The following is a transcript of an interview with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that aired on “Face the Nation” on Oct. 15, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis. And he joins us from Tallahassee. Good morning to you, Governor.
GOV. RON DESANTIS: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re running to be the next Commander in Chief. So I want to focus on some of the crises we’re seeing right now. You were once a Navy Jag, which means you advised on the law of armed conflict. With Israel about to launch this invasion of Gaza, I wonder what you would advise them in terms of distinguishing between legitimate targets and civilians?
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, one, Israel has a right to defend itself to the hilt. And that means the complete elimination of Hamas, the eradication of their terrorist infrastructure. Israel has put out warnings to civilians about where Israel is going to conduct operations, and is told civilians there to leave the area. Hamas is telling those civilians to stay in the area. So they’re using the civilians as human shields. So of course, when you’re in war, you want to avoid that. But if there are civilian casualties, that’s the fault of Hamas. That’s not going to be the fault of Israel.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But would you advise, for example, the Israeli military to avoid attacking infrastructure to provide water and electricity as they have done?
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, Margaret, the Hamas is holding people hostage still. You have Israelis being held hostage as well as Americans being held hostage–
MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand that–
GOV. DESANTIS: But I don’t think they’re under an obligation to be providing water and these utilities while those hostages are being held. Hamas should return those hostages before any discussions are had, and it’s a disgrace what they’re doing. And Israel has every right to use all the pressure that they can to get those people back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are 2.3 million people living in Gaza, collective punishment is something you support?
GOV. DESANTIS: It’s not a collective punishment. Hamas is the one that is creating this predicament. Hamas is the one who always uses civilian targets to conduct operations, and we dealt with this some in Iraq where Al Qaeda in Iraq would commandeer mosques. So under normal circumstances, of course, you don’t target a religious institution. But if you have terrorist groups that are converting that into a base of operations, then you absolutely treat that as military targets. But that’s because Hamas is making those decisions to convert that inter- infrastructure into the use for terrorist purposes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there any caution you would give to the Israeli military? Would you ask, for example, the Prime Minister to hold off until the five to six hundred Americans who are trapped in Gaza manage to get out?
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, look, I think that that’s something in terms of those that of course, you would have discussions with, we would be willing to do if I was president apply resources to be able to help any American who was either being captured or in harm’s way. I would note, I as governor of Florida have actually launched flights to bring Americans home from the war zone now. We’re going to have- the first flights landing in Florida today, we’re going to bring hundreds of people back from Israel to the state of Florida, and they’ve had trouble dealing with the federal government. So of course, that’s an important thing that you want to consider.
MARGARET BRENNAN Right? But there are five to six hundred Americans stuck in Gaza specifically. And let me ask you a little bit more about that, because the 2 million people who live in Gaza, half of them are under the age of 18. Let’s take a listen to something you said yesterday.
VO: GOV. DESANTIS: We cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees. I am not going to do that. If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all anti-semitic.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m sure you know, all Arabs are Semites. But how can you paint with such a broad brush to say 2.3 million people are anti semitic?
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, first of all, my position is very clear. Those Gaza are refugees, Palestinian Arabs should go to Arab countries. The US should not be absorbing any of those. I think the culture- so they elected Hamas, let’s just be clear about that. Not everyone’s a member of Hamas, most probably aren’t. But they did elect Hamas.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In 2006. And then the military occupation happened after that, where they went in and haven’t allowed elections since 2007. So in 2006 there was an election, not since then.
GOV. DESANTIS: There was a lot of- there was a lot of- there was a lot of celebrating of those attacks in the Gaza Strip, by- by a lot of those folks who are not Hamas. But if you look at their education system, this has been an issue for a long time. They teach kids to hate Jews, the textbooks do not have Israel even on the map. They prepare very young kids to commit terrorist attacks. So I think it’s a toxic culture. And I think if we were to import large numbers of those to the United States, I think it would increase anti-semitism in this country, and I think it would increase anti Americanism in this country. And that’s something after seeing those demonstrations pop up in our country, just with- with bloods still flowing amongst Israeli citizens over the weekend. You had people taking to the streets cheering on the barbarism of Hamas in our own country. That was a chilling thing to see. And I don’t think that that’s something that we should ever think is acceptable.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No, but no one’s talking about getting Gaza and refugees here right now. They can’t even get out of Gaza at the moment.
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, people have mentioned it. I think some of the far left have said, this is something that we should do. The US has done- done similar things in the past. And so I just put my stake in the ground. That’s where we’re going to be and I think that everyone running for president on the Republican side should follow suit.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, we have more conversation to be had on the other side of this commercial break, but I have to take that right now. So if you’ll stay with us, please. And we hope all of you will stay with us. We’ll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face The Nation. We continue our conversation now with Governor Ron DeSantis. Governor, thanks for sticking with us through that break. I want to pick back up. You just heard the president’s national security advisor say that the request to Congress will be for well beyond $2 billion in support. That is for Israel, that is for Ukraine. In the past, you’ve said you don’t want a blank check to Ukraine. Do you want a blank check to Israel?
GOV. DESANTIS: No, I think that there’s actually two different things. One with Israel, we’ve provided a lot of support since its inception, about $158 billion in the last 75 years. We’ve done over 120 billion just for Ukraine in two years. So it’s a different level that we’re talking about. Also with Israel, they’ve never asked us to displace their responsibility. They take their defense very seriously, what we do complements and supplements what they’re already doing for themselves, but they are not going to ask us to fight this war for them. We have a long-standing security relationship, they are a very strong and long-standing ally, and we’ll be willing to support in the traditional ways that we have.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There are no U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine.
GOV. DESANTIS: No, but Margaret, what Biden’s policy is- is- is a blank check, in his own words, for as long as it takes. They have not articulated what the concept of victory is going to be. In fact, people have said this is going to go on for another five or six years. That would require potentially hundreds of billions of dollars more. We’re not just sending weapons, we’re paying salaries for Ukrainian bureaucrats, funding small business ventures, all kinds of things. So I think if you look, cuz you mentioned Iraq, and I served there, our foreign policy, last 20,30 years, has suffered while we don’t have a clear concept of victory, when we have conflicts like Iraq, and like Afghanistan, where we don’t have a clear resolution. So he owes a strategy to the Congress. And I think most Republicans, or a lot of the Republicans in the Congress are going to insist on that, before they authorize additional money.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We don’t have a clear definition of success from the Israeli prime minister either. I asked the national security advisor and he just said, generally safety for the Jewish state.
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, I actually think we do- I think we do with all respect. I mean, I think- I think he has said that it is the total and complete defeat of Hamas, where they’re no longer existing as a functioning entity. I think that that is achievable. I think Israel- Israel can do that. And I think they have every right and indeed, I think they have the duty to do that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So what is your view then on who should rule the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza? Do you fundamentally believe that they have a right to their own state? Or do you want Israel to maintain a military occupation after they go through this invasion?
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, Israel’s not occupying it. They pulled out in 2005.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but they’re about to invade.
GOV. DESANTIS: Now they’re obviously- well, no no well of course- well, we’ll have to see how that goes. I mean, I would say this, there have been generous offers by Israel to provide Palestinian Arab states, of course, you go back to 1948, they had an opportunity to have an Arab state and the Arabs rejected it and went to war. So they’ve always cared more about eliminating the Jewish state than they have about receiving their own state and I’m not sure that that’s changed in terms of their outlook.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Who is they?
GOV. DESANTIS: So we’ll see what happens as this- Excuse me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m sorry, who is they?
GOV. DESANTIS: The Palestinian Arabs in both the West Bank and Gaza, their view has always been–
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Palestinian Authority is moving towards a two-state solution. That’s why I asked if you had support for a two-state solution.
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, they’ve rejected that in the past. Arafat rejected it in 2000. It was a ridiculous deal, it probably would have put Israel in situations where they would have had some serious security concerns, but they were willing to go forward. And I think the history of the last 75 years, Israel’s always been willing to take tough steps for peace. And they’ve always had rejection on the other side, and the other side has typically chosen war. So that’s the cycle. So I would not push Israel to grant statehood to people that don’t recognize their right to exist as a Jewish state.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Palestinian Authority does, but I hear you personally do not support that. Let me ask you about something here at home when it comes to the U.S. border. And there’s talk right now about the need to provide more aid. You in the pa- to the U.S. border. You in the past have said you would authorize the U.S. military to go to the U.S. border and shoot cartel members. You told my colleague Norah O’Donnell, quote, when somebody’s got a backpack on and they’re breaking through the wall, you know, that’s hostile intent, and you have every right to take action under those circumstances. Can you explain how that would work? Would a soldier have to ask his commanding officer for permission before he shoots anyone wearing a backpack or is this just a blanket shoot anyone with a backpack?
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, first, cartels are invading this country and they are killing tens of thousands of our fellow citizens with fentanyl, and this is happening in communities all across our country. We have every right and duty to fight back against that. It’s typical how you would have with law enforcement or military, you define rules of engagement. They have positively identify somebody that’s hostile, either action or intent. And they engaged, but we are going to engage. The days of our communities being ravaged by fentanyl are going to be over. Yes, we’re going to stop the invasion. Yes, we’re going to build the wall. We’re going to do all those things we’ll deport people when they come illegally, but you have to hold the cartels accountable. And I’ll do that as commander in chief.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I think a lot of Americans would support that, given how terrible fentanyl is. But in terms of this specific proposal here, how would you differentiate who’s a threat? How would you say shoot people wearing backpacks?
GOV. DESANTIS: Well, Margaret, when you’re down at the border, I mean, you see, like, the cartels will actually have lookouts where they’ll just bring people across. They will have yes– they will be carrying–
MARGARET BRENNAN: But how do you know what’s in the backpack?
GOV. DESANTIS: different types of- well you have to make those judgments based on intelligence and all the other things that you do, but I can tell you this, once you show the willingness to actually take this threat seriously, you are going to change their behavior. They’re eating our lunch at the border right now because we don’t do anything to fight back. That’s going to change on January 20, 2025.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, thank you for coming on the program today. We hope you’ll come back, and we’ll be right back.