Newsom, a Democrat, and DeSantis, a Republican, defended their different approaches to governing two of America’s most populous states: California and Florida.
Fox News host Sean Hannity moderated the Thursday night debate, which ran around ninety minutes. Here are some highlights from it:
1. COVID-19 and lockdowns
DeSantis and Newsom had a lengthy exchange on COVID-19 lockdowns while discussing the economy in their respective states.
When DeSantis was discussing how businesses were doing better in Florida, Newsom interjected by asking if that was the opinion of Disney.
“That’s an interesting point with Disney because I had Disney open during COVID and we made them a fortune and we saved a lot of jobs,” DeSantis said. “You had Disney closed inexplicably for over a year, you were not following science, you were a lockdown governor, you did a lot of damage to your people.”
Newsom responded by saying that DeSantis declared an emergency declaration before he did.
“You closed down your beaches, your bars, your restaurants, it’s a fact, you had quarantines, you had checkpoints all over the state of Florida,” Newsom said. “ … You followed science, you followed [Dr. Anthony] Fauci.”
He further said that DeSantis’ policies catered to the “fringe” of his party and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
DeSantis responded by saying that a Lancet study showed that Florida had “a lower standardized death rate than California did.”
2. The border and immigration
The two governors had sharply contrasting views on the border. Newsom accused DeSantis of being heartless toward illegal immigrants, and DeSantis said that the policies of Newsom and fellow Democrats were creating dangerous lawlessness in America.
Newsom defended the Biden administration’s record on the border, which has seen record numbers of illegal immigrants cross in every year of Joe Biden’s presidency.
“The Biden administration put out a comprehensive plan on day one when he got sworn into office three years ago and the Republican Party didn’t touch it, they didn’t move on it,” Newsom said.
He continued to say that there is nobody he would trust less on the issue of immigration.
“When he was in Congress, he supported amnesty,” Newsom said of DeSantis.
He then criticized DeSantis for sending a group of illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy area and popular vacation spot in Massachusetts.
DeSantis said that Newsom was spreading a “flurry of lies.” He pointed to the Biden administration’s reassurance that the border is “secure” and said “they are lying to you, we know that’s not true.”
The Florida governor pointed out that “California is a sanctuary state” and said that “they thumb their nose at federal immigration law.”
DeSantis explained that this status has consequences. He brought up a story of Los Angeles refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the case of an illegal immigrant with multiple arrests.
“He ends up murdering the mother of a three-year-old little girl,” he said. “Those policies are deadly, they do not work.”
He also said that Martha’s Vineyard is a sanctuary jurisdiction.
“These liberal elites, they like to impose those burdens on you, they don’t want to have to face the consequences,” DeSantis said.
3. Explicit books and book banning
Hannity brought up the debates over the use of explicit, pro-LGBTQ books in school libraries and classrooms.
First, he asked DeSantis if schools should be focusing on reading, writing, and math instead of getting into issues around social values.
DeSantis said that it wasn’t appropriate for schools to indoctrinate children, but it’s also important to respect parental rights and eliminate inappropriate material from classrooms.
He held up a page from a book called “Gender Queer” that depicted sex acts.
“Some of it’s blacked out, you would probably not be able to put this on air, this is pornography, it’s cartoons that’s aimed at children, and it’s wrong,” he said.
Hannity asked Newsom if he was comfortable with books like “Gender Queer,” which depict sex acts, in school districts.
“That’s not part of the curriculum, they aren’t teaching kids that,” Newsom said.
He then pointed to DeSantis and said, “the bottom line is that you are on a book banning binge in your state.”
The California governor called the removal of books from classrooms a “cultural purge.”
“What I find offensive is that a very significant number of these books happen to be LGBTQ books, a significant number of these books happen to be about African Americans, and I find it offensive,” he said.
Newsom said that they have sex education in middle schools and high schools “where it’s appropriate.”
He called the book issue “made up” and part of the “culture war and the weaponization of grievance.”
DeSantis responded by saying that California’s schools are being used to “impose a liberal agenda.”
“He says California respects parents’ rights, this is rich,” DeSantis said. “He’s been telling a lot of whoppers tonight, this may be the biggest.”
He then spoke about California’s education policies.
“In California, if you’re a parent in Iowa and New Hampshire, your child can go to California without your knowledge and without your consent and get hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and a sex change operation all without you knowing or consenting,” DeSantis said.
He called the policy fundamentally “radical” and “extreme.”
“It’s not for you to decide, it’s for parents to decide,” the Florida governor said while pointing to Newsom.
The governors debated the issue of homelessness.
Newsom said that the issue has been “decades” in the making in California since the sate started shutting down mental health institutions. He said he was the first governor in the country to tackle the issue “head on.”
“We are investing unprecedented resources, more accountability, we’ve gotten 68,000 people off the street, it’s close to 6,000 encampments we’ve gotten off the streets,” he said. “We’ve also invested unprecedented resources in reforming our behavioral health system, Ron has literally the worst mental health system in America, forgive me, outside of Mississippi and Texas.”
DeSantis then held up a map of San Francisco that showed incidents of feces and human waste being reported on the street.
“This is an app where they plot the human feces that are found on the streets of San Francisco, and you see how almost the whole thing is covered, because that is what has happened in one of the previous greatest cities this country has ever had,” he said.
DeSantis said that feces on the street has become a fact of life in San Francisco, except “when a dictator comes to town.”
He was referring to a recent visit by China’s leader Xi Jinping.
“Then they cleaned up the streets, they lined the streets with Chinese flags, they didn’t put American flags there, they cleaned everything up,” DeSantis said. “So they’re willing to do it for a communist dictator, but they’re not willing to do it for their own people.”
5. Different types of freedom
DeSantis said he first thought Newsom’s claim about California’s freedoms was laughable, but then he thought more about it.
“California does have freedoms that some people don’t — that other states don’t,” he said. “You have the freedom to defecate in public in California. You have the freedom to pitch a tent on Sunset Boulevard. You have the freedom to create a homeless encampment under a freeway and even light it on fire. You have the freedom to have an open-air drug market and use drugs. You have a freedom, if you are an illegal alien, to get all these taxpayers benefits.”
“So those are freedoms,” he added. “They are not the freedoms our Founding Fathers envisioned, but they have contributed to the destruction of the quality of life in California and the results speak for themselves.”
Newsom responded by accusing DeSantis of curbing other freedoms.
“I love the rant on freedom,” the California governor said. “I mean, here’s a guy who’s criminalizing teachers, criminalizing doctors, criminalizing librarians, and criminalizing women that seek their reproductive care. You’re making it harder to vote. You’re banning books. I mean, spare me this notion of freedom.”
Despite repeated questioning from Hannity, Newsom refused to identify any abortion limits he would support.
“On the issue of the extreme exception that you highlight as it relates to the issue of later term abortion, it’s almost always because of a fetal anomaly [or] the life of the mother. And in those rare cases, I trust … the mother and her doctor to make that decision,” he said.
DeSantis said Newsom was “wrong” regarding late-term abortions and said data in Florida indicated 88% of later abortions were elective.
Asked about why he supported a six-week abortion ban in Florida, DeSantis recounted the story of Miriam “Penny” Hopper.
“I think about one of our Floridians, a lady named Penny Hopper. She actually survived a late-term abortion back in the day and they left her on the table there, to basically wither away. Her grandmother came, saved her, brought her to a hospital … So she counts and she matters,” he said.
Newsom asked DeSantis to state whether he would sign a federal six-week abortion ban, but DeSantis did not answer.