Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is his state’s Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, came by our offices last week and sat down for a brief interview with the editors of HUMAN EVENTS. Here are excerpts from that interview.
HUMAN EVENTS: We just wanted to hop right into immigration issue since it’s so much in the news and is important to our readers. Now that the Arizona legislature has amended its controversial law so that the police can question a person’s legal status only if there’s a lawful stop, detention, or arrest, have your thoughts or feelings toward the bill changed?
Marco Rubio: I congratulate them on doing that. As I’ve learned in my time in the state legislature, important legislation is always a work in progress. They were quick to recognize some potential pitfalls. And it didn’t surprise me that they did, because, as I said in my statement, I never believed that their intent was anything other than public safety.
And although others have used this to create political hay, I was in Arizona a little under two months ago. People there had told me when I was there for a finance event, how concerned they were about the unfortunate violence in Mexico now spreading across the border into their cities and into their state. And so this is inevitable.
And the reason that something like this happening was inevitable is because the federal government has failed to provide border security, has failed to provide a legal immigration system that works.
But right now, for the people of Arizona, this is not even an immigration issue. This is a public safety issue. And the fact is that Mexican drug violence has tragically crossed over the border and into an American state and American cities. So I congratulate them on taking steps to clarify even further the intent of the law.
HE: If you were in the Arizona state legislature, would you have voted for the law?
Rubio: The second one that passed hit the right note. Yes.
HE: The first time around, would you have?
Rubio: I would have wanted to see changes like the ones that were made because I know that that’s not the intent of the bill. We’re always concerned. I mean no one is in favor of a bill that would force American citizens to have to interact with law enforcement in a way that wasn’t appropriate. And the first bill I thought held that door open.
Since then, the changes that have been made to the bill I think greatly improve it. Understand that what Arizona is facing is different from anything Florida has ever faced. Arizona has a physical border with Mexico. And there is kidnappings, human trafficking and drug wars coming across that border into an American city. Frankly, very few states in the country can imagine what that’s like.
HE: One rancher said that over he past years some one million people may have come through his ranch.
Rubio: And that’s why I say that to them it’s not really an immigration issue as a public safety one.
HE: Are you in favor of creating a path for citizenship for the millions who are here?
Rubio: Well, we have a path for citizenship. It’s called coming legally into this country.… Look, let me say two things about it. No. 1 is I think that the vast majority of the people that are in this country illegally, whether they entered illegally and overstayed their visas, they’re here because they want to provide their families with opportunity. I get that. I understand that. And I know that because I know people in that status.
That being said, America cannot be the only country in the world that does not observe or enforce its immigration laws. A key part of your sovereignty is the ability to control the influx and outflow of your people and is the ability to secure your border. And you’re never going to be able to do that if you have an immigration system that says ‘come to this country illegally. If you’re able to stay here long enough, you’re able to stay here forever.’ And you’re never going to have a legal immigration system that works if you grant amnesty.
And that’s why I’ve always believed that, no matter how well-intentioned it is, I understand the human stories… There are going to be stories of very young kids that were brought to this country at a very young age who don’t even speak Spanish that are going to be sent back to Nicaragua or some other place. And it’s going to feel weird and I understand that. The goal here is to have an immigration policy that works. And if you provide a path for people to enter this country illegally and if they stay here long enough and pay enough in taxes, well let them stay legally, why would anyone come in through the legal process?
HE: Moving on from immigration to the War on Terror, seven years after 9/11, President Bush kept us safe. There wasn’t a successful attack. Just a year and a half into Obama’s presidency, we had the Fort Hood Massacre that happened and we had two failed attempts from the underwear bomber and now this car bomber in New York City. They were failed attempts only because of terrorist stupidity and nothing more. Who in the Obama Administration should be held accountable and how should they be held accountable?
Rubio: Well let me just say that the War on Terror, in all fairness, it was a matter of time before terrorists became better at what they were doing. There are people around the world that do nothing all day but come up with ideas about how to strike us, particularly here in America. That being said, one of the important things to remember about the War on Terror is that, with all this debate about terrorists, the focus of the War on Terror is not simply catching terrorists after they commit an act and punishing them. The primary goal of the War on Terror is to prevent an attack from happening.
And that’s why places like Guantanamo and the ability to hold enemy combatants is so useful because you’re able to gather information that maybe you won’t ever be able to convict these people on in a civilian court. But you’re going to be able to prevent countless deaths and acts of terrorism because of information that you’re gathering. And that was the focus of the Bush War on Terror: Preventing attacks from happening. Not simply reacting to them once they occurred.
And I hope that we haven’t lost our focus on that. Clearly, if there’s an act of terrorism against the U.S., these terrorists need to be tried, convicted, and punished. But the primary goal of the War on Terror is to prevent terrorism from happening by gathering actionable intelligence used to prevent these attacks and to the extent possible to strike and wipe out the terrorist cells that are planting.
HE: So is the Obama approach now reactionary rather than a proactive?
Rubio: On some fronts, I think they’ve made the right decision in Afghanistan in terms of moving forward on the surge and I think that the increase in predator strikes in Pakistan is promising sign. On other fronts, I think that sometimes the unwillingness of the administration to call this a War on Terror in some respects, to fail to stand up with our friends in Israel in others, have sent a message to our enemies that perhaps America is no longer serious about winning this war as we once were. But look, I don’t agree with the President’s policies on all fronts, but I want him to be successful because if he’s not successful that means that my children are not safe. But I do believe that many of the policies that this administration is pursuing are misguided, maybe even naive.
HE: Former Republican Sen. Mel Martinez endorsed Governor Crist. Has he now reached out to you since Crist left the party?
Rubio: I had a conference with him a couple of weeks ago about generalities about the race. I have not spoken to him since Governor Crist’s decision.
HE: I just thought that maybe after the change in party, he would have called right away.
Rubio: My expectation is that, by and large, the Republicans in Florida that were split on the primary will now support the Republican nominee which I believe would be me. Like I said, I welcome help from anyone that wants to help us up here and stand for free enterprise, limited government, and stand for national defense.
HE: As a corollary to that, we’re hearing all along about people abandoning Gov. Crist right now. Do you expect him to move to the left on key issues to try to get new support?
Rubio: I thought he was already there on many of them. The bottom line is that, with all due respect, and hopefully this will change and he has time to change that, Gov. Crist’s campaign has not been policy-based. It’s largely been personality-based and to some extent on personal attacks against me. He’s spent over a million dollars on personal attacks against me before switching races. I hope that we can have an opportunity to have an issues- and ideas-based debate. It’s important. It’s what our people want and deserve. I know the things that I stand for, whether that’s limited government, free enterprise. These are things that have made America exceptional and the American people and people of Florida ought to see that reflected in this debate and in their next U.S. senator. I don’t know what his ideas are going to be. It’s going to be up to him to outline those I guess.
HE: When we spoke a year ago, we discussed Cuba. When would you approve of lifting the economic embargo against Cuba?
Rubio: When Cuba joins the rest of the civilized world in how it treats its people. That is freeing political prisoners, it means free and fair elections They can choose any form of government they like, but they have to have freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. The fundamental rights that we believe are endowed to every human being by our Creator. That’s the kind of country that I’m interested in us having a relationship with. And the embargo serves as leverage for us to be able to accomplish that. You have, as we speak right now, a number of dissidents and hunger strikes in Cuba. And their brave wives are marching every Sunday. And they’re being beaten, taunted, hassled and harassed. These are women. They’re called the women in white. They’re providing an extraordinary example of just how repressive this regime is and how it’s on the wrong side of history.
HE: So I take it you mean the recognition of the end of the embargo has to come with the end of the Castro brothers?
Rubio: Not only the end of the Castro brothers, but also political reform in the return of political freedom to the people of Cuba. The embargo gives us leverage to negotiate that. Cuba trades with every other country in the world. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. embargo is not the reason their economy is failing. Their economy is failing because they’ve embraced a combination of socialism and incompetence, which may be an oxymoron because they’re both the same thing. The point being that I would love for the United States to have a close economic relationship with a free Cuba. I think we’re going to see that very soon, God willing.
HE: Now assuming that free and fair elections were held in this new environment that you described, would you support resuming diplomatic relations before the settlement of Cuban properties.
Rubio: Before the settlement of Cuban properties in terms of their previous owners? I think that’s something for the Cuban people to determine through their new political system that’s in place. They have the right to that determination and to choose any form of government they please. What I’m interested in is having the United States having strong diplomatic and economic ties to a free and fair Cuba. A lot of times past, the issue of property rights there was going to have to be confronted like it was confronted in Eastern Europe. But I wouldn’t impose an external mandate. I think the links between Cuban exiles and their families in Cuba are close enough that they will be able to establish some sort of an orderly process for property rights to be respected, either returned to their rightful owners or paid for their loss.
HE: That leads to another question about the Obama Administration’s reverting back to the Clinton-era policy of travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to their families living on the island. Does this help the cause of freedom?
Rubio: It’s hard to tell people they can’t visit their dying grandmother or dying mom. And I get that and it’s sad. By the way, the Bush-era policies allowed people to travel once every three years. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening now is that the Castro government is using travel and exile travel as a way to fund its repressive regime. I also think it threatens the immigration status of Cubans. Cubans come to the United States on the basis of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which says that Cubans are exiles. Cubans are here because they have no political freedoms. But it’s hard to argue you’re in exile when a year and a month after you arrive, you’re returning repeatedly to the country you’re exiled from. How do you argue that you’re an exile when exile is supposed to be people that can’t return for political purposes? And after 13 months in the country, you’re traveling back? It threatens the exile status of the Cuban community. And it also provides a source of hard currency for the Castro regime. They use the dollars from remittances and from travel to fund their repressive operation. I think it was wrong to lift those travel restrictions.
HE: Segueing into another issue: offshore drilling. What’s your position on that?
Rubio: America has an energy-independence problem that it still needs to confront and solve. And not even the most optimistic believers in alternative sources of energy believe that anywhere and anytime in the near future that we’re going to be able to provide that without a reliance on petroleum. So the fundamental question for the American people is: ‘How dependent on foreign sources of energy are we prepared to become?’ There is going to be drilling off the shore of the United States. It’s going to be done by China, Venezuela, Cuba, Russians and others who have openly announced plans to explore off Florida’s coasts and in the Gulf region etc. And so, naturally, now we are in the midst of a very serious economic, ecological, and environmental disaster. One that needs to be dealt with to minimize the damage it’s going to cause.
The second thing we need to figure out is why it happened. Primarily, to make sure that the responsible parties pay for it and to ensure that it never happens again because there are thousands of rigs operating all over the world right now. But ultimately, when all of that is settled, we still have an energy-independence issue, an energy-independence goal. I believe America should invest heavily in alternative energies and in the development of new energy technologies. That’s going to take time. And, in the interim, America has to have all of its domestic energy resources at least at its disposal.
HE: So you would approve of drilling in ANWR?
Rubio: As long as it can be done safely, absolutely. And that’s probably the debate we’re going to be having here very shortly. What caused this accident? Was it BP oriented? Was it human error? Was it specific to that rig? There are thousands of other drilling operations all over the world and this is not happening on them. So we need to figure out that first. But I think calls for moratoriums are premature.
HE: Do you think the GOP currently has an outreach problem to Hispanics?
Rubio: I always kind of look at it the other way. With the Hispanic community as much as any other community in America, the strongest motivator in the community is to want to leave their children better off than themselves. That’s why people migrate here. That’s why people work jobs so their kids could have careers. The single greatest issue in the Hispanic community in America is the desire to leave their children with opportunities that they themselves did not have. There is only one economic system in the history of man that makes that possible and that’s the American free-enterprise system. And if the Republican Party wants to become the party Hispanics vote for, then we need to be identified as the American free-enterprise system and we need to make the connection for as many Americans as possible between the free-enterprise system and the hopes and dreams of everyday Americans from all walks of life for their family. When you show people that, through free enterprise, by working hard their children will have chances they didn’t have. If you become the party of that, you’ll be the people they vote for.
HE: So would you do something differently than what the GOP is doing now to reach out to Hispanics?
Rubio: Just what I do every day when I talk to people. I tell them my parents worked jobs . My dad was a bartender. My mom worked at factories. She worked as a stock clerk. She worked as a maid. My parents worked jobs so that I could have the opportunities in my life that they never had And that was not possible because we had the best government in the world, that was not possible because Jimmy Carter was President, that was not possible because of some governmental programs. That was possible because I was able to grow up in the freest, most prosperous nation in human history. The free enterprise system allows people to work hard and play by the rules and open doors for their children that were closed to them. I explain that to people and it’s not a hard sell. Once you explain to people that this is the only economic system in the world where you could open up a business in the spare bedroom of your home, where an employer can become an employee, where a worker can become an owner, they get it. People embrace it. And it’s a mainstream American position. It’s what we should stand for. We just got to do a better job of communicating it.