Vice President Kamala Harris dismissed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ challenge to debate his state’s new Black history curriculum as “politically motivated,” marking the latest escalation in a quickly growing feud between the former prosecutor and GOP presidential hopeful.
Harris, speaking in Florida Tuesday during a previously scheduled event, accused DeSantis – though not by name – of trying to legitimize the controversial standards through political gamesmanship.
“Well, I’m here in Florida,” Harris said to widespread applause at the African Methodist Episcopal 20th Women’s Missionary Society Quadrennial Convention. “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.”
The newly approved curriculum from the Florid Board of Education introduces standards that stated middle school students should be taught that enslaved people learned some skills they later used to their benefit. Harris has repeatedly called the standards “propaganda” meant to “replace history with lies,” and divide the country.
In late July, the vice president went headfirst into the culture war issue when she quickly spoke against the standards in DeSantis’ home state, just 24 hours after they were approved. Harris, a White House official told CNN, directed her team on a Thursday to set up an event in Florida after learning of what was approved – a day later, she delivered a fiery speech that ripped “so-called leaders” for willfully misleading children.
“This is unnecessary to debate whether enslaved people benefited from slavery. Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to debate that?” Harris said in Jacksonville at the time.
DeSantis, in turn, has trained his eye on the vice president, calling her a liar in the wake of her comments.
DeSantis has appeared to welcome the fight as he seeks to build momentum on the campaign trail. The Florida Republican escalated his attacks Monday when he penned a letter inviting Harris to Tallahassee to discuss the standards and accused her of trying to “score cheap political points.”
“In Florida, we are unafraid to have an open and honest dialogue about issues. And you clearly have no trouble ducking down to Florida on short notice. So given your grave concern (which, I must assume, is sincere) about what you think our standards say, I am officially inviting you back down to Florida to discuss our African American History standards,” the letter read.
DeSantis is struggling to break-through as he vies for the Republican nomination, trailing behind former President Donald Trump and resetting his campaign after hand wringing over his early performance and headlines about staff cuts and financial troubles. The vice president is an unpopular politician in Republican circles, making her an easy target for the primary candidate. In New Hampshire on Tuesday morning, DeSantis took on Harris directly.
“She seemed to have a lot to say about it, none of it which has been true,” DeSantis told reporters at the Windmill Restaurant in Concord.
He added, “Let’s have the debate. Let’s dispense with the narratives. We’re ready to roll.”
DeSantis dismissed the idea that he’s picking a fight with the vice president, saying she actually cast the first stone.
“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 and have done, you know, a lot of yeoman’s work,” DeSantis said. “It’s wrong to let false narratives stand, and they’ve been doing this to us for years from the White House and we fought back every time.”
The vice president’s office remained silent on the letter overnight so the former California attorney general could respond in her own voice, adopting a prosecutorial tone in critical remarks at a convention geared towards Black women, an important base of voters for the Biden campaign.
“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, in an attempt to divide and distract our nation with unnecessary debates,” Harris said of DeSantis.
She added, “And now they attempt to legitimize these unnecessary debates with a proposal that most recently came in a politically motivated roundtable.”
Harris’ willingness to engage in the back-and-forth with DeSantis illustrates a sharp shift from her previous strategy. In recent weeks, the White House and Biden campaign have sought to use her to capitalize off of confronting what they see as an effort from Republican extremists to claw back rights and personal freedoms.
“We will not stop calling out and fighting back against extremist so-called leaders who tried to prevent our children from learning our true and full history.”
CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this report.