U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist slammed Gov. Ron DeSantis with yet another broadside Friday, this time for ignoring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in DeSantis’ speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
As a battle unfolds for control of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Crist took aim at the man he hopes to unseat in November.
“If Gov. DeSantis can’t stand up for democracy in Ukraine, how can he look Floridians in the eye and promise to fight for democracy in Cuba, Venezuela, China and elsewhere?” Crist said in a statement.
Crist’s comments come about a day after DeSantis’ CPAC appearance, where he delivered a roughly 20-minute speech criticizing the media, the “woke” left and “authoritarian regimes” of Democrat-run states and other countries, singling out Australia and Canada for their comparatively strict COVID-19 measures.
Conspicuously absent from his statements, however, was any mention of the ongoing military action against Ukraine at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behest that has displaced some 50,000 Ukrainians and drawn sanctions from the U.S. and other Western nations.
For Florida families who fled war and totalitarian regimes, DeSantis’ unwillingness to address the unprovoked attack on Ukraine is unacceptable, Crist said.
“Gov. DeSantis’ silence as Putin invades the sovereign democracy of Ukraine is deafening to the countless Floridians who have suffered under the hands of cruel communists and authoritarian dictators,” he said. “Make no mistake, I stand firmly on the side of the Ukrainian people, and I will always defend democracy at home.”
Crist’s remarks Friday follow others from earlier in the week questioning whether DeSantis supported democracy abroad.
Crist, the Republican-turned-Democratic former Governor, took aim at comments by DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw, who stoked controversy Monday when she invoked her professional experience in that region in a series of Twitter posts.
Pushaw questioned America’s ability to “promote democracy” in foreign lands given what she believes are issues on the home front.
“Pre 2020, I was an idealist who truly wanted to help Ukraine become a strong democracy,” she said. “I spent a lot of time in Ukraine, still have friends there I worry about now. But the sad fact is the USA is in no position to ‘promote democracy’ abroad while our own country is falling apart.”
“I am not a psychologist, but there appears to be some projection going on here,” she said, noting Crist himself visited Cuba in 2019.
Pushaw pointed to a tweet promoting International Pronouns Day that the U.S. Department of State posted in October. That was the same month her former employer — Ukrainian politician, jurist and former Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili — was arrested.
While the State Department later addressed Saakashvili’s treatment in custody in a Nov. 18 press statement, it did not post to Twitter about the issue.
“I wonder why I am so skeptical of the State Department’s democracy promotion efforts in Eastern Europe?” she said. “Maybe (because) the U.S. Embassy in a certain country keeps its portrait of (Barack) Obama on display for (two) years after (Donald) Trump became President. That doesn’t seem like respect for democracy.”
Pushaw was referring to reports that by September 2017, eight months after Trump’s inauguration, photos of him and former Vice President Mike Pence were still missing from thousands of government offices, including overseas embassies.
As it turned out, the reason for the delay in switching the photos wasn’t due to protest but because the Government Publishing Office was still “standing by to reproduce” the picture from the White House, which hadn’t yet sent them over.
Despite that holdup possibly being to blame for why some embassies took a while to update their presidential pictures, Trump alleged — in the midst of his 2019 impeachment hearings — that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch “wouldn’t hang” his picture in the embassy because she was “an Obama person.”
Crist, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo are atop a list of 11 Democratic candidates for Governor. They’ll face off in a Primary Election Aug. 23.
A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics contributed to this report.