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Governors Abbott and DeSantis Fail to Contain COVID and Scapegoat Immigrants to Distract from their Failure

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Republican Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida are failing to protect their citizens from COVID while hyping the dangerous nativist trope of immigrants as public health threats. Meanwhile, COVID cases surge in their states.

In Florida, Gov. DeSantis is presiding over record-high hospitalizations but he issued an executive order banning mask mandates and called the dramatic increase in hospitalizations in the state “media hysteria.” Instead of doing his job, he is blaming Biden’s border policies for the COVID surge and fundraising off of his rhetoric. According to Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, “He’s like the Pied Piper just leading everybody off a cliff right now, letting them know that they don’t have to like the CDC, they don’t have to wear masks, they can do whatever they want in the midst of an enormous pandemic and Florida, by wide margins, is easily the worst state in the country.”

Governor Abbott is competing with DeSantis for who is worse when it comes to containing COVID. Texas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and Gov. Abbott has prevented local governments from enacting mask mandates and vaccination requirements even as the Delta variant surges. He yells about freedom as Texans die. To distract from his failure, he’s going for broke by blaming immigrants. His rhetoric is as ugly as his policies. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, a Republican appointee in the Western District of Texas, blocked Abbott’s most recent anti-immigrant state policy, writing that the order “causes irreparable injury to the United States and to individuals the United States is charged with protecting, jeopardizing the health and safety of non-citizens in federal custody, risking the safety of federal law enforcement personnel and their families, and exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.”

Here’s how the DeSantis and Abbott “blame immigrants” strategy is playing:

  • Steve Benen in MSNBC, “As Florida hospitals fill, DeSantis tries changing the subject: “Forget the pandemic; forget Florida’s maxed out hospitals; forget rapidly rising infection tallies; forget lagging vaccination rates. Ron DeSantis would prefer to talk about immigrants and the U.S./Mexico border. In fact, the ambitious GOP governor’s political operation even sent a fundraising letter to his supporters yesterday, suggesting ‘migrants’ are responsible for climbing COVID numbers … there’s ultimately no real point in even taking DeSantis’ rhetorical seriously as a substantive argument, because it’s not. The governor doesn’t have a plan to deal with his state’s intensifying public-health crisis; he opposes policies that might help for purely political reasons; and he’s on the defensive after the president helped expose his indifference.”
  • Austin American-Statesman editorial, “Masks and migrants aren’t the enemy, COVID-19 is”: “You can’t win a war when you’re fighting the wrong enemy. But that is what Gov. Greg Abbott is doing as COVID-19 sends an alarming number of Texans into hospital beds and early graves. The governor is pointing his firepower at the wrong foes — local officials, mask mandates, vaccine passports, even the federal government and the migrants at our border — instead of attacking the virus that is attacking our state … Growing evidence indicates the delta variant, now the dominant strain of the coronavirus, spreads faster and makes people sicker, signaling a dangerous new phase in this pandemic. Still our governor blocks responsible measures and scapegoats migrants. Abbott is fighting the wrong battles, and Texans are suffering the consequences.”
  • Raul Reyes in CNN, “Greg Abbott’s outrageous Covid order to scapegoat immigrants in Texas: “Texas has a problem with rising Covid-19 infections. But immigrants — legal and otherwise — are not the problem. The problem is that Texas has too many unvaccinated residents; about 42% of Texans are fully vaccinated, compared with the national average of about 48% …Abbott is resorting to the racist trope of blaming immigrants for the spread of disease … Rather than offer public health solutions, Abbott is promoting fear, loathing and a disregard for the constitutional and civil rights of Latinos.”
  • Dan Gelber, Mayor of Miami Beach, in The Guardian, “‘The Pied Piper leading us off a cliff’: Florida governor condemned as Covid surges“I’m the mayor of a hospitality town. I think most people coming here would rather be in a place that they feel safer than a place that they feel like they may be getting the virus. He’s like the Pied Piper just leading everybody off a cliff right now, letting them know that they don’t have to like the CDC, they don’t have to wear masks, they can do whatever they want in the midst of an enormous pandemic and Florida, by wide margins, is easily the worst state in the country. We’re not allowed a mask edict now. We were one of the first cities to require it and the governor stopped allowing us to do it, then immediately we saw a surge across our county and state.”
  • Steve Vladeck in MSNBC, “Texas’ Covid surge isn’t due to immigrants. Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t care: “Simply put, if Abbott is looking for someone to blame for Texas’s latest Covid surge, it might behoove him to find a mirror … Abbott is hoping he can shift responsibility for the resurgence of Covid away from elected officials who did nothing to mitigate it, and perhaps even aided its spread, onto those in the worst position to defend themselves.”
  • Dr. Leana Wen, a CNN medical analyst to CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” about Govs. Abbott and DeSantis: “It’s extremely frustrating. It’s extremely tragic. And the reason we are having these surges is because of these leaders.”
  • Greg Sargent in Washington Post: “Just two states, Florida and Texas, account for one-third of all new covid-19 cases in the entire country,” Biden told reporters late Tuesday. Without naming them, he called out those two states’ GOP governors — Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott — for new policies that allow children to attend school maskless and bar vaccine mandates by local governments and state agencies. The bottom line is that these Republicans are actively trying to polarize the country around Covid, for nakedly instrumental purposes. That’s because in midterm elections, the angrier the out-of-the-White House party’s voters are, the more likely it is that their torqued-up turnout will swamp the more complacent in-party’s voters.”