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Florida lawmakers calls on DeSantis to withdraw surgeon general nom amid mask refusal

Florida state Senator Tina Polsky joined fellow lawmakers in calling Governor Ron DeSantis to withdraw his controversial nomination for the state’s surgeon general after the doctor refused to wear a mask when meeting with Polsky over the weekend.

“I think the outcome should be that his nomination is withdrawn,” Polsky told MSNBC on Monday afternoon. “I don’t want this man serving as a surgeon general.”

“His nomination should just be pulled,” she added. “This man is not fit to serve as a surgeon general. He certainly didn’t care about my health, so I don’t know how he’s going to care for the public health of 21 million Floridians.”

DeSantis named Dr. Joseph Lapado as the state’s top health official back in September—an appointment that garnered its own criticisms.

As a cardiovascular specialist, Lapado is neither trained in epidemiology nor infectious disease.

The doctor has also been known to spread misinformation related to COVID-19. He has publicly questioned the efficacy of vaccines and resisted mask wearing and vaccine mandates.

Over the weekend, Lapado met with Polsky at her office, to gain her vote ahead of his confirmation process, but was asked to leave her office after he refused to comply with her request that he wear a mask.

Polsky, who represents portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, was diagnosed with breast cancer during the summer and is set to begin chemotherapy next week.

Florida state Senator Tina Polsky is calling on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to withdraw his nomination for surgeon general after the doctor refused to wear a mask in her office. DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Assault Brigade 2506 Honorary Museum on August 5 in Hialeah, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty

Without naming Lapado, Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, blasted the surgeon general in a memo to all state senators and staffers, calling Lapado’s actions “disappointing given the health challenges Senator Polsky is currently facing” and adding that “it shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic.”

“What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate,” Simpson wrote. “While there is no mask mandate in the Senate, Senators and staff can request social distancing and masking within their own office. If visitors to the Senate fail to respect these requests, they will be asked to lave.”

Polsky said she was “so happy” to receive Simpson’s support and that she feels as though she’s received the backing of “the Senate as a whole.”

“I’m so grateful to have the support—the bipartisan support—of the Senate body,” Polsky told CNN on Monday.

“We have political differences, [but] we do really believe each other and respect each other, and decorum and professionalism has always been at the heart of the Senate, and I’m really proud to be part of that,” she added. “I really thank the Senate president for having my back on this one.”

Polsky’s Democratic colleagues rallied behind her following the incident and called on the Senate to deny his confirmation.

“[Polsky] asked if [Lapado] was vaccinated. He wasn’t. So she asked him to wear a mask. He refused. Was condescending. Want to show leadership? Deny his confirmation,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay tweeted on Sunday.

“The Surgeon General’s actions call into serious question his ability to advise our state on public health policy [as well as his ability to simply be a decent, compassionate human being],” Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book added.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, DeSantis’s office said the governor is not considering appointing a different candidate to replace Lapado at this time.

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