Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) met with Republican members of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday ahead of a widely expected presidential bid.
His visit came amid a wave of House Republicans — including several from his state — announcing endorsements for former President Trump, whose campaign has been closely tracking congressional support.
Freshman Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla.) on Tuesday became the third member of Congress to endorse DeSantis for president despite him not yet officially launching a White House bid, joining Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas).
But DeSantis’s Washington, D.C., sweep was met with some endorsement blows. Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) announced he is endorsing Trump just as he left a “positive meeting” with DeSantis on Tuesday. Florida Republican Reps. John Rutherford and Greg Steube announced endorsements of Trump on Tuesday and Monday, respectively.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said while leaving the DeSantis event that Trump’s team calls to ask for his endorsement “all the time” — but he is not inclined to endorse anyone at the moment.
“I’ve always said you don’t pick up friends when you endorse — just enemies,” Burchett said.
Still, several dozen members of Congress flocked to see DeSantis at the Tuesday event, whether to visit with an old colleague — DeSantis is a former representative who was a member of the House Freedom Caucus — or to meet the Florida governor for the first time.
Attendees ranged from staunch conservatives, like Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), to those on the more moderate side, like Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.).
“I’ve always supported President Trump, and he’s always supported me. So that’s where my likely support is going to be,” Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) said while leaving the event. “But we have some really serious issues facing the country. And we got to make sure our nominee wins. So that’s what I’m primarily interested in.”
Some members downplayed the importance of endorsements.
“I’ve run many political campaigns. Endorsements by elected officials don’t mean a whole lot,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who called his former House Freedom Caucus colleague “one of the smartest people I know.”
And to the Republic, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that has been supporting DeSantis as he makes appearances across the country, hosted the Tuesday evening event at a Heritage Foundation location close to the Capitol.
Several dozen members of Congress attended the meet-and-greet, which members described as a casual get-to-know-you or catch-up event. DeSantis touted his accomplishments as governor of Florida but did not directly ask for any endorsements, according to multiple members who attended the event.
DeSantis’s mere presence on Capitol Hill inspired aggressive protests outside the event, organized by the progressive activist group ShutDownDC. Protesters booed members of Congress leaving the event, and they railed against recent moves by DeSantis, like signing a six-week abortion ban and a Florida law that prohibits teachers from instructing on sexual orientation or gender identity through third grade.
Protest organizer Vincent Bertuccio at one point interrupted Meuser’s conversation with a reporter and followed him around the block, hurling profanities and criticizing his support for politicians who do not support gender-affirming care for LGBTQ youth.
“You don’t get a moment of peace so long as you think it’s ethical to attack our community, Congressman,” Bertuccio told him.
“You’re a moron,” Meuser shot back.
Bertuccio defended his confrontational tactics.
“Not every issue deserves a scathing review, like I tried to give. But when you push things like gender-affirming care bans that really impact queer and trans youth, suicide rates are off the charts. … Sometimes you just need to be told that what you’re doing is deeply wrong, and this is the type of anger that you deserve,” Bertuccio said.
Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah) chalked the protests up to a consequence of DeSantis’s political fame and stature.
“He’s a potential Republican nominee for president. And so yeah, there’s gonna be some protests,” Moore said. “It’s not as big a deal as everybody makes it out to be.”