Florida Senator Marco Rubio was on the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show Thursday night and the host got a chance to expand upon and ask follow-up questions to some of the “Commander-In-Chief” type queries asked during the CNN debate. Rubio demonstrated his expertise on foreign policy and military matters which were more advanced than a typical first term senator, plus got to discuss the deficit.
Rubio seems to be playing the long game in this race. His overall poll numbers are low but he seems to be many people’s number two choice. As people drop out it is assumed he will pick up supporters. His CNN debate performance as well as the interview below should be helpful in that effort.
Below is the transcript and video of Thursday evening’s interview:
Hewitt: Joined by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who had a very good night last night by all accounts. Senator Rubio, welcome, it’s great to have you on the show.
Rubio: I’m glad to be back.
Hewitt: I didn’t have an opportunity to say hello to you last night.
Rubio: I know.
Hewitt: How did you feel at the end of that?
Rubio: Well, tired. It was a long debate.
Hewitt: Yes, it was.
Rubio: But you know, when it got to the end, everybody kind of came on stage and it was hard to get around, and so I didn’t get a chance to walk over and thank you for being a part of it. It was, you know, I felt like it was just another opportunity in front of a lot of people to talk about who I am and what I’m for and what I’ll do. And we got to talk foreign policy yesterday, which was important.
Hewitt: Amen. What question would you have liked to have weighed in on that you didn’t have a chance to speak to?
Rubio: Well you know, I think they covered a lot of topics, obviously. I wish they would have spent a little bit more time about this debt. I mean, there’s not, that I recall, there wasn’t any question on the debt, and it’s an issue that’s kind of fallen off the radar. But we’ve got an $18 trillion dollar debt in this country. And we’re about to raise the debt limit again, and that isn’t just an accounting problem. It’s hurting our economy. So I wish there would be a little bit more focus. And then I really think the central issue of this campaign has become the disconnect between Washington and leaders in both parties and government, and the rest of the country and what people are going through. And that massive disconnect is really what I would hope the debate would spend a lot of time on, instead of so many of these questions about so and so said this about what you said. So I just, I think we really didn’t cover that nearly enough, and hopefully, we’ll have a chance to do that, because that disconnect between our people and our government is what’s driving everything today in this election cycle.
Hewitt: It is indeed. I’d like to go back to a question, I didn’t get many follow ups, because Jake did a fine job of quarterbacking it, and you know, the wide receivers don’t call all the plays.
Hewitt: But I liked what I got. I brought up the Syrian buckle by President Obama, and I asked you, and you responded very strongly as to why you did not support the use of force resolution. At that time, Senator Cotton, Mike Pompeo, Bill Kristol among others, urged that it be passed for fear that not doing so would lead President Obama down a path to appeasement with Iran. Were they wrong? Do you have any regrets at all over not giving him the authority he asked for, pin prick or not?
Rubio: Yeah, two reasons. One, they never articulated to us a clear strategy of what they were going to pursue. In essence, what he had said publicly was that there would be a pin prick attack, that it wouldn’t be a major attack or a major assault, and I just don’t think that’s how you engage the military. You only, you don’t do the military engagement for symbolic purposes or to send a message. You do it to achieve a purpose. We’re going to achieve this, and we’re going to commit the resources to doing it. He never outlined that sort of strategy. I actually thought that a limited assault on Syria would be counterproductive, because Assad could survive, and it may very well have caused others in the region to rally to his side. He could have emerged from it saying here I am, I’m stronger than ever, I took on the Americans, and I’m still standing. I had a lot of deep concerns about it, and no one at any time outlined to us what it would look like. I also argued, by the way, that the President didn’t need Congressional authority to do it. He should have, if he was going to do it and he was serious about it, he should have just done it. He has that authority under commander-in-chief. But I don’t regret, I voted against his version of a military strike which was going to be, as he called it, a pin prick. And I don’t, I don’t think that’s a wise use of military force. I think it’s counterproductive to do that, actually.
Hewitt: That actually led me to my next question, which again, time is finite when you have 11 people on the stage. What is your understanding of a commander-in-chief’s authority to act when people cross red lines with WMD?
Rubio: I think the commander-in-chief has a right to act in the national security interests of the United States without Congressional authority. Now you know, a declaration of war is a different thing. And it’s sort of a sustained operation over an extended period of time. That’s one thing. But to say there’s a threat out there, and we don’t have time for committees to meet and people to debate. It’s an inherent authority in the office of the president, is they have to be able to act, and in the 21st Century, those sorts of risks can come quickly. And so I do think that in that particular case and in others, the President has the, I’ve argued the President has the authority to act now to take on ISIS. ISIS is an extension of what al Qaeda once was. They’re a spin-off of that. But it’s basically the same movement, except even more radical, as hard as it is to believe.
Hewitt: Now Eli Lake, who’s a very well-respected columnist, wrote today that missing from the stage completely was anyone who believed in rollback the way that Ronald Reagan believed in rollback. You had an answer last night about taking Air Force One to Russia and meeting with dissidents, but you didn’t expand that to getting the Crimea back into Ukraine or new democracy movements fueled in China. What is your rollback strategy, Senator Rubio?
Rubio: Well, part of it, I think you have to start by stopping the encroachment that’s now happening. Before you can begin to roll anything back, you’ve got to draw a line and stop the encroachment. And today, the encroachment that Russia has on Europe isn’t just limited to Ukraine. They’re engaged in an all-out propaganda effort. You see them now lining up behind different, you know, old sort of party groups in multiple countries, for example, the Unionist leader, and just was elected to the opposition party in the U.K. This is someone who is openly pro-Russian, who says that we should pull out of NATO, demilitarize. They’re involved in efforts like that to recruit, incentivize anti-European, anti-Western sentiments in multiple countries throughout Europe. It’s part of a comprehensive strategy that Putin has to divide Europe and split it from the trans-Atlantic alliance that has served the world so well. So I think putting a stop to that is just the first step. When you think about encroachment, you talk about Crimea. Nobody talks about Crimea anymore. That’s the sort of thing that I worry will happen over the next 14 to 15 months, knowing that you now have a President that’s not prepared to take aggressive action to stand up to him. You worry about what Putin or even the Chinese will do over the next 15 months to sort of solidify the facts on the ground and make set in concrete their gains before a new president might take over.
Hewitt: I also asked on foreign policy Governor Bush about his list of foreign policy advisors and getting the band back together again. I didn’t get to ask you. Who’s on your A Team when it comes to national security, because no one can run the world with 190-plus countries by themselves?
Rubio: Well, that’s a great question, and I would just say that I have an advantage that perhaps some of the other candidates don’t have, because they’re not in federal office. I am fully staffed internally on all of these issues. So for example, I have access to the actual director of the CIA, the director of the FBI. We, on the Intelligence Committee, we are constantly interacting with the actual people doing the work as we speak. And so a lot of people, when they’re campaigning, they’re relying on outside advisers, because they don’t have access to that. And I’m reviewing classified information on a regular basis. In fact, the day before the debate, I was going through classified documents that afternoon. And so as I said, we’re going to build a strong team. I’m not prepared to commit to names of people right now, because quite frankly, we’re not at that stage in the process. There are good people that are non-partisan working in government today who are people that I think could continue to serve our government well. But I can tell you that unlike some of the other people, and it’s not a slight on them, it’s just a reality, I serve on both the Foreign Relations and the Intelligence Committee, and therefore have real time access to the people who are doing that work now, and from it, am able to frame a lot of these thoughts.
Hewitt: I spent the three days before the debate, Senator Rubio, at the Hoover Institution, off the record briefings by Secretary Rice, Secretary Schultz, Jim Mattis, many others. One person whose name was constantly praised from the other side of the aisle is Ash Carter. Is he the sort of person you might, as president, ask to stay on?
Rubio: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know Secretary Carter well. I certainly have heard some positive things about him as well. I think he’s been, in some cases, a very strong truth teller in his travels around the world. He seems to have a very clear understanding, particularly of the Asia Pacific challenge that we now face. And I would like to see a little bit more assertiveness on the need to get rid of the sequester, which the President is basically saying he will not do unless it’s accompanied by equal rollbacks in the domestic spending sequester. I think that’s absurd. National security is beyond anything else the most important obligation of the federal government. And if you look at the force size that we have today, and it’s not just the size, it’s the quality of the programs, we really have not as a country done much to fund new innovation since the end of the Cold War. And I worry about what that means in five or ten years, if our capacity continues to erode. You think about the naval assets that we’re going to need in the Pacific region, and their ability to defeat the anti-access technologies the Chinese are now developing, these are the sorts of things I would like to see a little bit more force on this. Obviously, he serves at the will of the President, so he’s limited about his criticisms. But overall, I have a positive impression of him.
Hewitt: Now I want to switch to politics in our last couple of minutes. You gave an excellent answer, in my opinion, as to why you answer in Spanish and use Spanish. Mitt Romney has said the reason he lost is that he was outspent seven to one on Spanish language media, because many American citizens consume their media in Spanish. Why do you not sua sponte ever just use Spanish in the course of the debate? I was wondering if either you or Jeb or Ted Cruz would have done that last night. You did not do so. Is there a reason why?
Rubio: Yeah, I think that people tuning in to watch it on CNN are watching it in English, and that’s the unifying language of our country. It’s the language we conduct our business in, in government, and I don’t ever want to say things that the audience doesn’t understand. But there may come a time where it’s appropriate, but I didn’t feel there was a time yesterday where it was necessary. But my broader point was my grandfather loved this country, and he loved America, loved Ronald Reagan. In fact, it was his interest in Reagan, even at a young age, at 9 years old, 8 years old when Reagan was elected, that really led me to become politically curious at the beginning of my, early in my life. And he tried to learn English. I mean, he would practice virtually every day. And he was better. He could read and understood it, but he liked to get his news in Spanish, because he understood it. And my point is if I have the ability to communicate in Spanish our principles, why would I allow some translator at a network to translate our words, especially since I believe so strongly that what we stand for is better than what the other side stands for?
Hewitt: Senator Marco Rubio, again, congratulations on a great debate last night. I look forward to talking to you again early and often as the campaign proceeds. www.marcorubio.com, America. Thank you, Senator.