U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz pointed the finger at Gov. Rick Scott and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan for not protecting Florida and the nation from Zika.
In a town hall at a senior center in Pembroke Pines Monday morning, Wasserman Schultz bashed the Republicans in Congress and Ryan for leaving on recess without reaching an agreement on Zika funding.
“The reason we don’t have that bill on the president’s desk is that Republicans decided they were going to attach all these unrelated political riders onto Zika,” she said. “There were provisions like taking out funding for Planned Parenthood.”
Wasserman Schultz was referring to a House bill that would have blocked the flow of money to Profamilias, the Planned Parenthood chapter in Puerto Rico. However, the bill also provided funds that would potentially help clinics and hospitals throughout the island.
For months, the Obama administration sought $1.9 billion in Zika funding but the Senate and House sought lesser amounts and failed to reach an agreement.
Wasserman Schultz also called out Scott, a Republican, for his funding decisions.
“Gov. Rick Scott while he seems to be saying out loud he wants Congress and the President to provide more funding he conveniently leaves out he cut nearly $1 million dollars from mosquito control and closed down the state’s mosquito research lab a few years ago,” she said.
In June, the state allocated $26.2 million but as of Friday the state had released $1.9 million. Of that, $316,800 went to Miami-Dade County and $221,635 went to Broward. The money is for prevention and test kits, insect repellent and other mosquito control efforts.
At a press gaggle after the event, Wasserman Schultz was asked about Sen. Marco Rubio’s comments to Politico that he would oppose abortion for a Zika-infected woman.
“Sen Rubio has definitely been an ally and has continually pushed for the president’s emergency supplemental appropriations request and I give him credit for that and I’ve been glad to work with him on that,” she said. “But it's irresponsible to put limitations on how we combat a virus that can result in birth defects -- life-threatening birth defects -- for the babies born to pregnant women who have contracted the Zika virus and those decisions should be left between a woman and her doctor and the government should not be interfering in those decisions.”
Rubio is a longtime opponent of abortion rights while Wasserman Schultz has been a consistent supporter of abortion rights.
Wasserman Schultz held her town hall at the SW Focal Point Senior Center where most of the seniors appeared to already be there for their regular mahjong, dominoes or poker game rather than specifically coming to hear Wasserman Schultz speak.
Only two of the 16 locally acquired cases have been in Broward while the rest have been in Miami-Dade. In total, there are 422 cases, most of them acquired while traveling. The list includes 55 women who are pregnant and the most at risk because the virus can cause severe birth defects.
While Zika may not be a top concern among voters in western Broward, it put her in front of a reliable fan base: Democratic voters. She needs those voters now more than ever before because for the first time in more than two decades she faces a Democratic challenger: Tim Canova, a first-time candidate and Nova Southeastern University law professor from Hollywood. The last time the Weston Democrat faced a primary was in 1992 when she ran for the state Legislature. The Democrats are competing for attention in the Aug. 30 primary although many voters are already casting ballots by mail.
Candidates and politicians have used the virus to attack opponents or political parties and have portrayed themselves as fighting to combat the virus. On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton visits a clinic in Miami’s Midtown neighborhood.
In recent months, Wasserman Schultz has largely avoided joint appearances with Canova and instead has stuck to events such as the Zika town hall. Last week Wasserman Schultz said she would debate Canova but no specifics have been announced yet.
Photo is from a town hall last week in Sunrise (Sun-Sentinel)