Sen. Marco Rubio did not show up to a citizen-initiated town-hall meeting held in South Miami-Dade County last night.
He was replaced by something that many of his constituents believe might be more useful: an empty suit that said and did nothing all night.
More than 200 people packed the Unitarian Universalist Church at 7701 SW 76th Ave. from 6 to 8:30 last night to voice their concerns to Rubio. Visitors filled the church to fire-code capacity, and many people stood outside listening through a loudspeaker.
The town hall included a panel of four county officials and civic leaders: South Miami Mayor Dr. Philip Stoddard, Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, and Justin Klecha, deputy director of SAVE Miami-Dade, a large LGBTQ-rights group.
The panel left an empty chair in the middle for Rubio. Despite clearly knowing the event would go on, the senator never showed up. When the event's emcee announced Marco was a no-show, Stoddard held up the empty suit and tried to pour the contents of a tiny water bottle into its mouth.
Other speakers included a deaf, chronically ill woman who identified herself as Barbara, who pleaded with Rubio not to repeal Obamacare. She said that without insurance, her medical bills would top $30,000 per month — and that if she could no longer afford her medication, she would be confined to a wheelchair and unable to work.
"There are so many other people out there like me," she told the crowd.
In a county that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton last year (and has voted Democrat in at least the past five presidential elections), Rubio has a 100 percent voting record in favor of President Trump's nominees and plans, has refused to take a stand against Trump's Muslim-travel ban, and has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which studies show affects Miami more than any other city in the nation.
To be blunt, Rubio has not done much this year to increase his popularity in his hometown.
So because Rubio himself hasn't held a town-hall meeting to gauge what his constituents want, people are trying to take town halls to him. Multiple groups affiliated with the progressive Indivisible movement — an insurgent, grassroots group that has sprung up to hold elected officials accountable in the Trump era — asked Rubio to attend at least one of multiple meetings scheduled in Tampa and Miami this week.
Rubio is far from the only senator under the microscope: Indivisible has scheduled insurgent town halls across the nation this month, and GOP lawmakers at other, regularly scheduled public meetings have been accosted by people who don't want the government to take away their health insurance.
But despite the fact that Rubio was invited to both meetings at least five days ago, he instead jetted overseas on some sort of "fact-finding" mission (complete with espionage, we hope) with German and French officials to try to deduce if Russia attempted to meddle in the U.S. election. Rubio conveniently used that excuse to skip a meeting this week in Tampa.
But Rubio clandestinely returned to town this morning — without telling reporters or announcing his arrival online. However, his hasty return was quickly made public after a lone constituent (and local labor organizer) caught Rubio scampering away from him on video, which New Times obtained yesterday. Protesters then confronted Rubio at a class he teaches at Florida International University.
Barbara, sitting, just told crowd that if ACA is repealed, she may lose medicine that allows her to walk and keeps her from wheelchair pic.twitter.com/TEe7VxNj7H— Jerry Iannelli (@jerryiannelli) February 24, 2017
In response to the repeated requests to attend at least one of the meetings, Rubio paradoxically told CBS Miami that he hadn't been invited. Of all the angles to take, Rubio, who never met an easy question he couldn't fumble, chose the most obviously and provably false answer.
When Rubio's response was read back to the crowd at the town hall last night, people in the audience hissed and booed. "Liar!" some shouted, rising from their seats. Multiple speakers told the crowd they asked Rubio to attend at least five days ago.
To determine who would speak, the crowd was broken into sections; those tiny teams then told a representative what to say publicly to Rubio. Constituents spoke about the environment, climate change, national security, education, freedom of the press, and Trump's conflicts of interest, among other topics.
"Why hasn't Senator Rubio spoken out against the Muslim ban?" one speaker asked. Another, who spoke after her, said that her family lives in Iran and that she's distraught that she likely won't be able to fly to Iran to visit her grandparents this year.
The night was full of spontaneous anti-Rubio jeers and chants. Audience members repeatedly shouted, "Where is he?"
On the topic of education, the panelists bored into Rubio's voting history. Both Rosen Gonzalez and Stoddard were teachers before entering politics, and neither had kind words for Rubio's record on education.
"You have to remember that Marco Rubio, as a state representative, made his ascent to speaker of the house by selling out our education system," Stoddard said. "You all remember that? And I think that's the one thing that makes me sorest about the guy. He agreed to level the absolute amount of money across the state, irrespective of cost of living, which meant that the urban communities had less money from the state for their schools and their teachers."
Stoddard said Rubio promised to fix the budget cuts but never did.
"So he stuck us — Miami-Dade County and all the urban school districts — with less money," Stoddard said. "That was squarely on Marco Rubio."
Rosen Gonzalez, meanwhile, promised the crowd she would draft a resolution at the next Miami Beach City Commission meeting that would send each of the town hall's questions directly to Rubio's office.
The event host laid directly into Rubio for skipping the meeting.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
As the speakers drew to a close, the emcee let out a warning to the Florida senator.
"We're not 'simpletons,'" the host said. The crowd roared. "And we're not going away." He promised this would be the first of many citizen-backed town halls in Miami.
"All he had to do was get into a car and show up late," the host said. But Rubio never showed his face.