Politics

Rubio quietly returns from Europe and is confronted in Miami

Activists host town hall without Marco Rubio

Nearly 300 people gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami Thursday night to hold a mock town hall without Marco Rubio. Erica Nelson, 50, showed up to encourage others to get involved in activism.
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Nearly 300 people gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami Thursday night to hold a mock town hall without Marco Rubio. Erica Nelson, 50, showed up to encourage others to get involved in activism.

The line from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s aides when they were asked this week why the Florida Republican wasn’t planning any town hall meetings during the congressional recess was that he was away in Europe on Senate business.

But Rubio returned quietly Wednesday night — and was promptly confronted Thursday morning by a protester who found the senator even though he hadn’t publicly listed any appearances.

In a video posted on Facebook by Miami activist Tomas Kennedy, a protester chases Rubio down at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The video was first reported by the Miami New Times.

“Senator, I thought you were in Europe,” an unidentified man says on the clip. “Are you going to host a town hall?”

“Good to see you, man,” Rubio responded.

The New Times reported Rubio returned from Europe in time to teach his weekly politics class at Florida International University.

The same protestor caught up with Rubio later in the day at FIU and again urged him to hold a town hall. Rubio responded that people at town halls get “rude and stupid on both sides.” He said he ran on an anti-Obamacare platform and it would be unfair to change his position now that he’s been elected, and added that “what we have now isn’t working.”

A protester challenged senator Marco Rubio to hold a town hall event to speak about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act at FIU on Feb. 23, 2017.

Indivisible Miami, an anti-Trump group, has planned an empty-chair town hall — to be held with or without Rubio — for Thursday night. Another one is scheduled for Saturday in Plantation. Activists held a similar event Wednesday night in Tampa, featuring a Rubio cardboard cutout. More than 500 people attended.

Rubio’s office said the senator was at Jackson for a roundtable discussion on Florida’s opioid crisis. The office did not advertise Rubio’s appearance in advance, as it often does with local events so news reporters can attend. Aides later posted a recap of the event on Rubio’s Senate website and said it was a closed meeting never intended to get any publicity.

The senator’s Europe trip was also shrouded in mystery. Rubio’s office didn’t say until Monday that he had made the trip to France and Germany; he’d been expected to depart for Europe last Friday to attend the Munich Security Conference but didn’t due to extended Senate business. Not until Thursday did his office recap the senator's itinerary, saying he met with American foreign service and intelligence officials, and with German officials, in Berlin and Paris. The purpose of the trip was to discuss U.S.-E.U. relations and the NATO alliance.

Labor groups have been picketing Rubio’s Doral office on a weekly basis over his support for President Trump’s Cabinet picks. Protesters have also shown up at the offices of Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this week, asking for town halls.

Republican lawmakers’ town halls across the country have turned rowdy, but that hasn’t stopped legislators — including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross — from holding them.

Patricia Mazzei: 305-376-3350, @PatriciaMazzei

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