April 16, 2024

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DeSantis criticizes Trump for implying Florida abortion ban is ‘too harsh’

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis throws a marker into the audience after signing various bills during a bill signing ceremony at the Coastal Community Church at Lighthouse Point, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Lighthouse Point, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized Donald Trump on Tuesday for implying Florida’s new six-week abortion ban is “too harsh,” stepping up his attacks on the former president as he prepares to challenge him for the 2024 Republican nomination.

DeSantis was responding to a question about Trump’s comments in an article published Monday by The Messenger about the six-week ban the Florida governor recently signed into law. “Many people within the pro-life movement feel that that was too harsh,” Trump told the online outlet.

DeSantis contended the law has widespread support among opponents of abortion and noted the former president didn’t say what limits he would back on the procedure.

“Protecting an unborn child when there’s a detectable heartbeat is something that almost 99% of pro-lifers support,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Florida, taking questions after he signed a measure to combat human trafficking.

“As a Florida resident, you know, he didn’t give an answer about, ‘Would you have signed the heartbeat bill that Florida did, that had all the exceptions that people talk about?’” DeSantis added.

The rivalry between Trump and DeSantis is heating up as the Florida governor nears a decision on a 2024 presidential bid. DeSantis allies believe he will launch his candidacy as soon as this week, although an announcement could come closer to the end of the month.

Abortion has been an early flashpoint in the still-forming Republican primary field ahead of the first presidential election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The bickering showcases the GOP’s ongoing internal debate over hard-line abortion restrictions, which may be popular in a Republican primary but could create problems in a general election for the party’s eventual nominee.

Asked whether he felt Trump had taken a firm enough stance on abortion, former Vice President Mike Pence — a staunch opponent of abortion who is soon expected to enter the race against his former boss — drew a line of distinction with Trump on the issue Tuesday night, saying he supported Florida’s bill and would sign such a measure as president.

“For my part, I disagree with President Trump about the heartbeat bill,” Pence told reporters after an event in Concord, New Hampshire. “I truly do believe that we ought to advance the cause of life at the state level, but I also want to say, I also believe there is a role at the federal level to advance the sanctity of life.”

The bill signed into law last month by DeSantis would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. It will take effect only if the state’s current 15-week ban is upheld in a legal challenge before the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservatives.

“Ron DeSantis is flailing in the polls and is closer to the bottom of the pack than he is to President Trump, who is dominating in every single poll,” Trump campaign Steven Cheung said when asked to respond to DeSantis’ remarks. Cheung pointed out an anti-abortion group’s recent characterization of Trump’s presidency as “the most consequential in American history for the pro-life cause.”

Calling into a Newsmax program Tuesday night, Trump repeated comments he made on CNN that he had given abortion opponents “the power of negotiation” and, twice deflecting questions about whether he would support a national abortion ban at a specific point, said that “many pro-life people” are “talking about more weeks than Ron is talking about.”

“But I’m going to decide, and I’m going to be in there pushing, and I’m the one that got rid of Roe v. Wade,” he said.

Trump has referred to himself as “the most pro-life president in American history,” as his three nominations of conservative judges to the Supreme Court paved the way for the end of legalized abortion nationwide.

But in the early months of his 2024 bid, Trump has often sidestepped the issue of abortion, even as Republicans across the country celebrate the Supreme Court decision stripping federal constitutional rights to the practice.

In Iowa in March, he repeatedly refused to say whether he would support a federal law restricting abortion in every state — a move that anti-abortion activists have been demanding of the GOP’s presidential contenders. “We’re looking at a lot of different things,” he said when asked by The Associated Press whether he supports a federal abortion ban.

Last week during a primetime CNN town hall in New Hampshire, Trump continued to avoid specifics on a national ban, repeatedly saying he would “do what’s right,” without specifying what that was.

As he gets closer to an announcement, DeSantis has been escalating his criticism of Trump, who for months has been attacking him directly and through groups supporting his candidacy. Last week in Iowa, as perilous weather sidelined Trump’s trip to the state, DeSantis highlighted the GOP’s recent string of electoral losses — a clear knock on the former president.

“We must reject the culture of losing that has impacted our party in recent years. The time for excuses is over,” DeSantis said at an event in Sioux Center. “If we get distracted, if we focus the election on the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again.”

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