Senator Rubio joined me to open today’s broadcast:
HH: I begin this hour with United States Senator Marco Rubio. Senator Rubio, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
MR: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
MR: Last night in the Philippines, President Obama made this statement, and I’d like your reaction to it, cut number 18, please.
BO: These are the folks, often times, who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL or using some additional rhetoric is somehow going to solve the problems out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion. Now first, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during the debates. Now, they’re worried about three year old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me. They’ve been playing on fear in order to try to score political points, or to advance their campaigns. And it’s irresponsible. And it’s contrary to who we are. And it needs to stop, because the world is watching.
HH: Senator Rubio, your reaction?
MR: Well, it’s part for the course. I mean, this is a president that always focuses on the petty. And instead of being presidential about this issue, he decides he wants to be the attacker-in-chief or the comic-in-chief or the mocker-in-chief, or whatever he decides to be. And it’s one of the problems that we have, is that he uses all of this silliness and pettiness to cover up for the fact that he still has no real strategy when it comes to defeating ISIS. And in the absence of American strategic leadership, the vacuum is left, and that’s what we have now. And if you talk to our allies, whether it’s our European allies or our allies in the region, none of them are convinced that this president is significantly committed to degrading and defeating ISIS. And the result is this chaos that’s ensued. And again, this is not unusual for this president. He always, especially when he’s traveling abroad, he seems to use it as an opportunity to attack his political critics, even though some of the criticism is now coming from his own party.
HH: Earlier today, he sent out a series of six tweets defending his plan to bring in massive numbers of Syrian refugees, 10,000 of them, saying it’s in our tradition, and that these are women and children and victims of torture, and that it will happen. Do you have a response to the refugee policy specifically?
MR: Well, first of all, no one, at least I am not concerned about widows or whatever he’s pointing to. That’s not the issue. The issue is, we have, and we’ve always had a refugee policy in this country. This nation has always opened its arms to refugees. But each time we have, we’ve always done it through a process that ensures that it’s in our national security interest. Now when those refugees were coming from a part of the world where there was no active terrorist group that sought to harm the United States, it wasn’t as complex. The refugees we’re talking about are coming from a part of the world where we know that there is a well-organized organization by the name of the Islamic State that is openly looking to use the refugee flight as a way to infiltrate fighters into Europe, and ultimately into the United States. We cannot ignore that reality. So then that means that if we allow people into this country, they must be able to pass a vigorous vetting process. We must ensure that they’re not terrorists. If you’re a 7 year old orphan, clearly you’re probably not an ISIS fighter, right? I mean, but the problem is that’s not a typical, that is atypical. That is not the mass and the bulk of the people that are coming. And so my argument is of course we’ve always been open to refugees, but they must be able to pass a vetting process. And the problem is I’m not sure, in fact, I’m increasingly convinced that there is no effective vetting process for people coming from the Middle East at this time. There just isn’t reliable data. The passports are not reliable. They’re easily forged. There’s no partner country we can just call up and run a background check on someone. And so the point is if you can’t do the background check, you can’t let them in. And I have increasingly grown skeptical of our ability to conduct effective background checks on people that are coming from that part of the world, because if you allow 10,000 in, and you get 9,999 of them right, but you miss on one, you’ve allowed an ISIS fighter into your country, now you’ve got a major problem.
HH: He tweeted out, Senator Rubio, “We will provide refuge to at least 10,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria over the next year after they pass the highest security checks,” end of tweet. You don’t have confidence in his ability to provide those highest security checks?
MR: Well, it’s not just him. It’s, think about the practical reality of it. For the vast majority of people fleeing that part of the world, there is no government we can call up and run them through a database. They’re not coming from the U.K. or from France, or they’re coming from Syria, a country that today is largely under the control of ISIS. We know that, for example, there are forged documents coming from there, forged Syrian passports, forged passports from that region. There’s no database to compare them to. You are largely making a guess on whether what they’re telling you about themselves is true. Now that’s the problem. The problem is that there is no reliable way to vet everyone, and so my point is it’s not that we don’t want to accept refugees, it’s that we may not be able to, quite frankly, because we cannot, and there is no effective vetting process that we can run at this time. And until you have a vetting process that works, you can’t allow people in.
HH: Now Senator, you’ve been there six years. I know you have security clearances. Would you estimate how much time you’ve spent in a SCIF, a sensitive compartmented information facility, which is limited to where people with clearances can see the most sensitive stuff? Have you spent a lot of time in SCIF’s?
MR: We do, and there’s a couple of things I would point. When it, the vast majority of intelligence information is generated from reports, written reports that are provided on a daily bases through a wire through multiple different agencies. We have multiple different agencies involved in intelligence gathering. And so the vast majority of information on an intelligence nature is a wire that goes out on a daily basis, and we can review those in any setting as long as you don’t talk about them. If there is information that needs to be transmitted verbally, then you have to be in a secured setting where there cannot be electronic eavesdropping and things of this nature. That’s why you have to leave your cell phone outside, and it’s a compartment that provides that. So the reading part of it, I can conduct anywhere in the Capitol. I have an aide that’s my intelligence aide, and it’s someone who is cleared at the highest levels and is able to bring that information to me to review in my own office. If it’s being communicated verbally or electronically, then it has to be in that secured setting, as for example, I was yesterday and the day before on two separate occasions, received verbal briefings that required us to be in a secure setting.
HH: Now this is an incredibly alarming situation. The French prosecutor earlier today said 5,000 rounds were shot last night alone in the shootout with the most recent terrorist cell that they took down. You and Governor Christie and Senator Cruz, and I believe Carly Fiorina, have held these clearances. I don’t believe Dr. Carson, Mr. Trump or Governor Bush have. Does having had real world time access to this information change your approach to this campaign?
MR: Absolutely. I would just say to you that obviously, you know, that’s not something you can learn until you’ve had access to it. From my perspective, there’s no one running for president that has access to more sensitive information than I do. Even what’s available to members of the Senate is not at the same level to what’s available to someone on the Intelligence Committee. We, in essence, have clearance to review the most sensitive of all information, including active operations. And to be able to do that over a number of years and see how these things develop over time, gives you real insight not just into our intelligence capabilities, but more importantly, into our intelligence gaps. You know, there’s a difference between raw intelligence, which is basically, you know, conversations or something that our intelligence agencies know about, and then the analytical product, which is where intelligence analysts look at the raw data and from it write an analysis of what they think it means, or what it’s indicative of. And we have access to both. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the raw data, not just the analytical data, and sometimes I don’t agree with the analysis. But it does give you a broader perspective that’s useful not just on, you know, matters of national security, but also matters of diplomacy and international relations. It gives you insights into decision makers. But it also gives you an insight into the gaps that we now have in our intelligence capabilities that have only grown over the last few years as our adversaries have become more capable at evading detection, and also as we’ve, in our own ways, through laws that have been passed by Congress and policies put forward by the President, have hamstrung our ability to collection actionable intelligence.
HH: Now I believe the campaign shifted on its axis Friday, and continues to shift dramatically. Given what you’ve seen in these SCIF’s and in your briefings, are we still underestimating the threat that we face from a metastasizing ISIS and from the near-nuclear Iran and its Hezbollah and other radical allies?
MR: Yeah, I certainly haven’t underestimated it. It’s a key part of my message throughout this campaign, is that we face five distinct threats, all of which are enough to make us worry – the nuclear program in North Korea held by an unstable individual, the Chinese military build-up, which in some cases, it will allow them to reach parity with us on a number of capabilities, including submarine capability, anti-ship capability, anti-satellite capability, Russia, that does not have the same capabilities we do, but has proven to be much more aggressive and has held their military budgets harmless, despite stifling economic conditions, Iran, which is a country that’s also gaining capability both in convention and also long-range missile capability, and then radical jihadists, which are multiple groups. ISIS is unique, because they have millions of dollars of month in funding, and they’ve use it to, in many ways, formalize their structure in a way we never saw from al Qaeda. They control territory, they recruit members. I’ve seen the growth of ISIS in Libya. I’ve been warning about it for a year and a half. It has now become a prime operational space for them, I think almost on part with what they have in Syria.
HH: Wow. Now what amazes me, Senator Rubio, is that the President has tried to pain Republicans as anti-Muslim. And we’ve got troops in Kosovo now for 20-plus years protecting Muslim populations there. We are protecting Muslims in Iraq. We have gone to liberate Muslims in Kuwait. It really astounds me. Our intelligence does not betray an anti-Muslim leaning, does it? The President’s charge is just completely false.
MR: It’s absurd. First of all, and now, he politicizes everything, and that’s unfortunate. In stead of being a leader for the whole country and a true commander-in-chief, he wants to be a politician-in-chief. Here’s the reality. Our strategy in the region, in order for it to succeed, will require us to work with our Muslim allies in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia, the Sunnis on the ground in Iraq and in Syria. I’ve said repeatedly, and over and over again, that ISIS can only be truly defeated if they are rejected ideologically, and defeated militarily, by Sunnis themselves. You can’t have Shiia defeating a Sunni movement, because you’re just going to walk into another sectarian conflict. We are going to have to work closely with our Sunni allies who are not radical jihadists, and that’s the problem, that we haven’t created that relationship, and that we haven’t worked on creating those capabilities. And as a result, ISIS has taken advantage of the Shiia-Sunni divide to not just grow in Syria, but ultimately to move into Iraq. That’s what they took advantage of. The reason why they were greeted as liberators by many Sunnis is because of how much they hated Baghdad and the Shiia government. And they’ve capitalized on it. Now life under the control of ISIS is not what they thought it was going to be. It’s horrifying, and there’s now a real opportunity to inspire a rebellion against them. But we will have to work with our Sunni allies in the region to defeat them. And they’re Muslims. And so but the ones we reject are the radical jihadists who are anchored in their interpretation of the Muslim faith, that they believe justifies the killing of innocents in order to spread their caliphate.
HH: Senator Rubio, this is a hypothetical, but not a wild one. Had we not abandoned Iraq and withdrawn troops in December of 2011, do you think Paris would have happened?
MR: Well, I think there still would have been Islamic terrorism around the world. It would have been very difficult for ISIS to grow as rapidly as it did. The reason why ISIS was able to cross over into Iraq is two-fold. One, the Iraqi Defense Forces were not capable of standing up and defeating them, and part of that was the Shiia-Sunni divide. When the U.S. left Iraq, it allowed Maliki to do whatever he wanted. He used it for deep sectarian purposes, creating a tremendous division between Shiia and Sunni in that country. And so that entire part of the country was receptive to ISIS when they first came in, because they viewed them as Sunni liberators against their Shiia oppressors. And a lot of that is we lost all leverage over Maliki once we were no longer there. So that was a major contributor to this. I repeat, the Sunnis now that are there clearly realize that ISIS is not what they thought they were. They’re horrifying, and they want to be liberated from them. But at the time, that was the condition that created that opportunity for them to move in. so I would just say that clearly had the U.S. still been in Iraq in some capacity, it might have in some way diminished Maliki’s ability to oppress the Sunni in that way, but it also hopefully would have created more capability from their defense forces to at least stand up as opposed to abandon post, which is what they did.
HH: Now yesterday, I had former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney on. He suggested President Obama will go down as one of the “worst foreign policy presidents in history.” Do you agree with Governor Romney’s assessment?
MR: I think he always is. I mean, I think that’s already the case. Under his watch, we’ve seen this nation lose influence in the Asia Pacific region. We’ve seen the purpose and the capabilities of NATO rapidly erode. But most importantly, it’s the reputational damage that’s been done to America under this president. This president is viewed by our allies and our adversaries as indecisive, weak and uncommitted. And it’s one of the challenges that we now face in the region. It’s one of the things Russia has taken advantage of. It’s why they moved into Syria. And the argument they’re making to the region is we’re reliable. When we say we’re going to do something, we do it, and not like Barack Obama. And so you’re seeing the Egyptians, you’re seeing the Jordanians saying things like Russia has to be a part of this, they’re a very important part of this, because they’ve lost total confidence in the United Sates under Barack Obama. That can be reversed with a new president, but he has done significant reputational damage, and he’s also led the fight on the sequester, which is just gutting our defense capabilities in the long term.
HH: Do you have confidence in Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the new chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Marine Corps General, Joe Dunford?
MR: I do, and General Dunford and I, and you know, Ash Carter is someone, I think, is trying to do a good job. Obviously, I think in many ways, he’s restricted by the orders given to him by the President. I share his views on the sequester, on the ability and necessity to grow the military and have more capabilities. I mean, the problem with Ash Carter is we’re never going to know exactly everything he believes in, because he is constrained by the loyalty he must have to the commander-in-chief. And so it’s tough to judge someone in that position when they’re constrained by the policy makers at the top like the president.
HH: So let me close up by asking you political questions. A lot of people think this is coming down to you and Senator Cruz, that Dr. Carson and Mr. Trump, whatever their numbers, will eventually fade because of their inexperience with foreign policy. What do you think of that assumption? Secondly, what about the Cruz-Rubio, and maybe the Chris Christie comparison?
MR: Well, a couple points. I’d say first of all, I think it’s silly at this point to say that when the top two people in all the polls are Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Now I think polls still don’t mean very much, and they’ll mean a lot less as we get closer, because these early state voters make decisions very late, and make decisions on the basis serious consideration. But I don’t know, I think to predict what this race is going to come down to at this stage is silly. There are policy differences between the candidates. You know, Senator Cruz, over the last three years, is someone I like personally. We get along, and we share a lot of views. On some of the defense issues, we’ve parted ways. On occasion, I think he’s just, for the first two years in the Senate that he’s been there, he’s, you know, voted for budgets that have hurt the military. He voted for a budget that basically gutted our foreign aid program, particularly our defense of the Israelis and the aid that we’ve provided them. And he was a part of that coalition that worked with the Democrats like Chuck Schumer and the ACLU to harm our intelligence programs. And so Senator Cotton, and I’ve joined him today in this effort, are trying to get that reversed, so that we can have the metadata collection program reinstated for the long term so that this country does not lose a valuable tool in the war on terror.
HH: So indulge me. I realize Donald Trump is first, he always tells me that when he’s on this show, and I know Dr. Carson is very close, and I hear about that a lot as well. But indulge me. If it is a Cruz-Rubio competition anywhere, can the United States have a ticket with two first-term Senators on it? I mean, is it possible you two could…
MR: And two Cuban-Americans to boot, yeah. Well, look, I think that it’s presumptuous to talk about any of these sorts of things. I think we’re at a stage now where we have, despite our policy differences on a handful of issues, we have a very good groups of Republicans. We have, as I’ve said repeatedly, we don’t have any socialists running as a Republican. We don’t have anyone under FBI investigation running as a Republican. We have a very talented group of people running, and a handful of very talented people that are no longer running that are still very talented and could be useful to our country. And I honestly believe that from this crop of candidates, you’re going to find people that can serve on the cabinet that can be president, vice president, future presidents. We’re blessed as a party to have such deep talent. There are some policy differences between us. We’ll have a debate about those. But on a personal level, I think we’re very blessed to have such a deep bench of people, and we’ll see how it all plays out. It would be presumptuous, I think, at this stage to predict who it’s going to come down to, or what twist and turns it’s going to take. The country’s at a very unique moment, and the politics reflect that.
HH: Let me close, then, with a quote from Mrs. Clinton at the debate on Saturday night, cut number 12, please.
HRC: Well, John, I come from the 60s, long time ago. There was a lot of activism on campus – civil rights activism, anti-war activism, women’s rights activism, and I do appreciate the way young people are standing up and speaking out.
HH: Marco Rubio, did she just make your case for you?
MR: Yeah, the problem isn’t that she comes from the 60s. It’s that her ideas come from the 60s and 50s and 30s. I mean, the broader issues, the political left in this country is out of ideas. Their answer to every problem is it’s America’s fault abroad, and at home, we need to raise taxes on someone to create a new government program. These ideas have never worked. They’re disastrous in the new economy of the 21st Century. There is no new innovative ideas that come out of the political left. And the other point that we need to remind everyone of is that Hillary Clinton has moved so far to the left to keep Bernie Sanders off her back that she has basically participated in this left-wing takeover of the Democratic Party. The Democratic agenda today is being driven by radical, left-wing elements in the American political discourse, and she’s going to have to answer for that on issue after issue.
HH: Can you beat her?
MR: Absolutely. And in fact, we will. If I’m our nominee, the Republican Party is going to be the part of a strong national defense, limited government, free enterprise, and the future, the party that understand that our challenges are significant, we’re realistic about our challenges, but we’re also optimistic about our opportunities. And they’re going to be the party of ideas that are outdated, of policies that no longer fit, that never worked well in the past, and are disastrous now. They’re going to be the party of the Obama agenda expanded to be even more expensive, larger, a foreign policy of weakness and retreat. I’m looking forward to that debate, but of course, I need to win the nomination first.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, thanks of joining us today.
MR: Thank you. Thank you very much.
End of interview.