DeSantis’s pleas for hurricane aid raise hackles amid vast partisan divide

<span>Photograph: Alicia Devine/AP</span>
Photograph: Alicia Devine/AP

Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has become a familiar, and to some a reassuring, face on numerous television channels through the traumatic aftermath of Hurricane Ian’s rampage through the state.

But the near-constant presence of the Republican, who in less chaotic times limits his on-screen appearances largely to the Fox News faithful, is not sitting comfortably with others, nor are his appeals for public contributions for hurricane relief while he is using taxpayers’ money for “political stunts”.

Related: Ron DeSantis changes with the wind as Hurricane Ian prompts flip-flop on aid

DeSantis announced at a press conference on Friday morning that public donations to the state’s disaster fund had surpassed $12m, coincidentally the same amount he was allocated from the state budget, funded by interest on federal Covid relief payments, for a controversial migrant-removal program.

The governor, a likely candidate for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, has already spent a chunk of that money shifting two planeloads of Venezuelans from Texas to Massachusetts, raising questions over why he was shuttling immigrants between two states of which he is not governor on the Florida taxpayers’ dime.

DeSantis says he expects to arrange more flights until the money is spent, but his actions have drawn a criminal investigation from a sheriff in Texas and two lawsuits. The first is a class-action suit filed on behalf of the migrants by the group Lawyers for Civil Rights, alleging breaches of federal immigration law.

“What we hope to do … is stop the shipment of immigrants across state lines by misrepresentation and fraudulent efforts, specifically from Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida,” Miriam Albert, one of the group’s lawyers, said.

The second lawsuit was filed by Democrats in Florida seeking to shut down DeSantis’s migrant-movement program altogether.

Also under scrutiny are his requests earlier in the week, immediately granted by Joe Biden, for federal money for hurricane relief.

Critics have noted that among DeSantis’s first acts after being elected to Congress in November 2012 was to join 66 Republican colleagues and vote against a government aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which killed more than 100 as it devastated north-eastern states.

In an interview on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox this week, DeSantis appeared to have changed his view.

“We live in a politicized time, but when people are fighting for their lives, when their livelihood is at stake, lost everything, if you can’t put politics aside for that, you won’t be able to,” he said.

Normally fierce critics of each other, Biden and DeSantis have reached a kind of uneasy detente because of the hurricane, similar to the temporary peace between them over the Surfside apartment complex disaster in Florida in June 2021.

The pair have spoken several times this week, and DeSantis has acknowledged Biden’s support.