Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Friday that he didn’t mean he’d put long shot Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in charge of the Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when the Republican candidate said earlier this week that he’d “sic” the political family scion on the agencies. Instead, he said, he would want Kennedy, an anti-vaccine advocate, to work on a bipartisan panel charged with holding the federal government accountable for the response to the covid-19 pandemic.
“The word I use is, like, you know, let’s sic [Kennedy] on these agencies, you know, to hold them accountable. And that would be part of being kind of outside the agency and getting answers and bringing accountability to bear,” DeSantis told “The Megyn Kelly Show” in a clip released on Friday.
DeSantis’s comments attempted to clarify what he said in an interview with OutKick’s Clay Travis earlier this week. When Travis asked the Florida governor if he wanted Kennedy to be his running mate, DeSantis rejected the idea but added, “If you’re president, sic him on the FDA if he’d be willing to serve — or sic him on CDC.”
“It wouldn’t be [that] he’s the head of the CDC,” DeSantis underscored to Kelly on Friday, adding that Kennedy’s role would be “outside the agency getting answers and bringing accountability to bear.”
The Republican governor’s embrace of Kennedy — who earlier this month advanced a dangerous conspiracy theory that the coronavirus could have been a bioweapon “deliberately targeted” to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people — highlights a wedge issue where DeSantis may be attempting to dramatically split away from his rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, former president Donald Trump.
Early in the pandemic, DeSantis repeatedly praised Trump for the expedited development and rollout of a coronavirus vaccine and his office pushed for $480 million in pandemic resources. He also lauded the Biden administration for helping to expand access to vaccines. But a December 2022 Washington Post review of DeSantis’s public positions on the vaccines shows a full reversal that has unfolded gradually since 2021.
In a DeSantis presidential administration, the governor told Kelly, the CDC and FDA would be run by “doctor, PhD type(s),” like Stanford University professor of medicine Jay Bhattacharya, “who was right on covid.”
Bhattacharya was among a group of scientists who early in the pandemic, under Trump administration, argued that authorities should allow the coronavirus to spread among young healthy people while protecting the elderly and the vulnerable. The controversial approach to rely on achieving “herd immunity” by infecting people rather than via vaccination was embraced by one of Trump’s covid advisers, Scot Atlas. But experts at the time warned that adopting the strategy could lead to a significant loss of life.
In his interview with Kelly, DeSantis took aim at lockdown restrictions’ impact on children’s’ education and the economy, as well as a frequent conservative foe — former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony S. Fauci. But he also criticized the passage of the Cares Act, a $2 trillion legislative package signed into law in March 2020 by Trump.
Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.