Florida Dems criticize Marco Rubio for being absent on vote that included disaster relief funds

By: - October 6, 2022 3:18 pm

Eliseo Santana, state Sen. Democratic candidate Eunic Ortiz, and Democratic State Rep. Michele Rayner speaking at the Pinellas Democratic headquarters in St. Petersburg on Oct. 6, 2022.

A day after Hurricane Ian devastated portions of Southwest Florida, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio visited Lee County, the center of the destruction caused by the storm.

It was the same day that the U.S. Senate voted on legislation that would allow FEMA to access funding for disaster relief in the wake of the storm — prompting Florida Democrats to hold a press conference in St. Petersburg on Thursday criticizing him for not being present for that vote.

Rubio is up for re-election this fall against Democrat Val Demings.

Noting that he was in Fort Myers with President Joe Biden surveying the destruction from the Category 4 storm on Wednesday, St. Petersburg-based state House Democrat Michele Rayner said, “it seems like [Rubio] is talking out of both sides of his mouth.”

“Either you want the people of Florida to have what they need after this devastation, or you’re more concerned about playing politics and making the former disgraced president happy and sticking it to Joe Biden,” Rayner said, adding that “the people of Florida deserve better.”

Eunic Ortiz, a Democrat running in the open Senate District 18 seat in Pinellas County against Republican Nick DiCeglie, said that when Rubio opted not to vote on the measure last week, “he was not showing up for Floridians.”

‘Cheap political points’

The Rubio campaign blasted the Democrats.

“It’s shameful that Val Demings and Florida Democrats would focus on scoring cheap political points instead of helping Floridians recover, but that’s what we’ve come to expect from Congresswoman Demings’ campaign,” said Elizabeth Gregory, Rubio campaign communications director.

“Marco Rubio is exactly where he needs to be on the ground in Florida where he’s been since before Ian hit, ensuring the federal government is providing the resources necessary to effectively respond and help Floridians in need while leading the call for additional disaster aid to help Florida recover.”

Rubio and Florida’s other senator, Rick Scott, sent a letter last weekend to Senate Committee on Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy and Vice Chairman Richard Shelby requesting the committee’s support for a disaster supplemental bill to assist in Florida’s recovery from the hurricane.

The vote in question was on a continuing resolution that will finance the federal government through mid-December. It included additional funding for economic and military aid to Ukraine and $18.8 billion for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund, which will increase the funding for that program to $35 billion to respond to Ian and other natural disasters, according to a statement released last week by Leahy.

Every Republican in the Florida House delegation voted against the measure, as did Scott, but with Rubio up for re-election next month, Florida Democrats pounced on him for that missed vote on Thursday.

In a statement released on Saturday, Scott rejected the premise that he had voted against funding for response to Hurricane Ian, saying that was not part of the continuing resolution. And he added that he had earlier informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that he supported providing funding to FEMA if it was a “stand-alone vote.”

“He refused and delayed this relief so he could use it as a political weapon to stick in a CR [continuing resolution] that will end up fueling billions for Democrats’ radical agenda right before they lose power,” Scott said. “This CR failed to fund the federal government until the new Congress begins in 2023, and that is why I could not support it.”

Rubio is running for a third term in the U.S. Senate this fall, and he leads Democrat Val Demings in most public opinion polls. A Mason-Dixon survey released earlier this week shows Rubio up by six points — 47 percent to 41 percent.

It has been a part of the Demings campaign to call out Rubio for missing votes. According to the website GovTrack.us, Rubio has missed 9.2 percent of roll call votes since serving in the Senate beginning in 2011. The site says, “that is much worse than the median of 2.4 percent among the lifetime records of senators currently serving.”

The Rubio campaign responds to that by saying that when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi extended proxy voting in 2021 because of Covid-19, Demings voted by proxy 41 times, among the top third of proxy voters in the House.

‘Florida’s Katrina’

Rep. Rayner was part of a group that took supplies in a U-Haul truck to southwest Florida on Sunday, specifically going to Harlem Heights and Dunbar, two predominantly African American neighborhoods in Fort Myers.

She said that she heard that her group was one of the first from any organization offering help to the people in those districts, and that there have been people Harlem Heights who are unable to sleep in their homes because of the destruction and were sleeping on the ground.

That’s why among the items that she hopes to collect and bring down to the area are air mattresses and pumps, along with other essential items such as batteries, wireless fans, portable chargers, diapers, and non-perishable food.

“What we’re seeing is devastation,” she said. “There’s a pastor in Harlem Heights that said, ‘This is Florida’s Katrina.'”

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.