Even in the fight against Zika, politics can take the spotlight.
Eight days before the Democratic congressional primary, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called a news conference at a South Beach restaurant on Monday morning to condemn congressional Republicans for blocking a $1.9 billion federal funding package earlier this year to combat the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Congress went on recess without acting on President Barack Obama’s funding request.
Speaking to reporters at David’s Cafe on Alton Road, Wasserman Schultz said Democrats had warned the situation would only worsen without the aid. Without help, she said, the dollars being used to combat Zika will dry up by the end of September.
“We kept saying it and kept saying it, and Republicans stuck their heads in the sand,” she said. “And here we are. It didn’t have to be this way.”
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Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a fellow Democrat, called Miami-Dade County a good partner in preparing for the Zika virus, but said that wasn’t enough.
“We need the federal government to step up, and do what’s necessary to reconvene and make sure the state and the county get the proper funding immediately so we can use these resources to combat this virus,” he said.
Levine leveled his own accusations of political posturing at Gov. Rick Scott, who waited until a Friday news conference to announce that five cases of the Zika had been confirmed in Miami Beach. Despite City Hall getting mixed messages from health department officials on Thursday, when media reports were already saying Zika had spread to the popular resort city, Levine told reporters there was no outbreak on the island.
As a mother, it is heartbreaking to think about what pregnant mothers are going through.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
On Monday, Levine again defended his comments and said Scott blindsided him.
“The fact of the matter is the governor made, I believe a big mistake, by not speaking with the folks that are on the ground — myself and Mayor [Carlos] Gimenez] — and telling us what he knows,” he said.
Zika’s arrival on the Beach represents a tough spot for tourism chiefs, and that appears to be lighting a fire under government leaders to plead for help. A multi-billion-dollar tourism industry that is a juggernaut in South Florida’s economy is at stake.
“Make no mistake — this will and already is affecting people’s travel plans to South Florida,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Near the end of the news conference, the congresswoman was asked about whether the appearance could be perceived as a political move.
“This isn’t about politics,” she insisted. “This is about making sure we are taking care of people.”
Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.