HH: So pleased to welcome Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, great to have you, but your Gators let me down this weekend.
MR: Yeah, (laughing) well, we don’t have a kicking game, and we don’t have much of an offense. We have a heck of a defense, but they can only do so much.
HH: Great defense, but Ohio State has to play Notre Dame now, and that’s a nightmare for me. But let’s get to serious stuff. President Obama, we’ll come back to all the controversy around Donald Trump, but the real issue is President Obama’s speech on Sunday night. And here’s what he said to open it up, Senator Rubio, cut number one:
BO: And as groups like ISIL grew stronger amidst the chaos of war in Iraq and then Syria, and as the internet erases the distance between countries, we see growing efforts by terrorists to poison the minds of people like the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino killers.
HH: So Senator Rubio, did ISIL or ISIS or whatever you want to call it grow stronger in the chaos of Iraq or in the vacuum that we left?
MR: Well, they grew stronger in the vacuum that was created first in Syria. The Syrian people rose up against Bashar al-Assad. The non-jihadist elements on the ground were not assisted in that, and so the radical jihadists came in and took advantage of that vacuum and grew. In the case of ISIS, they were partially already there. They did it to attract foreign fighters, and they came across the border into the vacuum we, this president left behind in Iraq. And now, they’ve moved on as well into the vacuum in Libya. They’re starting to pop up into the vacuum in Afghanistan. And you’re going to see them continue to carry out attacks in places like Jordan. It’s a big target for them, in cases like Turkey, where I think they’re going to start looking at American service men and women to attack them there on the ground. So this group has grown, in some ways, because of the vacuums left behind by this president.
HH: Now yesterday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took out after Donald Trump and lambasted him, as did Vice President Cheney in my studio, as did you and every Republican did not like his comments. My question is who bears the most responsibility for the situation, you know, Donald Trump hasn’t been in power, no matter what he says right now. The terrorists who are among us are not here because of Donald Trump. They are here for a whole bunch of reasons, but they’re not Donald Trump’s problem. Who created this mess?
MR: Well, look, ultimately, the ultimate responsibility is in the hands of these radical jihadists, and that’s why they have to be defeated. We have to look at policy failures that have made this possible, that when intelligence gathering capabilities of our country have been weakened both through the unauthorized disclosures made by a traitor like Edward Snowden, and then presidential directives, and then the USA Freedom Act that passed earlier this year that some Republicans voted for, that continue to undermine our intelligence gathering capabilities. And then you add to that missteps in foreign policy in the region, where for example, there’s a vacuum in Syria that was allowed to grow. We left behind a vacuum in Libya. We’re leaving behind a vacuum in Afghanistan. And I think the fundamental question for Hillary Clinton is name me one part of the world where America is stronger, or the world is safer since Barack Obama took over as president. The answer is there isn’t any. All you’ve seen is these threats grow while our capabilities have been diminished.
HH: We have lots of misdirection on gun control, on the global climate change causes terrorism. Are those helpful? Or do they divert us as well from the real problem?
MR: They’re inexplicable, and I just don’t understand, other than they don’t want to deal with this issue, because it goes counter to their narrative that terrorism was on the run. But you have a president that’s spent the better part of two weeks accusing Republicans of being xenophobes because we want to put reasonable restrictions on the refugee program, focusing largely in a gathering of world leaders on climate change, when that should have been a perfect venue in which to convene them on a global attack on ISIS, and then come back home and gives this speech on Sunday night that’s supposed to reassure the American people. But in fact, what he announces is I’m going to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing up to now, which of course has not met with success, and oh, by the way, cut out the widespread discrimination of Muslims for which there is no evidence of in this country that there’s widespread and systemic discrimination. And all of this just leaves people scratching their heads saying this is a president that either refuses to deal with the issue in front of him, or is just overwhelmed by it.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, the most important question I can ask, you’re on the Intelligence Committee, you can’t compromise intelligence, obviously. But how great a threat does the average American face from an Islamic terror attack in the United States?
MR: Well, that’s a difficult question to answer in the following way, and that is that it’s not as if today you’re going to see 15 or 30 attacks a day. I would put it to you this way. It is a significant threat. It is a real threat. It needs to be addressed in a significant and real way. Here’s what I mean. We have multiple threats. One is the people entering the country through the refugee program, that is a growing threat. But I think the most immediate threat in front of us is the homegrown violent extremist, as was evidenced by this individual in San Bernardino, an American citizen who at some point was radicalized, and we’re still learning how that happened, but then turned that radicalization into violent action. And there are open investigations in every field office in America of the FBI on people like this. And then there are people I can assure you we don’t know about. And we know that there are people out there we don’t fully know about, because we hear secondhand murmurs from some of the folks that might be involved in some of the plotting, but we don’t know exactly who they are or where they are. We know that’s a real threat, and even as I speak to you on this phone now, I can assure you there are people in this country plotting attacks similar to the one that happened in San Bernardino. That’s a fact, and some of them could very well be American citizens or people that have lived here most, if not all of their lives. It is a significant threat, difficult to predict, difficult to find ahead of time, and one we’re going to be dealing with here for a while.
HH: Now the attention today has been on Donald Trump and his statement, and I know you’ve condemned it already, so I don’t want to go back over that. But you serve with Bernie Sanders. He’s not exactly mainstream, either. But he gets a pass for saying the craziest stuff, Senator Rubio. Why is that, that Donald Trump can say something controversial, and the entire media cycle locks in on him, and Bernie Sanders has got about the same level of support in his party as Trump does in the Republican party, gets a free pass? You’ve heard Bernie Sanders for years. The guy is a socialist verging on a Marxist.
MR: Well, all I can chalk that up to is that there’s a certain bias in the U.S. media that’s real, and we continue to see it manifest itself. When you’re a conservative, you know that you’re not going to be treated the same way as someone who isn’t. When you’re a Republican, you know you’re not going to get the same treatment as a Democrat in some outlets. And it’s just part, it comes with the territory. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, but it is what it is, and we have to move forward and deal with it. And in the case of, look, of Trump’s comments, I would just say that, this is a very serious issue. We need to deal with it in a serious way. What he proposed was not well thought out. It was impulsive. He didn’t think it through. It violates the Constitution. It places a religious test. And it isn’t the best way to do this. It is not the best way to address this threat. I think a better way to address this threat is to look carefully at the processes we use to vet people, understand that there are people that no matter how often you vet them, you’re not going to be able to allow in, because we lack information on that part of the world, and also rebuild our intelligence and Defense capabilities so we can address this threat and eradicate it at its source, which is the safe havens that ISIS has created for itself in Syria and Iraq and Libya.
HH: And in moving forward, 30 seconds, Senator, when the American people vote next year, they have to vote on security. Is there any question in your mind the Republican Party is better and more serious about security than the Democratic Party?
MR: Well, we’d better be if we want to win. Obviously, if you voted to reduce Defense spending, if you voted to diminish our intelligence program, as some of my opponents in this race have, it’s going to be harder to make that argument.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, great to check in with you. Thank you, Senator,
End of interview.