HH: I begin with United States Senator Marco Rubio from the great state of Florida. Senator, welcome back, it’s good to speak with you.
MR: Hugh, thanks for having me back.
HH: Earlier today on Fox, you told the audience that there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate for immigration reform. That’s big news. The second news, though, is are you going to offer amendments that you think will gather in enough votes?
MR: Well, let me first say that the news of what I said today on Fox about there not being the 60 votes, actually, Senator Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat, said the same thing last week. And that’s a fact. And the reason why is because while there’s a group, well, the majority of our colleagues are prepared to do immigration reform, they’re only prepared to do it if we ensure that this illegal immigration problem never happens again. And so there’s a handful of Democrats, and a sizeable number of Republicans that are saying to us we’re prepared to do immigration reform, but we have to make sure there isn’t another wave of illegal immigration. So for those who want immigration reform, the task is very simple. Let’s strengthen the border security parts of this bill so that they’re stronger, so that they don’t give overwhelming discretion to the Department of Homeland Security, and I think if we can do that, then you’re going to be able to get something done. But if you can’t, it’s not going to happen.
HH: And will you be the author of those amendments?
MR: We’re working on it right now. A lot of other…I’ll be involved in it for sure. I think there are other senators that have taken the lead, and I’ll let them kind of come out in the next couple of days with their specific ideas. But we’ve been involved on a daily basis working with them to get to the right point in terms of real measures. And what we’ve heard is people don’t want to just turn it over to the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a plan. They want the plan to be laid out specifically with real measurable, and I think that that’s a good approach. And so we’re working with members now to do that. And we expect to hear from them here in the next couple of days.
HH: If those amendments don’t pass, will you yourself support the bill that emerged from Judiciary, Senator Rubio?
MR: Well, I think if those amendments don’t pass, then I think we’ve got a bill that isn’t going to become law, and I think we’re wasting our time. So the answer is no. If they don’t pass, then we’ve got to keep working to ensure that we get to a bill that can become a law. We’re not interested in passing a Senate bill. We’re interested in passing a law that reforms a broken legal immigration system, that begins to enforce the law, and that deals with the 11 million people who are here illegally. And that’s the goal of this endeavor. And so if those amendments fail, we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and keep working until we can figure out one that will pass. But I don’t understand why anyone would be against it, as such, I don’t think there is a good reason to be against strengthening border security for our country.
HH: Now Senator, the timing of this matter is a lot…Senator Schumer said that he wants to be done by July 4 in the Senate. Is that a reasonable timetable? Do you expect that to hold?
MR: Well, that’s three full weeks, and that may be enough, it may not be. We don’t know. I think what I’m hoping, and I’m expecting, and it’s always been a condition of our support, has been an open process and extensive process where all viewpoints are heard, where serious amendments can be offered and debated and discussed. And that’s what we were pleased to see during the Judiciary Committee process, and that’s what we expect to see on the floor. So we might be able to do it in three weeks, it might take a little longer. I don’t think that we should set an arbitrary date in terms of when we want to see it done. I mean, I don’t think we need to unnecessarily delay it, but I think really, what we should be working on is getting it right, not getting it fast.
HH: Now that means the next three weeks are incredibly important. There’s a vacancy. You lost a colleague yesterday, Senator Frank Lautenberg, and I know that every member of the Senate always pauses to say appreciations about him. But Governor Christie has an appointment to make. When it comes to this immigration bill, it might be the most important three weeks of this interim senator’s service in public life. What do you hope Governor Christie looks for, because he’s now in the middle of the immigration debate? He’s going to impact it. What do you want in a new colleague when it comes to this debate?
MR: Well again, I just want someone who, I mean obviously, I’d prefer it be a real conservative who can help us not just on this issue, but a bunch of other issues that we’re facing. And obviously, it’s his decision to make, and we’ll see what he does with an interim appointment. I understand he’s called for an election in October, and I know that New Jersey laws are complicated, but in the interim, I hope we’ll get a strong conservative there that will help us here in Washington on a myriad of other issues that we’re facing. As far as the immigration bill is concerned, you’re right. I mean, this is very simple. It’s pretty straightforward. If we can pass an amendment, if we can pass a measure that ensures that we will never again have a wave of illegal immigration, I believe that we will have immigration reform. And if we do not pass that, if that does not happen, I believe there will not be immigration reform. It’s as straightforward as that.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, I’m in Arizona today, and I’m going to talk to Governor Brewer, in fact, next hour, and in Arizona last week, there was a big story on the border fence, and it works. It works effectively, extraordinarily well. In fact, some people still try and climb over it, and they fall and they get terribly hurt. But most people turn back. And so the fence really works. Will the amendments that you think are coming include mandatory construction of fencing? Will they have the money and the authorization? And how much of it will there be?
MR: Well, as far as how much is we’re getting input from border patrol agents and others who are actually on the ground on a daily basis as to how much and where they should be. But I’ve always believed that fencing is an important component of the plan, and I think that, but what we’re trying to get to, ideally, is an amendment that dictates the number of fences, and also where they’re located, in what sectors and so forth. And that’s what we’re working towards. Now you don’t need fences on every part of the border. There are parts of the border where you’re better off with manpower or something else. But we’re going to take our cues from the people that are on the front lines. We’ve been discussing this extensively with border patrol agents and their union about exactly what we need to be doing, and we continue to work with them. And then hopefully, we’ll have an amendment soon that we can begin to discuss.
HH: Now Senator, I think if it’s a good enough deal, it’s an offer that conservatives cannot refuse. And so if border security is really in this bill, and it’s not discretionary, and we don’t leave it up to Homeland Security, and it says it goes here, here and here, and it gets this high, and here’s the money, and notwithstanding any other bill, all that good stuff, do you expect to win over conservative opponents of the bill based upon strengthened border security provisions?
MR: Well look, I think there are some people that want, that are just opposed to anything that allows someone who has violated our immigration laws to ever become a U.S. citizen, no matter how many conditions you place on it. And I respect that view. I don’t think it’s good for our country to have millions of people here that can never become Americans, but we can have a respectful debate and a disagreement about that. I think there are other members that won’t support it because they want to see the legalization first, I’m sorry, they want to see the enforcement first and then the legalization afterwards. And that was initially how I thought about the issue as well. The problem with that is what do we do in the meantime? So if it takes three years to build all these fences, what do we do with the people that are illegally here for the next three years? Do we get engaged in a game of cat and mouse, where if you catch them, they’re deported, but if you don’t catch them, they get to stay? I think we’re better off as a country figuring out who they are, running them through a background check and making them pay a fine, start making them pay taxes, and getting them incorporated into our economy. And then there are those, the vast majority of whom are prepared to support immigration reform the way we’ve laid it out, but only if we can pass an amendment that ensures that we will never have another wave of illegal immigration again. And that’s where I’m really going to focus my energies, is on trying to get language into this bill that gets us that support.
HH: Now Senator Rubio, if the bill is specific about the fence, and it has a timetable for getting it built, what will be the penalty, as you understand, it’s obviously in draft and it’s still being worked on, and it has to get through the Senate. If it passes, what will be the consequence if that fencing that’s called for doesn’t get built?
MR: Well, the consequence would be that the green card process doesn’t begin. That’s what they call the trigger. And that’s already in the bill now. In essence, it says that if the e-verify is not in place, if the entry/exit system is not in place, then the green card process does not begin. This would go, obviously, and it also says that if these plans are not fully implemented, the plans that the current bill asks the Department of Homeland Security to create, if those plans are not in place, the trigger is not met. Obviously now, if you actually lay out what the plan is, well, then those specific things would have to happen as well. So but the answer to your question is the green card process does not exist. Those folks who are here on a temporary status would have to remain in that temporary status until those things are accomplished.
HH: And so if these additional amendments get passed, they will provide that that path to citizenship, which is, well, 15 or 20 years now, is not going to get, the clock is not going to start on that unless and until these things get done. Am I understanding it correctly?
MR: And that’s actually how the bill’s largely structured now. The only difference is that right now, what it requires is for the plan that the Department of Homeland Security comes up with, for that plan to be fully implemented, or substantially implemented. What we’re going to be doing now is instead of saying the Department of Homeland Security’s plan, it would have to be the plan that Congress mandates in the bill would have to be substantially completed. So we’d actually know what the plan is on the front end, but wouldn’t have to wait for them to produce one and hope that it’s a good one.
HH: Let me put up a flare. The word substantially, to my lawyer’s ears, is a terrible word, because substantially is in the eye of the beholder, and I just don’t trust them. And you know, you’ve run into this. I believe they’d certify substantially completed if you mandated a thousand miles of fence and they built then. They’d say oh, we’re substantially completed. How will people be able to challenge the administration’s interpretation of the law if in fact they are interpreting it as though, as the way that they’ve interpreted so many other laws like the Defense Of Marriage Act, like the immigration laws themselves?
MR: Well, part of that is I think it’s important that the plan is effective, not just that the inputs are there, but that it actually is working. And so that’s why your people are discussing things like 90% apprehension rate, et cetera. The thing about substantially completed is imagine if you built, if you mandates a hundred miles of fence, but the last half mile, you can’t build it for whatever reason, you know, the hurricane hits, or there’s some sort of natural disaster, or you can’t get an easement from the property owner, because you’re involved in an eminent domain taking or what have you, I mean, all sorts of things could happen that impedes that. So you want to see the plan substantially completed. But you also want to see the plan be effective. So that’s why you have these things about the 90% measures, and where that fits in, that’s going to be part of this discussion as well as how that fits into the trigger.
HH: But of course, condemnation is not an issue, right? You can authorize the taking of the property, and notwithstanding the Endangered Species Law or any other law, you can authorize that. Will the bill, I mean, are you going to fly speck this, Senator, make sure it really does provide border security?
MR: I think like I said, it all depends on whether we’re going to be able to prevent another wave of illegal immigration or not. And people are only going to vote for this, you’re only going to get the votes you need to pass this, not to mention the broad bipartisan support to pass this, if your people feel comfortable that what we are voting on is real. So that’s what I’m working on, is to get to a point where people feel confident about it.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, always a pleasure, thank you, Senator.
End of interview.