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Florida Senator Marco Rubio On The President’s State of the Union Address, Freedom for Venezuela, And The Senator’s Anti-BDS Legislation

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Senator Marco Rubio joined me this morning:




HH: United States Senator Marco Rubio joins me. Good morning, Senator Rubio, how are you?

MR: Hey, good, I’m well. Good morning.

HH: Good morning. I want to play for you first a key part of the State of the Union last night and get your response. This is the President talking about Venezuela, cut number 18.

DT: We stand with the Venezuelan people and their noble quest for freedom. And we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.

HH: Now Senator Rubio, I agree with that. I am glad he brought it up. But I was amazed that Speaker Pelosi did not rise to applaud freedom for the Venezuelan people. Your reaction to the remarks and to the response?

MR: Well, in fairness, she has spoken already and made statements in the past in support of the administration’s policy and everything that we’ve done there. So you know, obviously, we’re grateful for that. And I want to be fair. I don’t know why she didn’t stand and applaud on that line. And obviously, you know, the mention of socialism makes a lot of my Democratic colleagues nervous. The vast majority of them are not socialists, but they know that there is a very strong and growing socialist energy in their party, and they’re afraid to take it on. It’s the same reason why they’re afraid, in some cases, to vote for my BDS legislation yesterday, because they’re afraid of these new elements in their party that are growing in prominence and in energy.

HH: This is very important. I’m going to come to the BDS legislation in just a moment, but what you just brought up is this cut, and it’s the last cut I’ll play from the speech, cut number 16. The President made these remarks, and again, a lot of the Democrats sat on their hands, unbelievably, when he said this.

DT: Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.

HH: Senator Rubio, that would have been an applause line in every state of the union past, but it wasn’t for the Democrats last night, I think, for the reason that you just alluded to. Would you expand on that?

MR: Well, first of all, it wouldn’t have gotten applause, because they wouldn’t have had to say it. It would be like saying America will always be a country, a republic, and have elections.

HH: Yes.

MR: I mean, that would have been a given. So that’s, it’s a redefinition of what it means that has changed everything. Look, we are, as I said, a republic. And you have, it’s not illegal to be a socialist and to advocate for socialist policies in America. There are socialist democrats throughout Europe and the rest of the world. And for many years, people advocated these positions, but would never use the term socialism. They would sort of walk away from it and say oh, this is not socialism. We just want more government. It’s being a liberal, but not a socialist. Now, you have people openly using the term socialism. They’re openly using it. They’re saying I’m a socialist. You even have people that come, a number of new members of Congress that caucus with Democrats but are members of socialist parties. And so that’s been a sea change. There’s no doubt about it. And I think part of it has been that the downturn in the economy and some of the structural changes that people feel left behind has made that argument more appealing in the absence of a clear understanding of how market-based politics could address their everyday lives. That puts the onus on us to argue. But let me tell you there’s an opportunity here, okay? And the opportunity is that with the term socialism, I don’t know if people really are in favor of the reality of it. But with the term socialism being out there, it’s an opportunity for those of us who do not believe in socialism to argue for what we believe in, and to convince people that what we’re fighting for is better than that. But yeah, look, there’s been a big change.

HH: And it’s also an opportunity, and you have seized this, to talk about ours should be the freedom hemisphere. Ours should be the hemisphere in which freedom is firmly planted. You have been leading in the Congress on Venezuela. Before I turn to the BDS act, are you an optimist that Maduro can be ousted without military intervention, if not from us, then from Colombia or Brazil? His thugs, I think you posted an execution that they carried out, they are just Cuban secret police.

MR: Yeah, so if, look, if there is a bunch of break-ins going, you know, robberies happening in Miami where I live, I’d be concerned. If there were a lot of them going on within block from my own home, I’d be very, very alarmed, and be taking precautions. That’s what’s happening in the Western Hemisphere with Venezuela. Number two, what’s happening there threatens to destabilize the entire region. Colombia has already taken in over a million and a half refugees, could be taking even more, I mean, up to two million more this year if things don’t change. Am I optimistic? I’m optimistic because I believe in the Venezuelan people who despite being hungry and dying of preventable diseases because their government is an abject failure, have taken to the streets, have risked their lives. This Juan Guaido, the interim president, is risking his life every day. And it’s important to point out we are, all we are doing is supporting them. And by the way, we’re joined by over 50-some odd countries. And I want to give credit to the administration. Number one, the President has never had to be convinced to take this issue on. In fact, he has raised it with me, Venezuela, more than I have raised it with the President. That’s a fact. Number two, all the criticism of this President is he doesn’t work with multilateral organizations, he doesn’t do things within our international partners. This is textbook. Over half of Latin America and all of its big economies support this initiative and have taken the lead on it. The Organization of American States, the European Union’s parliament, all of this, I think, made possible through American leadership. But also, credit to those countries for doing it. And the President has had, and his administration, have done a phenomenal job of being supportive of this international commitment against the Maduro regime. And I don’t think he gets enough credit for it.

HH: What can an ordinary American do? I mean, when Saturday’s demonstrations were underway, I banned any other comment from my Twitter feed. I just try and focus attention on preventing these people from being a Tiananmen Square in South America. But what can an ordinary American do to help Venezuelan freedom?

MR: Well, I think there’s going to be opportunities to contribute to humanitarian assistance through non-governmental organizations, and the Catholic Church, the Red Cross and others. And those opportunities are presenting themselves. And as they do, I hope people will contribute. But the other is just care. Just pay attention to it. Make sure your elected representatives care. You know, there was some unique thing that happened here. When the President came out with this, the reaction, the reflex of a lot of Democrats initially, some who aren’t familiar with Venezuela, were to oppose because it’s a Trump idea. If Trump’s for it, I’ve got to be against it. And then they stopped themselves, because as they learned about it, they realized hold on, he’s actually doing the right thing here. So they’ve kind of just either laid low on it, or in some cases, Bob Menendez and the delegation from Florida and other, and then Ben Cardin, and to his credit, Dick Durbin, have stepped forward and very strong on this issue. So make sure your elected representative cares about this issue. This is not a Trump issue. This is not an American imperialism issue. This is an issue of human rights, democracy, freedom in our hemisphere. These people are fighting, doing what they need to do, and we need to be supportive of them. And last, but not least, and I say this. Some people don’t like it, but I don’t care. Pray for them. Pray for Venezuela, because ultimately, it’s in God’s hands what happens here, and we trust that a just result will happen.

HH: And Senator, I think you probably know more about Venezuela than anyone else in the Senate, so I’m going to ask you this. Am I wrong in thinking that Venezuela could be Singapore? It could be Oz? It could be an amazing country given their resources and their people?

MR: Yeah. They have the largest oil reserves in the world. They have enormous natural resources in gold and other minerals. They have natural gas. And by the way, the U.S, they’re less than 10% of what we use in this country, okay? Shale has changed everything, so this is not about taking Venezuela’s oil the way some people assume. We don’t, we’re 45% of their export market. They’re about 10% or less of what we import into this country, and we basically import it to refine it.

HH: Right.

MR: So, but they do, yes, they have natural resources, and the challenge is how do you take those natural resources and the wealth of that country and invest that in your people, in education and new industries that allow for there to be broad, widespread prosperity. Right now, what’s happened is Maduro, the Maduro regime is an organized crime ring. It’s not a government. And every key member of his elite organization is given access to corruption opportunities. Part of that is stealing the money from oil. They’ve run the oil company into the ground. Production has dramatically fallen. All that has to be turned around, and they can. They have the opportunity to do that. But absolutely, Venezuela has the chance to be a first-world country, and has been on occasion in the past.

HH: Now let’s talk about your anti-BDS.

MR: Yes.

HH: That stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions. We have Steelers fans, so we have to spell it out, Senator. Boycott…

MR: (laughing)

HH:…divestment and sanctions…

MR: Oh, that’s right. You’re a Browns fan. Hey, you’ve got a lot to be optimistic about, but we’ll talk about that another time.

HH: You know, last time we talked about the Dolphins and the Browns, you were giving me a little bit of grief. But I kind of like where we are compared to where the Dolphins are.

MR: Absolutely. Right, I’ve told people starting last summer, I said the Browns right now have a blueprint for extended success. You see the young talent they have. I don’t want to digress. I know you’d talk all day about them. But yes, I have a little bit of envy against the Browns right now. Anyway…

HH: Yeah, I will. I want to go back to BDS. I went with Ambassador Bolton to Israel on his trip there, and you know, the Israelis know exactly what’s going on in this country, who their friends are. And this BDS movement has got to be strangled in the cradle, I mean, absolutely strangled in the cradle. What was the result yesterday? And what did it tell you about whether or not we are going to strangle BDS in the cradle?

MR: Well, we got 77 votes, which means I believe all of the Republicans and just one, and half the Democrats. And the half was over the BDS legislation. And let me tell you what the controversy…well, first of all, what does the law do? The law is very simple. It says that if a city, a county, a state, local government, decides it does not want to do business with businesses that are boycotting Israel, they don’t have to. That’s what it says. That you’d have a right to boycott the boycotters. Not individuals, individuals can be for anything. You can say whatever you want. You can’t be fired from your job at the city for supporting BDS. But if you’re a company that’s boycotting Israel, then I don’t have to do business with you as a city or a state or a county. That’s what my law does. The ACLU and other groups jumped against that. They’re against it, and they’ve tried to kill that, and other group out there, arguing that this is going to stifle free speech. But let me tell you, there are plenty of cities and counties and states that have, that do not contract with people that discriminate, they say, on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. And the ACLU isn’t against those requirements. But now, when you are discriminating, what I believe, against the Jewish people, because Israel is the Jewish state, this is anti-Semitism cloaked in economic warfare, then somehow that’s supposed to be acceptable. So it passed. We’ll see what the House does. I hope the House will take it up and pass it. But you’ve got House members, at least three new House members that I know of, maybe it’s just two, maybe three, who openly support the BDS movement, who openly chant things out there about Palestinians and Israel being wiped out, and Palestinians taking over the country. And so we’ve got a real challenge over there. I don’t know how they’re going to overcome it, but I hope they do.

HH: Well, your law is a great resolution, is a great first step. Last night, the President put a stake through the JCPOA and twisted it. It sort of may be is the official end of the JCPOA wake that has been ongoing in the Democratic Party for two years. Are we clear on Iran now in this country, that they did not change their behavior, they will never change their behavior? Khomeinist ideology is not evolving?

MR: Yeah, I think that, I hope we are. You know, there’s a lot of people out there that think the JCPOA was working, because they had stopped developing enrichment activity. But you know what? First of all, that’s the last piece of the chain, and frankly, in many cases, the easiest. Whatever you use to enrich at a lower level, that same process could be quickly turned into the one that enriches at the weapons grade level. So the real danger here is the long-range missiles and their weapons design. They have the weapons design. You can buy it. And they continue to develop their long-range missiles. Just recently again, we’ve seen some of their efforts to launch satellites that have failed, but they’re working on it. So once they have the delivery mechanism, and once they know how to build this, and the only thing standing in the way is amping up their enrichment from energy level to weapons grade, you’re a nuclear-capable country whether you actually build a bomb or not. Being nuclear-capable alone gives them a level of immunity to act as they please in the hemisphere, in the Middle East. And so the only thing that’s going to change that dynamic is to create clear incentives for what I hope will be at some point new leadership in Iran that decides that they are going to abandon some of these ambitions they have for dominance in the region, an ambition that is rooted both in their Shia ideology, but also in their Persian identity, and their view that they’re a great civilian that should, is rightfully entitled to be the dominant power in the Middle East. So we hope there will be a change there over time, but, and at some point, there could be a negotiation with a future Iranian government. But I don’t have any confidence that that’s possible in the short term, given the current leadership of that country.

HH: And my last question goes to the last act of last night, which was Stacey Abrams delivering the response. You have been in the unenviable position of having to do that. Bobby Jindal, however, has always prevented you from being referenced immediately in the aftermath when we talk about this. How do you think Stacey Abrams did last night?

MR: I didn’t see it, but by all accounts, she didn’t need any water, so that’s always a good sign, you know? And you know, I always laugh about that a little bit, because at the end of the day, I had just given a long speech in Spanish and then did the English one, and about eight minutes or nine minutes in, my throat was just killing me, or whatever it may be. And people kind of point to that all the time, but it was still a great honor to be able to do it. And it tells you about the trivial nature of American politics that I think the crux of what I said that day was very good. You know, I obviously wish I had handled that other situation differently, because it distracted from, it’s a tough assignment. There’s no doubt about it.

HH: It is. It’s an unwinnable play, right? It’s like playing Brady and Voldemort, their coach of the Patriots.

MR: Yeah, it is, but you know what? It’s become more that way, because politics now is so trivial. You know, a lot of these political reporters, they sit around all day and just hope there’s something they can be snarky about. Everybody wants to be snarky. Everybody wants to be funny. Everybody wants to be some, put something up on Twitter that’s a nice, little quip. It’s all about mockery, and so forget about what they’re actually saying. They want to cover, you know, how did Nancy Pelosi clap, or what facial expression did Mike Pence make behind the President. I mean, there’s always been some element of that. It’s now dominant. It’s become almost silly. They’ve made this so silly, the whole thing, and I’m not talking about my issue in particular.

HH: Right.

MR: But in general, you know, last year…

HH: You know what the most, the best part of last night was the American veteran who landed at Normandie, fought for a year, liberated Dachau and is sitting next to the survivor of the camps who also is sitting in the hall of Congress. That was the best thing last night.

MR: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. There were a lot of moving moments. I think the childhood cancer example, but I love stories about the greatest generation, you know, because it reminds us that if you go back, I know you’ve read extensively about it. You know, there was doubts about generation, because I think one of the things that’s been true throughout history is every generation thinks the next one is really messed up. And there was doubts about that generation. And they stepped up to the plate, and then they came back and built the American century, literally, both economically, culturally, socially.

HH: Well said. Well said.

MR: And I think the question is are we still that people? And the answer is we are. We can be. We can still be that people. And we have to reach for it. And they had disagreements, and you know, and that generation wasn’t necessarily unified on every view on every issue. But when the time called on them to act, they did it. And are we still that people? I believe we are. I really do, despite all the…

HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thank you so much. Great way to close the conversation, and keep fighting for Venezuela and against BDS. I appreciate you spending time with us.

MR: Oh, thanks for you paying attention to these issues, too. Thank you.

End of interview.


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