Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to criticism Friday that he was acting more like a president and neglecting his duties as governor after he helped ship weaponry to Israel and assisted in evacuating U.S. citizens from Tel Aviv to Tampa after Hamas invaded the Jewish State.
DeSantis told FOX News he was simply "filling a void" left by what he suggested to be an insufficient response at the federal level.
"What we found after a day or two is that people were stranded. They weren't getting help from the State Department. They weren't getting help from the embassy there in Jerusalem. And so I did an executive order in Florida, and we were able to scramble planes and bring back mostly Floridians… [and] Americans who were stranded," he said Friday on "America Reports."
Israel's consul-general in Miami, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, told the Tampa Bay Times weaponry parts had indeed been scheduled to fly as cargo on an El Al Airlines flight to Israel earlier in October and that DeSantis aides approached him for assistance.
The Times further reported additional manifests of donations from U.S. citizens were transported to Israel on Florida's dime, to which White House spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said it is legal for state governors to offer "foreign assistance."
On "America Reports," DeSantis said that immediately following Hamas' bloody invasion of Israel, he knew the massacre would directly affect Florida, which hosts a large Jewish population and what the governor said was a "very strong relationship" with the Jewish State.
In terms of the reported weapons shipments, DeSantis said private citizens wanted to purchase and donate equipment to help the Israelis, and that Tallahassee wanted to help facilitate that.
"Those were all donated pieces of equipment where philanthropists purchased and probably put a lot of money out for that," he said.
DeSantis said he helped "engineer" the transportation of the donations, but that the state did not move them itself.
He rejected claims from Florida Democrats, including former State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried – head of the Florida Democratic Party, and runner-up in the 2022 gubernatorial primary to Charlie Crist – who claimed he was acting more like president than governor.
Fried said Joe Biden is the president and not DeSantis, adding in comments published by the Miami Herald that "as a Navy veteran, Ron should understand the importance of respecting the chain of command."
She went on to claim DeSantis violated "norms" and potentially federal law.
DeSantis replied that if he had not acted swiftly, Hamas may have taken more Americans hostage.
"My job as governor is to look after the safety and welfare of people in this state. It just so happened that a very close ally of not only the United States, but Florida was attacked viciously. And that left a lot of our people in a breach and they were in a difficult spot. So I think leadership is if there's a void, you step up, and you fill the void," he said.
DeSantis underlined that his actions were not rogue, but in concert with the Netanyahu administration at all times.
"I know there are hundreds and hundreds of people that are in Florida now that are thankful that we stepped up and led," he said.
The governor also reacted to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gaining on him in the polls, and the fact former President Donald Trump continues to enjoy double-digit leads in all early primary/caucus states.
He rejected comments from fellow Florida Republican Rick Scott, after the senator suggested GOP voters coalesce behind Trump.
"I must have missed where those voters have actually voted yet. Isn't it odd that we haven't had one contest and there's people that are having a rush to try to short circuit the people's voice?" DeSantis asked.
Scott's comments also illustrate a divide in Florida Republican politics between DeSantis and Trump, as the senator has been joined by a handful of congresspeople including Rep. Cory Mills in supporting the former president, while about 11 other congresspeople including Rep. Byron Donalds have endorsed DeSantis.
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