Consider this a warning from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to members of Congress running for re-election this fall: You might have to cut your campaign short for an emergency vote on Zika-prevention funding if lawmakers don't act now.
“Members of Congress, in the middle of their campaigns, are going to have to stop what they're doing and fly back to Washington,” Rubio predicted. “The public is going to be very upset.”
The Florida Republican laid out the worst-case political scenario Friday in his Doral office, where he gave another news conference about the mosquito-borne virus threat.
Congress is on recess. It took a break before passing legislation setting aside money to combat the disease. Rubio and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican who joined him Friday, back President Barack Obama's request for $1.9 billion. Rubio declared himself “borderline extremely angry” that no vote had been finalized.
“Mosquitoes bite Republicans, and I know they bite Democrats and independents and vegetarians,” he said.
“If we're wrong and Zika doesn't turn out to be a crisis — I hope I'm wrong," Rubio added. “You can take that money and refund it back into other parts of the government.” He called it “unimaginable” that Congress wouldn't appropriate at least some money to fight Zika.
Curbelo said that legislators from outside Florida might not feel the urgency of the summertime mosquito season as much as Floridians do. He noted Obama's request comes from government public-health experts.
“I think some Republicans in the House are skeptical of the administration making these massive requests and these funds ending up in some kind of slush fund,” Curbelo said. “We're trying to make the point that this is different.”
Joining Rubio and Curbelo was an aide to U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who has yet to support Obama's $1.9 billion request, pending details on how the money would be spent. Rubio dismissed that difference as insignificant.
“The problem is, right now, the number's zero,” he said. “The point is, we've got to get it done on some level.”
Republican Gov. Rick Scott has pressed the Obama administration for immediate funding for states like Florida, which has more confirmed Zika cases than any other place in the country, with 165 cases reported as of Thursday, 50 of those in Miami-Dade and 19 in Broward, the two counties in the state most affected.
Rubio said he spoke to Scott by phone earlier this week — when Rubio was in Honduras — and supports the governor's request that the feds find other sources of money separate from any congressional action.
Rubio said he hasn't spoken to Scott about tapping Florida's $5 billion rainy-day fund to combat Zika — or about restoring the governor's 2011 cuts to the state's mosquito-control efforts.
"I know that beyond the rainy-day fund, they may have reserve funds available," Rubio said.
Both lawmakers asked people to be vigilant about draining standing water and spraying mosquito repellent. Curbelo said he was bitten by a mosquito Thursday in his backyard.
"We may have to get you tested now," Rubio joked.