Senator Marco Rubio joined me shortly after the announcement by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley of her endorsement of his campaign for the presidency:
HH: Rising up in South Carolina today, Marco Rubio on the energy provided by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. He joins me now. Senator Rubio, congratulations, that’s a very big get not just in the Palmetto State, but across the United States. How long were you kept waiting for that? Were you in suspense?
MR: Well, look, Governor Haley and I have been friends for a few years. In fact, we met for the first time when she was a candidate for governor and she was an underdog, and I was a candidate for Senate, and I was an underdog. And Jim DeMint was an underdog. And of course, she’s done fantastic things since then, and we’re enthused about her support. She is everything, I believe, the conservative movement needs to be about – upward mobility, having parents that leave you better off than yourself, a country where everyone can move up without tearing anyone down. And of course, here over the last year, we have seen incredible leadership on her part in some of the tragedies that South Carolina has faced, and then a flood, a thousand year flood after that. So she’s an incredible leader, well-respected both in South Carolina and nationally. And we’re just so excited about her support and what that means to us here down the stretch.
HH: I also have to point out not only do you have the governor, you’ve got Connor Shaw, who is a Cleveland Browns quarterback.
MR: Yes, sir. I met him today.
HH: As well…as a Gamecock quarterback down there. So that’s very big down there. Let’s get to the serious stuff, Senator. I watched your speech after Governor Haley endorsed you. You were charged up. You were enthusiastic and excited. You’ve obviously got your game back after the New Hampshire debate. But now comes the SCOTUS vacancy. And Senator Hatch joined me in the first hour. He said no hearings, no votes. Senator Johnson just joined me. He said maybe a hearing, I don’t know. What’s your position on even having hearings? I know you’re against this president making this choice in this year.
MR: Yeah, I think we should just make a very clear decision, and that is that we’re not going to appoint, we are not going to confirm in the Senate until after the election anyone. We’re just not going to do it until the new president has a chance to weigh in on it. This is a lifetime appointment. When you get on the Supreme Court, there’s only two ways off. You resign or you pass away. Obviously, if there’s misconduct, you can be impeached, but that’s just rare and it’s not going to happen. This is a lifetime appointment, and it should not be made by a lame duck president in the last nine months in office. There’s no accountability for it. There’s going to be an election in November. We’re going to have, this is going to be an issue that’s debated in the campaign, what kind of justice should replace Justice Scalia after his tragic passing? And you know, after that, voters are going to weigh in, and then the new president will be able to decide what kind of justice needs to be appointed, and then the Senate can do their job. There’s no reason to do this before then. The Supreme Court can operate with eight justices. In fact, the number nine is not even a Constitutional number. It’s just the Congress gets to decide the size of the Supreme Court. So they can function with eight justices, and the term will end here in the summer, and then hopefully by the time there’s a new term next year, there will be a new and very different president, and we’ll be able to appoint somebody more like Scalia than what Obama’s going to try and put in place.
HH: Of course, that term will begin in October, and the presidential election in November. I know you know that. But let me play for you Senator, once in time Senator and former Secretary of State Clinton talking about the SCOTUS vacancy. The first word she says is Republicans. It’s a little bit clipped. Here’s what she said yesterday.
HRC: Republicans say they’ll reject anyone President Obama nominates no matter how qualified. Some are even saying he doesn’t have the right to nominate anyone as if somehow he’s not the real president. You know, that’s in keeping what we’ve heard all along, isn’t it? Many Republicans talk in coded racial language about takers and losers. They demonize President Obama and encourage the ugliest impulses of the paranoid fringe. This kind of hatred and bigotry has no place in our politics or our country.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, I saw you endorsed by the child of immigrants, and you are the child of immigrants, and neither of you are white Anglos. I’m astonished by the former Secretary of State’s comments there. It’s race baiting.
MR: Well, yeah, look at our presidential field, okay? At its peak, when this presidential field on the Republican side has the most number of candidates, we had a woman in Carly Fiorina, an African-American in Ben Carson, two Hispanics in myself and Senator Cruz. Who did the Democrats have? Look even here now in South Carolina at the people supporting our campaign – a governor whose parents were from India, myself, the candidate whose parents were from Cuba, and Tim Scott, and African-American Republican Senator elected statewide here in South Carolina. We are the party of diversity. We are the party that reflects America. The Democratic party is stale. And by the way, the Democratic Party has been taken over by radical left-wing elements. I mean, Bernie Sanders is winning elections. Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He is a Democratic socialist. He admits it. He talks about it. This is what now leads in the Democratic Party. And she’s just trying to keep up with him. You know, she’s trying to go as far left as he is, and that’s why you see her saying these ridiculous and divisive comments. This is what they always do. Their economic policies don’t work, their foreign policy is a disaster, and so they resort to this sort of language, and always trying to divide and pit Americans against each other always. And that’s what they do every time, and they’re doing it again.
HH: I will be right back with Senator Marco Rubio. We’ll continue the conversation on a very big day for him in South Carolina.
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HH: Senator Rubio, when we went to break, we were talking about Senator Clinton, former Secretary of State Clinton. She’s in freefall. She’s tied in Nevada, she’s behind Bernie Sanders seven points in Massachusetts where she beat President Obama by, you know, double digits eight years ago. To what do you attribute the slow collapse, accelerating collapse of her once inevitable juggernaut?
MR: That the Democratic Party has been taken over by radical left wing elements. The Democratic Party is now home to the most extreme fringe left of center ideas in American politics. I mean, Bernie Sander is a pleasant fellow if you get to know him as I have working in the Senate, but he’s a Democratic socialist. And this is not a socialist country. So that’s what now is driving the Democratic Party. That’s what the Democratic Party is about. And obviously, she has not, and she’s not going to be able to out-socialist Bernie Sander. So I think that’s why he’s doing so well.
HH: The President also took to the lectern yesterday to politicize the Supreme Court vacancy in very stark terms. Here is what President Obama said yesterday, Senator Rubio.
MR: But this is the Supreme Court. And it’s going to get some attention. And we have to ask ourselves as a society a fundamental question. Are we still able to make this democracy work the way it’s supposed to, the way our founders envisioned? And I would challenge anyone who purports to be adhering to the original intent of the founders, anybody who believes in the Constitution, coming up with a plausible rationale as to why they would not even have a hearing for a nominee made in accordance with the Constitution by the president of the United States with a year left, practically, in office. It’s pretty hard to find that in the Constitution.
HH: So you see, Senator Rubio, we’re used to this after seven years. But the attempt to marginalize a Constitutional position by calling it unconstitutional requires incredible communications skills to win the argument in the public square. Are you the guy to do that?
MR: Yeah, so on point number one, no one’s saying we’re not going to appoint somebody. Eventually, there’s going to be somebody in that position. It just has to be the new president, because less than a year now left in his term, this president’s no longer accountable to the electorate. He has less than a year left, and he’s going to appoint someone that could potentially serve two decades on the Supreme Court. And he’s not going to be on the ballot in November, and so voters can’t judge him on it, number one. Number two, the Court, we’re not shutting down the Supreme Court. They can function with eight justices. In fact, the number eight, as I said earlier, is not some magical number, or the number nine. The Congress decides how many people are on the Supreme Court. And that being said, the Supreme Court can function with eight justices between now and the end of the term, and even the beginning of the next one. There will be someone appointed. The Constitution gives the Senate the power to advise and consent, and to confirm. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re just not going to do it until after the election. The new president should have a chance. And if they win the election, then Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton will get to nominate the next Supreme Court justice. If they lose the election, I’m going to get to do it, or someone like me is going to get to do it. And that’s the only thing that I’m saying here. But there’s no Constitutional requirement to move as soon as possible on appointing a replacement.
HH: Now I want to change to the general topic of the rhetoric, Senator. I know you listen to rap. Is Killer Mike one of the people you listen to?
MR: I don’t.
HH: He made a rather crude comment about the former Secretary of State saying he had been told by a feminist a uterus doesn’t qualify you to become president. And I think that’s crude and vulgar. But a lot of this campaign has become crude and vulgar. And a lot of the politics of the last seven years are in the ditch. Can you repair the damage being done everywhere by this collapse of civility?
MR: Well, first of all, I can do so simply by the way I behave and function, and that is I don’t use crude and vulgar language. Now politics is a difficult business, and there are differences between the candidates, and we need to talk about them. And if someone is misleading on my record, or on some other issue of import, it’s important to call them out for it. What I’ll never do as president is what this president does, and that is try to pit Americans against each other, try to tell a group of Americans that they need to be angry at another group of Americans, because I’m trying to win an election, so I’m trying to get people angry at each other so they’ll come out and vote. That, I won’t do. I won’t be divisive the way this president has deliberately been divisive for political gain.
HH: I want to close by talking about the military since you’re in South Carolina, which is such a military state. Senator Cruz was on with me yesterday. He gave a speech. He called for 12 carrier groups. John Kasich was on with me a few months ago. He called for 15 carrier groups. I mean, that’s more than the 273 ships we have. That’s a lot more, actually, than 323. It’s more like 350 or 360 ships. Where are you, Senator Rubio, in fleet strength?
MR: Yeah, I think 350 is the number we need to get back at, at least. 250 is where we’re going to be here soon if this continues. And the bottom line is that the federal government’s primary responsibility is national security. I have argued this consistently since my first day in federal service that the number one obligation of the federal government is to provide for our national security, and it should be fully funded before we fund anything else, period. And we have multiple, you know, it’s now been close to 25 years since we’ve invested in our military in a significant way. We took a peace dividend in the 90s, which was a huge mistake. And we’ve even seen now, we’re still not developing the things we need on missile defense, on modernizing the triad, on modernizing our nuclear weapons, the long range bomber. There’s all sorts of threats we now face, and then just troop strength. We’re about to have the smallest Army since the end of World War II, the smallest Navy in a hundred years, the smallest Air Force ever, and airplanes that on average are now 27 years old in the U.S. Air Force. That’s older than the pilots. It’s unacceptable.
HH: So if a voter in South Carolina or in Nevada next week, or across the United States on Super Tuesday I or II is a Defense first, national security first conservative, why should they pick Marco Rubio over the other five remaining Republicans?
MR: Because I’m the only one running that has a record of supporting this consistently in my time in federal service. Senator Cruz, for example, has voted on three separate occasions against both Defense authorization acts. He voted for Rand Paul’s budget, which bragged about cutting Defense spending. I, on the other hand, have worked tirelessly to try to get us back at least to the Gates budget number. And the other point is this didn’t start when I got here to South Carolina ten days ago. I have been talking about this since my first day there. It’s the reason why I voted against the sequester, because I thought Defense cuts should not happen. I don’t think Defense should be treated equal to the rest of government. Defense spending is the number one obligation of the federal government, and when I’m president, we’re going to have a Reagan-style rebuild of our military.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thank you for joining us. I know you have the town hall coming up. I appreciate it. Congratulations on the endorsement from Nikki Haley, and we’ll talk again, if not sooner, across the stage in Houston next week. Thank you, Senator.
End of interview.