Updated May 10, 2023, 5:51pm EDT
politicsNorth America

RFK Jr.: Ron DeSantis invited me to breakfast, said he wanted to burn the NIH “to the ground”

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls AFP/Joseph Prezioso

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The News

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. that he wanted to “burn” the National Institutes of Health “to the ground,” according to a new interview with the Democratic presidential candidate.

In a May 9 conversation with actor Russell Brand, Kennedy said that DeSantis invited him to breakfast during the COVID pandemic, to discuss what Kennedy described as his “science-based response” to the crisis.

“We talked about him possibly running for the presidency, and I said, how will you handle the NIH?” Kennedy told Brand, whose talk show has more than 1.1 million subscribers on the YouTube alternative Rumble. “And he said: ‘I’ll burn it to the ground.’ You know, I understand the impulse. But I think I can have a more surgical impact on these agencies.”

Kennedy, who did not respond to a request for comment by press time, did not say when the meeting was. A spokesman for DeSantis declined to comment. In February, the Florida governor told Fox News host Mark Levin that he “would have respected” the NIH and Centers for Disease Control before the pandemic, but became convinced that they were interested in control, not health.

“If you look at like all these entrenched bureaucrats, CDC, NIH, FDA — they need to be cleaned out because they totally failed and they are not advocating for the best interests of the people of this country,” DeSantis told Levin.

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Know More

Kennedy has been questioning the wisdom of public health experts since 2005, when he published a Rolling Stone feature speculating on a long-since-debunked link between vaccines and autism.

The respect he’s earned from Republicans is more recent, bolstered by his accessibility — he’s done hours of interviews with conservative hosts — and his skeptical treatment from a media that conservatives don’t trust. When DeSantis invited him to Florida, he was inviting a life-long Democrat and environmental attorney who’d been blacklisted by many liberals. “The Real Anthony Fauci,” Kennedy’s best-selling 2021 book, was distributed by a publisher famous for rescuing books that others had canceled.

Both men had battled the media over their criticism of pandemic practices, like indoor masking and stay-at-home policies, that were recommended by the NIH. But Kennedy’s speculation about a vaccine-autism link had made him persona non grata with some politicians, as has his campaigning against mandating COVID vaccines or delivering them to children.

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David and Shelby's View

DeSantis’s invitation to Kennedy had never been discussed before this week — the governor didn’t publicize it. But it’s not likely to be an immediate political problem for either man. The governor’s rejection of some government COVID advice and refusal to turn Florida into “a Faucian dystopia” is at the heart of his likely presidential campaign. And Kennedy’s campaign has been so intriguing to Republicans that he clarified today that “under no circumstances” would he join a ticket with Donald Trump. He did not mention DeSantis.

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  • Kennedy has been happy to defend his outreach to conservatives, questioning why more liberals don’t want to talk to Republicans and why they’d rather try to de-platform them. “Liberals need to start talking to people with whom they otherwise disagree,” Kennedy wrote in “A Letter to Liberals,” a short book about COVID and vaccines he published last summer. “If we don’t talk to our political opponents, how will we ever find common ground?”