Psaki calls Florida parental rights bill 'a form of bullying', dodges question on Biden 1994 vote

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki vocally condemned a Florida parental rights bill that Democrats have branded a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, despite the fact that the bill does not ban the word “gay” in school settings.

Psaki branded the legislation “discriminatory,” “horrific,” and “a form of bullying” against families and LGBTQ children at a news conference on Wednesday, dodging a question about why President Biden voted for similar legislation when he was a U.S. Senator in 1994. 

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The bill, H.B. 1557, requires school districts to adopt procedures that “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.” It prohibits classroom instruction – not casual discussion – on “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” with children in third grade or younger, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Washington.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A reporter asked Psaki about the bill, noting that in 1994, Biden voted for an amendment to an education bill that aimed to “prohibit Federal funds for instructional materials, instruction, counseling, or other services on school grounds, from being used for the promotion of homosexuality as a positive lifestyle alternative.”

“Why did he do that?” the reporter asked. “And can you describe how his thinking has evolved over the years?”

“Well, I think that you have seen the President speak passionately about his view that a bill like this — a bill that would discriminate against families, against kids, put these kids in a position of not getting the support they need at a time where that’s exactly what they need — is discriminatory,” Psaki said. “It’s a form of bullying. It is horrific. I mean, the President has spoken to that.”

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Last month, Biden called the legislation a “hateful bill,” reassuring “every member of the LGBTQI+ community” that “my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

Psaki referenced Biden’s views from 1994, then pivoted immediately to attack the current legislation.

“In terms of his views and comments from 25 years ago, I think the most important question now is: Why are Florida leaders deciding they need to discriminate against kids who are members of the LGBTQI community?” she said. “What prompts them to do that? Is it meanness?”

U.S President Joe Biden gives remarks at a Black History Month celebration event in the East Room of the White House on February 28, 2022, in Washington, DC.

U.S President Joe Biden gives remarks at a Black History Month celebration event in the East Room of the White House on February 28, 2022, in Washington, DC.
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“Is it wanting to make kids have more difficult times in school, in their communities?” she asked. “I would pose that question to them, and we can talk about it more tomorrow if you get an answer.”

Psaki did not clarify how the bill allegedly “discriminates” against certain children and families.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign the bill, lambasted a WFLA reporter on Monday for saying the “Don’t Say Gay” misnomer during a press conference.

“Does it say that in the bill?” DeSantis asked, adding that “it’s why people don’t trust people like you because you peddle false narratives.”

“And we’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum,” the governor said. 

Despite critics branding it a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, H.B. 1557 does not ban the word “gay” in school settings. Neither does it ban casual discussions of topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. It does not require schools to notify parents if their child identifies as gay or transgender.

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

FILE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Pembroke Pines, Fla.
(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Although the bill requires schools to notify parents of each health care service offered at the school (allowing them to decline any service) and to allow parents to access their children’s education and health records, it does not require schools to notify parents about their kids’ mental, emotion, or physical well-being “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.”

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The office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis did not respond to an after-hours request for comment on Psaki’s accusations.

Fox News’ Jessica Chasmar contributed to this report.

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