Defiant DeSantis blasts Biden administration amid report of travel limits

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TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday lashed out at the Biden administration, promising that the state would strongly and swiftly oppose any attempts to block Americans from traveling to the Sunshine State.

DeSantis’ comments were in response to a Wednesday story by McClatchy that quoted an unnamed White House official saying the administration was considering imposing domestic travel restrictions, including on Florida, to stem the transmission of a new Covid-19 variant that is rapidly spreading in the state.

DeSantis, a Republican, called consideration of travel restrictions “absurd” and a “political attack on the people of Florida.” He said it would be “ridiculous” to impose curbs on domestic travel while relaxing restrictions on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Any attempt to restrict or lock down Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state, done purely for political purposes,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Port Charlotte, Fla. He also questioned the need for any type of restrictions given Florida’s middle-of-the pack ranking in terms of Covid-19 fatalities.

The governor also added: “I think it would be unconstitutional, it would be unwise and it would be unjust.”

DeSantis’ office declined to immediately comment following the press conference on whether they have had any discussions with anyone from the Biden administration about potential travel restrictions.

“To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety," a White House spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday. "The administration is continuing to discuss recommendations across the travel space, but no specific decisions are under consideration.”

Any types of travel restrictions could derail Florida’s economy, which relies heavily on tourists. The initial wave of lockdowns last spring sent the state’s tax collections into a spiral. Florida would have been hit with a severe budget deficit if not for the nearly $5 billion in coronavirus relief it received from Congress.

DeSantis’ comments mark an escalation in the tensions between the Biden administration and Florida. DeSantis was a top ally of former President Donald Trump, who now lives in Florida, and used that relationship to bring federal aid and to gain support for some of the governor’s key initiatives during his first two years in office.

Last month, DeSantis took swipes at some of the initial vaccine distribution plans discussed by the White House and pushed for more doses — which resulted in White House press secretary Jen Psaki faulting Florida for not using its full allotment of vaccines. DeSantis responded by pointing out that some of the doses were being saved to ensure there was enough to provide a second shot.

But DeSantis issuing a defiant response to the idea is a turnabout from last year when he enacted restrictions on visitors coming to Florida from other states such as New York, New Jersey and Louisiana. At the start of the pandemic, the governor required that anyone coming to Florida from several coronavirus hot spots to self-quarantine for 14 days. At one point, DeSantis even had the Florida Highway Patrol set up checkpoints on Interstate 10, the main highway connecting Florida to Louisiana.

DeSantis, who is already raising money for his 2022 reelection campaign, is viewed as a potential 2024 candidate for president, especially if Trump forgoes another run. DeSantis has earned praise from conservative media outlets and other Republicans for his refusal to enact strict lockdowns and his constant sparring with the media.

Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

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