DeSantis refuses to attack Trump over ‘vermin’ remark

    Happening this Monday: Israel expands military offensive to southern Gaza… NBC’s Matt Dixon writes about how Roger Stone convinced Donald Trump not to attack Ron DeSantis in his home state, according to Dixon’s forthcoming book, “Swamp Monsters”… DeSantis teases plan to “supersede” Obamacare in “Meet the Press” interview… And DeSantis and Dem Dean Phillips campaign in New Hampshire.

    But FIRST… We’ve told you to take former President Donald Trump’s words both seriously and literally, including his recent comment comparing political opponents to “vermin.”

    Yet what if Trump’s own Republican opponents don’t see that rhetoric as problematic? Or don’t make it part of their campaigns against the GOP frontrunner? 

    We saw that play out — again — in Kristen Welker’s “Meet the Press” interview with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the weekend. 

    WELKER: You bring up former President Trump. So, let me ask you about the GOP frontrunner. Mr. Trump is campaigning on the idea of retribution. He’s promising to jail his political enemies, if he’s reelected. He’s also referred to some of his political opponents as “vermin”…

    DESANTIS: Well, I think even beyond that, the issue is why are you running? Are you running for your personal issues? Are you running for the American people’s issues? And I’m running for the American people’s issues.

    Later in the interview, after DeSantis doesn’t comment on Trump’s “vermin” remark…

    WELKER: Do you condemn the use of the word “vermin,” then?

    DESANTIS: I don’t use the term. But what I don’t do is play the media’s game, where I’m asked to referee other people. He’s responsible for his words. He’s responsible for his conduct. I’m responsible for mine.

    DeSantis says he doesn’t “use the term.” Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley said she didn’t agree with the comment. And entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said the actual “vermin” live in San Francisco. 

    (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, however, has criticized Trump over the remark, saying it’s reminiscent to language used by Nazi Germany.)

    It’s all a reminder: If Republicans don’t have a problem with Trump’s most controversial comments — or don’t criticize him for saying those things — then they turn into 50-50 jump balls in our polarized political climate. 

    With independents and swing voters having the final say.

    Headline of the day

    The number of the day is … 3

    That’s the new margin of the GOP’s majority in the House, down from four, after George Santos was expelled from Congress on Friday.

    More than 300 of his now-former colleagues, including 105 Republicans, voted to expel the New York Republican, making him the first House member in modern history to be expelled before a conviction.

    The expulsion kicks off a competitive special election in New York’s 3rd District, where voters could head to the polls to replace Santos in less than 90 days. Outside groups on both sides of the aisle could spend big on the race, and it could be a test of broader 2024 messaging as Democrats seek to flip the House and Republicans work to protect their majority.

    Santos’ expulsion also bookends a tumultuous year for House Republicans, NBC’s Sahil Kapur writes. The year began with a 15-ballot speaker election in January and included three weeks without a speaker in September after the chamber became “the first House in U.S. history to overthrow the speaker midsession.”

    Eyes on 2024: DeSantis makes his case against Trump 

    While DeSantis hesitated to criticize Trump’s recent controversial comments, he did lay out his case against the former president during his appearance on “Meet the Press”.

    “Republican voters are going to have the choice of Donald Trump, which I think would make the election a referendum on him and a lot of the issues that he’s dealing with — or me, and that will be a referendum on Biden’s failures, on all the issues in the country that are affecting people, and I’ll be able to stand for a positive vision going forward,” he said. “We have a much better chance if we’re doing it with me as the candidate.”

    The Florida governor also criticized Trump’s failure to undo the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, saying Trump’s recent comments that he would work to repeal the law are “part of a pattern where he’s running on things that he didn’t do.”

    DeSantis pledged to “replace and supersede [Obamacare] with a better plan,” but he declined to share any details. He also did not directly answer whether he would sign a federal ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, arguing that such a ban could not pass Congress. 

    DeSantis’ appearance on “Meet the Press” came as he visited all 99 counties in Iowa, underscoring his focus on the Hawkeye State, per NBC’s Alec Hernández and Bianca Seward. And DeSantis told “Meet the Press” that he is going to win the Iowa caucuses, saying it was “absurd” to think he would drop out before the contests. 

    Meanwhile, the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down continues to grab headlines amid internal turmoil. The group has named its third CEO, DeSantis ally Scott Wagner, in less than two weeks, per NBC’s Dasha Burns, Matt Dixon and Jonathan Allen.

    In other campaign news … 

    Trump on the trail: Trump attempted to turn the tables on Biden at a campaign rally over the weekend, labeling the president “the destroyer of American democracy,” per the AP.

    Biden’s balancing act: Biden faces a “dilemma” over immigration, write NBC’s Peter Nicholas, Mike Memoli and Julia Ainsley, as he tries to balance addressing a border crisis and appealing to crucial Hispanic voters.  

    That pesky Hatch Act: The Office of Special Counsel found that top Biden White House spokespeople ran afoul of the Hatch Act,which prohibits federal officials from engaging in campaign activity, by using the term “MAGA,” per NBC’s Katherine Doyle.

    A second Trump presidency: The New York Times explores “why a second Trump presidency may be more radical than his first.”

    Trump trials: Trump’s efforts to dismiss his federal election interference failed Friday after a federal judge dismissed his team’s motions. In the Georgia election interference case, Trump’s attorney argued against the request for an August trial, suggesting it would influence the upcoming election.

    Write-in push gets a boost: A new pro-Biden super PAC is launching in New Hampshire to encourage Democrats to write Biden’s name on the primary ballot, per Politico. 

    Tough crowd: In her campaign for Senate in Arizona, former news anchor Kari Lake is struggling to connect with moderate GOP voters whom she once referred to as RINOs, or “Republicans in Name Only,” the Washington Post reports.

    He’s running: Businessman Sandy Pensler entered the race for Michigan’s open Senate seat on Friday, joining almost a dozen other GOP candidates seeking to flip the seat.

    Extra time: A U.S. district judge extended the deadline for Louisiana to submit newly drawn congressional district lines for review, after a federal judge ruled earlier this year that the current map violates the Voting Rights Act.

    ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world 

    Three months before the Oct. 7 attack in Israel, Israeli military analysts flagged a plan by Hamas to “start a war,” but were dismissed by their superiors, per NBC’s Anna Schecter, Tom Winter and Daniel Arkin.

    Speaker Mike Johnson told Fox News over the weekend that he thinks he has enough votes to formally launch an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

    Olympic gold medalist swimmer Klete Keller was sentenced to six months of home detention for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

    Hisham Awartani, one of the three Palestinian students who was shot in Burlington, Vt., is paralyzed from the chest down, his mother told NBC News.