On heels of Trump MacDill visit and protests, activists call on Marco Rubio to reject Betsy DeVos

President Donald Trump visited MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Monday, where he offered heartfelt praise of the military for the great sacrifices they make to protect the nation, promised new aircraft... and accused the media of covering up terrorist attacks for some reason.

Protesters demonstrated outside the base starting at 7:45 a.m., well before his arrival.

Hours later, some of those same protesters were reportedly among a group of about two dozen that gathered outside the Tampa satellite office of Sen. Marco Rubio, who is poised to vote Tuesday with other Republicans to confirm Betsy DeVos, Trump's highly controversial nominee for Secretary of Education.

They acknowledged Rubio was probably not listening to their calls to reject the billionaire heiress who has zero education experience but lots and lots of experience donating heavily to Republican candidates and causes (at least her family has; especially Rubio, who enjoyed extensive support from the DeVos family in 2016 and before).

While Senate Democrats plan on protesting her confirmation, but it seems likely she'll be confirmed. The vote tally is so far 50 to 50 (with two Republicans likely voting 'no' with Democrats), but given that Vice President Mike Pence is the tiebreaker, the confirmation seems pretty much in the bag for DeVos.

But Monday's protesters wanted the record to show their opposition.

Madeira Beach resident Pam Zibell said she thinks that in light of her family's contributions, Rubio ought to recuse himself from the vote, but even if he does vote, DeVos is wholly unqualified (as her responses during her Senate confirmation hearings suggested).

“I've been very concerned about this nominee from the very beginning. I have a lot of reservations. Her testimony was very disturbing. [She's] clearly not qualified, clearly not on the right side of what we want to have happen," she said. "And now it's come out that Mr. Rubio took [campaign dollars from the family]. And we're adamant that he step away from the vote. It's just not right.”

She added that she found DeVos's support of charter schools — which can receive public funding but aren't typically held accountable like public schools are — would serve to undermine the nation's longstanding tradition of public education.

“Charter schools are failing all over the United States,” Zibell said. “It's a money issue, and they've defunded the schools. You can't have high performance and low funds. You can't divert those funds. You're not going to recruit the best teachers, you're not going to get the best equipment. That's why school systems are failing. It's not because there aren't committed people there or the kids don't want to learn.”

Samuel Bradley, who lives in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood, said he had never been active in politics — until the Jan. 21 Women's March on Washington, when he drove alone to DC to attend the march.

He cited DeVos' inability to answer basic questions about education, like the long-running debate over whether assessments of student achievement should be based on their proficiency at a given grade level, or the gains they make — growth — over time.

She didn't know that, nor could she answer questions about accountability, stating only that she supports it — which is a huge concern. 

“With public education, you ask some questions about the issues, but with this nominee, they might not even get to the issues,” Bradley said. “In the Senate committee hearings, she demonstrated that she doesn't know the most basic things, that if you stopped in any public school at random, any teacher at random, not knowing whether it's the best teacher in the school or the worst, they would be able to answer those questions.”

As the protesters waved signs outside, several were inside Rubio's office talking with a staffer about their concerns. They knew, of course, that Rubio has probably been to that Tampa office probably all of twice, and that he wouldn't be there Monday. But they wanted to make sure he got their message. After all, they said, his office's voicemail box is full and their emails don't seem to be getting through anymore. 

Tampa resident Vivienne Olive-Warren, one of the activists who went into the office, said the staffer she talked to while inside (there was only one) was courteous but overwhelmed as the visitors asked her to ask Rubio to meet, face to face, with his constituents.

“I said please ask him to have a town hall here in Tampa," she said. "We want him to have a town hall.”

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