Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several anti-vaccination mandate bills into law Thursday at a Honda dealership in Brandon, on the outskirts of Tampa — an apparent tip of the hat to a notorious right-wing anti-Joe Biden meme.
"We are proud to be able to make a stand for freedom in Brandon, Florida," DeSantis, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, told supporters before he signed the bills. The crowd broke into occasional cheers of "Let's Go Brandon" during his remarks and those of local lawmakers.
The phrase is a popular right-wing euphemism for a profane attack on Biden. It went viral after some fans at a NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in October began to chant an expletive targeting Biden and Kelli Stavast, an NBC Sports reporter interviewing NASCAR driver Brandon Brown after his victory, said, "You can hear the chants from the crowd, 'Let's Go Brandon!'"
After the signing, DeSantis was asked whether the event had been held in Brandon to troll the president. "I think that Brandon, Florida, is a great American city," he said with a smile.
State Attorney General Ashley Moody, who spoke after DeSantis, declared that "Brandon, Florida, has become the shining city on the hill, representing freedom."
The bills were passed Wednesday largely along party lines during a special legislative session that DeSantis had called. One imposes fines on employers with vaccination mandates unless they offer numerous exemptions, and the other bars schools from requiring students to be vaccinated or to wear masks.
DeSantis said he needed to act swiftly to protect workers who could be forced out of their jobs for not following federal vaccination mandates.
"Nobody should lose their job because of these Covid jabs," DeSantis said. "Mandate restrictions [are] tearing people down. Today we lift people up."
Also speaking was state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who said the legislation was "wonderful."
"It completely pushes back against this belief that some of our leadership put forward that you don't control your body, that your body belongs to Dr. Fauci," Ladapo said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious diseases expert. Ladapo said mandates were "spiritual warfare" and "completely wrong," adding: "It's your body. God gave it you."
Florida has among the most Covid-19 related deaths in the country after it was walloped by the delta variant of the coronavirus this year, but its positivity rate has plummeted in recent months. Over 60,000 people in Florida have died from Covid-19 since January 2020, according to the NBC News coronavirus tracker.