House Republicans in Florida are starting to crumble on blocking President Obama's request for Zika funding now that the state is ground zero for the mosquito-borne infection in the mainland US, and the fact that Congress is taking a nearly two month vacation after skipping town without approving any funding at all hasn't been lost on voters there. It's getting so bad now between the virus and Trump's scorched earth campaign to destroy the GOP that the Republican delegation from the Sunshine State wants House Speaker Paul Ryan to convene an emergency session to pass funding.
When Republicans left town this summer, they abandoned a billion-dollar Zika rescue package that had become mired in partisan infighting. But now some rank-and-file Florida Republicans — who represent scared constituents clamoring for Washington to do something — are pressuring their leaders to get a deal done, no matter what it takes.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) asked Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to convene an emergency session of Congress to pass a Zika bill immediately. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) is worrying that Congress’ lack of action could cripple him in an already tough re-election battle. And a number of Florida Republicans, including Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), want their party to fully fund President Barack Obama's larger $1.9 billion Zika request.
Since Congress split town in mid-July, the mosquito-borne virus situation has worsened: The first locally transmitted cases in Florida appeared at the end of July, with infections there now totaling more than 400 cases (though most were transmitted by people who had traveled abroad). On Thursday, Florida newspapers reported that parts of Miami beach had been infected. And last Friday, the White House declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico, projecting 25 percent of residents will likely contract Zika this year — all just a few miles from Florida’s sandy coasts.
“I don’t care how it gets passed, it just needs to get passed,” Curbelo said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There is so much anger and frustration in our country because most Americans feel they cannot count on the government to do very simple things… Congress has to show competence — and funding a response to a serious public health threat seems to me a very simple stand for ‘competence.'"
Now Rep. Curbelo especially is not a Trump fan, and I'm betting he's seeing some pretty worrying numbers from his district, where he narrowly won 2 years ago against Joe Garcia. Charlie Cook has Curbelo's district, Florida's 26th, as dead even on the partisan scale and a toss-up in November.
So suddenly, Carlos Curbelo is worried about Zika, and he now knows that blaming the Democrats while the Republicans control both the House and Senate isn't going to fly with voters in southwest Miami-Dade County, the southern tip of Florida, and the Keys where Zika (and its effect on pregnant women and tourism) is starting to become a problem.
The House isn't going to reconvene until after Labor Day, and they have 4 weeks to get a Zika funding bill passed, otherwise I'm betting strongly that Carlos Cubelo will be kicked to, well, the curb, and rightfully so.