DeSantis prefiled the oath of office with the Florida Secretary of State and became governor on January 8, 2019. The official swearing-in ceremony was held at noon that day. On January 11, DeSantis posthumously pardoned the Groveland Four, four black men falsely convicted of rape in 1949.
Ronald Dion DeSantis (born September 14, 1978) is an American politician and attorney serving as the 46th governor of Florida since 2019. A member of the Republican Party, he represented Florida's 6th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018. After graduating from Yale University and Harvard Law School, DeSantis served as an officer and attorney in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, U.S. Navy (JAG).
Ronald Dion DeSantis was born on September 14, 1978, in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of Karen (née Rogers) and Ronald DeSantis. He is of Italian descent. His family moved to Orlando, Florida, before relocating to Dunedin, Florida, when he was six years old. In 1991, he was a member of the Little League team from Dunedin National that made it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
After graduating from Dunedin High School in 1997, DeSantis attended Yale University. He was captain of Yale's varsity baseball team and joined the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. On the Yale baseball team, DeSantis was an outfielder; as a senior in 2001, he had the team's best batting average at .336.
He graduated from Yale in 2001 with a B.A. magna cum laude in history. He then spent a year as a history teacher at the Darlington School. DeSantis then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 2005 with a Juris Doctor cum laude.
DeSantis received his Reserve Naval officer's commission and assignment to the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG) in 2004 at the U.S. Naval Reserve Center in Dallas, Texas, while still a student at Harvard Law School. He completed Naval Justice School in 2005. Later that year, he received orders to the JAG Trial Service Office Command South East at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, as a prosecutor. In 2006, he was promoted from lieutenant, junior grade to lieutenant. He worked for the commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), working directly with detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Joint Detention Facility.
In 2007, DeSantis reported to the Naval Special Warfare Command Group in Coronado, California, where he was assigned to SEAL Team One and deployed to Iraq with the troop surge as the Legal Advisor to the SEAL Commander, Special Operations Task Force-West in Fallujah.
DeSantis returned to the U.S. in April 2008, at which time he was reassigned to the Naval Region Southeast Legal Service. The U.S. Department of Justice appointed him to serve as an Assistant U.S. Attorney at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Florida. DeSantis was assigned as a trial defense counsel until his honorable discharge from active duty in February 2010. He concurrently accepted a reserve commission as a lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the US Navy Reserve. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal.
DeSantis is a Roman Catholic. In 2010, he married Casey Black, a former television host for the Golf Channel and WJXT. They lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, near St. Augustine, until it was drawn into the neighboring 4th district. They then moved to Palm Coast, north of Daytona Beach. They have three children.
In 2012, DeSantis announced he would run in the Republican primary for Florida's 6th congressional district. The district had previously been the 7th, represented by 10-term Republican John Mica, but Mica's share of Orlando had been drawn into the new 7th District, and Mica opted to run there even though the new 6th included the bulk of his former territory.
In 2013, DeSantis introduced the Palestinian Accountability Act, which would halt U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it formally recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and cuts off all ties with the militant group Hamas.
In 2013, DeSantis signed a pledge sponsored by the libertarian PAC founded by billionaires Charles Koch and David Koch, Americans for Prosperity, promising to vote against any global warming legislation that would raise taxes.
On January 29, 2014, DeSantis introduced into the House the Faithful Execution of the Law Act of 2014 (H.R. 3973; 113th Congress), a bill that would direct the United States Department of Justice to report to Congress whenever any federal agency refrains from enforcing laws or regulations for any reason. In the report, the government would have to explain why it had decided not to enforce that law. DeSantis spoke in favor of the bill, arguing that "President Obama has not only failed to uphold several of our nation's laws, he has vowed to continue to do so in order to enact his unpopular agenda. ...The American people deserve to know exactly which laws the Obama administration is refusing to enforce and why." The bill did not become law.
DeSantis is a conservative. He was endorsed by the Family Research Council Action PAC in 2015.
In 2015, DeSantis introduced the Guantanamo Bay Recidivism Prevention Act, which would cut off foreign aid to countries that receive detainees if they show back up on the terrorism recidivism list.
In the wake of the alleged IRS targeting controversy, DeSantis called for IRS commissioner John Koskinen's resignation for having "failed the American people by frustrating Congress's attempts to ascertain the truth." He co-sponsored a bill to impeach Koskinen for violating the public's trust. In 2015, Citizens Against Government Waste, a conservative think tank, named DeSantis a "Taxpayer Superhero".
On May 6, 2015, DeSantis announced his candidacy for the United States Senate seat held by Marco Rubio, who initially did not file to run for reelection due to his bid for the U.S. presidency. He was endorsed by the fiscally conservative Club for Growth. When Rubio ended his presidential bid and ran for reelection to the Senate, DeSantis withdrew from the Senate race and ran for reelection to the House.
DeSantis proposed an amendment that would halt funding for Mueller's 2017 Special Counsel investigation probe six months after the amendment's passage. In addition, the provision would prohibit Mueller from investigating matters that occurred before June 2015, when Trump launched his presidential campaign. In December 2017, DeSantis asserted that if there was any evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials, it would already have been leaked.
On August 24, 2017, DeSantis added a rider to the proposed fiscal 2018 spending bill package that would end funding for the Mueller investigation "or for the investigation under that order of matters occurring before June 2015" (the month Trump announced he was running for president) 180 days after passage of the bill. The amendment was intended to counter a bipartisan bill written by two Democratic and two Republican U.S. senators, which was intended to limit the president's power to fire the special counsel. The DeSantis amendment sought to cut off funding for the investigation by November 2017. It was also a response to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's statement that the DOJ "doesn't conduct fishing expeditions." DeSantis stated that the DOJ order dated May 17, 2017, "didn't identify a crime to be investigated and practically invites a fishing expedition."
After the November 2015 Paris attacks, DeSantis "called for urgent recognition that Islamic extremism is to blame for the Paris attacks and should be seen as an enemy for America." He has said, "The enemy is an ideology rooted in militant Islam" and that ISIS must be stopped and its members kept away from America. Of U.S. policy toward refugees, DeSantis said, "the prudent policy is to err on the side of protecting the American people".
In 2016, DeSantis co-introduced the Non-Discrimination of Israel in Labeling Act, which would defend the right of Israeli producers to label products manufactured in the West Bank as "Israeli", "Made in Israel," or "Product of Israel." He supported the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In 2016, DeSantis introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act, which would allow states to create their own accreditation systems. In an op-ed for National Review, DeSantis said that his legislation would give students "access to federal loan money to put towards non-traditional educational opportunities, such as online learning courses, vocational schools, and apprenticeships in skilled trades."
In June 2019, DeSantis's office issued a proclamation honoring the victims of the June 12, 2016, Orlando nightclub shooting at the Pulse gay bar and nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and 50 others were injured by Omar Mateen. The proclamation did not include any reference to the LGBT community, sparking severe criticism and accusations that DeSantis intentionally omitted the category from the message; Democratic state representatives Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is openly gay, lambasted DeSantis, while gun control activist Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in a school shooting in Broward County a year earlier, asked whether the omission was predetermined. DeSantis reissued the proclamation with revisions including mentions of the LGBT community, and a spokesperson said the omission was an error by DeSantis's staff. Scott included an LGBT reference in a previous Pulse memorial message.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, DeSantis "made a name for himself [in 2017] attacking special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election."
DeSantis was a critic of Obama's immigration policies; he opposed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and accused him of failing to enforce immigration laws. DeSantis opposes "sanctuary cities." He is a co-sponsor of the Establishing Mandatory Minimums for Illegal Reentry Act of 2015, also known as Kate's Law, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to increase penalties applicable to aliens who unlawfully reenter the United States after being removed. In 2017, DeSantis spoke at ACT! for America, an anti-Muslim advocacy group.
In March 2017, DeSantis said he was not ready to support the American Health Care Act, the House Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He did vote for the May 2017 Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
In January 2018, DeSantis announced his candidacy for governor of Florida to succeed term-limited Republican incumbent Rick Scott. Trump said in December 2017 that he would support DeSantis should he run for governor. During the Republican primary, DeSantis emphasized his support for Trump by running an ad in which DeSantis taught his children how to "build the wall" and say "Make America Great Again" and dressed one of his children in a red "Make America Great Again" jumper. Asked if he could name an issue where he disagreed with Trump, DeSantis did not identify one. On July 30, 2018, Jonathan Martin of The New York Times wrote that the support DeSantis's primary campaign had received demonstrated both Trump's king-making capacity in a Republican-trending state and a "broader nationalization of conservative politics" whereby "a willingness to hurl rhetorical lightning bolts at the left, the media and special counsel Robert S. Mueller can override local credentials, local endorsements and preparedness for a state-based job."
DeSantis has a "0" rating from the Human Rights Campaign for his voting record on LGBT-related issues and legislation. In 2018, he told the Sun Sentinel that he "doesn't want any discrimination in Florida, I want people to be able to live their life, whether you're gay or whether you're religious."
In January 2018, while on the House Intelligence Committee, DeSantis voted on party lines to release a classified memo authored by Republicans on the committee which purported to show that the FBI abused its surveillance powers in the Russia investigation. He voted not to release a memo authored by Democrats on the committee that accused Republicans on the committee of playing politics with national security. Democrats described the Republican-authored memo as grossly distorted and intended to discredit Mueller's investigation, and said that the Republicans on the committee had begun an investigation into the FBI and DOJ.
In April 2018, DeSantis called on FBI director Christopher Wray to criminally investigate a number of officials involved in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including former FBI director James Comey, former acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI counsel Lisa Page. He also called for investigations of a number of former Obama officials, including Loretta Lynch and Hillary Clinton.
On August 28, 2018, DeSantis won the Republican primary for the gubernatorial election. He was officially certified as the winner of the general election on November 20, 2018, after a machine recount, defeating the Democratic nominee, Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum. At 42, he is the youngest governor in the United States.
On August 28, 2018, DeSantis won the Republican primary. His Democratic opponent in the general election was Andrew Gillum. The race was "widely seen as a toss-up".
In September 2018, DeSantis announced state representative Jeanette Núñez as his running mate. He resigned his House seat on September 10, 2018, to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. The same month, DeSantis was criticized for not having a fully formed policy platform. He canceled a planned interview with the Tampa Bay Times to have additional time to put together a platform before an in-depth policy interview.
DeSantis expressed support for the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative after it passed in November 2018, saying that he was "obligated to faithfully implement [it] as it is defined" when he became governor. After he refused to restore the voting rights for felons with unpaid fines, which voting rights groups said was inconsistent with the results of the referendum, he was challenged in court. The Florida Supreme Court sided with DeSantis on the issue, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit also sided with DeSantis in a 6–4 ruling.
DeSantis has sharply criticized the United States Department of Veterans Affairs for the Veterans Health Administration scandal of 2014, in which veteran deaths were linked to wait times. He co-sponsored the VA Accountability Act, which aims to increase accountability by providing for the removal or demotion of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs based on performance or misconduct. He is a member of the Post-9/11 Veterans Caucus. DeSantis worked with a Marine Corps veteran of Afghanistan, Cole Lyle, and a nonprofit in his district, K9s for Warriors, to advance the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) Act of 2016. The bill sought to expand veteran access to service dogs as a form of treatment for Post Traumatic Stress at the VA. The bill did not pass in the 115th Congress, but a modified version passed the House of Representatives in 2019.
In January 2019, DeSantis officially suspended Broward County sheriff Scott Israel for his response to the mass shootings at the Fort Lauderdale airport and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. DeSantis appointed Gregory Tony sheriff of Broward County. In 2020, Tony admitted to withholding a murder arrest from DeSantis during the vetting process. Although DeSantis had originally touted the appointment, he later distanced himself from Tony after Tony's past was brought to light. DeSantis's office had requested a background check on Tony just one day before DeSantis made the appointment.
In January 2019, less than a week after taking office, DeSantis issued a nondiscrimination order for state employees reiterating former governor Scott's order; the order included race, age, sex, color, religion, national origin, marital status, and disability, but had no protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. Equality Florida strongly criticized DeSantis, with the organization's senior political director saying that it was "deeply disappointed to see that LGBTQ employees and contractors have been left out of the governor's executive order." Scott had pledged to sign an LGBT-inclusive order as governor, but did not follow through on the grounds that proper federal protections existed.
In his first two weeks in office, DeSantis appointed Barbara Lagoa, Robert J. Luck and Carlos G. Muñiz to fill the three vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, shifting the court's majority from liberal to conservative. He replaced the entire South Florida Water Management District board. He signed a $2.5 billion executive order for water quality and Everglades restoration work. In January 2019, DeSantis signed an executive order calling for the end of Common Core in Florida.
As governor, DeSantis pledged to be "the most pro-Israel governor in America". In light of Airbnb's decision to no longer allow rentals of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, on January 15, 2019, DeSantis directed the Department of Management Services to no longer reimburse state employees and state contractors for travel expenses incurred with Airbnb; later that month he accepted the State Board of Administration's recommendation to place Airbnb on Florida's "Scrutinized Companies List". In May, DeSantis visited Israel, accompanied by megadonor to his 2018 gubernatorial campaign and staunch Zionist Sheldon Adelson, to attend a ceremony held between Florida Atlantic University and Ariel University, celebrating the agreement of a plan to exchange and research opportunities between the universities' respective students.
DeSantis encouraged Florida sheriffs to cooperate with the federal government on immigration-related issues. In June 2019, he signed an anti-"sanctuary city" bill in law; the legislation required law enforcement "to honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers for undocumented immigrants who are arrested or convicted" of crimes. There were no sanctuary cities in Florida before the law's enactment, and immigration advocates called the bill politically motivated. Florida became the 12th state to adopt legislation requiring local governments to aid federal immigration-enforcement efforts. In June 2020, DeSantis signed a bill requiring government employers and private companies that contract with the government to use E-Verify. He had originally called for all employers to be required to use it.
In June 2019, DeSantis signed a measure that would make it harder to launch successful ballot initiatives. Petition-gathering for ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana, increases to the minimum wage, and expansion of Medicaid were also under way.
On October 10, 2019, a spokesman for DeSantis announced that he would be "returning a political contribution he received from two Soviet-born businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, through their company Global Energy Producers. Parnas and Fruman are accused of funneling foreign cash into U.S. elections to increase their influence and promote their business interests; they are central figures in the Trump-Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry. "They made the donation a day before Trump tweeted his 'full endorsement' of DeSantis."
After Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and refused to concede while making false claims of fraud, DeSantis and other Republicans proposed changes to restrict voting rights in Florida. DeSantis called for eliminating ballot drop boxes, as well as limiting voting by mail by requiring that voters re-register every year to vote by mail and requiring that signatures on mail-in ballots "must match the most recent signature on file" (rather than any of the voter's signatures in the Florida system). The changes to mail-in voting were notable given that Republicans had traditionally voted by mail more than Democrats, but Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail in 2020. According to a Tampa Bay Times analysis, DeSantis's signature match proposal could have led to rejections of his own mail-in ballots due to changes in his signature history over time; voting rights experts argued that the signature matching proposal could be used to disenfranchise voters whose signatures varied over time.
By the end of March 2020, Florida had 6,741 confirmed cases of COVID-19. DeSantis declared that he would not issue a statewide stay-at-home order because the Trump administration had not recommended it. On April 1, he ordered that all Floridians stay home for 30 days with exceptions for essential services and activities. He received criticism for falsely stating on April 9 that COVID-19 had caused no fatalities under 25 in the United States. DeSantis acknowledged this error after critics pointed it out, and clarified that there have been no deaths from the virus in people under 25 in Florida. In early June, he partially lifted his stay-at-home order, lifting restrictions on bars and cinemas; the same day he lifted the restrictions, Florida recorded the largest case surge in six weeks.
In March 2020, DeSantis decided against declaring a state of emergency in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeSantis's handling of COVID-19 in Florida was initially unpopular among the state's voters: as of May 2020, DeSantis was the only U.S. governor whose approval declined after COVID-19 became widespread in the U.S. But after a few months, DeSantis's reluctance to impose restrictions in response to the pandemic led to an increase in approval, especially among Republican voters. By February 2021, he generally had positive approval ratings, ranging from 51% to 64%.
In June 2020, DeSantis said the bulk of new cases were present in "younger demographics" and argued that increased testing, particularly of asymptomatic individuals, and more efficient identification of outbreaks in areas such as prisons and in Florida's agriculture sector were responsible for most of the increase. He emphasized that the strain on the hospital system and medical supplies such as ventilators had decreased since the previous peak in case numbers, and that Florida was ready to handle any additional influx in hospital patients, adding that the state had "twice as many" open hospital beds than on March 1. DeSantis announced that he would reinstate some restrictions on business activity in late June to halt the virus's spread, but said Florida is "not going back" on reopening the economy, arguing that "people going to a business is not what's driving" the surge in cases. Anthony Fauci said that states reopening faster than federal guidelines were contributing to a rise in cases.
On June 28, 2020, DeSantis said Florida was in "good shape" in its fight against COVID-19. In September 2020, he lifted all restrictions on capacity in bars and restaurants, despite persistent cases. He banned cities and counties from collecting fines from face mask mandates and urged public health officials in Florida cities to focus less on universal COVID-19 testing.
According to public health experts, politics rather than science dictated Florida's response to COVID-19. DeSantis rejected the implementation of a statewide face mask mandate, belatedly implemented stay-at-home orders, and let his stay-at-home order implemented in April expire. In July 2020, when Florida was a global epicenter of the coronavirus with nearly 5,800 deaths, DeSantis largely sidelined health experts and scientists, with The Washington Post reporting that he relied primarily on his wife, a former television reporter, and his chief of staff, a former hospital executive.
DeSantis's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been harshly criticized. According to the Sun-Sentinel, "DeSantis, who owes his job to early support from President Donald Trump, imposed an approach in line with the views of the president and his powerful base of supporters. The administration suppressed unfavorable facts, dispensed dangerous misinformation, dismissed public health professionals, and promoted the views of scientific dissenters who supported the governor’s approach to the disease." By April 2021, Florida ranked in the middle of the pack for both cases and deaths on a per capita basis, placing 27th out of 50 in both measures. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found substantial underreporting of deaths from COVID-19 in Florida during March to September 2020. Experts noted similar underreporting has occurred throughout the United States.
The DeSantis administration largely ignored the scientists in Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Instead, in August and September 2020, DeSantis invited to Florida other scientists who endorsed less restrictive COVID-19 policies that he agreed with, so that they could conduct press conferences with him. They included radiologist Scott Atlas, a Trump administration advisor known for spreading misinformation about COVID-19.
In November 2020, DeSantis proposed an "anti-mob" extension to the preexisting stand-your-ground law in Florida that would allow gun-owning residents to use deadly force on individuals they believe are looting. It would also make blocking traffic during a protest a third-degree felony and impose criminal penalties for partaking in "violent or disorderly assemblies".
in January 2021, legislation drafted by DeSantis was introduced to the Florida Senate seeking to protect Confederate monuments; permit the state to overrule local governments' decisions in reducing funding for police; waive sovereign immunity for municipalities, thereby allowing local authorities to be sued for providing inadequate law enforcement; and block people injured while participating in protests from receiving damages. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Kara Gross described the bill as an attempt "to silence and criminalize Black protesters and their allies who are exercising their First Amendment rights." When the bill was introduced on January 6, 2021, the same day as the storming of the U.S. Capitol, DeSantis said the legislation was a countermeasure to prevent similar events from occurring.
On February 2, 2021, DeSantis announced his support of legislation to crack down on Big Tech and prevent alleged political censorship. He also announced his support of a number of election law restrictions. The same month, the Biden administration mulled imposing travel restrictions on Florida and other domestic locations to prevent further spread of COVID-19. DeSantis expressed his discontent with what he falsely characterized as "trying to shut FL’s border" and announced his intention to fervently oppose it if executed.
In March 2021, DeSantis proposed legislation to impose restrictions and stricter requirements for Florida universities to collaborate with Chinese academics and universities; he said this would crack down on economic espionage by China.
On March 29, 2021, DeSantis announced he would sign an executive order prohibiting vaccine passports in Florida and ask the legislature to pass an identical statute.