Miami’s Zika outbreak spread into the presidential campaign Tuesday, when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton visited a Midtown health clinic to urge Congress to call an emergency session to fight the virus.
“I am very disappointed that the Congress went on recess before actually agreeing on what they would do to put the resources into this fight,” she said at Borinquen Health Care Center, a community clinic in the one-square-mile outbreak zone. “I really am hoping that they will pay attention.”
It’s the unexpected political side effect of Zika: bipartisan agreement — among Florida politicians, at least — that federal lawmakers should have acted before they went on vacation for seven weeks and local mosquitoes started transmitting the disease.
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As Clinton spoke, the Florida Health Department confirmed four new confirmed cases of the virus in Wynwood, the neighborhood home to Clinton’s South Florida campaign headquarters. Clinton skipped visiting the office — but did drop in on U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Broward County, to endorse her reelection. Clinton later asked donors for money at two political fundraisers in Miami Beach.
Though Clinton is the most high-profile candidate to call for Congress to reconvene on Zika, she’s hardly the only politician to have done so. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has repeatedly asked for leaders of his own party to do more to fund prevention and treatment efforts at the state and local levels.
“Every day that passes that Congress and the president fail to come to an agreement hinders our national response to Zika,” Scott said in a statement Tuesday.
He wants Obama to re-purpose federal money to fight Ebola to go to instead to combating Zika. Miami Republicans in Congress have made similar requests. Vice President Joe Biden said last week the White House could reallocate some of the Ebola money to go toward Zika but only Congress could set aside significant additional dollars.
While Clinton hoped to make Zika headlines in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state where a new poll Tuesday showed the presidential race in a statistical tie, it was Republican nominee Donald Trump who made national headlines. He seemed to suggest at a North Carolina rally that gun owners take action if Clinton wins and appoints judges opposed to gun rights.
At Wasserman Schultz’s Davie campaign headquarters, Clinton twice ignored a reporter who tried to ask her about Trump’s comment. Clinton didn’t take reporter questions at the Borinquen clinic, either — including a question about how the father of Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub in June, ended up with a prime seat at Clinton’s Kissimmee rally Monday night.
Trump has a rally scheduled for Wednesday night in Sunrise, and a speech to home builders Thursday morning in Miami Beach. The Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed Clinton ahead of Trump in a head-to-head match-up by 46-45 percent in Florida, a tie within the survey’s 3-percentage-point-error margin. Taking into account third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, Clinton and Trump draw 43 percent support each — a dead heat.
Clinton swiped at Trump for largely ignoring the Zika crisis. He said during a Florida campaign swing last week that Gov. Scott, a Trump supporter, probably had the virus “under control.”
And Clinton used her endorsement of Wasserman Schultz to cast Trump as out of touch with female voters — a demographic that strongly favors Clinton in Florida, by 53-40 percent, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
“When I talk about early childhood education and paid-family leave and a lot of the other issues that young families talk to me about all the time, I am sometimes accused by my opponent of playing the ‘woman card,’ ” she said. “And I have to tell you — as I’ve said many times before — if that’s playing the woman card, then deal us in.”
Snagging Clinton to appear on her behalf marked a coup for Wasserman Schultz, who was forced to step down last month as Democratic National Committee chairwoman amid a leaked-emails scandal that showed her party staff favored Clinton over primary rival Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, now has endorsements from Clinton, Obama and Biden.
Her first primary opponent in 24 years, Nova Southeastern University law professor Tim Canova, has Sanders’ backing. On Tuesday, just a couple of hours before Clinton dropped in on Wasserman Schultz, Sanders emailed his fans urging them to donate to Canova’s campaign.
Clinton won Wasserman Schultz’s district in the March 15 presidential primary with more than double Sanders’ support.
The Democratic nominee was greeted by about a dozen protesters outside the Borinquen clinic. Most were from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Two were from a pro-Israel group. PETA was protesting monkey-breeding facilities elsewhere in Florida.
Inside the clinic, Clinton met Miami-Dade County health administrators, doctors and researchers who outlined how they’ve responded to the Zika outbreak. They showed off a mosquito net and repellent for clothing that can last six washes. One four-month-pregnant clinic worker, clad in long sleeves and pants, told Clinton that although she tested negative for the virus, she’s taking precautions like spraying mosquito repellent on her skin and asking her husband to wear condoms during sex.
“We don’t want to unduly alarm people,” Clinton told about 30 people later, recounting the worker’s story. “We want people to become informed.”
Among those listening was Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who met Clinton for the first time and got a couple of shout-outs from the candidate. He’s one of several notable local Republicans who have refused to endorse Trump.
Gimenez was the only local elected politician invited to the Clinton event. He told reporters his appearance wasn’t a Clinton endorsement. But he had no qualms about acknowledging that Trump hasn’t made Zika a priority.
“Trump hasn’t been down here, as far as I know,” Gimenez said. “I’m glad to see that the secretary is worried about it and wants to be informed about it.”
Miami Herald Staff Writers Alex Daugherty and Amy Sherman contributed to this report.
Trump to hold rally at BB&T Center
Donald Trump plans to rally supporters Wednesday in Broward County.
The Republican presidential nominee will be at BB&T Center in Sunrise — where the Florida Panthers play hockey — at 7 p.m. Public tickets are available online at donaldjtrump.com/schedule/register/sunrise-fl/
He will also hold a rally at 7 p.m. Thursday in Kissimmee.
Trump was last in South Florida two weeks ago for a fundraiser at Trump National Doral golf resort. The next day, he called a news conference in which he suggested Russia hack Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s email. Trump later said he was being sarcastic.
Trump hasn’t held a Miami-Dade or Broward rally since October.