Sen. Marco Rubio Hopes For A Congress 'Whose Work Is Relevant' To Americans

Jan 1, 2015
Originally published on January 1, 2015 5:37 am

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is spending the holidays thinking about his future. Rubio was a prominent member of the contentious Congress that just ended. Some analysts labeled it the "worst Congress ever."

Shortly, Republicans will take control of both chambers. The new Congress, Rubio hopes, will be seen as "one whose work is relevant to people's daily lives."

"And right now, across America, that is, people that are reading all this news about how great the economy is doing, but they're not feeling it," he tells NPR.

Rubio has tried to make economic opportunity a signature issue as he considers a presidential run. He has also been associated with immigration reform — though a reform measure he once supported died in the last Congress, like so much else.

He's hoping for better results in 2015, on a range of issues at home and abroad. That will depend in part on how the Republican Congress works, or doesn't work, with the Democrat in the White House. Rubio spoke with NPR about that relationship, the president's executive action on immigration, U.S. sanctions on Iran and the possibility of a 2016 run for the White House.


Interview Highlights

On President Obama's comment that he may have to use the veto pen

Well, we certainly have different ideas about how to solve problems, and so I think you're certainly going to see that. And that's not unique — other presidents have had to do that as well. And that's certainly within his power to obstruct the movement of legislation.

There are some bills where I think he won't be able to do that on — for example, sanctions on Iran. I think we'll have a supermajority, a veto-proof majority to impose additional sanctions on Iran and to require the administration to come before Congress for approval of any deal that he has with Iran. I think the same is true for the Keystone pipeline, potentially.

On the possibility of the U.S. imposing additional sanctions on Iran

I don't believe there is a prospect for a deal with Iran. ... First of all, we have to understand that the negotiators are not the decision-makers in Iran. They have to come back to the supreme leader, and I'm fairly confident that the supreme leader in Iran, and others around him, have made the decision that the purpose of these negotiations were to buy time, to make progress on their nuclear program.

We've waited for more than months — we've waited now for close to, over a year — and really no serious progress has been made. On the contrary, a number of concessions have been made by the United States. In fact, now the U.S. has conceded the right to enrich or reprocess. And if you give them the right to enrich or reprocess at any level, that infrastructure could very easily be ramped up in the future to produce a nuclear-grade uranium or plutonium.

On Obama's executive action on immigration and what the president has called a "nativist trend in parts of the Republican Party"

First of all, I think the use of "nativist" to describe opposition to his form of immigration reform is inaccurate and unwise. I think there are very legitimate reasons to believe that this country has a right to have immigration laws and have those laws respected. A million people a year come to the U.S. legally, and there aren't any voices saying that that should be stopped.

Now, there are voices, including my own, saying that how we immigrate to the U.S. should be reformed. It should be more of a merit-based system instead of a family-based system because of the dramatic economic changes that we've had in the 21st century, where it's difficult for low-skilled workers to find jobs.

On a possible 2016 presidential run

First, let me say I have tremendous respect for Gov. [Jeb] Bush, and I've said repeatedly if he runs he'll be a very credible candidate. Potentially the front-runner, at least in the early stages, because of all the strengths and advantages that he brings to the process. As far as, you know, speculating about whether two people from the same state can run, it's not unprecedented. We certainly know a lot of the same people, we also know some different people. The decision I have to make is: Where is the best place for me to serve America to carry out this agenda that I have to restore the American dream given the dramatic economic changes we've had in the 21st century? Where is the best place for me to achieve that? Is it in the Republican majority in the Senate or is it as a candidate, and ultimately as president of the United States? If I decide it's as president, then that's what I'm going to do irrespective of who else might be running.

This is not a gut decision, this is one that one needs to make obviously on the basis of facts and reality. And so I haven't made a decision yet on it; I don't have a date in mind or a time frame in mind, but certainly soon. We're closer to a decision than we were a month ago.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is spending the holidays thinking of his future. Rubio was a prominent member of the contentious Congress that just ended. Some analysts gave it a label as the worst Congress ever. In a few days, Republicans take control of both chambers, which raised a question when we reached Senator Rubio on the phone.

What is a label that you would like the new Congress to have?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, I would hope it would be a Congress that would be seen as one whose work is relevant to people's daily lives. And right now across America, that is people that are reading all this news about how great the economy is doing, but they're not feeling it.

INSKEEP: Rubio has tried to make economic opportunity a signature issue as he considers a presidential run. He has also been associated with immigration reform, though a reform measure he once supported died in the last Congress, like so much else. Rubio is hoping for better results in 2015 on a range of issues at home and abroad, although much depends on the politics and that will turn in part on how the Republican Congress works or does not work with the Democrat in the White House.

In his year-ending interview with this program, President Obama said that he may have to use his veto pen. Do you anticipate sending the present legislation he doesn't like?

RUBIO: Well, we certainly have different ideas about how to solve problems, and so I think you're certainly going to see that. And that's not unique. Other presidents have had to that as well, and that's certainly within his power to obstruct the movement of legislation. There are some bills where I think he won't be able to do that on, for example, sanctions on Iran. I think we'll have supermajority, a veto-proof majority, to impose additional sanctions on Iran and to require the administration to come before Congress for approval of any deal that he has with Iran. I think the same is true for the Keystone pipeline, potentially.

INSKEEP: I want to remind people the United States in the middle of nuclear negotiations with Iran. They've been repeatedly extended. Would you be willing to push for additional sanctions on Iran even knowing that that might destroy prospects for a deal with Iran?

RUBIO: Yes, because I don't believe there is a prospect for a deal with Iran. First of all, we have to understand that the negotiators are not the decision-makers in Iran. They have to come back to the supreme leader, and I'm fairly confident that the supreme leader in Iran and others around him have made the decision that the purpose of these negotiations were to buy time to make progress on their nuclear program.

INSKEEP: So do you wait a few months for the negotiations to take their course or go right away toward an additional sanctions bill knowing that might wreck the talks?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I'd say we've waited for more than months. We've waited now for close to over a year, and really no serious progress has been made. And on the contrary, a number of concessions has been made by the United States. In fact, now the U.S. has conceded the right to enrich or reprocess, and if you give them the right to enrich or reprocess at any level, that infrastructure could very easily be ramped up in the future to produce a nuclear-grade uranium or plutonium.

Second, I would say that probably the first vote will be something that will require any deal to come before Congress for approval, the way a treaty would. Additional sanctions will probably be put in as being triggered by a failure to reach an ultimate agreement. That's my sense of how this is shaping up. Of course, there are other opinions here about how we should move forward.

INSKEEP: So it sounds like your sense is then, Senator, that you would let the negotiations play out, however skeptical you are, but Congress might say to the president, look, we expect you to come to us for approval.

RUBIO: Well, I'm prepared to vote for additional sections today. I'm not sure that's the majority position. I think it could be, but I think that's something we'll have to debate.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about immigration, Senator Rubio, because President Obama spoke of his executive action that allows temporary legal status for millions of people. The president now says he does want Congress to finally act on immigration reform. Let's listen to little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Does it spur them to work once again with Democrats in my administration to get a reasonable piece of legislation done, or does it simply solidify what I do think is a nativist trend in parts of the Republican Party? And if it's the latter, then probably we're not going to get much more progress done, and it'll be a major debate in the next presidential election.

INSKEEP: Senator Rubio, do you see it as the president sees it?

RUBIO: I don't. First of all, I think the use of nativists to describe opposition to his form of immigration reform is inaccurate and unwise. I think they are very legitimate reasons to believe that this country has a right to have immigration laws and to have those laws respected. A million people a year come to the U.S. legally, and there aren't any voices out there saying that that should be stopped.

Now, there are voices, including my own, saying that how we immigrate to the U.S. should be reformed. It should be more of a merit-based system and less of a family-based system because of the dramatic economic changes that we've had in the 21st century, where it's difficult for low-skill workers to find jobs.

INSKEEP: There certainly are people that we have interviewed in our travels around the country who express concern about immigration and how it is changing the United States. They express attitudes that you could describe as nativist, I would think. Is that actually a small part, at least, in your view of the Republican Party, and does that complicate your efforts?

RUBIO: Yeah, I believe it's a very small part of the Republican Party. I believe it's a very small part of the American people. The vast majority of people I've spoken to just want to see our laws enforced. And that's the point that's not talked about enough. No one has a right to illegally immigrate to this country, and what - what we're being asked to do here is to ignore the fact that we have immigration laws because of the human aspects of the story. So certainly there are compelling humanitarian stories and exceptions made to some of those, especially when it comes to political asylum or people fleeing near certainty of death. But we also have a country that has to apply immigration laws, and the vast majority of people I've talked to, that's all they're asking for is for us to have an immigration system that functions and that works.

INSKEEP: Although, if we think about what happened in the last Congress, ultimately Republicans could not agree among themselves on immigration bills that they could support. Why do you think the Republican Party is having such trouble making up its collective mind?

RUBIO: Well, actually, it's a pretty straightforward disagreement. There are those who - they're open to doing the sorts of things we talked about with regards to those who have been here illegally for a long period of time. But they don't believe we should do anything about that until first illegal immigration is brought under control.

And the reason they believe that is two-fold - one, because they've been made promises in the past that enforcement would happen in exchange for some form of amnesty, and the amnesty happened but the enforcement never came. And the other is because they fear that the announcement of these changes in our immigration laws would spur people to try to come into the U.S. illegally, and they point to crisis we had on the border over the summer with - young people in Central America were misinformed by trafficking gangs that somehow the U.S. had created new laws that allowed them to come and stay. And I think that's what the disagreement has been, is based on the bill we passed out of the Senate didn't have enough guarantees that the enforcement would happen.

INSKEEP: That's Florida Senator Marco Rubio in our first political talk of 2015. Rubio is considering a run for president, and we ask him about that elsewhere in today's program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.