DeSantis Signs Tall Stack of Right-Wing Bills as 2024 Entrance Nears
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, an all-but-declared presidential candidate, has stepped up his headline-hunting travel and events ahead of an official announcement, traversing the state and trying to hoover up national attention as he signs the sharply conservative legislation he believes can propel him to the Republican Party’s nomination.
On Wednesday, Mr. DeSantis signed a slew of measures that hit all the culture-clash notes his base has rewarded him for, including bills banning gender-transition care for minors, preventing children from attending “adult live performances” like drag shows and restricting the use of preferred pronouns in schools.
“We need to let our kids just be kids,” Mr. DeSantis said at a Christian school in Tampa. “What we’ve said in Florida is we are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy.”
It was his third consecutive day of holding public bill-signing ceremonies across the state. The ceremonies, which he hosts in his official capacity as governor, allow Mr. DeSantis to promote his political message in settings that he carefully stage-manages as a veritable M.C., calling up additional speakers and then thanking them for their contributions. These events sometimes take on the feel of political rallies.
Such a platform gives Mr. DeSantis an advantage over his potential rivals for the presidency — many of whom are either out of office or hold legislative roles — as he sprints toward declaring his candidacy, which is likely to happen by the end of the month.
On Monday, his signing of a bill defunding diversity and equity programs at public colleges and universities drew a robust round of news coverage — as well as loud protesters. He and other Republicans who shared the stage mocked the demonstrators, many of them students at New College of Florida, a public liberal arts school in Sarasota that the governor has sought to transform into a conservative bastion.
The signing of bills aimed at the L.G.B.T.Q. community on Wednesday was “an all-out attack on freedom,” Joe Saunders, the senior political director of Equality Florida, an advocacy organization, said in a virtual news conference. He noted that Mr. DeSantis had already signed a six-week abortion ban as well as bills that allowed physicians to decline to provide care based on moral or religious grounds.
Mr. DeSantis sees freedom “as a campaign slogan in his bid for the White House,” Mr. Saunders said. “The nation should be on high alert, because, today, we are all Floridians.”
Some centrist Republicans say the way Mr. DeSantis has pushed Florida to the right on social issues is a potential weakness in a general election. Representatives for Mr. DeSantis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
As he travels the state, the lines between Mr. DeSantis’s roles as governor and potential presidential candidate can sometimes seem blurred.
On Tuesday, after he signed several bills near Fort Lauderdale aimed at curbing human trafficking, an issue that the right has tried to weaponize in national politics, Mr. DeSantis received a boost from Florida’s two top Republican legislative leaders, Kathleen Passidomo, the Senate president, and Paul Renner, the House speaker.
After the signing concluded, Ms. Passidomo and Mr. Renner stepped up to a lectern — embossed with Florida’s state seal, rather than the “Stop Human Trafficking” sign that the governor had used moments earlier — to endorse Mr. DeSantis for president, an office he is not yet formally seeking.
Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Ms. Passidomo, said that the endorsement had taken place as a matter of convenience because the governor and legislative leaders had not been together since the lawmaking session ended on May 5. “It was a good opportunity to answer a question they have both been getting from the press since the day they were sworn in last November,” Ms. Betta wrote in an email, referring to Ms. Passidomo and Mr. Renner.
The governor is soon expected to unveil more endorsements from state lawmakers. Behind the scenes, his allies are jostling with former President Donald J. Trump’s backers to secure those pledges. At the federal level, members of the Florida’s congressional delegation have gone heavily for Mr. Trump.
Mr. DeSantis has now held an official event on every weekday this month. He spends his weekends on political travel, including to the crucial early-voting state of Iowa last Saturday.
Since winning re-election in a rout in November, Mr. DeSantis has regularly faced questions at state events about his national political ambitions. For months, he usually fended them off with quips about how he was not interested in petty infighting and how it was too soon to be talking about future campaigns with the annual lawmaking session pending.
No more. On Tuesday, Mr. DeSantis jumped at the chance to call out Mr. Trump for dodging a question about abortion. The former president had criticized Florida’s six-week ban as too harsh while remaining noncommittal about what restrictions he might support.
“I signed the bill. I was proud to do it,” Mr. DeSantis told reporters. “He won’t answer whether he would sign it or not.”
This time, it was the swipe at Mr. Trump that made headlines.
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