HH: From Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center in Washington, D.C., where I am for Meet The Press on Sunday, I’ll also be on with Don Lemon tonight. I’m pleased to begin the day after the debate with one of the two people I think won the debate, and I wrote that in CNN opinion this morning, Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, congratulations on a great debate performance last night.
MR: Thank you, Hugh, and I’m glad you’re at Hillsdale. It’s a great school and a great campus there in D.C. We love doing events there with them.
HH: It is a terrific place to broadcast from as well. Now before I go and congratulate you on the Debate, I have to say I’m sorry about your Miami Dolphins coming in second in the race for Hue Jackson.
MR: (laughing) They got their guy. They got who they wanted.
HH: Okay, I’m just saying, I’m looking at the draft list here, and it says you basically need everything. All we need is Jared Goff. But nevertheless, let’s go to your biggest moment last night. It came early. One came early, one came late. This is the first big moment for Marco Rubio last night, where you talk about Hillary Clinton, cut number one, please.
MR: Well, I would go, first of all, one step further in this description of Hillary Clinton. She wouldn’t just be a disaster. Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being commander-in-chief of the United States. (applause) Someone who cannot handle intelligence information appropriately cannot be commander-in-chief. And someone who lies to the families of the victims in Benghazi can never be president of the United States (laughing).
HH: Now Senator Rubio, that sent the meters off the chart, and I think that resonates with everyone. Do you believe she violated 18 USC 1924 or other statutes concerning the handling of sensitive intelligence information?
MR: I think that if it is indeed proven that she deliberately asked her staff to delete the labels of intelligence information on there, then she absolutely is in violation of federal law and should be held accountable for it. Let me say on the first part about the Benghazi issue, that’s indisputable. She knew the facts. She was emailing people about the facts, including family members and foreign leaders, and yet she had the faith to go meet with the families, the victims, families of these victims in Benghazi, and tell them this was a spontaneous uprising that caused their death. How can you do that? I don’t understand how you can do that and still think you can be commander-in-chief.
HH: Have you had a chance, yet, to see the movie 13 Hours, which opens tonight?
MR: No, I have not. But I mean, I know Michael Bay, who’s a producer and the director of the movie, and I know about the project, but I haven’t had a chance to see it. But I’m trying to figure out a way to see it here in the next week or so. We’re on the road a lot, but we’re trying to figure out a way to see it.
HH: I think it’s going to profoundly impact public opinion. Do you have confidence in the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Department of Justice, Senator Rubio, to bring charges that should be brought against Mrs. Clinton? Or is it too corrupt?
MR: I have confidence in the FBI. I think the FBI are people of great integrity, and I think they are going to do their investigation, and they’re going to present the evidence to the Department of Justice. I do not have confidence that the current attorney general will do the right thing. I do know that I am going to appoint someone when I am president, an attorney general, that’s going to enforce the law, and that no one will be above the law. And not just Hillary Clinton, but whoever, you know, those responsible for Fast and Furious will also be brought to justice. And again, I have confidence in the FBI’s investigation. I do not have confidence that the current Justice Department leadership will do the right thing.
HH: That raises the stakes, however, for those who are currently in the government if they hear a Senator Rubio saying as President Rubio, no investigation will be closed, it won’t be Ollie Ollie In Free. You’re going to go back and look for the lawbreakers?
MR: Yeah, people will be held to account. For example, Fast and Furious, someone did something terribly wrong, maybe even criminal. People lost their lives there, and the covering up and the impeding of information, and the constant claiming of executive privilege to avoid the truth coming out, all of that will end. The truth will come out, and the people who have committed crimes are going to be held accountable. And if it were short of a crime but something else, they’re going to be fired on Fast and Furious. And on the issue that you’re talking about with classified information and others, if there was a crime committed, people will be prosecuted.
HH: Let me go back to Benghazi. Have you got any idea, yet, why the cavalry never arrived? That is the question that haunts at the end of the movie.
MR: You know, again, I mean, they claim, you’ve got conflicting reports here. You’ve got people saying we were ready to go, and we were told not to deploy. Others are saying we weren’t, you know, it gets down to semantics. Basically, these people were ready to go, and they were told, but they were never ordered to go. That is not in dispute. They were never ordered to go. Now you’ve got people like Panetta and others saying well, no one stopped them from going. Well, that’s not the question. The question is not whether somebody stopped them from going. The question is why didn’t someone order them to go when you had personnel in danger? And there’s only two outcomes. Either number one, we didn’t have a force ready to protect them and go save these people, which is incompetence, or number two, we did have one, but they were never ordered to do it, which in my mind is gross incompetence, not ordering them to move in and save these people’s lives.
HH: Senator Rubio, at the last debate in which I participated, I asked you a question about the nuclear triad, and you killed it. I want to go back to that for a moment and broaden it out. And at the March 10th debate when I’m back, you can expect more of the same, because I care about Defense. Do you think we have enough soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, particular emphasis on Marines? And do you think we have enough ships or even a plan to get to the number that we need?
MR: No, we do not, and I’ve said that repeatedly. We’re about to have the oldest Navy in a hundred years, the smallest Navy in a hundred years, I should say. And so I’ve heard some in the Navy argue well, we don’t need that many ships, our ships are very technologically capable, which is true. They are. But they still can’t be in two places at once. So for example, there are months at a time where we do not have a carrier group in a specific region, which is inexplicable given the fact that China’s growing increasingly aggressive in that region, as an example. So you talk about Marines. Absolutely, the Marine force is too small. The Army’s about to be the smallest it’s been since the end of the Second World War. And the Air Force is the oldest and the smallest we’ve ever had very soon. This is just inexplicable and unacceptable in an era where we face multiple global threats all working at the same time against our interests here and around the world.
HH: Now there is a new study out by retired Navy Captain Jerry Hendricks, who works over at the Center For New American Security. He’s a very centrist guy, that says, it’s titled Retreat Beyond Range. Maybe we’re past the era of carriers. Maybe they’re too vulnerable to long range missiles either from the PRC or from emerging threats. What do you think about that argument, Senator Rubio?
MR: I don’t believe that. First of all, I think carriers will never be obsolete. I mean, they’re important in terms of being able to quickly project air power anywhere in the world. They’re a critical part of our ability to forward project power. In addition, they’re not just about warfare. They also serve a valuable role in terms of symbolically, in terms of American leadership, and in a humanitarian crisis. It’s carrier groups that respond, whether it’s what happened in Haiti or the nuclear accident that happened in Japan. So they serve a very important and valuable role. Otherwise, why would China be building a second one now? The second thing I would say is, about that, and the importance of carriers, is we need to be able to protect them from these asymmetrical threats. The answer is not to stop building them. The answer is to develop the protections necessary to prevent them from being struck by an asymmetrical threat like a surface-fired anti-ship missile that the Chinese are developing. We need to be able to defeat those systems. And we need to invest more in that technology to stay ahead of the curve.
HH: Back on the Marines, in 2010, and I’m sure you saw this during your service in the Senate, the USMC said they need 186,800 Marines. They’re below that, and they’re falling. And they came to the conclusion that women ought not to be in close quarters combat, and they’ve been overruled. What do you make of both decisions? Will both decisions be on the table for review under President Rubio?
MR: Well, anything is always reviewed. I mean, you want to make sure that things are appropriate. On the women in combat role, look, I personally believe, I always defer to commanders on important issues such as this, but I’ve talked to many about it. And I think ultimately, what I’ve settled on based on the input I’ve had, is if someone is physically capable of doing the job, then I don’t, their gender should not be relevant to that decision. They should be able to do the job. But they’ve got, what you can’t do is lower standards in order to meet these sort of political aims. That, we cannot do. And there are women that are physically capable of doing this. In fact, many are doing it now. It’s not defined as combat role, but in fact, they are in those roles. So again, I give great deference to the military commanders. There’s some difference of opinion on different roles. But I’d just say if you are physically capable of doing it, then I am open to that happening. As far as the number of Marines, the Marines are the first force we’re always going to send in when there’s an emerging situation anywhere in the world. And the problem that we have is if you don’t have a sufficient number, what you are doing now is placing tremendous strain on our current Marines. You’re now going to see longer deployments, more redeployments. You’re just putting more strain on them and their families in terms of being able to rotate them back home and send them back out again. The less people you have, the more you need to rely on reservists, on National Guard, for example, and the Army. Again, I think that’s why having a sufficient number is so critical. The Marines play multiple roles, by the way. They don’t just provide combat forces. They provide embassy security around the world. And they’re the first line of defense. We always send them in first when there’s something that happens quickly. And so we need to have sufficient numbers to be able to do that on multiple fronts.
HH: Last question on Defense, it goes to combatant commanders. Generals McChrystal, Petraeus, and Mattis were the best war fighters we’ve had in a generation. They’re all on the bench. Would a Senator Rubio becoming President Rubio reconsider whether or not these men ought to be back on active duty?
MR: Yeah, and I’m not sure they want to as this point. I mean, they’ve all moved on to different stages in their lives, but I certainly think that they can still serve in a public role, if that’s what they desire to do. I also believe we have young people coming up the ranks that are of equal caliber, and they would tell you that. And I think you always want to look to that next generation. Here’s the thing that we’re blessed with, is despite some of the flaws that we have in many areas of our government, the one thing I can tell you is that the people in this country graduating from West Point, from Annapolis, from the Air Force Academy, are among, are the cream of the cream of the crop. I interview every year the nominees. We review the applications every year, the nominees that are going to these academies, and the people that aren’t making it are extraordinary, so you can just imagine the people that are getting in there. We are really blessed to have such a great generation of young people serving us in those roles. And that’s been happening for a long time. So we’ve got some really talented people in the military who are ready to assume those roles, and we’d have to make sure that we find them and elevate them.
HH: Let me turn to your second home run moment last night. Here is the cut where you went after your colleague in the Senate, Ted Cruz:
MR: Senator Cruz, you used to say you supported doubling the number of green cards. Now you say that you’re against it. You used to support a 500% increase in the number of guest workers. Now you say that you’re against it. You used to support legalizing people that were here illegally. Now you say you’re against it. You used to say that you were in favor of birthright citizenship. Now you say that you are against it. And by the way, it’s not just on immigration. You used to support TPA. Now you say you’re against it. I saw you on the Senate floor flip your vote on crop insurance, because they told you it would help you in Iowa. And last week, we all saw you flip your vote on ethanol in Iowa for the same reason.
TC: I appreciate you dumping your oppo research folder on the debate stage.
MR: No, it’s your record.
HH: It’s your record. This is widely considered a decisive moment in the debate, Senator Rubio. Did you hold it back to the end? Were you counting on a crescendo?
MR: No, if you recall what happened there, I had been asked a question. I answered it, and then Ted jumped in and attacked. And so I responded. And what I responded is because, it’s not, I like Ted Cruz. He’s my friend, and we’ll be friends after this campaign. But he does campaign with a message that he is the only consistent conservative in the race. And to be frank, his record is not one of, on key issues, he has shown consistent political calculation. And I pointed out to those instances, whether it’s flipping his vote on crop insurance on the Senate floor, I watched him do it, whether it’s changing his position on ethanol last week in Iowa for the same reasons, in order to gain support there, where he’s been on immigration. I mean, he used to want to double the number of green cards. Now, he’s against it. And 500% increase in guest workers. Now, he’s against it. He was in favor of legalizing people that are here illegally. Now, he’s against it. On TPA, he wrote an opinion piece with Paul Ryan supporting TPA. He was actually whipping people to vote for TPA. And now, suddenly, he’s flipped positions and he’s against it. So you can’t go around saying you’re the only consistent conservative when your record is far from consistent. It’s more of the record of the someone who is politically calculating.
HH: Let me turn to the issue of eligibility. I have a law partner, a former federal judge, former head of organized crime for the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s office. His name is the Honorable Stephen Larson. Judge Larson, still practicing before the Supreme Court last month, I called him up yesterday to ask him about this. He said if anyone had standing, and he’d doubt that anyone does, it would be dismissed as a political question, and it is a silly question. Do you agree with him and conclude that Ted Cruz is eligible to be president?
MR: Yes, I think that Ted is a natural born citizen, because there’s only two kinds of citizenship – natural born and naturalized. And Ted Cruz was natural born. He was not naturalized. And so he is eligible to run for president, and to me, it’s never been an issue. I’ve never raised it. I’ve, form the very beginning, said I thought it was a non-issue, and I think it’s important we refocus on the issues before our country, the ones that we really should be debating.
HH: Now let me ask you, do you believe it is easier to beat Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Is it easier to win the nomination or the general election, Marco Rubio?
MR: Oh, you know, well, neither will be easy, obviously, but I think our nomination, we have a very talented field. And I think that’s going to make our nominee stronger. I believe I’m going to be our nominee. And I think I’m going to be a stronger candidate because of the competition that this field is providing. And I think that’ll be true of anyone if they’re the nominee. Hillary Clinton will not be easy. She’s going to have a lot of advantages, whether it’s money, or the mainstream media, or the political establishment in this country, and her long history of politics in America. But I do think she will be beat. I know this. I will beat Hillary Clinton. I know she doesn’t want to run against me. I am the candidate with the best ability to unite the Republican Party and conservative movement, attract new people to the conservative movement, and take the right to Hillary Clinton. If I’m our nominee, we will beat her, and she knows that. And that’s why they are constantly attacking me. Last night, as soon as the debate ended, the first person they attacked was me before anybody else, because they don’t want to run against me. But I can’t wait to run against her.
HH: Three last political questions. You’ll bring Florida along with a nomination if you’re the nominee of the Republicans. But we also need Virginia, Ohio and Colorado, and the latter is the hardest, 4 ½%. Dope cuts against us there, but guns work for us. How do you win Colorado, Marco Rubio?
MR: Well, we’re not in a general election stage, yet, in terms of strategy. I can tell you I think the message works everywhere that we have, and that is that Barack Obama is trying to redefine and change America, and we want to reembrace the principles that made us great, and apply them to the challenges before us. On the issue of the 2nd Amendment, there’s a reason why the Democrats talk about it the way they do. They understand that a majority of Americans support the 2nd Amendment, support the right of all Americans to defend themselves and their family. And a growing number of Americans realize now that if ISIS comes to our life, in our neighborhoods, or we are confronted by a terrorist attack, our right to bear arms is our last line of defense. When I am president, we are defending the 2nd Amendment, not undermining it.
HH: Penultimate question, what did you make of Nikki Haley’s response?
MR: I thought it was fine. I know, look, I like Nikki. I was proud of her. I thought she did a really good job. I know after the fact, people always go out and make all this noise about it, and you can parse words all you want about it. But I thought she did a good job, and I thought it was a good contrast to the White House’s message. She talked about what real unity looks like, not what the President did, it’s me. I was sitting there at the State of the Union, and it was just ironic that a president that has deliberately divided us and pitted us against each other for six years, seven years, now is going to his last State of the Union pleading for civility and unity after all he’d done for seven years to pit Americans against each other. When I’m president, that will change. I will never pit Americans against each other, and I will ascribe to a politics that will lift everybody up without tearing anyone down.
HH: Last question, before I got on the plane today, I was handed a book, Pope Francis has a new book out on mercy, and about being open to the poor. Can the GOP effectively communicate with the people who are poorest in this country, and for whom the Pope speaks often as the dispossessed?
MR: Absolutely, and we should, because the fact that someone is poor means that something is impeding them from accessing the promise of free enterprise, whether it’s the lack of skills that they need or some other issue in their life. And that’s why I want our anti-poverty program to cure poverty, not simply treat the pain of poverty. When I am president, we’re going to take our federal anti-poverty programs, we’re going to bloc grant them to the states, and we’re going to allow states and local communities to design innovative programs that cure poverty, not simply treat its symptoms.
HH: Marco Rubio, a great pleasure, congratulations on a great debate last night, and we’ll talk to you again before the Iowa Caucuses. Thank you, Senator.
MR: Thank you.
End of interview.