Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday rejected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ offer to debate the state’s recent guidelines on teaching the African American experience, calling him part of a group of “extremist, so-called leaders” trying to rewrite the “ugly parts of history.”
“They attempt to legitimize these unnecessary debates with a proposal that most recently came in of a politically motivated roundtable,” Harris said in her afternoon speech at the 20th Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Quadrennial Convention in Orlando. “Well, I’m here in Florida, and I will tell you there is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact. There were no redeeming qualities of slavery.”
In a letter Monday, DeSantis asked Harris to visit Florida and discuss his state’s contentious new teaching standards on African American history. Since July 20, Harris has sharply criticized the state’s new education standards on Black history, a 216-page document containing instruction that slaves developed skills that, “in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
“We will not stop calling out and fighting back against extremist, so-called leaders who try to prevent our children from learning our true and full history,” Harris said, never referring to the Florida governor by name.
Harris has already traveled to Florida once to blast the new standards, delivering a 23-minute-long speech in July as part of a White House effort to advocate for a “full and true” American history curriculum. But DeSantis and his team have pushed back just as forcefully, arguing that the new standards reflect “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
“Time and again, D.C. politicians choose to malign our state and its residents,” DeSantis wrote in the letter. “Over the past several weeks, the Biden Administration has repeatedly disparaged our state and misinformed Americans about our education system. It’s past time to set the record straight.”
As he continues his 2024 presidential campaign, DeSantis has touted the changes he has made pushing back on social issues and policies in Florida, including around parental rights as education, as an example of the efforts he would advocate for in the White House. He has come out in full support of the new education standards, passed in July by a board he appoints, while blasting any critics in his way.
DeSantis has painted Democratic criticism of the standards as an attack on parents.
“She came to Florida to attack us, and she’s trying to attack me. But she’s really attacking the people that worked hard on this,” DeSantis told reporters at an unrelated campaign event in New Hampshire on Tuesday morning. “I think it’s wrong to let lies be perpetuated. It’s wrong to let false narratives stand.”
But several notable Black Republicans, including Reps. Byron Donalds of Florida and Wesley Hunt of Texas and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, have joined Democrats in criticizing the part about slavery creating a “personal benefit.” These comments, in turn, led DeSantis and his camp to accuse them of siding with liberals and accepting Democratic-led narratives.
Some other Republicans, primarily supporters of Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary, have also thrown some shade at DeSantis over the conflict.
“Imagine being desperate enough to be thirsty for a Kamala visit,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) posted Tuesday morning on X, formerly known as Twitter, in response to DeSantis’ letter.
In the letter, DeSantis said he would be ready to meet with Harris as early as Wednesday, taking a snipe at her and the Biden administration’s immigration policy by saying he would defer to the vice president’s schedule if she had “a trip to the southern border planned.”