Politics

No Senate vote for Marco Rubio’s move to stop welfare benefits for Cuban ‘refugees’

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio speaks to reporters April 8 outside his district office in Doral.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio speaks to reporters April 8 outside his district office in Doral. Miami

The U.S. Senate refused to vote Thursday on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s bid to stop giving automatic welfare benefits to Cuban immigrants, prompting an exasperated Rubio to take to the Senate floor to blast political paralysis in Congress.

“This is why people are so sick of politics,” said Rubio, who noted that, until a month ago, he was a Republican presidential candidate hearing from voters about their frustrations with lawmakers. “You can vote for a Democrat, you can vote for a Republican, you can vote for a vegetarian. It doesn’t matter who you vote for: Nothing happens. These people don’t do anything.”

“No one can argue this,” he added of his proposal, which he argued would put an end to abuse by some Cubans who take the welfare dollars back to the island. “But I can’t even get a vote on an amendment to change this.”

And why not? According to Rubio, because fellow Republicans tell him, “ ‘We can’t vote on it because if we give you your amendment, then we have to give the other side their amendment.’ ” (The other side being Democrats.)

This is crazy. This is nuts. We can’t solve problems.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida

“This is crazy. This is nuts. We can’t solve problems,” Rubio said. He noted that the plan has bipartisan support: U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, is a cosponsor in the House of Representatives. Florida’s senior senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, signed on to Rubio’s bill Thursday, saying the welfare benefits “were meant to help those fleeing persecution by Castro’s oppressive regime, not to be a source of income for those who returned to Cuba.”

“This is not partisan. It’s not about getting anyone elected to anything. I’m not running for anything,” said Rubio, who’s not seeking reelection. “This is about being able to go back to my home community and say to people, ‘This abuse has been addressed.’ But if I go home tonight or tomorrow to Florida, when I go home, and I run into somebody at the grocery store, I can’t explain to them with a straight face why the Senate won’t give me a vote, because it makes no sense. If I came to you and said, ‘They are stealing $700 million a year from you, and here’s a very simple way to stop it,’ you would say, ‘Let’s do it. We’ve got to do it.’ 

The Cuban-American senator from West Miami delivered his 25-minute denunciation after his colleagues failed to schedule a vote on his plan, which he tried to tack on as an amendment to a bill funding the Federal Aviation Administration. Rubio was one of four senators to vote against ending debate on the FAA bill, which essentially called off voting on any amendments that could slow the legislation’s passage — at least for now. The FAA bill could still be amended early next week, thanks to a delay prompted by Rubio’s two-day push this week.

The only legal immigrants automatically treated as refugees for welfare benefits under federal law are Cubans and Haitians. That status makes those immigrants immediately eligible for welfare benefits. Neither Rubio’s legislation nor the similar House measure, sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, would affect Haitians. Cubans would be stripped of their special refugee status and be forced — like immigrants of other nationalities — to prove they’ve been persecuted.

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