Senator Rubio On Defunding Obamacare, The Pope’s Interview, Gun Control and Defense Spending
The audio of my interview with Senator Rubio is here. The transcript:
HH: Quite a day in the United States Senate. Ted Cruz has initiated a filibuster to stop a vote from occurring on the Obamacare package, which will eventually lead to a procedure to strip, to add the funding back in. I begin this hour with Senator Marco Rubio, one of Senator Cruz’ colleagues. Senator Rubio, always a pleasure to talk to you, thank you for joining me.
MR: Thanks for having me.
HH: And congratulations. The Dolphins beat my Browns, and I’m a little bitter about that, but…
MR: Well, I think the Browns are in a rebuilding year, to say the least.
HH: Oh, that just lost you Ohio in a couple of years, Senator. I don’t know, now tell me…
MR: No, by that time, they’ll be winning. They just traded. They got a first round pick for a running. They can find a running back, and you should never pick a running back that high in the draft, anyway.
HH: Amen. Now are you going to help Ted Cruz in this filibuster later today?
MR: Am I what? I’m sorry.
HH: Going to help Ted Cruz, you know, give him a bathroom break or something?
MR: Yeah, you know, no, that’s the interesting thing. He’s not claiming it’s a filibuster, because it’s not. He’s just speaking on the floor, and others are going to join him, as I will, on this effort. And I think it’s important, because I think, look, one of the things I hope people will focus on is all this talk has been about what’s going to happen. You know, when’s the vote going to be? How’s it going to turn out? I think we need to spend more time on the why. You know, why is it that Republicans, and a growing number of Americans, are so passionate about defunding and stopping Obamacare? And it’s not because it’s Barack Obama’s idea, and it’s not because…it’s because, very simply, it’s hurting upward mobility in this country, the essence of what makes us special. If you think about what is it that makes America different from the rest of the world, it is the one country on Earth for over the last 200 years people have been able to move up the economic ladder through hard work and sacrifice. And that’s under assault. If you undermine the free enterprise system, that becomes impossible. And Obamacare is just the latest in a string of federal policies that undermines the free enterprise system.
HH: Is there a split in the GOP, Senator Rubio?
MR: Yeah, I think the split is a tactical one. So I think there’s unanimity among all Republicans in the Senate that if we have a chance to stop Obamacare, we can and should. The split, I think, becomes on the tactics, is this the right approach. I personally believe, and I don’t criticize anyone who disagrees with me, but I personally believe that we need to do everything we can. I mean, this is the one issue that we should be willing to go to the limit on, because it’s that important to the country. It’s that damaging to the country. this is not a disagreement about some symbolic issue or the naming of a post office. This is something that impacts our entire economy. I mean, who are we fighting on behalf of? We’re fighting on behalf of the part-time worker/student who is going to, working during the day to pay for school at night. They’re going to lose those hours. We’re fighting on behalf of the hard-working men and women who are going to lose their full-time job and be moved to part-time. We’re fighting on behalf of seniors that are going to see their benefits reduced under Medicare Advantage because Obamacare takes money out of Medicare Advantage. We’re fighting on behalf of people whose dream in life is to open up their own business and to grow it, who now can’t do it. So for all these reasons, I think it’s important to do everything we can up until the last second on the last day to prevent Obamacare from hurting the hard-working men and women in the middle class of the United States.
HH: You just took a page out of Arthur Brooks’ book, which is to always say on whose behalf you are fighting for, not what you’re fighting against, and that’s a change in tone that I wish other Republicans get. And that brings me oddly enough to a subject I wanted to talk to you, since you’re Roman Catholic. Pope Francis gave an extraordinary interview this week, 12,000 words, all about tone. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see it, yet, but I think there’s something instructive in there for the Republican Party. What do you think?
MR: Well, I haven’t read the full interview. I’ve certainly read media reports, and about what he has said, and I think that the Pope’s message, if you read through the lines of what I read in the media reports, is that the purpose of the Church is evangelization, you know, bringing people to Jesus, bringing people to salvation. And that applies to all people. Now obviously, the Church has teachings that are consistent with the Christian faith on all sorts of issues, and the Church is not going to abandon those. But it’s also important to understand that our role is to try to reach everybody. I think the same is true in the political process. We are fighting on behalf of people, including people that don’t vote for us, you know, quite frankly. There are people that will not vote for a Republican or a conservative, and yet we’re fighting on their behalf, because they’re out there struggling to make ends meet, they want to improve their lives, they’re looking for a job. They don’t want to be on a government check. They want a job that allows them to provide for their families and earn a better life. What they don’t understand, and we have to do a better job of convincing people, is that the policies of big government, while they claim to help the people who are trying to make it, in fact, hurt them more than anybody else.
HH: That brings me to a couple of examples. The Consumer Product Safety Commission persecuting a manufacture of something called BuckyBalls in its individual capacity, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau data mining…this is a metastasizing government, Senator Rubio, and they have great titles, and they say they’re about good things, but they are destroying businesses and lives, and they are accumulating massive amounts of data on individual Americans. I don’t know that our side has made a good argument about why we’re so concerned about the growth of government.
MR: Well, first of all, let me tell you that there’s so many instances of that, that we could take up a week of programs just outlining them. Just today, we had a hearing on fisheries, you know, fishermen in the United States. So we’re being regulated by two separate agencies of government, neither of whom was talking to each other, and they were about to put a bunch of fishermen in Alaska and Florida out of business. The reason why this is happening is because the government today, the executive branch and in the Senate, is in the hands of people who believe that we need, that government, not the free enterprise system, is the way to guarantee success for people. The problem with that view is it’s never worked. There’s no country in the world that’s been able to successfully do that and achieve the kind of upward mobility and opportunities that Americans have enjoyed for 200 years. That’s literally what’s at stake here, and that’s what the battle is about. Do we want to become like these other countries? Or do we want to remain an exceptional place where anyone from anywhere can go as far as their talent and work will take them? That’s the central issue of our time.
HH: Do you see malevolence in some of these agencies? The IRS was clearly malevolent under Lois Lerner. I think the prosecution of BuckyBalls is actually persecution. They’re not a client of mine. I’ve got nothing to do with them. I just think they’re being persecuted. I don’t know about your fisheries example, but that may or may not be malevolence or just incompetence. But I see more and more, in the permanent government, malevolence towards individuals.
MR: I think it’s an ends justify the means mentality. They believe that the ends of their cause, that their cause is a just one, although I know it to be an unjust one. They believe that these, that they’re always talking about what they call social justice and economic justice, and things of this nature, and they’re willing to do anything and everything in their power to achieve that, including ignoring or violating the Constitution. You see now with these environmental regulations all kinds of things that they cannot get passed through the political branch, because the people of this country won’t support it. So what did they do? They turn to unelected bureaucrats to justify what they’re doing. And in the case of the IRS, it basically came down to demonizing their opponents. And once you demonize your opponents, you can justify doing all kinds of things, including illegal things to go after them.
HH: There are some amazing, terrible stories this week that I want to touch on, the first being, of course, not far from where you are now, the massacre of twelve innocents and the wounding of others at the Navy Yard. And even as we speak in Kenya, and I being people the breaking news as it occurs, gunfire still, today, terrorists that may include Americans mowing down more than 100 people. This is not, these violent issues are not going away, Senator, and nevertheless, some of your colleagues on the liberal side of the aisle want to talk about gun control when it seems to me they’re just avoiding some of the root causes, in one case, mental illness, in the other case, the fact that al Qaeda is everywhere and growing.
MR: Yeah, well, we have a violence problem in America that’s pretty significant, and I think part of that is the issue of outlined mental illness. Part of that is, quite frankly, a societal breakdown in our country that’s the desensitized people, and a culture that’s devalued life. And we need to confront that, and we need to stop focusing so much on what people are using to commit violence and start focusing on why people are willing to commit these kinds of violent acts. As far as the international scale is concerned, look, we are in a war on terror. It’s as simple as that. They are radical jihadists around the world who view things not through the lens of the next couple of years. I mean, they view it through the lens of the next couple of hundred years with the very clear goal of spreading their influence around the world at the expense of the United States, and of free Western societies. So we’re going to continue to confront these issues. They’re finding more and more operational spaces to train, to organize, to arm themselves, whether it’s Eastern Libya, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s in Africa. And we just saw this instance of attacks. It continues to be a very dangerous world, and we are in a war on terror whether the President wants to recognize that or not.
HH: I don’t know if you saw the story, Senator Rubio, in the Mail Online this morning, about the British SAS officer in the Kenyan mall. He was off duty, but he was carrying a handgun, and the headline is British hero of the Mall Massacre: Ex-Royal Marine with a handgun saved 100 lives as terrorists ran amok. This is going to become a fixture of the gun control debate. Do you draw any lessons from the fact that a well-trained armed individual saves lives when violence breaks out?
MR: Well, one of the fundamental pillars underneath the Second Amendment is the notion that we all have a right to defend ourselves, and of self-defense. And again, I mean, I always find it hypocritical that some of the biggest critics of the 2nd Amendment are people that live in secure buildings, and have armed guards themselves to keep them safe. And it’s interesting. You know, you go to New York, and all these media elites, they live in high rise buildings with guards at the door. But the reality of it is that one of the reasons why the 2nd Amendment is wise, and why it’s in the Constitution, is that we believe that everyone has a right to defend themselves. And so clearly, I mean, one of the problems of gun laws is that the only people that are going to follow them are law-abiding. Meanwhile, criminals will be in possession of guns. And again, I mean, so obviously, I have not read that story, but certainly, there is evidence in the United States of cases where people have saved their lives and the lives of their family because they were able to defend themselves.
HH: I recommend it to you. Now today, the President spoke at the UN, and Iran’s president spoke at the UN, and there is this giant make nice campaign underway by the mullahs. Benjamin Netanyahu said we are not going to be fooled. I am not so certain that our president won’t be fooled. What is your concern about the Iranian peace campaign?
MR: Well, it reminds me of Reagan’s trust but verify. You know, certainly, Reagan dealt with the Soviets, but he always had to verify what they were doing. Bottom line is yeah, you know, if Iran has had some sort of epiphany where they’re prepared to walk away from a nuclear weapons program, that would be fantastic. I have my doubts. I think that for the Iranians, that ambition of having a nuclear weapon is tied to two things – the survival of their regime, and their ability to have a disproportionate amount, of becoming a dominant power in the Middle East. And so I am very skeptical that they will ever legitimately abandon their ambitions. And in fact, I think that it is quite possible that what they are doing is buying time. They’re basically, it’s a delay tactic to distract the world while they continue forward. So the proof will be in their actions. If they are serious about this, it won’t just be words and meetings. They’ll have to take concrete steps to ensure, and to show the world that they are not headed towards a weapons program.
HH: Did the President get fleeced by Syria and Vladimir Putin?
MR: Yeah, I think he found himself in a position that ultimately is going to be untenable. Again, look, in an ideal world, you know, if Assad wakes up in the morning and says I don’t want any more chemical weapons, and I’m going to leave power…I don’t think that’s reality. I think this deal that has been struck, I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am, is going to be difficult to verify for two reasons. One, it’s not hard to hide surplus nerve agents and mustard gas. We, for example. Qaddafi was supposed to have destroyed all his chemical weapons, and we said he did. And when he fell, they found stores of mustard gas that he had kept hidden. Another is once you know how to build this stuff, even if you give it all up, it isn’t that hard to rebuild it all again. So I think, and last but not least, who’s going to confirm this? I mean, Syria is an active war zone. How are you going to go in there, destroy these weapons, transit them out of the country without them falling into the hands of dangerous rebels and so forth? How are you going to do all that in a country that’s in the midst of an all-out civil war?
HH: So Senator, the President had a very bad three weeks with Syria, and feels embarrassed and weak, and he then was tone deaf when the massacre happened on Monday and gave a bitter partisan speech which earned him a lot of criticism. It looks to me like he wants a shutdown, he wants to have a confrontation with Republicans, because it seems like the Republicans are the only people he can beat up on like a drum. Do you think he wants the government to shut down?
MR: I think they’re prepared to have one. I think they’ve calculated politically that it’s a winner for them, and that they’ve as a result, you see the attitude he’s taken. It’s interesting to me that if you watch the media coverage of this whole debate, and no one is pointing the fact out that the President is willing to shut down the government if we don’t fully fund a disastrous program that he himself has had to delay major portions of. So there’s a program that he’s put in place, Obamacare, that even his own allies in the labor unions are asking him to either modify or give them a waiver from. And so it’s a program that isn’t working, and he’s asking us to continue to fund it. And he’s saying I don’t care if you fund the rest of the government. If you don’t fund that, I will veto it. I will basically shut down the government. And I’m just shocked that there isn’t more attention being paid to that reality, because that’s basically his position.
HH: Well, this takes us back to where we began, Senator Cruz’ long conversation/filibuster, whatever it is called, and the fact that some on the Republican side are throwing bricks at him, and at Rand Paul and at Mike Lee and at you for being confrontational over this, as opposed to simply disagreeing with tactics. And my question is, when’s that going to end, because it seems to me that if we’re fighting, even if you disagree on tactics, there is no upside in slagging the people with an R behind their name?
MR: Yeah, and I think that’s been a two-way street, unfortunately, but I would just say this to you about that. At the end of the day, I would tell people 100% of the Republicans in the Senate are in favor of getting rid of Obamacare. Unfortunately, we do not agree on the right way to do it. And I’m not going to sit here and criticize people who disagree with our tactics on it, but I can tell you that at least for me, me personally, this is an issue I feel very passionately about. I did so in 2010 when I ran, and I still do now. In fact, I feel more passionately about it, given the people I’ve met that are being so badly hurt. I need to be able to tell people I did everything, literally everything I could, to stop this. I wish we had more people that agreed with us on that, because I think we can make some real progress if we were united on that. And we’re not, as you’ve pointed out, and I think that’s unfortunate. I think we’re united on getting rid of Obamacare. We’re not united on the best way to do it. And I think it’s proven to be counterproductive. But you know, I’m still hopeful that that will change here in the next few days.
HH: Do you think the government ought to shut down, at least as it…not…
MR: No. No, I don’t. I don’t think it needs to shut down. I think Obamacare needs to be shut down. And again, that’s not what’s before us. That’s a false choice. This idea that we’ve had government funded before Obamacare. We can have government funded without Obamacare. This idea that unless you fund Obamacare you can’t fund the government is absurd. It’s not true. So I don’t, my position is very clear. I want to fund the government at the levels we agreed to in the Budget Control Act about a year and a half ago or two years ago, but I don’t want to waste a single penny more on a health care law that’s undermining free enterprise, hurting the middle class, and will contribute to bankrupting America.
HH: Let me conclude by asking you, and I’m waiting for someone on our side to stand up and be the party of Reagan when it comes to Defense. Will you fight as hard to restore the Defense Department’s funding as you are to defund Obamacare, in other words, to get our military what they need in order to defend this country and take care of our troops and their families?
MR: The answer is yes, but I think the best way to fund the military is by dealing with the entitlement programs. The reason why we have these discretionary cuts, including Defense, is because of a complete unwillingness to deal with the real causes of our long term debt, and that is the unsustainable structure of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Those are important programs, and I support them, but they need to be restructured, because they’re bankrupting our country. That is what’s driving our long term debt, not Defense spending. And because we refuse to do that here in the political branches, the result is you’ve got to find the savings from somewhere else. And tragically, that’s included Defense in a very dangerous world. Our Navy has never been more important than it is right now, for example, and that’s something that needs to be, we cannot afford to fall behind the rest of the world, because there are real consequences to that.
HH: So if the President offers a deal that he’ll restore Pentagon funding if you add to the sequester domestic spending, is that a good deal to take? Or is that…
MR: Well, again, I mean, the bottom line is I am in favor of increasing Defense spending, but not at the expense of the debt, because I think that’s, we’re not going to walk away from the cuts that have already been agreed to. Now if the President comes forward and says let’s do serious entitlement reform, which he’s not going to do, then I think you don’t have to cut Defense spending, because Defense spending’s not what’s…look, it’s not what’s causing our debt. Is thee ways to save money on Defense spending? Is there waste in the contracting process? Absolutely. But that is not the cause of our $17 trillion dollar debt. The cause of our $17 trillion dollar debt and growing is entitlement programs that are not structured in a way that’s sustainable, and that’s what we need to be focused on. And as long as we don’t focus on that, we’re going to be forced to make these sorts of reductions in discretionary and domestic spending.
HH: Senator Marco Rubio, great to talk to you, thanks for joining us, good luck in this fight to stop Obamacare.
MR: Thank you.
End of interview.