Program: Al Punto Florida
Content: Interview with Senator Marco Rubio
Date: Sunday, April 24, 2016
AH: Ambrosio Hernández
SMR: Senator Marco Rubio
AH: Senator, thank you for being here on the first “Al Punto Florida” program. You are proposing eliminating federal aid to Cubans when they arrive in the United States because you have said they have taken advantage of it. What benefits would be eliminated if the bill is approved?
SMR: Well, first of all, not all – first, nowadays, Cubans who enter from Cuba with a visa do not receive any aid. Second, Cubans who arrive and can prove that they are refugees who are truly fleeing political persecution will continue to qualify as refugees. The only thing that I’ve asked for is to do away with automatic benefits granted to someone, basically, Cubans who come from Cuba, if it cannot be verified that they are refugees fleeing political persecution, so they will be treated the same way as any other immigrant who arrives in the United States, which is that legal immigrants in the United States don’t have the right to any federal benefits for five years. Medicaid, food stamps, what they call disability, it is supplemental Social Security payments, etc. And, you know, I believe that is fair. We have seen in recent years a large increase in the number of people coming in and cases of people going back, living in Cuba, but still receiving American benefits. That cannot be justified.
AH: Critics argue that, well, that would place a burden on local governments that don’t have sufficient funds and therefore would be negative for South Florida. What do you say?
SMR: No, I don’t agree. First, undoubtedly, there are some people who are coming from Cuba who immediately, or from any other country, benefit. But, what is the difference between that and someone who is coming from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, etc.? That is, we are simply going to say that someone who comes from another country to the United States – the first five years they’re here – they don’t qualify for federal benefits. They may benefit from local benefits, state benefits. Those decisions belong to other jurisdictions. But I’m simply asking that people who arrive from Cuba receive the same treatment as any other immigrant who comes from another country. The only difference, obviously, is that the Cuban Adjustment Act will remain in effect, that a Cuban who arrives today from Cuba may remain in the U.S. That is not the case for people who arrive from other countries. And second, they must prove that they’re political refugees. And if they can prove that they’re really fleeing persecution, well, they would qualify as refugees.
AH: The dry foot, wet foot policy, will it change with it or not?
SMR: I believe that the Cuban Adjustment Act must be re-examined. I believe that—
AH: The Cuban Adjustment Act and the dry foot, wet foot policy, will there be changes?
SMR: I believe we must study which changes must be made now that the immigration system has changed, because we are seeing, I believe, that at this time we are inviting people to come to the U.S. on very dangerous trips. For years we have seen people coming on rafts, etc., but now we are seeing people entering Central America, Costa Rica, Panama and then they have nowhere to go because those countries are not – for example, in Nicaragua, the border was closed. I’ve always said that I’m open to a study on how can it be changed. I believe that the bigger problem is that we’re seeing people who arrive from Cuba and a year and a day later are travelling to Cuba 40 times a year, they’re staying, and that’s hard to justify. The problem is not that I want to deny anything to anyone; it is the need to justify those laws. How can I justify the Cuban Adjustment Act when there are people coming from Cuba saying that they come – that they have – that they should be treated differently from other migrants? But they’re going back to that country. That is, the reason we have a Cuban Adjustment Act is because, at the beginning, they were fleeing political persecution. But then they’re going back to the same country where they were persecuted. It makes no sense. And it has become very difficult to justify the Cuban Adjustment Act.
AH: When do you plan to introduce this bill in the Senate again?
SMR: Well, we must remember that in the House, Congressman Curbelo has a – the same law, and it has a lot of support in the House. It’s possible that it will happen first in the House and then go to the Senate. We’re looking at the best vehicle to accomplish this, but I believe that it is important to accomplish it, and we’re speaking about $700 million a year. It’s not an insignificant amount of taxpayer money.
AH: The Carnival company has changed its position. It’s now accepting reservations from Cuban Americans for its next cruise to Cuba. However, just a few days ago it was banning Cuban Americans from boarding that cruise ship and they were, well, citing the Castro regime restrictions. What do you think?
SMR: I believe that we will see cases like these that will continue because we’re talking about companies that are doing business with a tyranny and a dictatorship. And when they do business with a dictatorship, a tyranny, they will have problems like this. This, I believe, is the beginning of several problems that there will be over the next few years because we are talking about American companies that now want to get cozy with this regime, and they will find themselves in very serious problems such as those we’re seeing at this time with the Carnival Company.
AH: During the seventh congress of the Communist Party in Cuba recently, Raúl Castro said that there were not going to be changes on the island and that capitalism would not be restored in Cuba. And the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez, described President Obama’s visit to the island as an attack on Cuba. Is this the beginning of a cooling down of relations?
SMR: I believe so, same as always. I’ve always said that the Cuban regime will not change politically. They’re willing to accept changes on the part of the U.S. that contribute to more money entering Cuba so they can benefit. But in terms of political changes on the island, an opening, etc., that won’t happen, that won’t change, and I’ve always said that, from the beginning. I’ve even said that it doesn’t matter how many tourists who to Cuba, how many times the President visits Cuba; there won’t be any changes in the Cuban government’s posture. And that is the same as always.
AH: But do you believe—
SMR: It’s an anti-American government.
AH: Do you believe that this is the beginning of a cooling of those relations, with those attacks against the U.S. and Obama?
SMR: No, I believe it’s the same thing that has always happened. Their rhetoric is the same as always. The only difference is that the United States has granted them a whole series of concessions, and that the Cuban government has not changed at all. And that is part of the same thing I’ve always said, this isn’t different, nothing has changed on the part of the Cuban government, absolutely nothing has changed on its part. The only changes have been unilateral changes on the part of the Obama Administration.
AH: How must the next president of the United States deal with this rapprochement between Washington and Havana?
SMR: I think that what has been done here must be studied again. I’ve always said that I’m open to changes in the relations between Cuba and the U.S., but that Cuba must make changes also. Those changes are in the laws, spelled out in the Helms-Burton Act: a democratic opening, respect for human rights, freedom of the press, no political prisoners. A whole series of changes that are in the code, are in the laws of the United States. If Cuba changes its position toward its own people, well then the policy of the United States changes also. That is what I would go after. I believe that many of the changes that this President has made, President Obama, are in violation of that law.
AH: Venezuela is immersed in not only an economic but also a political crisis. Nicolás Maduro doesn’t accept, doesn’t recognize the laws of the National Assembly. The opposition, meanwhile, is planning a recall referendum. And recently, Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview, seemed to favor invoking the OAS’s Democratic Charter against the government of Venezuela if the opposition requests it. What do you think?
SMR: I think that the government of Maduro has argued to stage a coup in Venezuela, that this is obviously a coup against the country’s democratic institutions. He completely controls the judicial branch, controls the courts, has denied their basic rights and the responsibility that the legislative branch has in that country. We have also seen an economic crisis that is very serious within Venezuela, we are seeing cutbacks, I believe even more are coming in terms of electricity. Government employees no longer work on Fridays, and that has not been enough. They have very serious problems that I—
AH: There’s a need for the Democratic Charter.
SMR: I agree and, but I’ve asked for that for over a year. That is, I think that what I do, that democracy in Venezuela hasn’t really worked well since the Chávez era and that it has gotten even worse since the last elections, in which the Maduro government lost control of the House, of the country’s legislature.
AH: Speaking now of politics here in the U.S., you haven’t endorsed any nominee for your party so far. Do you plan to do so?
SMR: Well, I will support whoever is nominated and named by the party. I, at this time, don’t plan to get involved in the contest and let it go forward. I had my own contest, it didn’t result in victory, and I will let voters decide what will happen. But I will support the Republican candidate.
AH: Let’s say that Donald Trump calls you and invites you to be his running mate on the ballot as vice president. Would you accept?
SMR: I have no intention of being vice president. I have said it clearly. And I’m always looking for a way to serve the nation, but I don’t believe that it will be as vice president and I’m really not seeking it, I’m not requesting it and it won’t happen.
AH: Is a Cruz-Rubio ticket possible?
SMR: Same answer: I really – as I said, I wanted to be President of the United States. It didn’t turn out that way. Voters decided otherwise and I will focus on my work here in the Senate because I have nine months left. And after that, later, as a private citizen, I will continue looking for a way to contribute to the cause of political conservatism to help our state and our country and the issues that interest me. But I really don’t want to be nor do I think that I will be invited to be any candidate’s vice president.
AH: Do you think that Donald Trump will get the necessary number of delegates to be crowned his party’s nominee or will we have to wait until the convention?
SMR: Well, we’ll see. He had a pretty overwhelming victory this week in New York, which brings him closer to that number. He must get 1,237 delegates to be nominated before the convention. I believe that it’s possible that even if he doesn’t reach that number, that if he comes very close to that number, the party will decide, that is, the delegates will decide, that we won’t go through the trauma of a divided convention. We will come together to start the campaign. But you know – if he continues to win delegates like he won in New York the other night, I believe that he will reach that number. But we will see. There are other states left.
AH: You have more than 170 delegates in your power. What do you plan to do with that?
SMR: Well, so far I have asked the states to hang on to them: I want them to stay committed to voting for me at the convention. It’s possible that those delegates might not be so important because a candidate could reach the required number and at that point it really wouldn’t matter. But if not, let’s wait and see. What I want to see at the convention is for the party to name someone as a candidate who is conservative and who can win. That, and if my delegates can have a role, can play a role in reaching that goal, we’re probably open to that, but we haven’t reached that point yet. I really don’t have secret or comprehensive plans about what I’m going to do at the convention. We’re just keeping those options open in order to be able to contribute in a positive way to the party naming a candidate who is conservative and can win.
AH: Can we completely dismiss the possibility of seeing Marco Rubio back in the presidential campaign?
SMR: This year?
SMR: No, that’s not going to happen. I think that that moment has passed. We will stay active in terms of our delegates, and I will proceed, but not me. I think that the person who is going to be nominated will be nominated by the convention. I’m not thinking about that or planning anything like that.
AH: The lieutenant governor of Florida, Carlos López-Cantera, is running for the seat that you left open in the Senate. Are you supporting Cantera?
SMR: Well, I haven’t made an announcement, I haven’t officially spoken in public about that issue, but I don’t think it’s a secret that Carlos has been a good friend of mine for many years. I respect him. I think he has done a great job as a state representative, as property appraiser in South Florida, and he’s doing so now as lieutenant governor of Florida, and I think he would be a great senator, but I don’t have an announcement for you today.
AH: Puerto Rico is experiencing a deep crisis. How can Puerto Rico be helped to get out of this stagnation?
SMR: Well, I think it starts with the government of Puerto Rico. It has to take measures to solve the fiscal problems that it has, which are very serious. It’s very basic: it’s the same thing that is happening in Washington. It’s a government that is spending money that it doesn’t have. What’s coming in and what’s going out don’t match. That is, what they are receiving in taxes is not sufficient to cover the spending that they are taking on. And any entity that does that, whether a family, a business, a government, is going to go broke and bankrupt. They are asking to be given the right to declare bankruptcy, which I think should be an option, as a last resort, if there is no other resource. But there also need to be measures, changes within the government of Puerto Rico, in the ways that the island’s funds are administered, not just to deal with this budget issue, but also to have, to attract the economic growth that is necessary for Puerto Rico to begin to grow economically. They are losing population, and they are losing economically.
AH: And the flight of professionals has many people in Puerto Rico worried. It would be disastrous if it continues at this level, according to those who are asking for help from Washington, from you.
SMR: Yes, I think that’s the case. It’s interesting because it benefits us in Florida. We are getting thousands and thousands of professionals, very highly-trained people, from Puerto Rico who are now living in Florida, and who have obviously contributed a lot to this state, but the island is losing that population.
SMR: It’s losing not just taxpayers, but professionals, people who are vital to their communities. I don’t think that is good. So undoubtedly, if what we are facing in Puerto Rico in terms of budget and debt goes on, if it continues, it would be a disaster for the island.
AH: Any solution this year, or do you not see one?
SMR: I hope so. Actually, I am asking for this: for something to be done. I think that if it had been one of the 50 states, something would have already been done. Unfortunately, you know, Puerto Rico is a territory. Very often they forget about Puerto Rico. I don’t: I’m always talking about the issue of Puerto Rico. This week I also spoke about it on the Senate floor, and I think it should be given the importance, the priority it deserves.
AH: The U.S. still doesn’t have an ambassador in Mexico. The Obama Administration says that both you and Senator Bob Menéndez are obstructing the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson. What do you have to say?
SMR: That is true. First, because Roberta Jacobson is in charge of a department within the State Department with which, on other occasions, I have had problems with regarding the answers they gave me. In a public hearing last year, I asked her about the issue of Venezuela and she told me that the opposition in Venezuela did not want sanctions against violators of human rights, which was not true. On other occasions, she has given answers to my questions about things regarding Cuba that were not true. Apart from that – and that is the problem that I’ve had with her – but I was talking with the Administration to see if we can reach an agreement, but there is no doubt that I have concerns about the job she has done up until now, in her current position in the Obama Administration.
AH: The Supreme Court has been debating a big issue: President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. A decision from the Supreme Court is expected in June. How can the immigration problem that this country faces be solved?
SMR: There is one way, only one way to solve it, and that is through legislation. It cannot be through an unconstitutional executive order that violates the Constitution. That is, it doesn’t matter here what you think about immigration: here you cannot violate the nation’s Constitution, period. And I think that what the President did, even if you agree with what he did, violates the Constitution and cannot continue. Now, I do think that there has to be a legal solution, a legal solution on the part of the nation’s legislative branch, an immigration proposal. And I don’t think it can be done in a comprehensive way. A massive immigration bill has no chance of becoming law. What does have a chance of becoming law is a process that begins with securing the border. Currently the border is not secure and not just immigrants are coming across, but also drugs, weapons a whole series of problems. And I think that if you can prove to the American people that illegal immigration is under control, I think that the American people are willing to do something very reasonable about people who have been here for many years, who are not criminals, who are going to pay a fine, who are going to pay taxes, who are working. I think they are going to be very reasonable with the young people who are in this country, who grew up here, who were children when they arrived. But all this begins; the key that opens that door is proving to the American public that illegal immigration is under control. And at this point, that argument cannot be made because it is not true, it is not under control.
AH: Senator, you and President Barack Obama disagree about many, many issues. Still, you are supporting the president’s proposal for $1.9 billion in aid to combat the Zika virus. How important is this aid and the effort between the federal government and state governments?
SMR: Well, the funds are going to be used at the state level, but the federal government must help. First, the federal government, one of the fundamental responsibilities that it has is to protect the nation’s health and wellbeing. And this is a threat to public health in the United States. It is a very serious disease. We have seen that it has caused, and is causing, a whole series of problems for pregnant women and for their unborn children, and we are seeing that it is transmitted by mosquitos, and mosquitos are a serious matter during the summer in Florida. So we are very worried about those funds not being available. There is $500 million dollars available from the Ebola money that was not used. I think it is going to be used immediately, but more funds are needed. I support something being done. We can’t be playing around with these issues, because this can become very serious very quickly, as we have seen in Brazil and other countries. The funds are going to be used at the state level, but it is important for the federal government to cooperate in the federal government’s role. The federal government has the responsibility to protect the nation’s public health, to protect us from foreign threats. And it really is an illness that we are seeing arrive from abroad. So it is a threat to public health, and it is the federal government’s job to cooperate in this. We have seen how it has become a very serious problem in Brazil, in other parts of Latin America, in this hemisphere. During the summer it can arrive very quickly here in south Florida, in the whole state. In a very hot climate in summer, where mosquitos begin to spread very quickly, it’s a very serious threat.
AH: Your Senate term ends in about nine months. What is Marco Rubio, citizen, attorney, father, going to do?
SMR: Well, I really haven’t had time to think about what I’m going to do as a professional attorney. There is no doubt that I am going to try to achieve something positive in the private sector. I think it’s important. I entered politics out of a desire to serve, but I have always really wanted to achieve things in the private sector as well. As a father and a husband, that is my primary obligation, and that will always continue, whether I am in the Senate or out of the Senate. But I still have nine months, and they are nine important months. I have almost the same number of days left as Barack Obama has in the White House. So we are going to stay focused on this job. I am enjoying it a lot. And we are going to see if we can achieve some very good things before the end of the year.
AH: Will we see Marco Rubio returning to the political arena in the future?
SMR: I don’t know. I haven’t thought about aspirations for the future. I like politics, I like serving the public, and we’ll see if God offers us another opportunity in the future.
AH: Thank you very much Senator—
SMR: Thank you very much.
AH: —for this interview, on this first “Al Punto Florida” program. Thank you. And in advance, we want to extend an invitation to you for the future as well.
SMR: Thank you. Thank you very much.
AH: You’re welcome.