Marietta Daily Journal – Rubio’s responses: Presidential hopeful shares thoughts on immigration reform, radical Islam, Atlanta’s growth
Photo from DIS files – billboard erected in May, 2013
Marietta Daily Journal
May 15, 2015
CUMBERLAND — Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio shared with the MDJ on Friday who really benefits when the U.S. does business with Cuba, how to tackle Islamic extremism and what to do about the country’s illegal immigration problem.
Rubio, who is Florida’s junior U.S. senator, was in town for a fundraising luncheon at the Cumberland law firm of Freeman, Mathis and Gary.
Ben Mathis, former chairman of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, described Rubio as a “very genuine person, very down to earth. He speaks a different kind of language as a Republican. He reminds me very much of Ronald Reagan.”
Rubio’s optimistic vision of creating an environment where upward mobility is possible, Mathis said, was refreshing to hear.
“He said it many a time, his parents never had any money and they were very happy. They had a very fulfilling life because they had the opportunity to do what they wanted to do, and you don’t hear that nowadays. Everybody starts talking about Obamacare or whatever it is and the policy issues,” Mathis said.
Yet Mathis also found Rubio to be a policy driven candidate, delivering substantive answers.
“It’s nice to hear a Republican that can actually talk like a real person,” Mathis said. “I went into it with not any intention to say ‘This is my candidate,’ but I came out of it feeling I believe I’m going to be very hard pressed to find anyone else that I would be as impressed with.”
Following the luncheon, which attracted a group of about 50, Rubio shared his thoughts with the MDJ.
Q: Do you feel like voters in next year’s Georgia primary are going to be looking for the absolutely most conservative candidate they can and are you that candidate or will they be looking for something else?
A: Well, first, I think by next year hopefully voters will understand that America is at a hinge moment where it needs to make a decision about whether it’s going to embrace the future or be left behind by it. Over the last 10 years, our economy, and the world, has dramatically transformed and we need transformational leadership to recognize that the old way of doing things on any front no longer works. Now, I believe that the best way forward for this country more than ever is free enterprise and limited government. And so hopefully we will be able to convince voters of that and that’s what they will be looking to reward. So I think that’s traditionally considered conservatism. But beyond it, it’s conservatism applied to the unique challenges of the 21st century. I hope that’s the criteria by which not just I’m judged, but the whole field is judged by.
Q: Should states give driver’s licenses to people who are in the country illegally?
A: I haven’t supported that. I don’t think that’s the right approach. Obviously, every state will make a different decision about it, but in my mind the better approach is to figure out a way forward on immigration, so the states are free to do so, but I don’t necessarily think that at this point providing official government documents to people who are in this country illegally is the right approach. I do think we have to address this issue in general. We’re not going to be able to fix this in a comprehensive fashion. We’re going to have to do it through a sequence of bills that I’ve outlined in the past, and I will be happy to outline again, the security first, the modernization second, and then we will have to deal with the people that are here that fit a certain criteria because we’re not going to round up and deport 12 million people and no one really is calling for that.
Q: Ann Coulter, who was recently in town, said you told Florida voters you opposed amnesty, “then spent three years pushing it.” And anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King says no one who is pro-enforcement on immigration trusts you. What do you say to all that?
A: Well, again, this is an issue that faces both Florida and the country and it needs to be addressed. What we have now is not sustainable not just on illegal immigration, but on legal immigration. We are permitting, we are accepting, a million people a year in this country legally, but we’re doing so largely on the basis of whether or not they have a relative living here. That needs to be changed to what unique skill or economic contribution they can make. We need a legal immigration system that is merit-based, not simply family based. We do need to improve our ability to enforce our immigration laws, because one of the reasons why we have an illegal immigration problem is because we don’t have mechanisms to effectively enforce our laws, particularly the visa overstays, which account now for over half the illegal immigrants, and we have to reasonably deal with the fact that there are 10, 11 million people who have been in this country longer than a decade. They will be here for the rest of their lives, legally or illegally. It behooves the country to know who they are, figure out a way for them to be start paying taxes, pay a fine, learn English and be able to live in the country in a legal status that allows for us to account for that so long as we can ensure that this is never going to happen again. But that issue has to eventually be dealt with. Leaving it the way it is is not good for the country.
Q: What is your objection to deporting the immigrants who are here illegally?
A: It’s not feasible.
Q: Why not?
A: I’ll tell you why not. Because not a single person in the Senate or the House who has opposed any of these immigration efforts has ever proposed or come up with a way of how we’re going to round up and deport 12 million people. It’s just not a feasible thing and the American public won’t tolerate it. What you would have to do in order to carry it out would touch upon the lives of people who are here legally. It would require all sorts of measures that the American people would be incredibly uncomfortable with. It’s just not a reasonable approach and there’s zero political support for it.
Q: Deportation aside, what you described right before that basically amounts to a path to citizenship. And a lot of conservatives down here in Georgia see that as tantamount to a blanket amnesty. How would that position help your chances of winning the primary down here?
A: Well, I don’t know about that. I certainly don’t believe that’s a blanket amnesty. A blanket amnesty is where you decide OK, if you meet a certain criteria we’re going to give you something in exchange for nothing, we’re going to forgive what you’ve done. That’s not what I’ve described. I’ve described a process whereby people who meet a certain criteria, meaning they’ve been in this country a decade or longer, would have to come forward. They would have to pass a background check, and you can make that background test as strict or as lenient as you want. I believe that it needs to be stricter and not more lenient. They’ll have to pay a fine as a consequence of violating the laws. They’ll have to learn English and they’ll have to start paying taxes. In exchange for all that, the only thing they would get is a work permit, and that’s all they would have for at least a decade or longer, and then at some point after that period of time has expired, the only thing they would be allowed to do is apply for a green card. They would have to do it just like anybody else would, including people who are here legally or people that are abroad. And that would also take a significant period of time. Some people argue that all they should ever be allowed to have is a work permit. If that’s the best we can do, I could support a proposal like that. I just certainly don’t believe that it’s good for the country to have 11 or 12 million people here who are here permanently and can never become Americans. But if the only way forward is to limit it to the work permit for the rest of their lives as a consequence of violating their laws that’s certainly better than what we have now.
Q: You said deporting the 12 million would affect people here legally?
A: Yeah, I mean, the sort of enforcement effort that it would take to identify 12 million people and go after them to find them would inevitably touch upon people that are here legally through mistaken identity, through disruption of business, you name it; there’s all sorts of ramifications of doing it. It’s just not a proposal — I’ve never seen a proposal to achieve that. I’ve never seen anyone put forth a proposal that says here’s how you do it. The most people have been able to say in the past is well, we’ll just make it harder to find a job, and I do support E-Verify.
Q: The next president will face an Iran on the brink of going nuclear. I think we agree that’s a bad thing. If Israel at some point goes it alone and attacks Iran to block its nuclear program, what would be your reaction?
A: Well, first, I believe that that is in fact one of the reasons why this deal is going to turn out to be so disastrous. It almost guarantees the prospect of war. Because Israel is going to act in its own self-defense, and it is believed that Iran is reaching a point of immunity where Israel’s capabilities cannot reach Iran’s nuclear capabilities they could very well act. They view it as an existential threat, and they should. I always believe that the United States should be firmly on the side of Israel in its effort to defend itself, and I think that’s one of the things the president is endangering, so I’m not necessarily calling on Israel to conduct military strikes, but I’m certainly saying that if Israel were to do so because they conclude that it is in their national security interest, the U.S. would have no choice but to stand with Israel. We certainly aren’t going to side against them on behalf of the Iranian ayatollah.
Q: Are we spending enough on our military? Which programs/weapons would you like to see enhanced, or perhaps cut?
A: I think the world is safer when America is the strongest military power in the world and the fact there is an effort by a national security panel, a bipartisan panel, that looked at the risks that we’re going to face over the next two decades and from it set out some very specific recommendations that are encapsulated in Secretary (Robert) Gates’ budget numbers from 2012, and that’s what I’m calling us to fund and that includes a number of projects. That includes the replacement of the Ohio-class submarines, that includes arriving at a new generation long-range bomber, that includes a new generation strike fighter, that includes an increase in our ability for laser technology to help us defend from anti-aircraft missiles and rockets that the Chinese are developing, but that also requires us to enhance cyber capabilities and intelligence programs. We need to always know more about our enemies than they know about us.
Q: It seems whenever someone draws a picture of Muhammad or writes about him these days, either an attempt on his life is made or some ayatollah sentences him to death. Do we acquiesce and just bow to their demands to censor ourselves?
A: No, on the contrary I think it actually highlights that this is not just a grievance-based difference between radical Islam and the West, which unfortunately is what some on the left actually believe. They believe — this president shows signs of that — believing that the reason we have problems in the Middle East is because we’ve done something wrong that’s aggrieved them, and if we’d just stop doing it they’ll be nicer to us. That’s what he thought his speech in Cairo would be able to heal. That’s what he thought all this outreach to Iran would be able to deal with, that’s why he believes that Guantanamo is the reason why people become radicalized. The reason why they’re attacking us is ideologically based. Because in our society we believe people have a right to express themselves even if what they’re expressing we find to be repugnant, they have a right to express themselves, and we certainly don’t believe that the consequences of it should be your death, and their view of the world is extremely different. They don’t just believe that people that offend them deserve to die. They believe that people that do not convert to their faith deserve to die, as was seen with the Sunni slaughter of Shia. ISIS is a Sunni group. And they slaughter Shia because they don’t consider the Shia to be real Islam, not to mention what they did to the Christians there and others. So it’s just a clash of civilizations.
Q: If elected, how will you reverse the tide of radical Islamic fundamentalism that seems to be spreading?
A:Well, first, you cannot allow them the safe havens from which to organize and conduct attacks. Every major terrorist attack, every major jihadist organization, needs a safe haven to operate from. That’s how al-Qaida was able to conduct 9/11, because they had a safe haven in Afghanistan. That’s how ISIS was able to grow because they had a safe haven in Syria. That’s why I’ve often advocated getting involved early in conflict to prevent those safe havens from emerging. Once they do, you have to strike them in those safe havens. Today, those safe havens located in Libya, they’re located in Syria, they’re located in Iraq, and we should be targeting those with counter terrorism activity. We’re doing a little bit of it obviously with the airstrikes with Syria and Iraq, but we need to start thinking seriously about targeting ISIS in Libya, because they’re conducting attacks on the Sinai from there, and it’s become one of their premier operational places. So I think we need to have robust intelligence capabilities, which is why extending the Patriot Act is so important. We need to know more about them than they ever know about us and that’s become more challenging after (NSA leaker Edward) Snowden, because they’ve learned the way we gather intelligence and they’ve been increasingly able to evade it. And the third point is we need to take very seriously the homegrown element. It’s no longer just an individual that travels abroad and comes
back to carry out attacks. It is now individuals that never travel abroad or are simply inspired by propaganda online and take action, and now we’re required to gather information on them — social media and other methods — but eventually we’re going to miss someone and then people are going to ask why didn’t we know. And it cannot be because we’ve dismantled our intelligence-gathering capability.
Q: Your former colleague, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, said yesterday in Marietta that “we are kidding ourselves if we think it is in our best interest to have full trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba in the short term.” Do you agree?
A: I think he’s right. He’s right. First of all, there’s no such thing as a Cuban economy. The entire Cuban economy is operated by a holding company run by Raul Castro’s son-in-law. So when we’re talking about more trade with Cuba, what we’re talking about is more trade with the Cuban military. And all of that is going to go through the filter of their own hands. They’re going to choose what comes in and they’re going to choose what goes to the people. And largely their interest is not benefiting the people. Their interest is in solidifying power for another generation. Second, it does not behoove the United States to have 90 miles from its shores an anti-American dictatorship that sponsors intelligence facilities used by the Chinese and the Russians and which is the third most active intelligence agency against us, who harbors fugitives of American justice, including dozens of fugitives and a cop killer from New Jersey, and a country who helps North Korea evade sanctions, as evidenced by a ship that left the port of Mariel or Havana last year and was intercepted in the Panama Canal, destined for North Korea with weapons that were in violation of the UN sanctions on North Korea. I think a better approach would be to condition U.S. policy changes on political changes on the island of Cuba.
Q: In the wake of the George Stephanopoulos scandal, do you believe you can get a fair shake from ABC News? Do you feel like he was fair to you in the past?
A: I feel that George Stephanopoulos has been fair to us in the past. I personally have never had a negative interaction with him or the feeling that he’s asked me anything unfair or improper. That said, obviously, we know what we know and it does cause questions, but I personally have never had any reason to question his ability to be an effective journalist in the times I’ve interacted with him.
Q: You just attended a fundraising event at Ben Mathis’s law firm in Cobb County. What are your thoughts on this area?
A:Well, we’ve only been here a few hours so obviously there’s a lot more for us to learn. I’m familiar somewhat every now and then with some of the issues that impact the state simply because my time in the state Legislature in Florida; our sessions overlapped so we would from time to time follow some of the issues that were going on, but the one thing that I would just say in general about the Atlanta metropolitan area is how fast it’s growing. I personally — this is anecdotal — but I personally just over the last five years know about a dozen personal friends or former classmates or others that have moved to the area. There’s a lot of growth and activity happening, you have a very strong corporate headquarter presence, some very strong colleges and universities that are feeding into creating a workforce capable of sustaining these industries, so I certainly think Georgia in general and the Atlanta metropolitan area in particular have some tremendous amount of economic progress for the future.
Q: What are your thoughts on Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue?
A: Johnny Isakson is one of the most respected members of the Senate. And I know that because the few times where he needs to speak up on something, everyone listens. He’s a high quality person, deeply respected on both sides. I can’t say enough about him. Perdue is on the Foreign Relations Committee and he doesn’t have a deep background on foreign relations and just his growth in the last three months on the questions he’s asking. He comes to all of the hearings. For example, I have a subcommittee that I chair on the Western Hemisphere and usually it was just me and (Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob) Menendez that would show up for those hearings. He shows up for all of them. He asks good questions, he’s prepared. And that was that way from the first week. I was really impressed with the time he’s putting into the committee assignments and the work that he’s doing at that level. It shows a tremendous amount of professionalism and bodes well for his future.
Q: Mitt Romney is fighting Evander Holyfield for charity tonight. Who are you pulling for?
A: (Laughs). I like them both, actually. I think Evander Holyfield’s a great story, but if you want to talk about an underdog story, I’m sure Vegas isn’t allowing any gambling on that because I don’t know how you could do that. But you know, it would be great to see Mitt win.