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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Editor's Blog

Gov. Ron DeSantis

On his very first day in Congress -- long before he began to preen as a potential presidential candidate – Ron DeSantis proved that he was unfit to hold the highest office in the land. The date was January 4, 2013, and he cast his maiden vote on the House floor against $9.7 billion in federal flood insurance aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which had devastated New York and New Jersey.

Now, nearly a decade later, that vote strikes a stunning chord of hypocrisy and cruelty, when he is pleading for far larger sums from Washington to rebuild the communities destroyed by Hurricane Ian in his home state. With his characteristic arrogance, DeSantis abruptly dismisses any questions about his self-interested reversal as “politics” and “pettiness.”

Back when he voted “no” on Sandy aid to the northern states, DeSantis pretended to be a fiscal conservative. He claimed to sympathize with the victims of that storm but wasn’t inclined to send them any help beyond the usual Republican thoughts and prayers. According to him, increasing the flood insurance program’s debt at that time “with no plan to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere is not fiscally responsible.”

That finger-wagging and penny-pinching is entirely absent from the letter DeSantis sent a few days ago to President Joe Biden. Instead, he urged the administration to provide “100 percent reimbursement” for the hurricane damage suffered in southwest Florida. Nowhere did his letter suggest – and in none of his media appearances has the governor ever said – that the White House should first identify “budget offsets.” (In fact, DeSantis had earlier abandoned all that sanctimonious noisemaking when he voted in October 2017 for a $36.5 billion relief bill after a trio of catastrophic storms struck Florida. That bill contained no offsets either. The following year, DeSantis ran for governor.)

Republican demands for fiscal probity, as a rule, apply only to blue states, which actually pay for the disaster aid that is shared all over the country and flows uninterrupted to red states that send far less to the Treasury than they receive. But Biden, a decent man who believes with his whole heart in patriotic goodwill, would never mention how DeSantis tried to deprive their fellow Americans of the assistance they so desperately needed. Nor would he ever ask why DeSantis has done nothing as governor to increase the rate of flood insurance among Florida’s coastal homeowners, while he has so much free time to spend to persecute gays and immigrants, censor opponents, and concoct fairy tales about American history.

Instead, Biden assured the Florida governor – the same strutting bully who just a few days ago threatened to ship Venezuelan asylum seekers to the president’s Delaware residence – that the United States stands ready to fulfill the meaning of its name. DeSantis, for his part, spent weeks on his political stunt of transporting a few dozen migrants to Martha’s Vineyard—valuable time he wasted on demagoguery at Florida taxpayer expense instead of devoting himself to preparing for the emergency of the hurricane.

As governor, DeSantis is brimming with sound bites and devoid of solutions. But then we’ve seen the same depressing performance on many occasions from his fellow Republicans.

Sen. Ted Cruz, the junior Republican from Texas so widely disliked on both sides of the aisle, notoriously lied about the 2017 disaster relief bill, which he falsely depicted as “pork.” Last year, Sen. Rand Paul, the junior Republican from Kentucky, pulled the same stunt when he demanded tornado relief after years of voting down aid to other states.

Biden and the Democrats have consistently supported aid to blue and red state alike wherever needed—and now to Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian. On September 30, only 10 Republicans in the House voted for the budget bill that contained disaster relief. In the Senate, 11 Republicans voted against it. And what did Ron DeSantis say about his fellow Republicans who were simply imitating how he behaved in voting against aid for Hurricane Sandy? He is silent in the face of his party’s indifference to his state’s plight. He’s far too ambitious to comment. He has to rely on the good faith of President Biden and Congressional Democrats. Will DeSantis soon return to airlifting migrants to those places that have provided the money to save his state?

It’s deeply irritating when “conservatives” manufactures excuses to oppose assistance to states other than their own -- and it’s tempting to tell them to bugger off when they beg for it, as DeSantis is doing now. That’s when we have to remember that the only thing worse than listening to them is becoming like them.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis never gets bored of telling us how much he despises communism.

Not only does the Florida governor frequently mention his hatred of communism, but last spring he signed a law that memorializes its victims and mandates an annual day devoted to teaching its harmful history in the Sunshine State's public schools. "I know we don't need legislation here to do this," said DeSantis when that bill passed, "but I think it's our responsibility to make sure people know about the atrocities committed by people like Fidel Castro and even more recently people like Nicolas Maduro" — yes, the autocratic ruler of Venezuela.

The first "Victims of Communism Day" since the passage of that law is coming up on November 7, but it's not at all clear why those who have suffered under such regimes would be in any mood to mark the occasion with DeSantis. To advance his career, the belligerent governor is himself now victimizing those who have fled communism — and he may have violated the law in doing so.

After Maduro, the greatest oppressor of Venezuelans, who also treats them like dirt, is none other than DeSantis.

Among the millions fleeing Maduro's crashed economy and brutal repression, many have sought refuge in the United States, which has vowed to help them. And some who entered this country, exercising their legal rights under our asylum statutes, had the misfortune last week to encounter covert agents of the DeSantis administration who deceived them last week into boarding flights northward.

A "tall blond woman" calling herself "Perla" promised the immiserated and exhausted Venezuelans, whom she found near a migrant center in Texas, that they would receive "employment, housing, and educational opportunities" if they got onto a small plane that she said would take them to Boston. The charter flight landed instead on Martha's Vineyard, an island off Massachusetts that is a summer destination for affluent vacationers.

The next day, as everyone now knows, DeSantis announced boastfully that he was responsible for the cruel ruse. It later emerged that the governor had bragged beforehand about this plan, financed by Florida taxpayers, at a "briefing" for the Republican Party's biggest donors. No doubt those plutocrats were amused by what DeSantis portrayed as a clever prank. But others with long memories were reminded of the 1960s segregationists who deceived poor Black people into boarding buses from Mississippi to Hyannis, another Massachusetts resort town, where President John F. Kennedy's family maintained a residence (and still does).

If the point was to demonstrate the hypocrisy of liberals, who were perhaps expected to shun or stigmatize the unexpected guests, it failed. The good people of Martha's Vineyard rallied instantly to provide cash, copious food, safe shelter, amusements for children and anything else the Venezuelans needed until the state moved them to an Air Force base on nearby Cape Cod.

Now, more than one law enforcement agency is investigating whether DeSantis violated any laws by transporting the Venezuelans under false pretenses, and some of the asylum seekers are suing him in federal court.

Many details of how the governor's minions carried out this plot remain to be discovered. For instance, he has refused so far to release the state's $12-million contract with the aviation firm that oversaw the flights, but news outlets have reported that its owners are major Republican donors with longstanding financial ties to a top DeSantis aide. That firm has also done business with a sanctioned Russian helicopter company. Russia, of course, is Maduro's chief protector and patron.

Aside from the usual sleazy grift, what remains so striking here is the casual abandonment of the Republicans' own professed principles. While DeSantis claims to empathize with the victims of Maduro's incompetence and violence, that didn't stop him and his undercover goons from scamming them.

Indeed, the Florida law that financed the Vineyard flights stipulates that Venezuelans escaping the Maduro regime are not "unauthorized aliens," meant to be shipped away like other Central American refugees, because they are exercising a legal right to asylum. Evidently such distinctions don't matter to DeSantis, whose mission is to impress Republican voters by "owning the libs." DeSantis believes this nasty demagogic exploitation of the Venezuelans' misery will help lift him to the 2024 presidential nomination. Here it's worth recalling that one DeSantis ancestor was an illiterate Italian woman deemed "undesirable" who was somehow able to slip past those regulations — luckily for her descendant, the immigrant-baiting Ronald.

His "prank" must be making one man laugh the loudest. That would be Maduro, who can only view DeSantis' sadistic treatment of the Venezuelans as a clown show that benefits him. The Florida governor has made himself a useful idiot for the Caracas regime and by extension, Vladimir Putin.

A century ago, when Italian immigrants were sharply limited from entry into the United States under the draconian immigrant restriction law of 1924, they were commonly considered to be of another race, meaning not white. Whatever differences now exist among the current stream of refugees and migrants, there is one crucial trait they share. In the eyes of DeSantis — and the Republican Party's nativist Know-Nothings — all those people are the wrong color.