The White House once again waded into the growing controversy in Florida over Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates in schools.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday was asked for the administration’s assessment of DeSantis’ threat to freeze the salaries of superintendents and school board officials in districts that implement mask mandates. Psaki first praised school officials in various Florida districts such as Miami-Dade, Leon County and Hillsborough County who are taking steps to protect students and ensure that schools can remain open.
Then she essentially repeated President Biden’s message to DeSantis with regards to his refusal to follow federal guidelines related to COVID-19: If you don’t want to help stop the spread of the virus, get out of the way and let the federal government do it.
Psaki also pointed out that the governor’s threat to have the Florida Board of Education withhold paychecks to school officials who defy the ban on masks, doesn’t prevent the federal government from paying those salaries.
Psaki mentioned at the briefing that federal funds from the American Rescue Plan that have not yet been distributed in Florida. She also underscored that the money is to be used for any related expenses during the pandemic, at the discretion of the federal government.
Watch the entire exchange here:
Both Psaki and President Biden have taken aim at DeSantis in the past week for his controversial policies regarding COVID, even as Florida has become the epicenter of the recent surge in infections and hospitalizations. The state has set new records for COVID cases in recent days, with hospitals across the state running low on ICU beds to treat patients.
DeSantis’ order blocking masks in schools and also trying to stop cruise ships from requiring passengers be vaccinated have been widely criticized. His contrarian approach to COVID has also sent his poll numbers into free fall. His approval rating plunged from 55% in May to just 44% now, according to a new survey. Also, 62 percent of Floridians want masks in schools.
But while DeSantis continues to play to the right-wing crowd with grandstanding moves like telling Biden to focus on the border and not say “a blip about COVID,” the state of Florida is asking the federal government for help in dealing with a coronavirus crisis the governor refuses to acknowledge.