Politics & Government

Protestors sought meeting with Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio

After three days of waiting for a meeting with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a delegation that’s been lingering in the Florida senator’s office finally decamped for Miami.

They didn’t get their meeting, although they were able to meet with Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson. They also chatted and posed for photos with Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who passed by in the hallway and stopped to speak with them.

Had they met with Rubio, the protesters said, they would have asked him to consider President Barack Obama’s jobs bill, to extend the federal payroll-tax break for working Americans and for an extension of the federal emergency unemployment-insurance benefits set to expire at the end of the year.

They also would have asked him to "open his heart," said Ricardo Dormevil, 31, a Haitian who has lived in Miami for three years and is seeking U.S. citizenship. A security guard, he recently had his car repossessed and has been threatened with eviction because he can’t pay the rent.

"We’re not here to ask for money or a job," he said. "We want to ask him to open his heart, understand people and listen to people. As a father, I would like to ask him to see the situation of fathers who are unemployed who can’t help their children. To think about that."

Although it was warm inside where they were waiting, many of those from Florida wore black stocking caps embroidered with the "1 Miami" logo. The headgear was purchased especially for the trip, for people unused to Washington’s winter climate. They wore their winter clothes with all the ease of people used to wearing flip-flops in December. And their boots were muddied by marches the previous days on the rain-soaked National Mall.

The sit-in was part of the three-day protest event "Take Back the Capitol" organized by progressive groups. The protests included a soggy march Thursday on K Street, the epicenter of lobbying in Washington.

The 1Miami coalition sent three busloads of people. Of the 150, about 40 took part in the sit-in. Their numbers dwindled after the first day, though, as some of those protesting did what many do on their first trip to the nation’s capital: take in all the free sightseeing.

For three days, many of the Miami protesters sat on chairs inside the small public antechamber to Rubio’s office on the third floor of the Hart Building, chafing at those in the suits strolling in for appointments. Most stood outside in the hallway; sitting is frowned on by the Capitol Police. The 1 Miami protesters left Thursday afternoon only because they had a 4:30 p.m. meeting with Nelson, and then an 18-hour bus ride home.

They didn’t show up expecting to be accommodated just because they are from Miami, said José Suárez, a spokesman for the 1Miami coalition.

They’ve been trying to meet with Rubio since August, Suárez said, when 1Miami formed. Made up of organized labor, community groups and faith-based organizations, 1Miami began in the spring as part of an effort to shift the national debate to the economy and jobs.

"Our focus is on trying to change the debate, to one that focuses on the hard-working middle class," Suárez said.

Many of those waiting to meet with Rubio are unemployed -- or working far less than they want to be. They came armed with stories of surviving the recession, of losing their homes to foreclosure and of struggling to pay bills and find jobs.

Rosalba Campos, 53, of Hialeah, gave up her job as a security guard after her hours were cut so dramatically it cost her more in gas to get to work than she was earning. Now, her 21-year-old son is the only one in her household working; her handyman husband can’t get work because people don’t have money to make repairs, Campos said.

"I’ve tried to find a job," she said. "I apply everywhere."

A spokesman for Rubio said that several of the senator’s top-level aides had offered to meet with the visitors from Florida, but that the senator himself was booked up this week. Thursday he was in an Intelligence Committee meeting, spokesman Alex Conant said. Then Rubio had votes to cast before returning to Miami in the evening, Conant said.

Rubio’s office did offer the group a tour of the Capitol led by the senator’s staffers. Conant said they also talked to the group about Rubio’s co-sponsorship of a bi-partisan jobs bill that would extend some about-to-expire tax credits and offer tax breaks to veterans who open franchises.

"We’ve encouraged them to meet with our senior staff to share our concerns," said Conant said. "Lots of constituents come to meet with the senior staff, and we brief the senator."

That was frustrating for many of those who had been waiting — and who had supported Rubio’s Senate campaign last year. Pedro Alvarez, 75, recalled getting dozens of robo-calls in the days leading up to the election, asking for him to vote for Rubio.

"For that, they recognize me. But not for this," he said. "We’re asking him to meet his obligation as a senator and met with us."

"We don’t have $50,000 for a political dinner," added Ernesto Borges, 48. "But we do have 50,000 brothers."