Protesters have booted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) out of a second office in Florida — not long after his staff was forced to leave his location in Tampa.
The owner of Rubio’s office in Jacksonville, Fla., has decided not to renew the lease because of weekly protests that some say have become too disruptive. The owner of the senator’s office in Tampa recently made the same decision for the same reason.
Rubio’s Jacksonville office is next door to a center for children with mental health issues. The decision to not renew the lease was prompted — at least partly — by concerns over the protests’ effects on patients.
“As discussed given the sensitivity around our pediatric behavioral health group (and soon to add a pediatric Autism group) with regard to the protests, unfortunately we will not be renewing the lease with Senator Rubio,” said an email from the property management director for Baptist Health Properties, which owns the space that Rubio has been leasing.
The email, obtained by The Washington Post, was sent on Feb. 21 to Todd Reid, Rubio’s deputy chief of staff and state director. Rubio and his staff have been leasing the Jacksonville space on a monthly basis since the annual lease expired a few months ago.
Many of the protesters are part of the national Indivisible movement started by former congressional staffers from the Obama administration. The idea is to rally activists — individuals, groups and organizations — to oppose President Trump at the local level and to place pressure on their representatives in Congress. The strategy was taken from “a few pages from the Tea Party playbook,” the movement’s founders wrote in a recent New York Times column.
Their tactics weren’t fancy: [Tea party activists] just showed up on their home turf, and they just said no.
Here’s the crazy thing: It worked. … They waged [a] relentless campaign to force Republicans away from compromise and tank Democratic legislative priorities like immigration reform and campaign finance transparency.
The former congressional staffers created the “Indivisible Guide,” which outlines “advocacy tactics,” such as showing up at town halls, public events and district headquarters.
— Miami Herald (@MiamiHerald) March 1, 2017
“For the second time in another major region of the state, the unruly behavior of some anti-Trump protesters is making it more inconvenient for Floridians to come to our local office to seek assistance with federal issues,” Christina Mandreucci, Rubio’s spokeswoman, said in a statement Monday. “Those who disagree with President Trump and Senator Rubio certainly have a right to exercise their First Amendment rights, and most of them have done so in a productive and respectful way. But unfortunately, some of them have chosen to do so in a manner that potentially hinders their fellow Floridians’ ability to receive help from our office.”
Neither the Tampa office nor the Jacksonville location is a political or campaign office, Mandreucci said. “They are small, two-person offices that help Floridians in the region with issues such as Medicare, Social Security and veterans benefits,” she said. Until they relocate, constituents in need of assistance can call 866-630-7106 to reach a representative, she said.
Sarah Dohl, spokeswoman for the Indivisible movement, said the purpose of the protests is for constituents to be able to talk to Rubio in the form of a town hall meeting, which the senator has refused to hold.
“It’s important to note that many of these groups are largely made up of senior citizens and retirees. From what we understand, they’re not rowdy or disruptive,” Dohl said. “These are not political or campaign issues that constituents are asking of him. These are questions that they’re raising about his work that he’s doing in Washington.”
Rubio has other Florida offices in Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, Tallahassee and Palm Beach.
Rubio and his Jacksonville staff have until April 30 to leave and will start looking for a new space this week. His staff in Tampa left the office there Thursday, and the search for a new space is underway.
Jeff Allstadt, an organizer of Indivisible Clay County, which has been at Rubio’s Jacksonville office every week, told the Florida Times-Union that protesters had been respectful and not disruptive. “When he moves to another office, we’re going to talk to him there,” Allstadt said. We’re just constituents, and we’re trying to make points, discuss issues with him, and we’re going to do it wherever he sets up shop.”
Both Allstadt and Michael Broache, co-founder of Indivisible Tampa, said that the protesters did not intend to force Rubio to move out of his offices.
“Our intention is to make sure the senator hears our voices and acknowledges the concerns of his constituents. Unfortunately, we’ve requested town halls, and he’s indicated he’s unwilling to do that at this point, and that’s why we’ve been present,” Broache, a University of Tampa professor, told the Tampa Bay Times, adding that the senator’s staff has been polite and accommodating to constituents.
Jude Williams, president of America Capital Partners, which owns the building housing Rubio’s Tampa office, told the Tampa Bay Times that he understands the protesters’ cause. But the rallies have become too disruptive and have raised security concerns, he said. He did not return a call from The Post.
“It’s not political,” Williams said in the Times story. “It’s for no other reason than good office management. Our duty is to keep a good peaceful office building environment for our tenants and that’s not what they bargained for.”
Cindy Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Baptist Health, said the building where Rubio’s Jacksonville office is located has always been meant for medical office space. That, combined with the regular protests, prompted the company to decline to renew Rubio’s lease, she said.
Protesters opposing Trump’s policies have shown up outside Rubio’s offices since Trump took office. They said they’ll show up every week for the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. The building management in the Tampa location has placed barricades and assigned security guards in and around the area, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Demonstrators holding #NoWall and #NoBan signs also have shown up at Rubio’s Miami office, the Miami Herald reported.
Elsewhere, Republicans who’ve been visiting their home turf have been met with angry crowds. Many lawmakers, citing safety concerns, have refused to hold town hall meetings. Rubio, in particular, has avoided town halls because of people who “heckle and scream at me in front of cameras.”
“They are not town halls anymore,” Rubio told a CBS affiliate in Miami. “What these groups really want is for me to schedule a public forum; they then organize three-, four-, five-, six-hundred liberal activists in the two counties or wherever I am in the state.”
Specifically mentioning the “Indivisible Guide,” the senator said protesters were instructed to show up and occupy the front rows.
“They spread themselves out. They ask questions. They all cheer when questions are asked. They are instructed to boo no matter what answer I give,” he told the CBS affiliate. “They are instructed to interrupt me if I go too long and start chanting things. Then, at the end, they are also told not to give up their microphone when they ask questions.”
Rubio, who tweeted in 2009 about the importance of anger at town halls, didn’t show up at a recent South Miami-Dade County event attended by more than 200 people, according to the Miami New Times. His seat was replaced with an empty suit.
memo to establishment (in both parties): the angry folks at health care townhalls are REAL & their views are shared by a growing majority.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 11, 2009
This post has been updated.