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DeSantis meets with GOP congressional lawmakers as he mulls White House bid

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis targets Disney
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues battle with Disney 04:46

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who's considering a run for the presidency, made overtures to congressional Republicans during a visit to  Washington, D.C., Tuesday, as notable GOP members from his home state decided to back former President Donald Trump

Lawmakers who attended DeSantis' policy discussion said they were keeping their powder dry and wouldn't make any endorsements just yet. 

Republicans at Tuesday's event described it as a very casual, mellow discussion over cocktails. Held at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank's office near Capitol Hill, lawmakers said DeSantis offered brief remarks about his successes in Florida and his legislative agenda, before chatting one-on-one with them. 

Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah attended DeSantis' event, and maybe "well over two dozen" House Republicans came by, some attendees estimated. Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Ken Buck of Colorado and Randy Feenstra of Iowa were listed as special guests in attendance. 

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Dan Meuser called the Florida governor a "significant" Republican leader and said during the event that DeSantis had "alluded to the idea that he's giving [a 2024 run] consideration" during his remarks. 

But Meuser and others say they haven't decided who to endorse and are hoping for a crowded primary. Several mentioned Trump and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and possible candidates  former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott.

The Florida governor is expected to make a final decision to enter the race sometime after his state's legislative session ends in early May. 

"I think the people should have a lot of options. I encourage everybody to run," said Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw after the event. He added that he would not be endorsing anyone in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. 

While some have floated the idea that DeSantis may have already missed his window, Crenshaw dismissed the notion: "I don't think so," he said. "There's a lot of time left." 

"I just want to beat Democrats. A lot of Republicans can beat Democrats, it shouldn't be that hard to beat Biden's record," he added. 

Virginia Rep. Bob Good, who hasn't made any endorsement yet, called DeSantis "America's governor" and opined that "there's a whole lot of Americans that would be excited about him running."

Eight members of Florida's congressional delegation, including four this week, endorsed Trump over DeSantis, while one, Rep. Laurel Lee, who is also a former Florida secretary of state, is backing a DeSantis run. Two others, Reps. Carlos Giménez and Gus Bilirakis, are expected to officially endorse Trump this week according to TIME.

Representative Vern Buchanan, who did not attend DeSantis' Tuesday gathering, announced his endorsement Wednesday. He received a personal call from the former president to attend a Thursday night dinner at Mar-a-Lago with other Florida Republicans that have backed Trump, according to a person familiar with the congressman's endorsement.

According to this person, staff for DeSantis' political operation called Buchanan about endorsements after Rep. Byron Donalds, who introduced DeSantis at his 2022 re-election victory party, decided to endorse Trump instead. The governor himself was not part of these calls.

Texas Rep. Lance Gooden attended DeSantis' event Tuesday, but said in a statement afterward that he's endorsing Trump. 

Though he said DeSantis "has done commendable work in Florida," Gooden wrote in a tweet that "there is no doubt in my mind that President Trump is the only leader who can save America from the leftist onslaught we are currently facing." . 

Tennessee Rep. Andy Ogles gave little weight to the early endorsements from Florida, saying, "it's a part of politics" and that candidates sometimes get "caught up in the endorsement game."

Justin Sayfie, a longtime Republican strategist who worked with Florida Governor Jeb Bush's 2016 campaign, noted that Bush had more congressional endorsements that Trump in that primary. 

"I'm not sure it had an impact that people thought it would have," Sayfie said. "I think in all of politics endorsements from elected officials are a lot less valuable today than they were 30 years ago," he said. 

Rep. Buck was listed as a special guest but did not reveal who he would endorse. He said while "it's an honor" to have DeSantis in town, it's more important for his potential candidacy to keep connecting with voters outside the Capitol. 

"The real Americans suffering are outside the Beltway. They're the ones that need to talk to these candidates," he said.

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