Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is calling on President Joe Biden to make an exception for tennis star Novak Djokovic and let him into the country for a tournament in Miami even though he refuses to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
In a letter obtained by NBC News, DeSantis, a and likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate, urged Biden to “let him play” in the Miami Open this month.
“It’s time to put pandemic politics aside and give the American people what they want,” DeSantis wrote in the letter, which was dated Tuesday.
“The time has come to give up the fiction that COVID vaccines remain a necessary tool to promote public health,” he added.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the letter.
Djokovic is prohibited from entering the U.S. because of his decision to not get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requires all air travelers who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to be fully vaccinated before they fly into the country.
The White House said last month it would review the travel policy after the Covid public health emergency declaration formally ends on May 11. According to guidance from the Transportation Security Administration, the vaccination rule remains in place at least through April 10.
Djokovic had applied for a waiver to play in both the Indian Wells Open, in California, and the Miami Open. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said last week that U.S. officials had denied Djokovic’s request.
In Tuesday’s letter, DeSantis said the denial was “unfair, unscientific and unacceptable.”
“The only thing keeping Mr. Djokovic from participating,” DeSantis wrote, “is your administration’s continued enforcement of a misguided, unscientific and out-of-date Covid-19 vaccination requirement for foreign guests seeking to visit our great country.”
DeSantis suggested that Djokovic could travel to the U.S. “by boat,” and he asked Biden to respond to the letter by Friday with confirmation of whether “this method of travel into Florida would be permissible.”
As governor, DeSantis has worked to position himself as a vaccine skeptic — a break from his previous support for vaccine development and distribution. He focused a large chunk of his State of the State speech Tuesday on how he kept the state largely open during the early part of the pandemic and reiterated in his letter that “it is now clear that Covid vaccines are not as effective as initially advertised.”
Adults who are up to date on their Covid shots are 15 times less likely to die from the coronavirus than those who are unvaccinated, according to CDC research. Some vaccine advocates and scientists have called for a new generation of Covid vaccines that provide broader and longer-term protection.
DeSantis has advocated for Djokovic to be allowed to enter the U.S. for tennis tournaments. Scott and fellow Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida asked the White House last week to issue a waiver that would let him play in the Miami Open.
Peter Nicholas contributed.