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As Congress Inches Closer To Zika Funding Deal, Fla. Leaders Split On How To Get That Done

Governor Rick Scott and Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip joined by a bipartisan group of Florida's Congressional Delegation during his Washington D.C. trip.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

It’s good news to Florida’s Congressional Delegation and Governor Rick Scott that Congress could be close to striking a deal on funding efforts to combat the Zika virus. Florida just passed the 800 mark for the amount of cases reported to health officials. But, Florida leaders are a bit split on how that funding should be accomplished.

On Monday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced to the Senate that Congressional leaders are working on a Zika funding plan.

“I think we have finally found a path forward to fund the fight against Zika,” said Nelson. “The specifics are still being worked out, but it seems that there will be a deal.”

That deal will likely be included in a temporary spending bill to fund the government though early December. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)—who says he normally wouldn’t be on board with that—calls it necessary.

“With Zika becoming a public health emergency the way it has, it’s worth making an exception for something like that when the Zika funding is in it,” said Rubio. “At this point, I just really believe that we need to get Zika funding approved and moving.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) meeting with Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about Zika funding.
Credit Sen. Marco Rubio's press office
The Florida Channel
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) meeting with Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about Zika funding.

Rubio has been in talks with Governor Rick Scott, who recently made a two-day trip to Washington D.C. to speak to House and Senate leadership as well as members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation.

Scott says the time for politics is over. He adds he'll take Zika funding in any form.

“I’m disappointed that this didn’t happen back before Congress went on recess back in May,” said Scott, speaking to reporters. “I’m also disappointed that Bill Nelson—a Senator from Florida—voted against funding last week. He turned his back on Floridians.”

Governor Scott met with a slew of Florida Republicans and Democrats. Missing from that list was Senator Nelson (D-FL).

Nelson previously did vote against a House measure that included 1.1 billion dollars for Zika funding. But, he says he did it because political riders were added. Zika doesn’t have anything to do with the Confederate flag and Zika doesn’t have anything to do with Planned Parenthood.”

Behind the scenes, congressional aides are now saying the “defunding Planned Parenthood provision” was taken out Thursday by Republican negotiators—which pleases Democrats—bringing Congress one step closer to a Zika deal.

Still, some among Florida’s Congressional Delegation say Scott’s comments about Nelson may be hindering the Zika conversation. Those feelings come from both Democrats and Republicans.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), for example, has called Nelson “helpful,” and doesn’t need to be called out. And, Rubio also made similar remarks.

“My colleague, Senator Nelson from Florida, has been great to work with on this and multiple issues, but on this one in particular, and I thank him for his partnership and hard work in this regard,” said Rubio, on the floor Wednesday. “I enjoy our partnership on many issues involving the state of Florida, including a water bill before the Senate, but on this issue of Zika in particular. But it's time for the rest of us to come together in the interest of our people.”

And, while all agree Zika funding is a must, there is a bipartisan movement in the House asking for a clean bill. Among them is Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Democrat.

Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL)(middle) along with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)(left) joined by a bipartisan group of Florida's Congressional Delegation for a press conference, calling for passage of a clean Zika funding bill.
Credit Rep. Curt Clawson's twitter
The Florida Channel
Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL)(middle) along with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL)(left) joined by a bipartisan group of Florida's Congressional Delegation for a press conference, calling for passage of a clean Zika funding bill.

“Let’s do this,” she said, during a bipartisan press conference she led Tuesday. “Let’s see if we can get all of the Republicans and Democrats together because mosquitoes don’t have a party. They will bite anyone.”

Wilson is the co-sponsor of Zika bill by Florida Congressman Curt Clawson, a Republican. It’s $1.1 billion for Zika efforts with no additional amendments.

“I support my Party,” said Clawson, who also led the press conference. “We can spend $1 billion or two for babies and for pregnant women? I mean, where’s our priorities? I’m sorry I’m getting emotional. But, to me, this is a big moment in the history of Florida. If I’m being urged to vote to spend money overseas for bombs, then by God, I’m going to vote for financial bombs to go after a mosquito in order to save babies.”

The issue has not only crossed party lines, but it’s united some feuding Democrats as well.  Florida Congressmen Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy were engaged in a bitter primary fight. Murphy won and will now face Rubio in November. But, that didn’t stop both Grayson and Murphy from participating in the bipartisan press conference in Washington D.C. calling on a clean Zika bill. Murphy says it’s urgent.

“The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] said that they are essentially running out of money,” said Murphy. “They have shifted resources from other research for HIV, Ebola, cancer, diabetes to focus on Zika. But, not those resources are exhausted.”

As for Grayson, he says the Zika issue has also affected him personally.

“I got married recently,” said Grayson. “We were talking about where to go on our Honeymoon. I asked my wife where she thought the best place to go, and she said somewhere without Zika. All over the world, people are making the same decisions.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, Governor Scott announced "since nothing has happened" in Congress so far, he's authorizing another $10 million in state funds to fight Zika. That brings the total taken so far from the general revenue fund to combat the mosquito-borne disease to more than $36 million.

There have also been concerns raised about the state’s reporting of Zika cases. While health officials have stood by their reporting as accurate, they have now included reports of people outside the state who have contracted the disease from Florida mosquitoes. Close to 90 pregnant Florida women have Zika.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner .

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