HH: From Miami, it’s Hugh Hewitt. I’ll be on stage on Thursday night with my guest his hour, Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida. Senator, I’m looking forward to seeing you on the campus of the school the Buckeyes bested for the national championship back on January 3rd, 2003. I’m sure you remember that well.
MR: Yeah, I’m a Florida fan, but I remember that was the game where they didn’t call that pass interference on the Buckeyes in the end zone.
HH: (laughing) Bitter, bitter, bitter, bitter. I’m also, because I’m in Miami, I’m deluged with Dolphin news. You have 15 free agents, and you’re doing this deal for Kiko Alonzo and Byron Maxwell. We’ll get to the policy, but as a Dolphins fan, what do you think of that deal?
MR: Well, Byron Maxwell’s the same guy that played in Seattle. And then we’re in good shape. And Kiko Alonzo is a promising rookie, had a great year in Buffalo, and then had an ACL and kind of struggled after that. But young guy with a lot of potential, and by the way, half-Cuban, half-Colombian, so he’s going to fit in well in Miami.
HH: I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that. Now let’s turn to the politics. I am, because I’m watching Miami television, I see an ad every break. Most of them are pro-Marco Rubio. Some of them are negative. What’s the impact of this barrage of ads on what you see in your internal polling number for Florida?
MR: Well, we’re growing, and that’s the bottom line. I mean, voters in Florida know me. They’ve heard these attacks before. It’s funny, Donald Trump is using virtually the exact same attack that Charlie Crist did five years ago. It’s not a coincidence. I mean, Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent turned Democrat, super liberal guy. Donald Trump was one of his biggest supporters. When I ran against Charlie Crist, Donald Trump supported him, even after he left the Republican Party. So Hugh, I guess he’s going to follow his same tactics. And it didn’t work then. I don’t think it’ll work now.
HH: One new page is hitting you for missing votes in the Senate. Your response to that?
MR: Oh, we’ve never heard that before. I’m running for president. People in Florida know that. I mean, Ted is missing votes from the Senate, and before that, so did John McCain and John Kerry and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. When you run for president, you have to campaign. And now if it’s a vote like the North Korea sanctions, I cancelled campaign events. I went over there and did it. And we’ll continue to do that. But most of these votes are 99-1, or 97-0. I mean, they’re not, you know, and the point I’ve made to people from the beginning is the reason I’m running for president is so these votes count again, so that they mean something. A lot of these votes, even if we pass something, Obama is going to veto it. And let’s make these things count again by having a president that’ll actually sign some good things into law, and repeal some really bad ones.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, last night I went over to do Don Lemon, and I had a driver. And he had written out this question for me to give to you, and I want to honor that request, because I see drivers a lot, and he wrote this. “In this presidential election campaign, there’s so much to talk about – special interests, fixing Washington, job outsourcing. In your own state, Senator, the companies like Uber and Lift have been operating illegally for the past two and a half years, taking fares away from the regulated and legal taxi and limousine industry. And yet you openly support and advocate for Uber. Isn’t that a special interest?” What’s your response to that driver, Senator?
MR: The special interest is actually the taxicab medallion holders, the companies that own those medallions. And what I want to see is more competition and more innovation. That’s what Uber has meant. So now a driver like that has more options. They don’t just have to work for a taxicab company. They can now work for, they can work for themselves, basically. You can be an Uber driver, and if you have a car, you can be your own boss. So I think that, you know, that’s the spin that comes from the taxicab industry, because they have a monopoly, and every monopoly wants to continue to be a monopoly. I want there to be choice and competition, and that’s going to provide better jobs for workers. Some of these drivers are not going to be able to go into business for themselves.
HH: Now that question leads to a Thomas Frank column in the Guardian today, where he locates the center of Donald Trump’s appeal in the anti-free trade wing of America. And he writes, “Trade is an issue that polarizes Americans by socioeconomic status. To the professional class, which encompasses the vast majority of our media figures, economists, Washington officials and Democratic power brokers, what they call free trade is something so obviously good and noble, it doesn’t require explanation or inquiry or even thought. Republican and Democratic leaders agree on this, and no amount of facts can move them from their Econ 101 dream.” True or false, Senator Rubio?
MR: Look, I think there is resistance to free trade, because for a lot of Americans, that means jobs that were once in America are now being done somewhere else. But it doesn’t have to mean that. I can tell you that in South Florida, our free trade agreement with Colombia has created jobs for Americans. And we actually have a surplus when it comes to that free trade agreement. So I think it really depends on what kind, it depends on what kind of deal you have. Is it a good deal or a bad deal? Just because it’s called free trade doesn’t make it good. It has to be a good deal. You know, America’s a very low tariff country right now. We are low tariff right now. So we would benefit from lowering tariffs in other countries. But it has to be a fair thing. It can’t be one of those situations where you know, all the benefits accrue to the other side. That would not be a positive development. So I think it depends on the kind of deal. Is it a good deal or a bad deal?
HH: If you become president, do you think you’ll take on TPP and improve it and change it in the way that Bill Clinton took NAFTA from George H.W. Bush, changed it and got it approved?
MR: Well, we haven’t yet formulated a final position on the existing TPP agreement, because it’s right now being reviewed by the International Trade Commission. And they’re going to go through it, and they’re going to come back with a recommendation. They’re going to come back with facts, both the benefits and the costs of this deal. If it’s a bad deal for America, I’m going to be against it. And we’ll renegotiate it. And if it’s a good deal, then we should move forward on it. But we’ll have to wait and see. It’s probably not going to be until May before we have that.
MR: And in the last debate, I also brought up, the last debate I was a participant in, Supreme Court nominations. And Mr. Trump brought up David Pryor and Judge Sykes before that. Do you trust him? I didn’t get a chance to ask you about that. Do you trust Donald Trump on Supreme Court appointments?
MR: I don’t, because I have nothing to base my trust on them on. You know, he has no record of taking positions on these issues. He doesn’t seem to have a firm commitment to the Constitution. He’s talking about changing the 1st Amendment so he can sue people he doesn’t like. He’s had a very inconsistent record on the 2nd Amendment. You know, Donald Trump has not laid out his views in any certainty on any of these issues, and even on the last debate on Fox, he kind of changed his position on guest workers, and then he’s changed it back. Look, one of the problems I have with him is he doesn’t have serious public policy. And I think that leaves us vulnerable to the Democrats, and quite frankly, nothing to hold him accountable to.
HH: Now it’s conventional wisdom he had bad two debates. He had the KKK/David Duke moment with Jake Tapper. He’s had a bad ten days. Have you had a good ten days? Or are you simply coming up because he’s going down?
MR: Well, look, I think we have a lot of work ahead of us. I think debates are a part of it, but you’re not basing it solely on debates. It’s still a kind of unique political environment. You have 70% of the Republican voters saying they don’t want Donald Trump to be our nominee, but they’re divided up among three people. So we’ve got to work through that. For me right now, I mean, all eyes are on Florida. We knew it would come to this, not just for me, but for our party. 99 delegates all at once awarded in one state. I believe the winner in Florida will be the Republican nominee, and I believe I’m going to win Florida. So we’re focused here now, and we’re working real hard, and we feel good about the progress we’re making in Florida.
HH: So under no circumstances, regardless of how Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii vote later tonight, you are in this race through Florida?
MR: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, absolutely, 100%. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. And beyond that, I would tell you that when it comes to Florida, we feel real good about our operation here and the work we’re putting in, and we’ve really started to focus in basically on Florida. As you said, I mean, there’s going to be other states in play today, and you know, we have good teams there and we’ve done a little bit, but we’ve really been focused on Florida, because wew always knew it would come down to Florida. It always seems to come down to Florida.
HH: It also is a state that is voting as we speak. As this interview airs in Orlando and Tampa and Sarasota and Miami, and across the Panhandle, people are actually voting.
MR: They are.
HH: Does the Rubio campaign want them to bank votes early? Or do you want people to wait and get all the information from the debate?
MR: Oh, no, no. I want people to vote, I think, especially our supporters. But I want, I think people have now watched 11 debates. They know who everyone is here. We’ll have another debate on Thursday, and it’ll be part of the matrix down the stretch, but we want people to vote. I need people to come out and vote, and I need them to vote for me. And by the way, I would say this about Florida. If you don’t like Donald Trump, let’s say you were voting for John Kasich or Ted Cruz, if you don’t want it to be Donald Trump, I’m the only one that even has a chance to beat him in Florida. And so if you vote for John Kasich or Ted Cruz in Florida, you’re voting for Donald Trump. Now you have a right to support whoever you want, but if you vote for them, you’re voting for Trump, and you’re voting to give him 99 delegates. So I’m even asking supporters of John Kasich and Ted Cruz to vote for me, because it helps me win. And if I win, that means Donald Trump doesn’t get those 99 delegates.
HH: There are reports from Hawaii of shenanigans in the campaign there. Have those reached you, Senator?
MR: Yeah, it’s unfortunate. They seem to always be emanating from the Cruz campaign, and other things going out there telling people that I was dropping out of the race or something. It’s just, you know, unfortunately, it’s been going on now a few times. You saw it in Iowa with Ben Carson, and I think everyone knows my opinion on those tactics. And you know, we’ll just keep plugging along, and I don’t, at the end of the day, I don’t think it’s going to influence anyone.
HH: Now your colleague, Lindsey Graham, is pretty much ubiquitous, urging either a Cruz/Rubio or a Rubio/Cruz ticket. Have you had any conversation with Senator Cruz about that?
MR: We have not, and I don’t think that’s something you’ll see for some time, if ever. I think everyone’s focuses on running for president right now. And you know, as we move forward, we’ll see how things turn out.
HH: Then let me turn, Senator Rubio, to domestic and foreign affairs. First of all, do you think President Obama should have attended, made plans to attend Nancy Reagan’s funeral? The First Lady will be going out to pay honors to Mrs. Reagan, but the President will not be, at least according to news reports today. Mistake or to be expected?
MR: Well, I don’t know what else the President has going on. Being president is an important job, and I would have liked for him to have gone. I’m glad the First Lady is going. I would have gone, obviously, but I don’t know, I want to be fair, and I’m as anti-Obama’s policies as anyone running for president, but I don’t know exactly what it is he has going on at the same time that wouldn’t allow him to do it. But all things being equal, I would have loved for him to have gone. He’s got his own plane.
HH: That is fair. There are a lot going on, including reports today that Omar the Chechen, a leading ISIS leader, has been attacked and possibly killed in Syria yesterday. American forces struck 150 Somali terrorists. There’s obviously quite a lot going on. What do you make of those sorts of strikes? And can we expect a Rubio administration to keep up at least that amount of pressure before we turn specifically to Libya?
MR: Well, absolutely. We’ve got to continue to pressure these jihadist cells wherever they exist and ensure they don’t have a safe haven from which to operate and grow. I do believe ultimately ISIS will have to be defeated on the ground by Sunni forces. It’s a radical Sunni movement controlling Sunni territories, and those territories cannot be held by Shiia. That would mean Iran. It cannot be held by Kurds, who quite frankly don’t want to, and don’t need to. It has to be Sunnis themselves who liberate Sunni areas and can hold them. And that will require presidential leadership to put together that sort of coalition in the Middle East to address all that.
HH: Does the United States release enough information about this war, Senator Rubio, because I had this argument once, actually, in the Oval Office with President George W. Bush about a lack of information on progress being made. Do you think the American people know what we’re doing there? And ought they to know more?
MR: Well, obviously there are operations, covert and otherwise, that you’re not going to share, because your enemies would see it. But I do think that, you know, I think the President needs to do a better job of explaining what our strategy is. And I think one of the reasons why he hasn’t done it is because he still hasn’t put together a concise strategy. And it’s one of the reasons why it’s been so hard for us to get allies to rally around our plan.
HH: Okay, Senator, let’s talk about Libya in the couple of minutes we have left. It is a metastasizing threat there, and it appears as though the Pentagon has recommended robust intervention, and the White House is resisting it. What’s your assessment of that?
MR: Well, look, I’ve been warning about Libya now for a year. In fact, it’s interesting, about a year ago, I talked about the risk of ISIS in Libya, and one of the fact checking groups, I forgot who it was, said that what I was saying was false, that there was not a significant ISIS presence in Libya. I hope they’re going to go back and change that now, because I’ve been warning about the presence of ISIS and their growth and capability in Libya for almost a year. It’s a growing threat. It really is. It has become, in many ways, their new source of, cell of operation. It’s where when a foreign fighter joins ISIS, it’s where they’re told to go to. It’s where their travel office basically is. It’s where they’re doing a lot of training and operation, because no one’s been hitting them there. So I think we’ve got to, we cannot allow ISIS or any jihadist group, for that matter, to have safe zones anywhere in the world, because when they do, they use it to raise money, recruit fighters, and attack America.
HH: Do you believe that the Obama-Clinton administration’s fiasco in Benghazi is holding them back from any kind of engagement in Libya? They are afraid of a second round of Benghazi memories?
MR: You know, I don’t know the answer to that other than to say that Benghazi was the pure product of incompetence. We either should have known that that was too dangerous a place to be in, and there’s strong evidence that we should have reached that conclusion given what the Red Cross and the Brits had already done, or if we were going to be there, then we should have had enough resources there to protect our people and extract them. Neither one of those two things happened. And as a result, I think you have to look at Secretary Clinton and say she’s responsible for the safety and security of men and women serving us in the diplomatic corps, and that didn’t happen in Benghazi.
HH: Yesterday on Fox, the former Secretary of State stumbled through another explanation of her server, which was as unimpressive as all that have gone before. What do you assess the likelihood of her having compromised national security with the operation of the home brew?
MR: There’s no doubt that it did. I mean, there was, even if it wasn’t classified, there was sensitive information there that you don’t want people to know about. And it sounds like a lot of it was classified. So she’s, there’s no doubt that she did compromise sensitive and even classified information. There’s no doubt that if one of my staffers on the Intelligence Committee had done that, they would have been fired, and maybe even prosecuted. And so she’s under investigation for that now, and we’ll see what that turns into.
HH: Let me close by asking you about politics and open or contested conventions. It is obvious to me that if you win Florida and John Kasich wins Ohio, regardless of what happens tonight, there is no path to anyone to 1,237 delegates. And that means a contested convention. I went back and read the 1940 convention history. I read the 1860 convention history. What’s your thought, Marco Rubio, on the legitimacy of someone who arrives at Cleveland with less than a plurality leaving as the nominee?
MR: You know, it’ll be, we’re in uncharted territory, but we have been here throughout most of this campaign. And so you know, I think it speaks the kind of, the internal dynamics going on within the Republican Party. We’re in a battle for the heart and soul of the conservative movement. What does it mean to be a conservative in the 21st Century? Is it just attitude? Is conservatism who’s willing to be the angriest at the Democrats and the liberals? Or is conservatism a set of principles and ideas backed up by specific policies? And I believe we have a right to be angry at liberals and the establishment, and what they’ve done to this country, but that should be a motivator. It shouldn’t be what defines us. What should define us is conservative principles of limited government, the Constitution, free enterprise, a strong national defense, and applying those principles to the unique challenges of the 21st Century, and an optimistic view, by the way, and a view that says if we do what needs to be done, we Americans can do anything. We can have the greatest era in our history if we do what needs to be done. That’s what I want conservatism to be about. I think that’s what’s at stake here as much as the nomination.
HH: So let me press you on that. That, I think, is it doesn’t matter what the delegate count is. If no one has a majority on the first ballot, a convention is a body unto itself, as it was in 1787 and 1940. Is that what you’re saying, Marco Rubio?
MR: Yeah, look, there’s rules in place for this to happen. I mean, what’s happened traditionally is that everyone just gets out, and the frontrunner ends up getting all the delegates because there’s no one else left in the race. And I can tell you, if anyone, if it was anyone other than Donald Trump as the frontrunner right now, we’d all be getting pressure to get out of the race and rally around him for the good of our party. There’s just been incredible amount of resistance, about 70% of Republicans, and a significant number of conservatives do not want Donald Trump to be our nominee. And so that’s why this is going to continue to go on, no matter what happens tonight, and what happens on the 15th. But I can tell you this. In Florida, the only one who has any chance of stopping Donald Trump and beating him is me. And I would just say if you’re a Kasich supporter or a Cruz supporter that lives in Florida, unless you vote for me, you’re voting for Donald Trump, because I’m the only one that has a chance to beat him here.
HH: And we also have contests tonight in Hawaii and Idaho. They will come in after this. Any reports early from your organization there, Senator Rubio?
MR: No. As I said, we have good teams of people there, you know, Senator Jim Risch, of course, is in Idaho, and Hawaii is five hours behind Eastern time, and so their caucus doesn’t even start until 11:00 Eastern. So we’ll know results in the morning. So, and as far as Idaho, they’re already starting to vote. I haven’t, I mean, I’ve been busy campaigning. I don’t have any reports for you, but you know, we’ve got good people helping us there. Jim Risch in Idaho, actually Rick Santorum is out in Hawaii helping me. So you know, we’ll see what happens. But irrespective of that…
HH: I was unaware of that.
MR: …it comes down to Florida.
HH: I was unaware that Rick Santorum had endorsed you. Has he done that?
MR: Oh, he did, absolutely, and he’s been great. He’s been a real good surrogate for us, and a great supporter.
HH: I had missed that. Senator Rubio, thanks for joining us. I’ll see you at the University of Miami on Thursday night.
MR: Yes, sir. I’ll see you there.
End of interview.