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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

At donor dinner, Marco Rubio bashes media for coverage of Trump

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, addressed the Pinellas County Republican Party's annual Lincoln's Day Dinner fundraiser Friday night


Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, addressed the Pinellas County Republican Party's annual Lincoln's Day Dinner fundraiser Friday night

Sen. Marco Rubio began his remarks to more than 300 donors at the Republican Party of Pinellas County's annual fundraising dinner Friday by addressing the “big news of the week that's impossible to ignore.”

“The return of American Idol to ABC,” Rubio said to laughs. “We've gotta launch an investigation into that.”

But when he began alluding to news of the accelerating investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, Rubio expressed both gratitude for a free press that's reporting the issues and contempt for what he sees as politics being covered as entertainment.

Rubio assured supporters that if anybody violated the Constitution, he “will be the first person who would say it.” But he spent much of his 30-minute speech criticizing the news media for its saturation coverage of the allegations.

“Justice is rooted in the truth, and the truth is rooted in the facts,” Rubio said. “This week we are asked to take positions on various issues, and you know what they are because they are in the press every day. Did the president do this? Did the president say that? Wouldn't it behoove us to first know the facts?”

Rubio, who has been facing criticism for not speaking up about Trump's conduct as president, did not field questions from reporters before or after Friday's Lincoln Day Dinner.

During his speech, he dismissed the scrutiny of Trump and said more attention should be centered on radical Islamic terrorism, China's growth as a superpower and unemployment plaguing young people.

For two hours before Rubio's speech, nearly 250 protesters stood outside the Carillon Hilton Hotel venue in the thunder and rain demanding they be given a chance to address their Senator on any issue.

With homemade signs and chants, activists demanded Rubio hold a town hall meeting to hear from constituents, some thing he has not done since Trump was elected in November.

“I was a voter before, and now I'm an activist because of the Trump regime,” said Darlene Goodfellow, 57. Rubio promised to be a check and balance, but he's pretty much been Trump's rubber stamp. Town halls I don't consider to be an option. It's our chance to give him a periodic job review.”

The protesters, most affiliated with local chapters of the national Indivisible movement, voiced concerns over Russia's alleged influence on American politics, a fear of a looming health care replacement they say will gut benefits of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and Rubio's seeming indifference to constituents.

“He should be able to come in front of people and field their concerns,” said Tom Meehan, 76, of Venice. “The GOP has come to stand for greed, oligarchy and perversion of the Constitution.”

Before introducing Rubio to the audience, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, acknowledged the protesters, calling them “the liberals outside,” and encouraging the conservative crowd not to be intimidated.

“We've got the presidency, we've got the Senate, we've got the House,” Bilirakis said. “We've got to turn this country around.”

Rubio encouraged the news media, politicians and voters to take responsibility for the current discord in government.

He encouraged the country to stay focused on the values that can ensure America's future and prevent various threats from China and Russia.

“You do not want a world where a brutal, communist dictatorship or a thug like Vladamir Putin, has the most powerful military in the world,” Rubio said.

He said history is watching to see if the shapers of this chapter can overcome challenges like generations before.

“The people who came before us had great challenges, but in the end, they argued about them, they debated them, but they fixed them,” Rubio said. “The question now becomes whether we are capable of doing the same.”

[Last modified: Friday, May 19, 2017 11:34pm]


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