Aug 8, 2023, 7:21am EDT

Ron DeSantis’ risky attack on Donald Trump’s COVID aid

REUTERS/Reba Saldanha

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The News

Ron DeSantis has settled on a new attack, arguing that Donald Trump’s giant COVID aid package is responsible for the nation’s current ills, from mail-in voting to rising national debt to freeloaders who won’t work.

There’s just one problem: It implicates almost the entire Republican party — and possibly DeSantis himself.

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Know More

The Florida governor has mentioned the $2 trillion aid package, signed by Trump in the earliest days of the pandemic in March 2020, at least three times in recent weeks.

  • He tweeted at the beginning of August that the Fitch Ratings downgrade of the U.S. credit rating was “a result of frivolous spending and ballooning national debt for programs like the CARES [Act].”
  • He said CARES “underwrote” COVID restrictions and encouraged people “not to work” at an event in New Hampshire.
  • And he amped things up even further during an NBC News interview that aired throughout Monday, saying the aid fueled 2020 election practices that Trump decried. “They embraced lockdowns,” he said. “They did the CARES Act, which funded mail-in ballots across the country.”
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Shelby’s view

The original CARES Act was probably the least-controversial major bill of Trump’s presidency at the time — it passed the Senate with unanimous support and the House by voice vote as COVID-19 ravaged New York City. Polls showed voters of all parties strongly backed it as well.

That makes it hard to throw mud at Trump (and perhaps Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.) without dirtying a whole lot of Republicans who might not appreciate it, even if they went on to oppose later iterations of COVID aid.


One of the rare critics of the bill at the time of passage was Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., a DeSantis ally. But almost every senator or House member, including key figures in early voting states like Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley in Iowa, supported the law, while governors across the country relied on its funding to power their own COVID responses.

DeSantis himself frequently cited CARES Act funding in press releases and sometimes on Twitter. “We thank President Trump for this much-needed support and look forward to our continued work to defeat COVID-19 and emerge stronger than before,” he said in one April statement announcing billions in emergency aid.

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Room for Disagreement

It’s possible DeSantis can recontextualize the law for voters who haven’t considered it in awhile. While the original CARES Act itself has not been a frequent political target, there were more intense debates later on about extending its aid provisions. By the time President Biden passed his own COVID relief bill a year later, which incorporated Trump’s call for $2,000 stimulus payments, it had zero Republican votes.

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The View From Trump World

“If he can’t remember his own glowing statements about the CARES Act from just a few years ago, how the hell does he think he can be president?” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung asked in a statement.

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  • Congress rushed to get money out the door to workers and businesses in the early days of the pandemic — now it’s trying to calculate how much was lost to fraud. The Department of Labor’s Inspector General has estimated “at least” $191 billion in pandemic unemployment aid may have been improperly claimed. The Small Business Administration’s inspector general has estimated more than $200 billion may have wrongly gone to small businesses.