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Rubio Highlights New Zika Developments, Urges Congress To Act Quickly
Rubio: “I don’t want us to take our eye off of this because if this issue really takes off on us here in the United States, we don’t want to say that we knew it was happening but we ignored it and did nothing about it. … I hope that in this funding request we don’t wait until the end of the year. … I believe in limited government but I do believe one of the obligations of a limited federal government is to protect our people from dangers, whether they be foreign enemies or the risk of disease outbreak. … We have an obligation to hold the government responsible to ensure that the money that is appropriated is just being spent on Zika and is being spent appropriately on things that work.”
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today reiterated the seriousness of the Zika virus following several new research developments this week and urged Congress to quickly take action in fighting the virus.
Rubio first announced his support for the $1.9 billion request to combat the Zika virus during a press conference in Miami last Friday following a briefing with state, local and Puerto Rican officials and health experts. He stressed the importance that taxpayer money only be spent on programs to combat the Zika virus.
Yesterday, Rubio sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging them to use whatever steps necessary to dedicate currently available resources to clear its Zika virus testing backlog, and to prioritize completing tests for women who are pregnant.
Today, Rubio also noted the impact Zika has had on Puerto Rico to date, saying, “I don’t want to forget about Puerto Rico. Oftentimes people forget that Puerto Rico is the United States. People who live there are U.S. citizens and there is already a severe outbreak when it comes to Puerto Rico. They are already facing this crisis. And so it’s important — if this was one of the 50 states, they would have a Senator here on the floor right now, maybe two, arguing on behalf of them. Obviously, Puerto Rico doesn’t have a senator elected from the island, so I hope to stand here today on their behalf to argue that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed for the sake of our country but most immediately for the sake of the territory of Puerto Rico. And so I hope that we will move quickly to confront this issue and to solve it.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
April 14, 2016
Senator Marco Rubio: “I’m here today to talk about the Zika virus, which we’ve been hearing a lot about in the news lately. It’s a virus that has first begun to appear, well obviously it’s been around for a long time, but we’ve begun to see it in the news lately with regards to its implications in Brazil and in Latin America, but it has now found itself here in the United States.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about it. As you know, the president has requested $1.9 billion to deal with this and there’s a lot of things we need to address it. There’s been a little bit of a squabble in the Congress about whether or not we should be spending that much money on it.
“So one of the things I argued for, and it’s happened, is that we should take some of the money that was set aside for Ebola. When the Ebola crisis was going on, there was about $500 million dollars of that that had been unspent.
“I argued that before we go to the $1.9 billion there was $500 million immediately available. Let’s assign that to be used and the president agreed to do that.
“But there is still a shortfall on this issue and it does need to be addressed, and I hope we can find a way to address it, and obviously my political differences with the policies of the White House are well-known and established, but this is an issue where I believe, I hope they’ll be supportive of this request.
“To be abundantly clear, it’s not just about throwing money at it. We have to make sure that the money is being spent on the right things. It is not just saying ‘here’s $1.9 billion’ and throw the money at Zika.
“You want to make sure, number one, that it is all being spent dealing with the virus. Oftentimes in this place when the money is assigned for a catastrophe, or a disaster or anything like this, or a breakout of a disease, suddenly you see all kinds of other ideas and programs attached to it that have nothing to do with the primary reason for why the money is being spent.
“So we want to make sure, number one, that if there is $1.9 billion that is going to be spent on this, that all of it is spent on this and not some other things.
“The second is we want to make sure the money is being spent on the right things. And what are the right things? Well, we’ve discussed those over the last few days. One of the most important things that needs to happen long term is the money necessary for the basic research to incentivize the vaccine. There is the belief that they can pretty quickly get to a vaccine that will protect people from this. So that’s important.
“I think there needs to be thought put into the testing. Testing for the Zika virus today is less than reliable. There is not a commercially available test. For example, in Florida, if you want to be tested for Zika, it has to be through the State Department of Health. You can’t just go down to the Quest Laboratory or one of the providers of lab tests and get it. There’s not a commercially available test. So that has to be improved as well.
“So these are the sorts of things that I hope the money will be geared towards, and this is why it’s so important. I don’t want us to take our eye off of this because if this issue really takes off on us here in the United States, we don’t want to say that we knew it was happening but we ignored it and did nothing about it.”
(Note: At this point in his remarks, Rubio quotes a Reuters article that found patients affected by Zika in more states than originally thought, and a USA TODAY article that found Zika is affecting babies in later stages of pregnancy.) Rubio then continued:
“So that’s why on the same day I sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control, and I sent a letter to them regarding a Zika testing backlog.
“On April 8, I hosted a briefing in Miami a week from [tomorrow] with representatives from state health departments, local health departments, and county government officials, and I included health officers from Puerto Rico. I publicly, as I said at the time, offered my support for the president’s emergency supplemental funding request.
“While I heard there were many obstacles that we face in fighting Zika, one aspect I heard about repeatedly was the distressing length of time it takes for diagnostic tests to be completed. I have subsequently seen media reports of pregnant women who have waited up to a month for the CDC to complete their diagnostic tests for the Zika virus, while fearful mothers anxiously await to know their child’s fate.
“Of course we’re still waiting for the supplemental requests to be passed and I hope we can do that quickly. There really is no reason to wait on this, but until Congress approves the request, I urge the Centers for Disease Control to use whatever steps are necessary to dedicate currently available resources to clearing its current backlog of Zika diagnostic tests and to prioritize these tests for women who are pregnant.
“I believe these essential steps will help us not only to ease mothers’ minds who test negative for the virus, but also to provide critical care for a child whose mother tests positive for the Zika virus. We know that screening for microcephaly should happen early and often, and receiving diagnostic tests is the first step in that process.
“The CDC should have the capability to provide those services immediately to those who are waiting. Ultimately, it’s my hope that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve a commercial Zika diagnostic test in the near future so that these tests are more broadly available.
“One more thing that I think was reported on Wednesday was that the House GOP is readying a Zika funding plan. House leaders are working on approving more funding by the end of this year, and I would once again encourage them to do so in light of the circumstances we now face.
“I’m not saying this is going to be an outbreak of great proportions, but I am saying for a family that is potentially impacted by this, this will be a crisis. I am saying it’s important for these testing kits to be available, by the way not just for expectant mothers and those who are potentially pregnant, but also to men, because as we know the Zika virus can also be transmitted sexually as it was in the infection that occurred in Polk County, Florida.
“Beyond it, I hope that in this funding request we don’t wait until the end of the year. The summer months are coming, and these are the months where the spread of these mosquitoes, the two strains of the two types of species of mosquitoes that carry the virus, are going to become prevalent in many parts of this country.
“The two strains of the two types of species of mosquitoes that carry the virus are going to become prevalent in many parts of this country. It’s the time of year when many people find themselves outdoors exposed to these mosquitoes, and so I hope that the funding requests can be in place and that we don’t wait until the end of this year to deal with this. It shouldn’t take this long. Look, I believe in limited government but I do believe one of the obligations of a limited federal government is to protect our people from dangers, whether they be foreign enemies or the risk of disease outbreak.
“And so I hope that we will move forward on this endeavor because it’s important. It’s a proper function of government, and we shouldn’t be sitting here six months from now regretting that we didn’t act sooner. And so I hope that we’ll move promptly and quickly both in the House and then in the Senate to address this issue.
“And I would want to close by saying I don’t want to forget about Puerto Rico. Oftentimes people forget that Puerto Rico is the United States. People who live there are U.S. citizens and there is already a severe outbreak when it comes to Puerto Rico. They are already facing this crisis. And so it’s important — if this was one of the 50 states, they would have a Senator here on the floor right now, maybe two, arguing on behalf of them. Obviously, Puerto Rico doesn’t have a senator elected from the island, so I hope to stand here today on their behalf to argue that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed for the sake of our country but most immediately for the sake of the territory of Puerto Rico. And so I hope that we will move quickly to confront this issue and to solve it.
“And I would close by saying one more thing. While government has an important role to play, ultimately we have a responsibility. If you are traveling to parts of this world where you might be exposed to the virus, I think you have an obligation to get tested to ensure that you’re not going to be transmitting this to your partner. As I argued last week at my press conference, if you’re going to be outdoors, you have an obligation I think to use mosquito repellent to protect yourself and your family from being exposed to this, just the same way you would wear sunscreen. I think it’s important for us this summer more than any other.
“And by the way, it’s not just Zika that mosquitoes transmit. They transmit all kinds of other very serious illnesses. There is a level of personal responsibility here. We talked about people not allowing bodies of water, whether it’s undrained pools or puddles of water in your backyard. These mosquitoes can grow in water containers as small as the cap of a bottle of water. They don’t need a lot of water in order to reproduce and grow. So there are things we need to do in our own lives to take personal responsibility for dealing with the Zika virus.
“But there is a proper role for government, and I hope that we will play it. We have an obligation to hold the government responsible to ensure that the money that is appropriated is just being spent on Zika and is being spent appropriately on things that work. We should be working with our local and state partners to ensure that we are funding the programs that work and that need to be funded.
“But I think we need to get it done, and I hope that we can get it done here really quickly because the summer is upon us, and I don’t think we want to be halfway through the summer and wake up to the news that hundreds and hundreds of Americans in multiple states have been infected and we did nothing. We’ll have to explain that to our constituents, and I’m not sure we’re going to have a good explanation if we don’t act. With that, Madam President, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.”