Florida Senator Marco Rubio joined me today on the first full day of his presidential campaign:
HH: Pleased to welcome onto the program United States Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, always a pleasure to have you back, congratulations on a very successful launch to your presidential campaign yesterday.
MR: Well, thank you. We’ve got a long way to go.
HH: I want to begin by talking about the biggest critique that came from the left at you, youth and inexperience, and I frame it this way for my audience. I asked them who do you think Vladimir Putin would least like to have elected? How do you think you could stand up in the Putin primary, Marco Rubio?
MR: (laughing) Well, I’d think I do quite fine. I mean, my positions on it are pretty clear, and so I know exactly who Vladimir Putin is. I’m under no illusions about who he is or what he represents. But first of all, I think it’s an illegitimate criticism, and second of all, an ironic one coming from the left, who strongly supported Barack Obama, who has much less experience than I do at this stage in my life, or will have by the day I swear in as president. So I mean, I served in a legislature for nine years in the third-largest state in the country not as a back bencher, but as majority whip, majority leader, speaker of the Florida House, where I ran the institutional both administratively and legislatively. I’ve already served longer in the Senate than he ever did, on the Intelligence Committee, which he never did, and I was in local government, too. In fact, I think I’m the only one running that served at local, state and federal offices. So I’m pretty comfortable about my qualifications, especially as they stack up against Senator Barack Obama back in 2008.
HH: Let’s focus, then, on the foreign affairs for a moment. There have been some close calls provoked by Russia in the skies over the Baltic. They have kidnapped an Estonian. Should we be doing more than maneuvers, which we have been doing in Estonia? Should we be verbally and authoritatively reconfirming our commitment to our NATO allies, Marco Rubio?
MR: Yes, and I’ll tell you why. The Russians have already completely changed their military doctrine. They are now aggressively on a Cold War footing. In fact, they’ve gone beyond it, in some cases. They’re now, they have intelligence collection ships out there at a level we haven’t seen since the Cold War. They’re deploying forward assets in terms of air patrols and so forth in a provocative way that we didn’t even see that at the end of the Cold War for many years, something from the 1960s. Their military doctrine has been adjusted to one that actually anticipates and believes, actually believes that NATO and the United States is going to come after them at some point militarily. And we can continue to ignore that and pretend that that’s not a risk, but I think we’re fools if we do. That’s why it’s important to reinvigorate a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, reinvigorate the NATO alliance, including studying the possibility of deploying additional American troops in Western Europe, arming Ukraine. Look, I mean, the Ukrainians are going to face a real challenge here, because it’s just a matter, at some point this spring, you mark my words, and you keep this recording, there is going to be at some point separatists moving on a spring offensive again. They’re going to try to seize key towns like Donetsk and Luhansk, and you’re going to see that happen here fairly soon. So we need to be prepared for that.
HH: If, Senator, if Russia makes a move on Estonia using its irregulars or its regular troops, would you as president or as a presidential candidate urge NATO to engage militarily with those irregulars?
MR: Well, you’re talking now about a collectively self-defense requirement of the NATO charter, and we would have to live up to those obligations in terms of our allies feeling threatened by a move like that into Estonia. And so we would have to certainly, if that’s invoked by any of the neighboring countries that are members of NATO, we would have to do that. But let me just say to you that I hope we can avoid that, because we’re inviting him to do that now by the success that he’s had in Ukraine. I mean, the success that he’s now had in Ukraine is really encouraged him to move forward on more aggression. And our unwillingness, by the way, to arm the Ukrainians with the necessary weapons to defend themselves puts them at great peril. So imagine a NATO member like Estonia?
HH: So now let me turn to Defense spending. You voted for $20 billion dollars more in the Defense appropriations and the Overseas Contingency Operations, the OCO fund. So did Ted Cruz without an offset. Rand Paul did not vote for that. He wanted an offset. Is that a significant difference between you and Senator Paul?
MR: Well, there will be plenty of time to discuss differences. I believe that it is, but for the following reason. I have no problem offsetting it if it is possible. But I don’t think, but ultimately, we need to understand something. The cause of our national debt is not military spending or discretionary spending in general. We should always try to save money. There is never a good idea to waste money or have wasteful spending and bad contracting. But the cause of our national debt long term is our entitlement programs that today are structured in an unsustainable way. The second point I would make is that before we fund anything, we need to fund national Defense, because that is the priority of the national federal government, and that’s the reason, the primary reason why we have a federal government, is to provide for our national defense. That should be the first thing we fund. And after we’re done funding it fully, not you know, giving contractors anything they want, then we can take the money that’s left over and use it for all these other things. And they’re important priorities as well. But national Defense is the predominant, primary obligation of the federal government.
HH: Some observers of the ’16 race say governors have an advantage because they have executive experience. But if this is a Defense and a national security election, senators might have an advantage. Two specific questions – our national doctrine says we need 11 carrier groups. We only have 10. Heritage says we need 13. And our Ohio-class boomer, the nuclear sub, which is the backbone of our triad…
HH: It’s going to go out of business in 2025-2030.
MR: We do need a new Ohio-class submarine and a new nuclear submarine that can project power. It’s especially important in the Asia Pacific region where we still hold a qualitative advantage over what the Chinese have, but not for much longer. I mean, they’re going to continue to improve their capabilities in that regard. We need a long range bomber, we need to modernize our nuclear stockpile as well. We’re the only major nuclear power that isn’t doing it. We do need 12, maybe 13 carrier units, and I’ll tell you why. There’s about three months out of the year where we don’t have a carrier group deployed in Asia Pacific region. I was in Japan a year ago February, and I forgot which carrier it was, but it was…
MR: George Washington…
MR: Wasn’t the Bush, the George Washington, was being serviced for three months. They were down, and I asked well, how can it be that we don’t have a carrier group? And their answer is well, it’s not that big a deal in February or March, because that’s the time where the Chinese are training and they’re…but that’s not going to be, I mean, we just can’t count on that. And the military folks know this. What they count on in the past is carrier groups transiting out of the Middle East and Mediterranean coming through there and being a part of rotational force. We won’t be able to do that for the next couple of years until we get back up to 11, and hopefully 12 or 13.
HH: Now I want to switch to domestic policy, Senator Rubio. A lot of people are criticizing the President for not enforcing the immigration laws. He’s also not enforcing the drug laws in Colorado and Washington State. If you’re the president, will you enforce the federal drug laws and shut down the marijuana trade?
MR: Yes. Yes, I think, well, I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don’t agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don’t have a right to write federal policy as well. It is, I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you’re sending a message to young people is it can’t be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn’t be legal. And on the immigration thing that you point to, that’s a very serious problem, because we have an immigration issue in this country that is multi-faceted. We don’t have systems to fully enforce our law. That’s why we need border security, e-verify, entry/exit tracking system to prevent visa overstays. We have an outdated legal immigration system. It should be merit-based, not family-based. We have 12 million human beings living in America illegally, most of whom have been here for longer than a decade. That’s an issue we have to deal with. But it all begins with enforcing our laws. If our people do not believe that future illegal immigration will be controlled, they will never even support a debate or a conversation about what to do with those who are here now.
HH: Now your announcement yesterday included a sweeping indictment of the leadership of past generations. And you know, whenever you bring that up, the Hillary Clinton people, former Secretary of State Clinton’s people, are very touchy about age. You’re on the other end of that. You’re on the youth age of that. Is age a legitimate question either at the elder age of the spectrum or the young age of the spectrum? Or should we just talk about what the people are bringing to the table?
MR: Yeah, age is a legitimate issue, not the age of the people, the age of their ideas. I think we should be proud of our history. I’m just saying that the things that worked in the last century don’t work that well now. We live in a completely different economy. I mean, we have transitioned fully, and are continuing to transition into a post-industrial economy where many of the jobs that once sustained our middle class, they either don’t exist, they have been shipped overseas or they don’t pay what they once used to relative to the cost of living. Now we have to fully embrace the opportunities of the 21st Century, which has the opportunity of creating millions of new better-paying jobs. But those jobs require skills and education that our higher education system no longer, isn’t providing. We’re doing a pretty good job of educating our young people in America to compete in the 20th Century. But we’re in the 21st Century. We need leaders that understand that and have an idea about how the 21st Century can also be a new American century.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, Secretary Clinton’s got this gimmick going. She’s driving around, she stopped at a Pilot Flying J, which makes her a backer of the Browns under Jimmy Haslam, so I like that. But can we, can you give us a comment on what you think about what is obviously a bit hackneyed, get in the van and drive around Iowa approach to this campaign and take no questions?
MR: Well look, I think Secretary Clinton’s going to struggle to connect with everyday Americans and their struggles of daily life. I mean, and that’s a big problem. That’s one of the reasons why her ideas are so outdated. They’re still ideas based on an era that came and went. The 21st Century is just a dramatically different time. I mean, there are millions of people out there that are working as hard as they ever had. But now they live paycheck to paycheck. They weren’t living paycheck to paycheck with those jobs a decade or longer ago. They are now. They are one unexpected expense away from disaster. If their car breaks down, their refrigerator gives out, a tire blows, they’re in a lot of trouble. And people know that. It’s an extraordinary amount of insecurity, and we need to address that.
HH: And 30 seconds, though, will the media press her to answer question? I asked Governor Christie this last hour and he said get used to it. They’re not going to. Do you agree?
MR: I think some outlets will eventually get to that point. I think initially, obviously, look, when you come from the left in American politics, you’re going to be treated differently. Those of us on the right need to get used to that. We play on the road every weekend, every week when we’re on television and radio, for the most part. That’s just the facts of life. We don’t like it, it isn’t fair, it’s the way it is. We’ve got to get used to it. To get elected as a conservative in America, you’ve got to work twice as hard.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thanks for joining me, good luck in the campaign, look forward to talking to you again.
End of interview.