As part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump prepares to be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president on Friday, Gov. Rick Scott and other top Florida Republicans are heading to Washington, D.C., for days of celebration.
Scott is hosting a “Florida Sunshine Ball” on Wednesday night and a watch party at a restaurant along the inaugural parade route on Friday. The governor’s wife, Ann Scott, will host an afternoon tea on Thursday. The events are sponsored by Scott’s Let’s Get To Work political committee.
Freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, and four other Republicans from Florida’s U.S. House delegation are also hosting a Thursday reception to mark the inauguration.
“I’m going to celebrate a new opportunity for Florida,” Scott said in an interview Friday with The Palm Beach Post. “I’ve got my friend of 20 years who’s going to be inaugurated the next president. On top of that, I’ve known (Vice President-elect) Mike Pence quite awhile and so this is going to be celebrating the opportunity that we have in Florida to really have a lot of success moving our state along our last two years in office.”
Scott faces term limits in 2018 and is expected to run for the seat now held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. The governor’s invitation-only Wednesday ball at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium near the White House should draw hundreds of people, including past Let’s Get To Work donors and Florida Republican elites.
Scott was asked whether he’s using the inaugural events to cultivate support for a Senate campaign.
“No,” he answered. “I’ve had six years where I haven’t had a White House that has tried to help me in Florida. Now I have the opportunity to have a friend be the next president and another friend be the vice president and somebody I’ve known for quite awhile (Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus) be the chief of staff. This is an opportunity to celebrate a big win in November and…I hope over the next two years that we can accomplish a lot to help every citizen in our state.”
Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, will also attend Trump’s inauguration. Negron, one of the state’s 29 Electoral College members who voted for Trump, says the Trump presidency “presents an extraordinary opportunity to open a new chapter of cooperation between Florida and Washington.”
That’s not just because Trump is a Republican and the GOP controls the governorship and both chambers of the Florida Legislature, Negron said.
“President-elect Trump has a very strong affection for Florida. He’s here a lot,” Negron said of the Mar-a-Lago Club owner and proprietor of golf courses in West Palm Beach, Jupiter and Doral.
“Having a president who considers Florida one of his homes is also very helpful. He knows about Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration. He knows about the issues that we care about and he’s surrounded by friends that share those concerns,” Negron said.
Florida’s status as America’s largest swing state commands the attention of any president. But relations between the governor’s mansion and the White House were particularly tight during the six years that Jeb Bush’s governorship overlapped the presidency of his brother, George W. Bush.
Weeks after President Barack Obama took office in 2009, then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist famously hugged the Democratic chief executive at a Fort Myers rally to promote Obama’s stimulus plan. The embrace hastened Crist’s departure from the GOP.
Scott was elected in 2010 after deriding Democratic opponent Alex Sink as an “Obama liberal.” In office, Scott has been a frequent critic of Obama’s signature health care law and other policies. Perhaps not surprisingly, he hasn’t had warm relations with the White House.
“He doesn’t ask me my opinions,” Scott said of Obama. “I’m trying to think if I’ve ever gotten calls from a Cabinet member or from the president or vice president asking for my opinion. In contrast, I’ve talked to Trump constantly since the election, talked to Mike Pence, talked to Reince Priebus. Some of these Cabinet picks are good friends of mine.”
Scott said his top hopes from the Trump administration are the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, a Cuba policy that “supports democracy and doesn’t coddle dictators” and more federal money for Florida ports.
Scott was an early cheerleader for Trump’s presidential bid and later chaired the pro-Trump Rebuilding America Now super PAC.
Scott has often drawn parallels between his rise to governor and Trump’s presidential ascent. Scott was a political outsider who emphasized his business background and took on the GOP establishment with the help of more than $70 million of his own money in 2010.
“Political pundits are shocked that Donald Trump is leading in the polls. The same thing happened in 2010 when I entered the Florida gubernatorial race against the already anointed and establishment-endorsed sitting Republican attorney general,” Scott said in a January 2016 column for USA Today.
Florida favorite sons Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were active candidates for president at the time of Scott’s USA Today piece, which didn’t formally endorse Trump but praised the billionaire for “capturing the frustration of many Americans after seven years of President Obama’s very intentional government takeover of the U.S. economy.”