The Florida Republican Senator and possible 2016 presidential challenger reacted for the first time today on the Hugh Hewitt Show to the new Hillary Clinton memoir, “Hard Choices”
Update: You should belong to the Hughniverse, where you can get every hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show on demand or via podcast, but as a special feature, here is today’s entire program, where pundits from the Washington Free Beacon, The Daily Caller, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Examiner, Politico and the Daily Beast react to Hard Choices.
HH: Joined now by United States Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, great to have you in studio, thank you.
MR: Thank you.
HH: Now I want to talk to you about Hillary Clinton’s memoir, but the very first and most important question, the Browns drafted Johnny Football. What do you think?
MR: I think it was a nice move by them. They’ll sell a lot of tickets. He might go play baseball.
HH: No, he’s not going to go…
MR: Did you see he was drafted in the 180th round or something?
HH: He’s not too short?
MR: I think he’ll be all right. He’s a unique player.
HH: All right, just…
MR: Yeah, did you read the leaked report the Patriots have the last scouting report?
HH: I did indeed.
MR: Yeah. And you’re not concerned with that?
HH: I’m not worried. Bill Belichick was just messing with our mind.
MR: You’re right.
HH: Is this the first time you’ve seen Hillary’s memoir?
MR: Well, the cover, yeah. I haven’t read it.
HH: What do you make of her using on the back flap a picture of the return of the dead from Benghazi?
MR: Yeah, well, I mean obviously, I think many people are going to question the use of a photo like that, and by the same, I mean, especially when it’s surrounded by just about everything else there is in the picture other than the bin Laden raid one is upbeat things. But I think more importantly is what she’ll say about it or has said, and I haven’t read that account. But I think that’s a huge unanswered question, as far as her time in the State Department. Look, here’s what’s, I think, not been covered nearly enough, certainly by the mainstream media, and that is one of two things is true. We either should not have been in Benghazi, there should not have been a facility there given a consistent threat stream that had been arriving at the State Department, or they decided to still be there. Remember, the Brits had pulled out by then, the Red Cross, if they decided they were still going to be there, then they should have had a sufficient security plan in place not just to protect the people on the ground, but to be able to extract them. And that clearly was not the case. So I think it’s questionable whether they should have been there. You sit there now and look at that stream of reports that were coming in, and it was clear how dangerous it was, but at a minimum, should have had sufficient security, which certainly was not the case, and no extraction plan.
HH: I’m going to have you put on the headphones so you can listen to a conversation that Secretary of State Clinton had with Diane Sawyer earlier today about the security situation in Benghazi,. Diane Sawyer posed it this way.
DS: Is there anything you personally should have been doing to make it safer in Benghazi?
HRC: Well, what I did was give very direct instructions that the people who had the expertise and experience in security…
DS: But personally, you…
HRC: Well, that is personal, though, Diane. I mean, I am not equipped to sit and look at blueprints to determine where the blast walls need to be or where the reinforcements need to be. That’s why we hire people who have that expertise.
DS: I wonder if people are looking for a sentence that begins from you I should have…
HH: Do you think they are, Senator? Diane Sawyer’s question, are they looking for Hillary to admit responsibility and accept it?
MR: Yeah, I mean particularly because no one at the State Department’s been held responsible for what occurred on that day. Clearly, at some point, and I actually, when we had a hearing that she appeared before us, tried to dig into the bottom of that in terms of understanding why it is that they didn’t take this more seriously, but here’s what was pretty clear, is that no one did, that it didn’t happen, and no one’s been held accountable for it. So at some point, someone made the decision that what they had in place in Benghazi in that consulate facility was sufficient. That buck needs to stop somewhere, and it never has.
GB: Senator, good to see you.
MR: Good to see you.
GB: If you were in the House, hypothetically, and on this Select Committee…
GB: And if Secretary Clinton were to show up, what is the number one question you think that she hasn’t sufficiently answered that you would put to her?
MR: And I think that question would be explain to us the process by which the decision was made to keep that consulate open, given all of this information that’s out there, and I think it’ll be very important to see whether this Select Committee will be able to hold hearings in a classified setting, where the details about some of that reporting stream will be, they’ll be able to delve into. And then the second question I would have is tell us at which point you were involved in that decision-making process, or how much you had individually gotten involved in it, and I’ll tell you why that’s relevant. During our committee hearing in the Senate during the Foreign Relations Committee where she appeared before us, I asked her about some of the meetings she had had with Libyan officials where this idea that we had outsourced a lot of the security for that facility had been outsourced to Libyan militias. I mean, people have forgotten this, but a lot of the perimeter security in that facility was being handled by Libyan militias. And they were the first people to leave as soon as any of the fighting started. So again, I think the buck, we need to understand who made that decision, and how high up the chain did that reach.
HH: She mentions in this book that she talked with Gregory Hicks along with eight other members of the State Department, confirmed some of his decisions, and said stay in touch. She never called him back. We know that there’s got to be a recording of that, because there was a transcontinental phone recording. To your knowledge, has anyone subpoenaed that conversation?
HH: Should it be?
MR: And again, I’m not sure that there is a transcript of that conversation, certainly probably a readout of some sort, but I wouldn’t assume that there is. But again, that was, you’re talking about now once it was underway?
MR: Yeah, and so that specific question, I’m not sure, has ever been posed in terms of any sort of subpoena. Certainly, the Senate’s not issued any subpoenas for anything from this White House or the State Department.
HH: You think the Select Committee should go and ask if that recording occurs?
MR: Sure, I think we need to understand, and I’ll tell you why this is important. This is not just about embarrassing Hillary Clinton like some people say or what have you. It’s about, the bottom line is that we have multiple facilities around the world, including in Tripoli right now, that are in a dangerous place, and is the same process being used to make decisions there?
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HH: Senator Rubio, in this book, and you spent a lot of time on foreign policy in the last few years, Hillary writes in Page 470, “It is impossible to watch the suffering in Syria, including as a private citizen, and not ask what more could have been done.” How does that strike you?
MR: Well, again, I mean, I’ve read excerpts where she said she actually argued that in meetings within the White House about what the steps should be taken in that regard. So I’d say two things about the Syrian conflict. Clearly, the humanitarian aspects of it are important, and we need to care about that. But more important from the political perspective, or from an administrative perspective, is the national security interests of the United States. Is it not in the interest of the United States for Syria to become a vast ungoverned space where foreign fighters stream in and use it as a base of operations like they used to use Afghanistan. That’s what it’s becoming. That’s why I argued in the early stages of that conflict that we should try to identify the more modern elements, and ensure that they were well-equipped and armed so that there wouldn’t be a vacuum created. That didn’t happen. And I know she argues in the book that she advocated for that. That may or may not be, but the White House didn’t pursue that track, and now what you’ve seen is that the majority of the rebels that are fighting in Syria are not Syrians. They’re coming from all over the world including Europe, and they’re radical jihadists.
HH: If it turns out that she runs for president, and it turns out that you run for president, will you be afraid of debating her foreign policy record with her?
MR: You know, anyone, whoever runs for president against Hillary Clinton, I think, is going to have ample space to criticize foreign policy. What is the signature foreign policy achievement of this administration? If you look at the world today from where it was a few years ago, doubts about America’s leadership have never been higher, certainly in the last decade. You know, with George W. Bush, people can disagree about different decisions that he may or may not have made with regards to foreign policy. But there was never any question that the U.S. was going to lead the free nations of the world. Around the world today, perhaps, the most common theme is one of serious doubt about the U.S.’ willingness to lead or ability to lead, whether it’s in Asia or Europe, or in any part of the planet, so what is the signature achievement of her four and a half years at the State Department?
HH: Do you think there is one?
MR: I do not. In fact, I think if you look at the administration’s foreign policy especially during her watch, it completely lacked any sort of strategic vision of what America’s role is in the world in the 21st Century.
HH: Before I turn this over to Guy, on Page 205, she writes that, “Many in Europe were put off by the ‘you’re either with us or against us’ style of President George W. Bush’s administration, exemplified by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s dismissive description of France and Germany as old Europe at the height of the Iraq debate in early 2003. By 2009, positive views of America across Europe had eroded significantly. We had our work cut out for us.” True or false?
MR: Well, again, there might have been elements in Europe that didn’t like the direction George W. Bush headed, but at least they knew where he stood, and they respected it. I think the even worse problem that we face now is the significant doubts among our allies around the world that the U.S. is still capable of living up to their defense obligations. You look at Asia as an example, and this is a promising development, in my mind, but the fact that Japan is now spending more money and trying to define their Constitution in a way that allows them to participate in collective self-defense, is, one of the reasons why that’s occurring is because of significant doubts about whether the U.S. is still willing or capable of playing the role that it has historically in the Asia Pacific region.
GB: Senator, the Clinton camp has sort of pushed back, and sort of trying to have it both ways on the Bergdahl situation, where Secretary Clinton has been supportive of the deal, but then there is reporting in the Daily Beast that said but she was skeptical about the deal and wanted more out of it. A) Your take on that trade?
GB: And more specifically, B) Where do you come down on the argument about the President was bound by law to inform Congress versus he had as commander-in-chief executive power, he didn’t have to do that?
MR: So he does have executive power to act in a national security interest, so for example if there was clear evidence that the sergeant was in imminent threat for his life, that some dramatic instances had changed and he wanted to move forward on a deal for whatever reason, he certainly had the Constitutional power to do that. They’ve offered no evidence of that. And in fact, their story, just the health concerns they had about the sergeant, have now changed a couple of times over the last week since this deal has been announced. Beyond that, my take of it is that for American service men and women around the world, they’re in greater danger today than they were before this deal was made. There’s been a very clear message and incentive sent now that if you get your hands on an American service man or woman, it proves greatly valuable. I’m not making that up. The Taliban has said that, including last week in an article in Time Magazine. And then beyond that, I would argue that we’ve released five extremely dangerous individuals, some of whom have been accused of atrocities, war crimes, and I say accused, but quite frankly, they did it, they admit to this, have been released, and by the administration’s own assessment. You can anticipate almost all of them, if not every single one of them, will return to the fight against America fairly soon.
HH: Senator Rubio, there is exactly one reference to Valerie Jarrett in this memoir. Do you understand Ms. Jarrett’s role to have been more significant than that in the last five and a half years? And if so, what do you think her role is?
MR: Well, I don’t know what it is. They’ve certainly, I’m not an insider in that White House, so I would probably be the last one to know what her role is. I know she’s a prominent player in the White House, but at the end of the day, I would imagine her role cannot extend beyond making, giving advice. The ultimate responsibility is on the President, and on the members of his cabinet, like Hillary Clinton, who guide policy and who make decisions on management and so forth with regards to the decisions that were made with security at this facility in Benghazi. And for the President, he’s the one who has failed to lay out a strategic view of what America’s role in the world is. To the extent that there is one, it seems to have been that America’s problems around the world were created by a robust foreign policy through the Bush administration, and that his job was to extract us from these things around the world. I think that’s proven to be a disaster.
HH: Last question, how worried are you, about 30 months left, in this presidency, which apparently lacks any kind of strategic design and talent bank?
MR: On foreign policy?
MR: I’m significantly concerned. Some of the damage that’s done is irreversible. You look now at what’s happening with China’s claims in the South China Sea, completely irresponsible claims, meritless claims, but they’re acting on them. They’ve built an oil rig in Vietnamese waters, knowing that they won’t be challenged. They’ve done the same to the Philippines, believing they won’t be challenged. Slowly but surely, they are trying to change the status quo on the ground. And implicit in all this is, there is an administration in Washington that we do not believe will do anything about this, or isn’t capable of doing anything about this, or doesn’t want to do anything about this. And if you think the Ukraine situation was difficult, a real territorial dispute in the Asia Pacific region between, say, China and Japan, is an extremely dangerous one.
HH: And the one between the Vietnamese and the Chinese threatens to actually become a fighting conflict in rather short order.
MR: Well, the Vietnamese capabilities are significantly less than those of the Japanese. I think the Japanese actually have a naval capability that could confront China, and suddenly, you find yourself in a very tense standoff. And again, I know I’m extrapolating many years in the future, but if South Korea and Japan every conclude America’s defense guarantees are no good, you could see them potentially pursue their own nuclear weapons in the next two decades.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thanks for coming by the Heritage Foundation, great to have you here.
MR: Thank you.
End of interview.