tags: Press Releases

DeSantis Scrambles Amidst Backlash to Vile “Divide and Distract” Stunt

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DeSantis and his GOP allies abandon Venezuelans and others fleeing “oppressive” regimes; law enforcement, faith, and legal voices decry cruelty 

Washington, DC –  Yesterday, Ron DeSantis gave his latest in a series of tortured explanations trying to defend his dehumanizing and Fox-coordinated stunt to transport Venezuelan refugees to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses. In a rambling press conference yesterday, he defended sending operatives to Texas because so few migrants are coming directly to Florida. He memorably said migrants are coming to his state “in onesie-twosies.”

When you’re explaining you’re losing. DeSantis is clearly on the defensive from the national and state blowback to his stunt. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo recapped of the DeSantis press conference yesterday: 

“[it] really has to be seen to be believed … He says that he can’t ship migrants from Florida, as the state legislature authorized money to do, because there aren’t enough migrants coming into the state … But, he says, he has ‘intelligence’ operatives in Texas and they have learned that from ‘30% to 40%’ of migrants in Texas intend to come to Florida. In other words, there’s a tidal wave of people apparently about to come. Just not yet … The barbarity of DeSantis’s actions should not obscure the hilarity of what is clearly an after-the-fact explanation of what happened and why.”

Let’s be clear, DeSantis and other Republicans are desperate to inject immigration back into the headlines for the midterm homestretch while stoking the MAGA base crowd and national Republican primary voters by “owning the libs.” Every other explanation doesn’t pass the laugh test.

While DeSantis stumbles and fellow Republicans close ranks to try and defend his cruelty, other voices from faith, law enforcement, political and media landscapes are noting how it’s a miscalculation – cruel, likely illegal and with the potential to boomerang politically and hurt Republicans this November – including among Hispanic voters who have fled “oppressive environments” in Venezuela, per South Florida Republicans’ phrasing. Among the many voices condemning DeSantis:

  • Bexar County (TX) Sheriff Javier Salazar: “What infuriates me most about this case is that here we have 48 people that are already on hard times, they are here legally in our country … Somebody came from out of state, preyed upon these people, lured them with promises of a better life. I believe there is some criminal activity involved here, but at present, we are trying to keep an open mind and we are going to investigate to find out and to determine what laws were broken.”
  • Sister Norma Pimental on MSNBC: “I would make sure that, first off, not to lose sight of the fact that they’re people. They’re human beings and they are in desperate need of being treated with dignity and respect. We must provide for them a safe passage, an orderly way to respect our laws and enter our country safely and orderly in a way that protects our country and protects them as well.”
  • “Cruelty Akin to What They Fled” – Venezuelan Migrants’ Class Action Lawsuit Against DeSantis: The lawsuit, filed yesterday by Alianza Americas and three of the migrants  includes the phrase: “These immigrants, who are pursuing the proper channels for lawful immigration status in the United States, experienced cruelty akin to what they fled in their home country.”

Elected Officials and Political Observers:

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who chairs the CHC campaign arm, Bold PAC to The Hill: “Republican Governors DeSantis and Abbott as well as Latino Republicans are creating confusion to divide the country and distract from their lack of solutions on the top issues for working families … This is the same tired, failed GOP playbook. Every time an election comes around, Republicans try to politicize immigration. They tried this in 2018 with caravans and it didn’t work for them — Democrats won by the largest margin in midterm history.’”
  • Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) in The Hill:  “The Republicans are so quick to bash the Venezuelan government and to say, ‘But we love the Venezuelans.’ And then the minute that vulnerable populations from Venezuela arrive in our country, they then use them as political pawns. It’s really beyond reprehensible. It’s a really repugnant motivation…What is different with DeSantis and with Abbott and Ducey is they are using people as political pawns in this culture war. DeSantis has sunk to a new low by lying to people, and I guess securing a private jet to send them to Martha’s Vineyard. But the Republicans always want to have it both ways. While they want to condemn Venezuela and say they support Venezuelans, the minute Venezuelans need help, they debase themselves in the way that they treat them.”  
  • Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in The Hill: “These are people — human beings yearning to breathe free — fleeing repression and hopelessness. But instead of welcoming these refugees and providing even the most basic care, Gov. DeSantis decided to spend millions of taxpayer dollars in transportation costs, just to rile up his right-wing supporters and get more hits on Fox News.”
  • Leonard Pitts’ Miami Herald column, “DeSantis’ White House dreams apparently were worth his abject cruelty“: “Never mind that DeSantis victimized vulnerable people. Or that immigration lawyers say his stunt could complicate their asylum claims. Again, this is not about immigration. It’s about cruelty as political stratagem. After all, if you solve a problem, you can no longer exploit it. But leave it unsolved and you can use it to rub raw the emotions of your target audience — e.g., white people terrified at the browning of America — and stampede them to the polls. Few things could be of greater interest to DeSantis, whose presidential lust is an open secret.”
  • Amy Walters in the Cook Report on how the DeSantis stunt could hurt with Latino voters: “if the conversation is about safety and security, like the crime and chaos that comes from illegal crossings, Republicans can make inroads with these voters. But, when the focus is more on the humanitarian side of the equation, like the Trump administration’s policy of family separation, or flying unsuspecting immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, that’s where Democrats can have the upper hand.”
  • Charlie Pierce in EsquireRon DeSantis Sued for the Stunt that He Hopes Made Him Look Cool in Iowa: “[The class action lawsuit’s] part about ‘personal, financial, and political interests’ is the red-hot core of this scheme’s basic inhumanity. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to run for president … This is all about snow-hung high school gymnasiums in Iowa and New Hampshire in the winter of 2023–24. Desperate people are dragooned into being ersatz field organizers for DeSantis ’24.”