Today’s program will open with a wide ranging interview with Senator Marco Rubio, one that covers his family and his faith, the labor turmoil in Michigan (interesting especially in light of Rubio’s picket-line experience as a boy in support of his striking father), Cuba, immigration and much more, including the state of football at Florida now that the Ohio subsidy –Urban Meyer– has been withdrawn. Rubio’s autobiography, An American Son, makes a great Christmas present as it is both a fascinating read on the rise of an American political superstar and also a chronicle of a first generation American moving through and over an unusual series of obstacles that even the children of privilege would have found hard to overcome.
12-12Hewitt-Rubio (For Steelers fans, if you click on the link to the left, you’ll hear the audio.)
HH: Special hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show begins with Marco Rubio, United States Senator from Florida, author of An American Son, which is linked over at Hughhewitt.com. Senator Rubio, welcome back, great to have you.
MR: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
HH: When An American Son came out, I did not interview you this summer, so I want to actually start there. And you begin your book on Election Night 2010, talking about the man you bested, Charlie Crist. He’s back in the news. What’s your reaction to Charlie Crist changing parties?
MR: Well, not much, really. I mean, look, I think that we saw that coming a while back. Obviously, I think he abandoned the Republican Party because he couldn’t win in the primary and ran as an independent. Now he’s decided to make another change for obvious political reasons, but I think voters will see that. And look, I think he has the right to do that. This is America. People have a right to change their mind. They have a right to run as whatever they want to run. And if he decides to run for governor, he’ll have to get through a Democratic primary, where I’m sure he’ll have to explain to Democratic voters in Florida about some of the positions he’s taken in the past. But if he’s successful, then he’ll have to run in a general election, where he’ll have to talk about that as well. And ultimately, we live in a republic, and if that’s what voters want, that’s what they’ll get. I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. I think Governor Scott will win that election, but we’ll wait and see.
HH: How is Florida doing, Senator Rubio? It surprised a lot of people. We thought it was going Romney/Ryan. It didn’t, and of course, we’re happy that Governor Scott said no to the Obamacare state exchange yesterday. But how is it doing in terms of the economy, the recovery and the morale?
MR: Well look, I think that Florida has challenges like the rest of the country does. We were very dependent on the housing sector, and that’s been obviously hurt by the national downturn. So we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of that, and that’s hurt the state. You know, this is a state that agriculture’s done okay, but tourism is starting to make a rebound. But you know, tourism depends on disposable income. And if people don’t have jobs, they’re not going to take vacations. And if they do, they’re going to be shorter if they’re not making as much money. So we struggled. We’re slowly turning the corner. The good news is that at the state level, we have a balanced budget amendment, we have a legislature that doesn’t spend more money than the state takes in. We don’t have some of the looming fiscal crises that other states have, but…so that’s good news. And that’s why I think we’ve done better than the national numbers have been. But we still have some challenges. They’re very similar to the same challenges the country faces.
HH: I must say one of the fascinating revelations about An American Son, and it’s a very good book, America, and a perfect Christmas present, is the sort of brass knuckled aspect of Florida politics at the state legislature. It really is a competitive sport. It’s the football that you love, isn’t it?
MR: Well, it can be. I mean, you know, Florida is a big state with a lot of members of the legislature, 120 House members, 40 Senators, and obviously a big budget. There’s a lot at stake in the process. And with term limits, there’s a lot of vibrancy in the politics. There’s always people running and doing things. But I enjoyed my time in the state legislature. I talk about that in the book extensively. I learned a lot of lessons, some of which have become very valuable for me now in my career here.
HH: Oh, and about passing legislation, it’s fascinating. Have you seen Lincoln yet, Senator Rubio?
MR: I haven’t. You know, I was going to watch it last week, but apparently there’s going to be a screening here in the Senate next week, so I intend to do to that.
HH: All right, now back to the book. On Page 6, right at the start, you write, “My success, and the success of anyone from my generation is deeply personal to Cuban exiles. It affirms that their lives have had purpose and meaning.” It seems to me that we’re in an era of almost indifference to Cuba, not among the ex-pats, of course, but among Americans generally. Do you agree with that? And does it surprise you? And how do you change that?
MR: Well, first of all, I mean, let’s recognize that Cuba’s a small country, it’s not a big economy, it’s lost some of its geopolitical importance in the aftermath of the Cold War, but I think there’s a lot to be said there for the cause of human rights. It’s the only non-democracy in the Western Hemisphere. Obviously, we have questions about how democracy is applied in places like Bolivia and Venezuela, but you know, at least they have elections there. And they haven’t even had those in Cuba in a very long time. And so you know, obviously that’s something that we wish more people would pay attention to, because the Cuban regime is really a criminal regime in terms of what it dos to its own people, the way it crushes dissent, the way it treats its own citizens, the conditions that it puts on everyday life there. And on top of that, they don’t know what they’re doing. I mean, they commit economic malpractice every day. The main reason why Cuba doesn’t have an economy is not because of U.S. sanctions. It’s because of the incompetence of the country’s leaders. So it matters to me, and it matters to us. And I think that the point of the book about, that I raised, is that a lot of people lost their country. You know, they came to the U.S. when they were in their 20s and 30s. They had hopes and dreams for themselves. And for a lot of them, it became impossible to fulfill that. They basically made it the purpose of their lives to give their kids the chance to do everything they never had the chance to do. And so when they see someone of my generation be successful, they’re obviously proud of that.
HH: There’s a wonderful portrait in An American Son of your wife, Jeanette. She’s supportive, faith-filled, great mom. Since Tampa, since your speech down there, your wattage has increased, and no doubt, the pressure on her. Is she still the 100% go for it, Marco Rubio?
MR: Absolutely. Yeah, you know, look. I mean, her number one job is being a wife and a mom, and she’s great at those two jobs. But you know, she’s not someone that in essence has her own political ambitions for me or for us. But by the same token, I think she’s always been supportive, especially when we’ve been in a position to make a difference. And I think that’s what she’s really been supportive of in this process, is when we’ve had a chance in this process to make a difference on the big issues, on the big things that face our country and the world in general. She’s got very involved in the issues of human trafficking, and I think really takes great pride and great enthusiasm when we have a chance to make a difference in public policy. And that’s the part of it she enjoys, and I’m grateful for her support.
HH: There’s also a terrific, a very moving portrait of your dad, Marco Rubio, born in 1926, only three years after my dad was born, which surprised me, since I’m so much older than you. But you were a young union activist. And given the Michigan headlines that we have, I mean, you were out on the picket strike line with your dad. Do you have mixed emotions watching this Michigan story unfold?
MR: Look, I think unions have a role to play, and an important role to play. And I think people should have the right to organize into unions. I think what’s happening in Michigan is they’re trying to become a right to work state, in essence allowing workers to decide whether they want to be part of a union or not, and making sure people aren’t required to be a part of a union in order to work. And the case in Las Vegas is my dad was a member of the Culinary Union, and they felt very unhappy about some of the changes that management was proposing at the hotel my dad worked at, and they did go on strike. And I walked the picket line. And the strike was ultimately unsuccessful. They basically broke the union, and it was never the same. In fact, we left a year later after that happened, because it wasn’t the same. So I don’t know about if it’s mixed feelings. Look, I respect organized labor. I think they have an important role to play. I think they’ve made, they’ve had an important contribution to improving conditions for workers throughout America’s history. But I also think in the 21st Century, the marketplace is very competitive. Some of the impediments that existed a hundred years ago aren’t around anymore. And I think in some instances, quite frankly, some unions have hurt the industries that their workers work for. In essence, you’ve seen some companies go completely out of business because of labor practices. And that’s not good for the employee, either. And in many occasions, some unions have become political machines for the ambitions of their boss and of the left. That’s not good for workers, either. But look, I respect the right for people to organize, and I think they should have the right to do that, and the opportunity to do that. But I don’t think people should be forced to do that, and I think that’s what the fight is about in Michigan.
HH: There’s also quite a lot in An American Son about your love of football. Now I think you’ve got to admit, Senator, that Urban Meyer, a son of Ohio, is back home now, and you folks are not going to be able to rest on the abilities of an Ohioan anymore. And so it’s a little bit hard…
MR: Well, we’ve got a pretty good coach now, too, and Florida did very well this year. We wish Urban the best. Obviously, he did a great job when he was at the University of Florida winning two national championships. And you know, obviously, we wish him the best at Ohio State. You saw what they did this year.
MR: Unfortunately, they had sanctions…
HH: It’s kind of like an Ohio subsidy to Florida football, and I’m glad that’s been withdrawn.
MR: Right, well, look, you know, I think we’ve had that come and go before. Obviously, Steve Spurrier has left, and he’s in South Carolina. But look, we have a lot of admiration for Urban and what he does, and obviously he’s doing a great job now at Ohio State this year. You saw how well they played. Unfortunately, they’re not in BCS contention because of the sanctions.
HH: Oh, perfect is perfect.
MR: But he’ll get that program turned around and moving. He’s a great recruiter and he has a great eye for talent.
HH: And are you still the hard core Dolphins fan?
MR: I am, and you know, we suffer through that. We’ve unfortunately only had one winning season in the last eight, but hopefully, you know, we’ve got a young quarterback that will develop, and a good nucleus of young talent that we can build on, and I’m looking forward to better things for the team in the future years.
HH: Are you still a season ticket holder? I mean, that was one of the great gifts your staff gave you when you left as speaker.
HH: I thought that was actually the best…
MR: You know, I’m not. What I do is I basically, I don’t go to every home game, so what I’ve decided to do, you don’t save any money by being a season ticket holder. I just buy tickets on a per game basis if I decide to go to a game, and that’s what we’ve done. And it’s worked out pretty good.
HH: All right, now Senator, you also talk a lot about your faith here…
HH: And people are surprised when I tell them you are a Mass-attending Catholic. You’re a Roman Catholic who also goes with his wife to her Protestant Church. So you’re doing double dip duty occasionally.
MR: Well look, I mean, as I’ve said repeatedly before, I subscribe 100% to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. But look, I know Catholics that enjoyed watching Billy Graham’s sermons on television, because he’s a great teacher of the written Word. We just happen to have found a Church in South Florida, and we go there to hear the live sermon very often. And I don’t see any incompatibility in that. I don’t think you can get enough of the written Word of the Gospel, and we have an opportunity to do that in South Florida, because we’ve found a church that does an excellent job of teaching how the Word applies to our life, and through the gift of Salvation. And I’m very proud of that association. But I’m also a full Roman Catholic. I mean I 100% believe in the teaching authority of the Church and its theology.
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HH: Senator, did you have help doing this?
MR: You know, I wrote the book myself. The two people that helped me on it, of course, was my sister helped to kind of put together the family history part of the book. And so we’re grateful to her for doing that. And then Mark Salter, that helped a lot with the editing of the book, he did a great job. Of course, he’s been an author before and has written a lot, so he’s helped us a lot in terms of editing the book and putting it together.
HH: Oh, it’s really…
MR: But it’s my product. I mean, I wrote it, and I spent about three months…because only I could write the story of our lives. So a lot of it I had written before even I got the book contract to do it and so forth, but it was a fun process to do. And I really, you know, when you’re forced to sit down and put in writing where your family comes from, the journey they’ve been on, and your own life, you remember a lot of things, and you really are able to put things in better perspective. So I think I’m much more self-aware after the process. It was good for me in that regard as well.
HH: There’s a lot of great detail. For example, your first job as a lawyer, you make $57,000 dollars, more than your dad ever made. It’s hard to believe, actually, that anyone would accuse you of indifference to the middle class or working folks if they’ve read An American Son.
MR: Well, actually, I’m deeply committed to that, because I think the one thing that makes America different from the rest of the world is our middle class. I mean, every country has rich people. There’s nothing wrong with being rich. It’s a great thing. But I think that ultimately what makes us different, sets us apart from the rest of the world, is that we have this broad and vibrant middle class. And the idea that in American if you work hard and play by the rules, you should have a very good opportunity to make it to the middle class and stay in the middle class is one of the things that sets us apart. It’s one of the great American promises. And I think we’re fighting now in the 21st Century to protect that, because there’s real challenges to it. It’s the combination of two things. Number one, our economy isn’t creating enough middle class jobs, and number two, too many of our people don’t have the skills for the middle class jobs that are being created. And it’s there that I think that we need to apply our limited government and free enterprise principles to ensure that that promise is still available in the 21st Century, so that American can remain exceptional.
HH: You know, Senator, when you were out here a few years ago in the studio, I just didn’t know a lot of this stuff that you put in An American Son. I didn’t know about your brother’s arrest on drugs. I didn’t know about Max Alvarez and the Florida Turnpike. I didn’t know about these charges that Crist threw at you left, right and center.
HH: Did you write the book in order to just anticipate and put to bed every one of these continual charges made by your political opponents?
MR: Well, you know, some of that stuff is, in hindsight if you look at it, it’s kind of silly in hindsight, obviously. But you know, it’s important to address them, because I learned lessons from those things, and particularly in terms of how your opponents are going to use anything and everything they can in the worst possible way. And so, but I also addressed them, because they are important learning opportunities for me. I mean, I learned from those things, things that I could do better. And I think in life you don’t really learn that much from your successes. You learn from your failures, you learn from the bumps along the way, and you learn from things that you wish you could have done differently. And I think that one of the things I’ve been able to do sometimes is learn from other people being honest about experiences they’ve had. And I think that by writing that, I’m hopefully, for people that are reading that, who are in a similar position that I’ve been in, in the past, may avoid some of the things I wish I could go back and do a little differently. So that really is more than anything else why I wrote it. I mean, it’s impossible to do an honest assessment of where you’ve been and where you’ve come from if you don’t address the things that have had an impact on you.
HH: Now even when you write a book like this, with all of this detail, still you’ll sit down with someone like the Vanity Fair reporter, and they’ll ask you about the age of the Earth. I mean, it’s one of the silliest questions I’ve ever seen out of context in an interview, the age of the Earth. But does that prepare you for what will be a relentless assault from the media over the next two to three years as people try and figure out what your career is going to do?
MR: Yeah, I mean, look, part of the…we have to understand a lot of these folks in the media are under tremendous pressure to deliver conflict, and to deliver scandal, and to deliver the next big story. I mean, it’s well documented the amount of pressure that the print media is under, and to some extent, television as well, to produce these sorts of things. Look, I don’t have any shame in saying to you that I think if you come from a right of center perspective as I do, you get a different level of treatment. But on the other hand, I think it’s a great opportunity to articulate what it means to be a conservative in the 21st Century. And then ultimately, I feel in the long term in the big picture, I feel good about the opportunity that we’re going to have to articulate what it means to be a limited government conservative, and what it means in the 21st Century, given the challenges and the opportunities that we have. So I welcome it. I feel like it’s a blessing, and it’s not going to be all roses. It’s not that every day is going to be a great day. But even as I write in the book, even my worst day is better than some of my parents’ best days.
HH: Oh boy, is that easy to see after reading this. Now talking about just the cultural hooks into the book, you love rap. I mean, this was a revelation to me. Grand Master Flash and Afrika Bambaata, all this stuff? Does this strike people as…I know it’s authentic, but are they surprised by it?
MR: Well, I don’t know if they should be. I mean, I grew up in the 80s and early 90s. I mean, what other music would I be listening to given where I grew up and what I grew up around? So I think it’s just a natural part of our generation. I mean, in terms of people that grew up when I grew up, this was, hip-hop became a dominant genre of music, particularly for young people living in big cities as I grew up in Miami, and before that, a little bit in Las Vegas. And so I just think that’s natural if you look at where I come from. So you know, look, I think the worst part of it is not to be honest about it. And like I said, I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed about. I think hip hop’s made a tremendous contribution to music. Not every hip hop artist is, I would say, great, but I think that’s true for all genres of music. But I think hip hop has made a significant contribution to American music.
HH: All right, Senator, I want to closer, and we’ve got two, two and a half minutes here, is with immigration and the great debate that is about to open in America. The President is going to put forward a massive piece of legislation. All of us on the right are sort of writing about it in bits and pieces. As you begin 2013, close 2012 and begin 2013, how would you like to see the country address the issue about the regularization of the millions of people who are not here legally?
MR: Look, I’m open-minded on the approach, except that my preference is we have to deal with it comprehensively. I just question the wisdom of doing it in one massive piece of legislation, the reason being that every time that Washington has tried to tackle an issue like this comprehensively, you end up trading one good policy in exchange for five very bad policies or four very bad policies. I also think it’s difficult to put together the kind of support for a big piece of legislation. Some people think that that means well, let’s just do the easy stuff and not touch the hard stuff. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think we have to do all of it. That’s why I believe we have to deal with it comprehensively. And maybe I’m wrong about doing it in one big bill. I’m just wary of it, because I think it’s failed in the past, because you end up having to do three or four really bad things in order to get one good thing done. Look, this is a serious issue. We have to solve it. It’s important for our country to solve this issue. But it has to be done, and it has to be done in a way that’s humane and compassionate. But it also has to be done in a way that’s responsible. We do want to be compassionate to the people, like the young people that were brought here when they were children. We do want to take into account the fact that when you talk about 11 million undocumented people, you’re talking about 11 million human beings with real families and real stories. And on the other hand, we want to make sure that we’re being fair to the people who have done it right, and we want to make sure we don’t do anything that encourages people to do this in the future, because if we do it the wrong way, in ten years, we’ll have another 11 million people. So we don’t want that to happen, either. So this is going to take a little time, but I think it’s important to do it right. It’s a very important thing for our country. America cannot be what it is destined to be in the 21st Century if we don’t figure this out, and I hope to play an important role in that.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thanks for spending time with us. An American Son’s a wonderful book, great Christmas present. I look forward to talking to you in 2013 early and often about the debates that are all around us. Merry Christmas, Senator.
MR: Thank you.
End of interview.