Florida Senator Marco Rubio is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters caught up with him on the phone on January 8, 2016 while Rubio was campaigning in New Hampshire.
CM: So, let’s start with the executive actions taken by President Obama at the start of the New Year regarding guns. You’ve said the executive order would not prevent the shootings that the President cited, that it impacts more law abiding citizens, and that criminals buy guns off the black market, and that it represents something rotten in our culture. How would you fix that culture as president?
MR: Well, I’m not sure a president can fix it. I certainly think a president can point to it, and create awareness about it, and hopefully mobilize our people. But our culture is not… a president doesn’t run the culture. The culture is made up of families, and parents, and communities. And as a nation we need to take responsibility and confront this issue, and address… Not every issue before America has a federal government solution. But I certainly think it’s helpful to have a president that recognizes it and calls attention to it.
CM: So how do you call attention to it as president? How would you do that?
MR: The way we’re doing it now in this interview. You point out the fact that what we need to be asking ourselves is why there are young men, and women for that matter, in America, who don’t value human life and therefore are willing to shoot up a house and kill whoever’s in there, even if there are children in there. And of course on the mental health issue as well. There are some of these acts that are driven by mental health issues, and we need to de-stigmatize that. It needs to be... it’s not something people should be ashamed of, it’s something that… it’s a medical condition, like any other condition. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, but I think, awareness about ensuring that people who are experiencing mental health issues receive the treatment and counseling they need before it escalates into something worse.
CM: Part of the executive order was including 500-million dollar investment to increase access to mental health… It’s something you mention there, as do many in your party, as something that could help prevent shootings like those the president mentioned. Why would you overturn that part of the executive order as well?
MR: Well, you don’t need that whole executive order to help with mental health. If there’s something worthy in there that has to do with mental health, we’ll look at that. And obviously I need to see the details of how it will work and make sure it’s not duplicative. But helping people get access to mental health care is not something that’s unconstitutional, but violating the gun rights of Americans in a way that would do nothing to prevent these acts of violence that we say are the impetus of these acts, is something that I will oppose.
CM: Now, this seems to play into something bigger in Iowa and really just across the country. The National Center for Children in Poverty say one in five kids grow up in poverty, and there’s an adverse effect that has on children. One of the stories you tell in Iowa that seems to really resonate with crowds has to do with your parents emigrating from Cuba, working hard so you can have a better life. What innovative policy solutions would make it easier for children to succeed and to get out of poverty under a Rubio administration?
MR: Well, I would begin by reexamining all our anti-poverty programs and ensuring that they cure poverty, not simply treat its pains. I’ve called for a flex fund, in which we take all of the federal anti-poverty money, we don’t put it, we just take all of our federal anti-poverty money, put it into a flex fund, and then make them available to states and local communities so they can design innovative programs that get to the root of poverty and help cure it. The only requirement to receiving funds for an individual recipient will be that they either have to be going to school or working, to either acquire the skills they need or the education they need for a better paying job. So I want our anti-poverty programs to be holistically reexamined. I gave an address on this a couple years ago, because I just don’t think our existing programs are curing poverty.
The second is, I’d help people that are struggling, that are working but don’t have enough money to make ends meet. That’s why I’ve called for an increase in the per child tax credit, so that people working can keep more of their own money by increasing the child tax credit. I’ve also called for innovations in how we pay for higher education and the availabilities for self-directed learning, so that non-traditional students, you know, people who are raising children and have to work full-time, also have flexible options available about how they can go back to school so they can acquire the skills they need for a better paying job. I’ve called for increases in vocational training, particularly opening up Pell Grants, federal financial aid to high school students, so if their high school doesn’t offer quality vocational training, they can go to high school in the morning, and trade school in the afternoon, and graduate certified and ready to work as welders, car mechanics, airplane technicians… good paying jobs as opposed to languishing or even dropping out.
CM: So for those that are not in school or working, they have a hard life and can’t get to school, or they’re having a hard time finding a job, how do you help those people out?
MR: Well, the programs would help them. Number one. That’s why I think it needs to be driven at the state and local level, and they’ll create innovative programs that deal with those impediments. I mean the key to these anti-poverty programs shouldn’t just be to help people eat and pay their utility bill, it should also be to get them into school. There’ financial aid already available for people that don’t have the resources. For someone that has to work full time, the key is to ensure that they’re acquiring skills while they’re working that makes them more employable in the future and find a better paying job.
So that’s again… I don’t think you can design a one size fits all federal system that addresses the complexity of poverty in America. Rural poverty for example has different causation and symptoms than urban poverty does. In some areas it might be housing that’s the big impediment, in others it might be transportation or lack of quality access to education. Even access to the internet, not having access is an impediment to upward mobility and so forth. So these are the kinds of issues that I think could be confronted, but that’s why I want it to be driven by the state and local level because they can create innovative programs that address what poverty looks like in their specific part of the country.
CM: Speaking of innovative programs, some in Iowa see innovative policies put forward that have helped Iowa with both the production tax credit for wind energy and solar energies. These have both been extended in the omnibus bill. They’ve been good for Iowa energy innovation and for jobs. Should they stay?
MR: You won’t need them under my tax plan, because under my tax plan every business will be able to immediately spend every dollar they invest in their business. So the credit won’t be as necessary because now, whatever money you put into a new wind facility or a biofuel facility, in that same tax year you’re going to be able to write off that expense. We’re also going to lower the tax burden on all businesses, including small companies, corporations, LLCs, partnerships, a lot of these innovative energy programs are structured in that way, they’re going to have a flat tax rate of 25 percent, like all businesses will. So we’re going to even the playing field so that there is no disparity between the traditional fuel sources, oil companies, and others, and the new sources. I want us to lead the world in all of it. We’re going to even the playing field and let the market then decide success and failure.
CM: There’s been a lot of criticism about you missing votes in the Senate. You’ve been out campaigning. Why not show up for work?
MR: Well, we do. My vote record in the Senate is close to 90 percent over the last five years. When I started running for president, we missed some votes, because I want those votes to be meaningful. The vast majority of votes in congress today are show votes. The outcome is already predetermined, the deal has already been cut behind the scenes, or often times, there are bills that we’re going the pass but the president is going to veto. If we’re going to make a difference, it’s not just votes made for symbolic purposes, but to actually start making a difference in America, then we’re going to have to have a new president, but that will require me to campaign. That’s why I’m running for president. I want these measures to matter again, not simply be for show or for positioning for the next election.
CM: You haven’t spent a whole lot of time in Iowa compared to some of the other candidates running for the Republican nomination, up until now. Polls seem to be favoring Sen. Ted Cruz, he’s been to Iowa a lot. Do you want to win this thing, or would you be fine with second or third place in Iowa?
MR: No, we want to do as well as possible everywhere, and we have spent significant time, I mean, there, and for example we were there earlier this week, we were there last week, I went there with my family a week ago right before New Year’s, and we’ll be there quite a bit going forward. In fact, we’ll be back again early, mid-part of next week. So, we look forward to campaigning very hard in Iowa, we feel great about our team and our strategy, and we’re very confident what that’s going to mean on February first.
CM: Do you think that Donald Trump has been good for the fight for the Republican nomination thus far in this election?
MR: Well I think Donald has been able to bring attention to a deep frustration that exists in this country. It’s the frustration that began building in 2009 that led me to take on the establishment and win my Senate seat. It’s the same frustration that led me to run for president now, even though the Republican establishment didn’t want me to run and have tried to impede me. And I think he’s done a good job of pointing that out, that frustration, but that alone won’t be enough. Our president can’t just be someone that shares that frustration. Our president has to be someone who knows exactly how to adjust it, what we need to do to turn this country around, and I will. On my first day in office, I am getting rid of every single executive order that Barack Obama’s imposed, and we’re going to undo the damage this president has done to our economy, to our national security, and to our nation’s reputation on the global stage.
CM: What role have you had that makes you fit to be commander in chief? I mean, being a Senator is a much different job than being President of the United States, and some of your critics point to your age.
MR: Well, obviously there are people that have lived longer than I have who are running for president, but none of them have more experience on national security than I do. Over the last five years, whether it’s foreign relations or intelligence committees, no one has done more work on these issues than I have. I’ve shown judgment on all of these key issues. I made… pushed for policies that had we followed those instead of the ones Barack Obama did, then we’d be much better off. And I’ve achieved results. For example, just two weeks ago I was able to get additional sanctions imposed on Hezbollah, and I did that in a bipartisan way. So, when it comes to foreign policy and national security, there’s no one on that stage that has more experience, has shown better judgment, or a better understanding of the issues, or had better results, than I have.
CM: You’ve spent some time now in Iowa, you’ve been here… you’re coming back more and more. We’re asking all the candidates to give us two to three words to describe Iowa. What are your two to three words?
MR: I think… Realistic, but optimist. I find the people of Iowa, like I do around the country, they’re very realistic about our challenges. They know America is headed in the wrong direction. They sense that we’re a great nation in decline, but I also think that people in Iowa are hopeful about the future. They believe, and they know, that if we do what needs to be done, if we go back to the principles that made America great, and apply those principles to the unique challenges of the 21st century, America has a chance to be greater than it’s ever been. And so, I sense that across the country, but I especially sense that in people, as I interact with them in Iowa.
CM: Well, Senator Rubio, thanks for making time for us today.
MR: Thank you so much.