early presidential primary states to introduce voters to DeSantis. One ad ends with a man slapping a DeSantis 2024 bumper sticker over one that reads "Trump for President 2016."
DeSantis, despite his extensive travel outside Florida, trails former president Donald Trump in endorsements and polls. Eleven Florida members of Congress have endorsed Trump, while only one, his former secretary of state, has backed DeSantis.
A CBS News poll shows Trump with a double-digit lead among likely Republican primary voters, 59% to 24% for DeSantis. It also shows overwhelming support from Republicans for a candidate that "challenges so-called woke ideas," opposes gun restrictions and "makes liberals angry" — all measures that allies say define the Florida governor.
Acknowledging recent attacks by his would-be rivals, DeSantis said Friday he's not "asking for people from New York and D.C. to come down here and try to dig for dirt. That's what they're doing. And so we have absolutely every right to fight back."
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