Marco Rubio, meet your people
Florida Sen. MarcoRubio should man up and meet face-to-face with the people he was elected to represent.
Peoplewant to be heard about the changes taking place inWashington, particularly plans to “repeal and replace” the Affordable CareAct. It’s nowonder, since 2.1 million Floridians get health care through Obamacare plans, more than any other state.
Alot of people areworried they’re going to lose access to health care. For some, this is a life-and-death issue. And yes, they get emotional about it.
But rather than accept townhall invitations inTampa and South Florida during the congressional recess— let alone schedule his ownpublic events— Florida’s junior senator took a trip to Europewith hiswife and, reportedly, some other unnamed senators.
In the absence of information about his trip, Rubio led people to believe hewould not be home in time to hold townhall meetings. He came clean about his calendar only after being spotted in Miami by an activist.
We don’t begrudgeRubio, who sits on the Senate ForeignRelations Committee, a trip to Europe to meet with German and French officials. Such face-to-face meetings are undoubtedly beneficial in nurturing relationships with concerned friends across the pond.
But don’tRubio’s constituents also deserve a chance to hear fromhim?
Rubio nowsays he is avoiding townhall meetings because they have become amedia spectacle for people to “heckle and scream atmein front of cameras.”
“What these groups really want is formeto schedule a public forum, they then organize three, four, five, six hundred liberal activists in the two counties or wherever I amin the state,” he told CBS4-Miami’s Jim DeFede on Sunday.
It’s true that many people have been rude and obnoxious at townhall meetings held by other members of Congress. Andwe believeRubio when he says activists are instructed to go to townhalls early, “take up all the front seats” and ask lots of questions.
But judging byRubio’s performance during the presidential campaign, he can handle himself in front of a difficult audience far better than most.
Whenit comes to stating a position and explaining himself, Rubio is one of the best politicians out there. He comes across as authentic, informed and likable. Youmay not always agree with him, but you’ve got to acknowlege he can explain issues better than a certain someone with big hands.
We also get thatACAis flawed and needs fixing. Among other things, it penalizes businesses that provide expensive insurance plans to employees. It’s caused some insurance companies to pull out of state exchanges because they’re losing money. And because it requires big employers to provide health care to people who work more than 30 hours, it’s created a newworkforce of “29ers.”
But peoplewant to understand theRepublican plan to replace Obamacare. And rather than help people see, Rubio is approaching the issue through a personal political lens.
OtherRepublicans have held townhall meetings and allowed people to vent, boo, ask questions, listen, arguewith one another and somewhere in the mix, hear what they had to say.
Rubio should take a page fromthe playbook ofRepublicanRep. Gus Bilirakis of NewPortRichey, who entered a crowded townhall through the front door, answered questions, listened hard, explained his position andwhen the meetingwas over, went outside to talk to those who couldn’t get a seat inside.
“Theirworries are real. And their stories are genuine,” Bilirakis told Bloomberg Politics. “Iwouldn’t be a good congressman if I didn’t hear you out.”
We’re not saying tough crowds and thorny issues are easy. But serving in the U.S. Senate isn’t designed for the faint of heart.
“Welcome to the realworld of responsibility,” NewJersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday onCNN, talking aboutRepublicans who don’twant to hold townhalls.
Rubio himself had a very different tone in this 2009 tweet, a year before hewas elected to the Senate: “memoto establishment (in both parties): the angry folks at healthcare townhalls are REAL& their views are shared by a growing majority.”
And consider what former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, whowas shot at an outdoor meeting with constituents in 2011, said onTwitter: “To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.”
Meeting with constituents— even angry ones— shouldn’t be called courageous. It should be called doing your job.