HH: I begin today’s program with United States Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, great to have you back, always a pleasure.
MR: Thank you for having me back.
HH: Senator, I want to begin and spend most of our time on immigration, but I want to begin with the President’s press conference today.
HH: He said three extraordinary things. Here’s what he said about the use of chemical weapons possibly in Syria.
BO: What we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened.
HH: What do you think of the chain of custody sort of CSI: Syria, Senator?
MR: Yeah, let me say a couple of things. Obviously, I’m very cautious about criticizing the President on national security, but let me just say this. The President a few months ago said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a red line, and he drew a very sharp contrast on that point. Well, now they’ve been used, and so now unfortunately, I think what they’re trying to figure out is how can they avoid having to go through on that. And look, I’m not pretending the options in Syria are simple. And by the way, this is why I’ve been arguing for more engagement, not boots on the ground, not a U.S. military invasion. What I’ve been arguing for is let’s identify who we can work with among these people that are in the opposition, and try to ensure that they’re the best armed, the best equipped, and the best able in the conflict there. And instead, they’ve dithered, and now they figure out this situation that they’re in. So here’s, now they find themselves in this situation that they’re in. So here’s the fundamental problem. The President has said that the use of weapons are a red line, so now it’s happened, and the answer is okay, it happened, now what, or what. That’s, and it has implications beyond Syria. It has implications in the region in terms of what the U.S. is able and willing to do. And I think if you look at Iran, and you don’t think Iran is watching very closely about what happens here as the result of this, I mean, if there are no consequences for the use of chemical weapons, then obviously, I think they’re emboldened to continue their pursuit of their own weapon system. So I’m not claiming that there’s easy options here, this is very difficult situation to be in. But I think it is a cautionary tale of why talking tough on stuff like this, people should be cautious about doing that, because you find yourself in a situation like the one they’re in now.
HH: Do you think he’s moved his own goalposts, Senator Rubio?
MR: Well, I think that remains to be seen. The point is that he has basically said in the past that if this happens, there will be consequences. Well, it has happened. And I think that that is the growing consensus around the world, that it has happened. And so now, the questions is okay, so now what? My point is, you know, be very careful about the red lines that you set if you’re not going to go through with them, because it ends up debilitating your ability to have influence and leverage around the world. The Syrian situation is very complicated. It is not an easy one to solve. There are no easy answers there. Even the best answers there come with significant complications. But be careful when you set these red lines, because if it happens, you’d better be willing to go through with it, or you’re going to hurt your credibility.
HH: Second national security subject he brought up was a question asked him about the intimidation of potential witnesses to the Benghazi matter. Here is what the President said.
BO: Ed, I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody has been blocked from testifying.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, this notion that people have been blocked from testifying is all over Washington, D.C. Are you surprised the President is out of the loop that everyone else is in?
MR: No, I think there are a lot of questions that remain to be answered about that situation, and including what assets did we have available to us that were not deployed. I specifically asked that question. I’ve been told that there were no military assets anywhere that could have been used to respond. Now, it appears that there might be some evidence that there was, or at least I’m hearing that. So we’re curious to learn more about it. But I think even more important is what happened in the days after this attack, and why did the administration refuse to acknowledge that it was a terrorist attack. And the answer is, I think, that we’re going to find is because it went against the political narrative at the time that al Qaeda was on the run, and terrorism was in decline. And this whole thing here was just a function of a YouTube video. Beyond that, I think there’s questions. If there weren’t military assets ready to respond, why not? Why weren’t there? And I think what’s become public now is this steady stream of threats and information, not specific, no one sent the threat saying we’re going to attack the consulate on September 11th and 9pm in the evening. But certainly, we knew it was a dangerous place. There had been attacks attempted in the past. The Brits had pulled out of there, for example. We knew that that date in particular had some special significance to terrorists because of what it meant, the 9/11 attacks. The fact that we did not have the assets on the ground to protect our people is unacceptable. And someone is responsible for that.
HH: And have you heard from anyone that they are afraid to testify, Senator Rubio, because of…
MR: Well, I haven’t. I haven’t, but I’ve heard reports, certainly. I know yesterday there were reports of a lawyer, some people that used to work in the State Department have now hired lawyers to protect them. They consider themselves whistleblowers. And I think we need to get to the bottom of this, one, because people need to be held accountable, and two, because we have to make sure this never, ever happens again. There were mistakes made here, and those mistakes can never be repeated again.
HH: Let’s go now to immigration. One of the key subjects is going to be what does the immigration bill do with same sex couples. As you know, a couple dozen Senate Democrats backed a bill called Uniting American Families Abroad Act, and Carl Levin and others supported that. Now, they’re saying maybe they won’t support that in immigration. What do you think about same sex couples being in the immigration bill, and the requirement that they be included?
MR: It was not intended to cover everybody in every situation. We acknowledged from the beginning that there are people that will not be able to take advantage of the bill. It’s not a blanket bill that covers every immigration scenario. Second, this immigration bill is difficult enough as it is. There are already enough questions being asked, questions that need to be answered, legitimate points that are being raised. If you inject something like this in the bill, it will die. The coalition behind it will fall apart, and it will make it, that will not pass. It’s just that simple. If that issue is injected into this bill, this bill will fail. It will not pass, it will not have the support, it will not have my support, and so I hope we can avoid this. I respect people who have different opinions than mine on this issue. I disagree with them, but I respect them. This is not the issue to engage this in, or you will threaten the entire product.
HH: Now there is also an argument from the right that Waivers R Us has opened a subdivision in the immigration bill. How about the argument there are too many waivers to make this bill work?
MR: Well, look, first of all, I think that’s a legitimate and valid point that we should look at. I mean, if there’s ways to tighten this up, we should. We certainly, I mean, I think we need to start accepting the notion that Janet Napolitano will not be secretary forever. I mean, this bill, for example, has a ten year implementation window before people can even apply for green cards. At best, she has three and a half years left there. So she won’t even be there when the first five years are completed. But that being said, I think if there are legitimate concerns out there about the number of waivers in the bill, we should tighten that. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. And I’ve always been open to that. I’ve always said that I’m looking for ways to make the bill better. Some waivers, quite frankly, some, not all, but a few, might be justified. They’re not all created equal. I’ll give you an example. We have a work requirement. You know, when you go and apply for your temporary permit to be renewed, you have to have been required to be working. But if you got hit by a bus and you’ve been disabled for six months? There should be a waiver for someone that’s in a hardship like that. So the waiver is really for exceptional circumstances. It’s not for, you know, we don’t like the law, so we’re not going to apply it. So I’m, look, I’m open to tightening the bill and making sure that that and other legitimate concerns are addressed. I think one of the things that we have forgotten in Washington is that legislating is not a take it or leave it proposition. I mean, I know that that’s how the way has been done, and maybe that’s the big problem that we have. People come up with a bill, and then they feel like they have to protect any changes against it, because it wasn’t their idea. I don’t view it that way. I think our job is to come up with a starting point. And I’ve always and consistently said this, that now other people get a chance to look at it. If they find things that they think can be improved or that are wrong with it, let’s deal with it. And so for those that are serious about improving it, I’m all open to that, and I think that’s in important part of this process.
HH: I watched your floor statement on the point about bringing forward amendments from late last week, and so if an amendment is brought forward mandating construction of a double sided fence over a specified length, and I think it ought to be at least half the border, a thousand miles or so, would you support such an amendment, Senator Rubio, that mandates it?
MR: Let me tell you, I’m fine with that. I am fine, and by the way, I believe that the enforcement mechanisms in this bill, in order for the bill to pass in the House, will have to be strengthened. And so I don’t, now I’m going to tell you, the debate against the fencing, from our side, is going to be people that don’t believe that the fencing is the most effective way to deal with this, that there are other ways that are more effective. I personally, and I’ve consistently said this, I personally believe that double fencing is a very effective, not 100%, but a very, we’ve seen it be effective in the San Diego area and the Tijuana area, for example. So I personally am supportive of that. Others have different views about what would be more effective. But the point is, I could support that personally, and I would just say to you that I am, what I can tell you is that what is pretty clear here is that there is such a lack of confidence in this administration’s willingness to enforce the law, and in particular, in the federal government’s ability to enforce the law. We’re going to have to address that in order for this bill to be able to become law, because I think the goal here is not to pass this. For those of us who are interested in immigration reform, the goal is not to pass the Senate bill. The goal is to pass a law. And you’re not going to pass a law if those elements are not dealt with effectively.
HH: And the e-verify program? We have about 45 seconds to the break, and we’ll come back and talk about it. There are concerns that the e-verify program has a gap in this law. Can those be addressed by amendment?
MR: Well, I’ve read that concern. I actually don’t think that that’s true, that they’re talking about that e-verify will not be in effect for a certain number of years. That’s actually not accurate. It’s complicated to explain why, but we’re going to put something up on the web to explain it to people. But actually, that is not accurate. But what is more accurate is that the existing e-verify will be replaced with a more effective and more robust e-verify system.
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HH: Senator, just going back to what we covered, if an amendment comes forward that mandates construction of a double sided fence over, say, a thousand miles, as Charles Krauthammer said, from east to west, except for the mountains, would you vote for that amendment?
MR: Yeah, again, I mean, I don’t know if a thousand miles is the right number, but whatever that number is that wins people’s confidence, I’m for it. I have no problem with constructing fencing across the border. I’ve advocated for that. In fact, I advocated for a specific pot of money in the bill set aside just for fencing. And you heard how well advised that was, because just a couple of days ago, Janet Napolitano testified, and said she wants to get rid of that pot of money. She doesn’t want to have a fencing pot separate from the general spending.
MR: I think the fencing part is important. And I’d be more than happy to expand it to be the effective ring. As you said, there are parts of the border that do not need fencing, because it’s high mountain or it’s a river, or what have you. I’ll leave that to experts and others. But I can say to you that I believe that double fencing in the right places has been highly effective, especially, for example, in the San Diego area where it’s really been effective.
HH: All right, well, the specifics, we’ll come back to. Eligibility for welfare, this has not actually concerned me, because I think the bill addresses it. But some of the conservative critiques out there are that immediately upon passage, millions of people will be eligible for welfare. How do you respond to that, Senator?
MR: That’s just not, I mean, there’s a specific provision that says they do not. Now if someone has found some sort of legal interpretation of it that needs to be tightened up, I’m open to it. But the clear intent of the bill is that they not qualify for federal benefits. They do not. And in fact, I saw some line somewhere, somebody had quoted in a report that one of my fellow senators came up with, they ignore the predicate to the entire paragraph, which is they specifically do not qualify for federal benefits, including Obamacare. That is the intent of the bill. I believe that is what the bill actually reflects. If someone has come up with a creative legal interpretation that someone can use to get around it, then we should close the loophole on that, because this bill will become unaffordable if that’s not the case. The reason why we want to prevent access to welfare benefits, by the way, and Obamacare and food stamps, is not because we’re trying to harsher than anybody else. It’s because the bill will become too expensive, and we will not be able to afford it if 11 million, 10 million, 9 million people become eligible for federal benefits. But I believe that the bill accurately accomplishes that. But if someone has a language they’d like to see included to double down and make sure that that doesn’t happen, I think everyone would be open to that.
HH: Another argument, again, it’s not one that I consider to be serious. I’m worried about border security. But I want to raise it so you can address it.
HH: …is that chain migration is not actually dealt with, and that the 11 million will instantly be able to bring in relatives up to 30 or 40 million people. What’s your…
MR: Quite frankly, I don’t know what they base that on. Again, if someone has found some creative interpretation that allows that, I’d like to see it, because we’ll address it. But I don’t think that’s true. And in fact, I know it isn’t. These folks, once they get temporary status, the only thing they qualify for under temporary status is the right to work and pay taxes and travel. They do not, you cannot, in fact, non-immigrant visa holders today under existing law cannot claim relatives to come to the United States. Beyond that, we have tightened the categories moving forward. So one of the categories that people used to use to bring up a bunch of relatives over was you were able to bring your siblings, et cetera. You won’t be able to do that anymore under the new modernized legal immigration system. That, in addition to only limiting it to minor children and spouses, will also weigh more towards the skills and job offers and the merits that you bring to the country. So again, that’s just not accurate.
HH: Now a last area I want to cover with you, Senator, because Senator Sessions brought it up on the program, is the use of biometric technology to screen visa people who enter, and visa people who leave. And his argument is DHS was told to do this years ago and develop it, they never do it, and I think you echoed this earlier. Nobody trusts DHS to do anything that’s serious. What do you we do about force feeding not low tech stuff like fences, there, you can lay out a map and say build it, but high tech stuff like biometric testing?
MR: Well again, I’m not sure what he means by biometric testing. I know that we mandate an entry/exit system for the country universally at every seaport, and in every airport in the country. And if that is not accomplished, the green card process does not begin. It is a specific trigger. E-verify must be fully implemented, the entry/exit system must be fully implemented, the border security plan must be fully implemented, the border fencing plan must be fully implemented. These things must happen. There’s no way to waive around those things. Those things must happen. And in the entry/exit system, it must happen before the green card process begins. And I think that that is created as an incentive to ensure that it does happen.
HH: But that brings us back to the plan at DHS. That’s one of the things I don’t like, is I think kicking a border fencing plan to DHS to come up with, and then taking it to this commission, is a huge hole. I believe in just writing mandates in. I think he wants to do the same thing on biometrics. And it comes back to a crisis of confidence in the DHS. Nobody really trusts them and the enforcement mechanism.
MR: Well, that’s a big problem. Yeah, that’s the big problem we’re facing here. I mean, the number one obstacle we have faced here, quite frankly, is not people who don’t want to deal with the 11 million. It’s people that say look, we understand what you’re trying to do, but we don’t trust the government, and we don’t trust Republicans or Democrats in the government to make sure that this happens. And if we don’t do it right, we’re going to be right back here again in the future. And my answer to that is I think that we’ve come up with a pretty good starting point to make sure it happens. The law specifically says they must do these things. If there is a way to tighten it up, if there is a way to make it better, if there is a way to assure that it happens in a better language, or additions we can make to the bill, I’ll certainly be open to that, because I think that’s critical to see it happen. But again, that’s why, that’s the way the legislative process is supposed to work. You’re supposed to offer a bill, and then other people are supposed to offer ideas about how to improve it. That’s why we have hearings, that’s why we have what they call markups, that’s why there’s such a thing as amendments. And I think people should fully participate in that. If they are serious about solving this problem, that’s what I want to see happen. Otherwise, we’re going to get stuck with the status quo. And what we have now is even worse.
HH: Well let me, just to close, let me just be completely blunt. The President today moved his red line on Syria. As you know, he attacked Lindsey Graham in this press conference today, saying he’s a headline grabber. You know, this President does not inspire much confidence, and he didn’t like the law, so he just chained it on the DREAMers when you were prepared to bring in law to keep the DREAMers in status. How does anyone trust him on anything?
MR: Well, and that’s exactly why I’m involved in this bill, because here’s the problem, that what the President did for the DREAMers, he can do for everybody else. He can use the exact same authority to decide you know what? Everyone over a certain age who passes a background check and has been here for three years or more, I’m going to grant them the same thing I gave the DREAMers. He can do that right now, the same way as he did it for the DREAMers, but you won’t have e-verify, you won’t have border security, you won’t have any of those other things. And so what I’m saying is let’s not let that happen. Let’s get ahead of that by passing a bill that does e-verify, that does the border security stuff. If we want to improve the border security stuff, let’s improve it by passing an entry/exit tracking system, by prohibiting being able to get Obamacare and welfare and all these sorts of things. I think if we don’t do anything, that’s precisely what he can do right now.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, I appreciate you taking the time. I look forward to checking back in with you. And by the way, did you like the Dolphins’ draft?
MR: I did. Obviously, the proof is in the pudding, but I think the guy they got in the first pick might have been the best player in the whole draft.
HH: Just don’t be discouraged when they lose their opener in Cleveland. Thank you, Senator, always a pleasure.
MR: Thank you.
End of interview.