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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

White House gives rare shoutout to Gov. Rick Scott on Zika

28

June

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has made no bones about criticizing the federal government over its plans to prevent the Zika virus.

But he and President Barack Obama have a common foe on the matter: Congress, which on Tuesday morning failed to pass a Zika-funding bill in the Senate.

That prompted White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest to give Scott a rare shout out in his Tuesday briefing with reporters.

"Gov. Rick Scott from Florida, no friend of the Obama administration but is making the same case that the Obama administration is, that Congress needs to step up to the plate and provide additional resources that can be used to try to fight the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus," Earnest said.

Here's the full question and answer, from a transcript:

QUESTION: Thanks, Josh.

I want to ask you a question about Zika. And the surgeon general said earlier this month that -- they were coming to a point where the funding for the Zika response is going to run out. Now that Congress, the Senate failed to advance this latest funding package and it doesn't look like there's going to be a deal at least before July 4, can you say exactly when the money for the Zika response is going to run out?

EARNEST: Well, again Jordan I think the issue that we have is that there's insufficient funding that's being dedicated to the effort to fight Zika, and to protect pregnant women and their children in this country. That is the issue. And what the Department of Health and Human Services has already done is taken funding that has been deployed to confront a range of public health questions, challenges, and devoted it specifically to this effort.

But even that is not enough. And we've made clear that's not enough. That's why the president put forward a package four months ago. This is a package that was recommended to him by the foremost public health officials in the country. And for the last four months we have seen Republicans do very little other than play political games with that request.

So you would think that at some point the safety and well-being of pregnant women in the United States would be more important than politics to Republicans. But unfortunately it's not. Because as I mentioned to Darlene earlier, Republicans now apparently see Zika funding as the vehicle to allow the display of Confederate flags in cemeteries across the country. I don't really understand what that has to do with Zika virus and protecting pregnant women. But that's the vehicle that Republicans have apparently chosen to use in order to ram through a partisan measure.

It's apparent that Republicans don't take this particularly seriously. But I can tell you that public health professionals across the country take this seriously. In fact just today we have a letter from a couple dozen non-profits urging Congress to dispense with the kind of partisanship that House Republicans have displayed and to act on what they describe as a public health emergency. These are organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Easter Seals, March of Dimes. These are organizations that don't have any interest in partisan politics. They do have a keen interest in protecting the American people and protecting pregnant women and preventing birth defects.

And what they're urging Republicans to do is to dispense with the partisanship and actually focus on this public health emergency. We'll see if Republicans are persuaded.

QUESTION: In the absence though of that funding for now, can you say, can you tell us, when's the next time the public health agencies are going to have to move around money to like fund the Zika response through the summer or however long (inaudible)?

EARNEST: Well, Jordan I think the point is that right now they don't have as much money as they would like to have in order to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus. That's, if you're asking me when are those agencies going to need more money to fight Zika virus, they need that money right now. They needed that money four months ago.

They needed to send, for a variety of reasons, they needed to send a clear message to the private sector that we were going to be invested in their efforts to develop a vaccine and to develop enhanced diagnostics and to expand lab capacity so the people who get tested quickly get their results and know what precautions they should take to protect their partner or other people in their community from the Zika virus.

For weeks if not months we've seen local officials particularly in the South ask for additional assistance from the federal government so they could do a better job of fighting mosquito populations in their states. That request, even from those Republican officials, has fallen on deaf ears.

Governor Rick Scott from Florida, no friend of the Obama administration but is making the same case that the Obama administration is, that Congress needs to step up to the plate and provide additional resources that can be used to try to fight the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.

It's only Republicans in Congress who are treating this as a partisan issue. Governors in both parties all across the country have called on Congress to act on this. Public health professionals including charitable organizations like the Easter Seals and the March of Dimes are calling on Republicans in the Congress to act.

But the only thing we've seen Republicans in Congress do thus far is to try to make this issue partisan for reasons that are difficult to explain. 

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2016 6:15pm]

    

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