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Gov. Ron DeSantis pushes Vera Leip, 88, in her wheelchair after she received a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine in Pompano Beach. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The national press continues to try to assess Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' pandemic response, and this time Politico's Michael Kruse, a former enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, spent a week chasing the governor around the Sunshine state.

Setting the scene: Kruse casts DeSantis as a "small-government conservative with a libertarian bent" who "was hesitant to shut down from the start."

  • So hesitant, in fact, that DeSantis allegedly told U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a fellow Trump ally, that he’d do just one thing differently if he could have a re-do. "He told me," Gaetz said, "that his biggest regret as governor is that we ever locked down for even one day."

Why it matters: A year after the pandemic’s start, the third most populous state is neither the best nor the worst in some key categories.

Flashback: DeSantis instituted a month-long stay-at-home order on April 1. And refused to do so again, Kruse points out.

What they're saying:

  • "It could have potentially gone very wrong," said Brian Ballard, the powerful Trump-tied lobbyist.
  • "He could have killed a bunch of us," said lawyer and Democratic donor John Morgan. "But he didn’t."
  • "He made the right decisions," said Christian Ziegler, the vice chairman of the state GOP.
  • U.S. Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist called DeSantis’ pandemic response "horrific" and "immoral."

Of note: Mayors say DeSantis didn’t make the hard decisions — they did.

  • "I like how now he’s taking credit for how well the state did while it was really local governments and mayors that put orders in place that kept our residents safe," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said.

The big question: "What’s an acceptable death toll — the actual number of people lost — to try to keep as much of everything else intact?" Kruse writes.

  • In Florida, that number is 32,741 and climbing.

Worthy of your time.

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

Federal Reserve scales back expectations for economic recovery as Delta variant weighs

Fed chair Jerome Powell during a congressional hearing last year. (Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Fed downgraded near-term expectations for the economy and the labor market, alongside hotter-than-expected inflation, in new estimates out on Wednesday.

Why it matters: It's the first time those closely-watched estimates reflect impact from the delta variant that's already rattled the labor market. Still, Fed chairman Jerome Powell said enough progress has been made to begin to pull back emergency-era measures that have supported the economy.

Bipartisan police reform negotiations end without deal

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) with Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Capitol in May 2021. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Bipartisan talks on reforming police tactics and accountability, prompted by George Floyd's murder in May 2020, have ended without a compromise, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a key negotiator, said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Lawmakers, led by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Booker, had been working toward a bipartisan deal for months but things fell apart due to disagreements on qualified immunity and other issues.

Biden speaks with Macron for first time since diplomatic crisis

President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have a conversation ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels, on June 14, 2021. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time since a diplomatic row erupted over a scrapped submarine order, per the White House.

Driving the news: Macron said that the French ambassador will return to Washington next week and will resume working with senior U.S. officials.

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