(Last Sunday John Dickerson, moderator of CBS “Face the Nation,” interviewed presidential contender Marco Rubio and the exchange follows. The transcript of the entire program is here. – Admin.)
Turning now to the race for the Republican nomination, yesterday, we sat down with Florida Senator Marco Rubio out on the campaign trail in Des Moines.
DICKERSON: Senator, I want to start with the news that the United States is sending 50 special operations forces into Syria. Is that enough? RUBIO: Well, it’s an important start to what I think, from a tactical perspective — I think the broader issue is, what is the strategy?
And I think the strategy has to involve more coordination with the Kurds and also with Sunnis, because you’re not going to defeat ISIS, a radical Sunni movement, without a robust anti-ISIS Sunni coalition.
So, I do think it’s important tactical step forward. It needs to be backed up with increased airstrikes and so forth. So, I don’t have a problem with the tactics of it. And the numbers might even have to be larger at some point. But I think the bigger issue is, can they arrive at a strategy?
And that’s what I think administration is still struggling to outline.
DICKERSON: We’re going to have special forces in Syria, but the Russians are also operating in Syria. Do you worry that there’s any conflict, potential problem there?
RUBIO: Well, there is always that potential. It’s one of the things that concerns us, is that there is an airstrike of some sort that may end up hitting forces that are — Americans are embedded alongside.
Again, that is one of the issues that is deeply concerning about miscalculation. But on the other hand, ISIS will not be defeated unless they are confronted by an organized anti-ISIS Sunni movement. And that won’t happen without American assistance at some significant level, like what you’re seeing proposed now.
DICKERSON: Donald Trump says, no American assistance. He says let the Russians fight ISIS and that’s fine with us.
RUBIO: Well, the problem with it is, number one, the Russians aren’t necessarily targeting ISIS right now. They’re targeting non- ISIS rebels, and it’s part of an effort to wipe out any non-ISIS fighters on the ground, so they can turn to the world and say that the only choices are either Assad or ISIS.
And the second point is that the growth of ISIS will continue in Iraq. They are spread now into Libya, where they have become a very significant presence, increasingly in Afghanistan as well. And they are using all these operating bases not simply to conduct regional efforts, but also to grow, recruit people online to attack us here in the United States.
DICKERSON: How much should the United States should be worried, American voters be worried about the Russian presence in the Middle East, increased presence in Syria?
RUBIO: Well, their goals are very different than ours. Their goals are primarily threefold. One are domestic for Russia. He wants to — Putin wants to be viewed as an important international leader on par of with the United States. Part of it is about deflecting attention away from Ukraine. But part of it is about becoming a regional power that replaces the United States in terms of the power broker in the region and its direction.
And his interests at the end of the day are largely to prop up Assad, who has provided for them a foothold into the region. And so they are stepping into vacuum we have left behind. In an ideal world, you would be able to work with Russia to defeat radical jihadists. But that’s not their goal immediately. Their immediate goal is the propping up of Assad, because it’s a client state for them.
DICKERSON: Let’s switch now to talking about executive experience. In 2008, Republicans running talking about the Democrats that were running, there were some senators running, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, constantly I heard Republicans say they have never run as much as a lemonade stand. They don’t have executive experience. They haven’t met a payroll. They haven’t governed.
Why doesn’t that apply to you now as a candidate?
Well, first of all, the presidency is not a bookkeeping job. It’s not some glorified accounting job. It is the leader of the United States, both of its people and of the nation and of the government. And the job of a president is to craft a vision for America’s future, to put the right people in the right position and hold them accountable for carrying out your agenda, but also to rally the country behind big causes.
Entitlement reform is a huge undertaking. It will never happen without presidential leadership, not to mention national security. The role of commander in chief is the most important job of a president.
In the context of Barack Obama, he has now been president for seven years. He has significant executive experience, and he’s still making mistakes, in my opinion. And so it’s clear that the issue with him is not that he didn’t have executive experience. It’s that his ideas do not work.
And that’s why I think it’s important to elect someone to the presidency with the right ideas, ideas that allow private sector to succeed, because that’s where you get job creation and economic prosperity, but also someone that understands the risks in the world today and what America’s role in the world needs to be.
DICKERSON: But I guess when — and this is obviously something your opponents are bringing up.
Jeb Bush has said in a fund-raising appeal — he says you have no credible experience beyond governing. I guess the question is, have you been in a position where you have had to make tough calls, where there are real consequences? And where do you get that strength from when you — if you were to make the presidency, where you be in those kind of decisions all day long?
RUBIO: It is true that the presidency is not like being a U.S. senator. But it’s also not like being governor.
There is no office in the world like the United States presidency. What I have shown over last five years especially is judgment, good judgment, and understanding of the major issues before America, particularly on foreign policy.
I do not believe there’s anyone else in this race that has shown better judgment on the issues before America today than I have and a better understanding of them, especially on the foreign policy realm, which is at the end of the day the most important obligation of a president.
Presidents don’t run the economy. What you do is promote policies that allow the private sector to succeed.
DICKERSON: The Bush campaign called you the Republican Obama. Is that an insult or a compliment?
RUBIO: Well, I don’t think they mean it as compliment, and I certainly wouldn’t take it as that.
Look, campaigns are going to say whatever they think gives them an advantage. And obviously someone has convinced Jeb that attacking me is going to help his campaign. It won’t change the way we run our campaign. We are going to continue to give people a serious candidacy that is optimistic, but also realistic about America’s future, about our challenges, about the direction our country needs to go.
That’s what I’m going to focus on. And if someone else chooses to go in a different direction, I think it’s one of the reasons why Barack Obama was reelected in 2012, because too many candidates spent a tremendous amount of time attacking fellow Republicans and really undermining Mitt Romney before he was even the nominee. I hope we don’t repeat that mistake in 2016.
DICKERSON: You mentioned Jeb Bush. And in the debate, there was this big moment between the two of you. He mentioned your missing votes in the Senate. He said, as a constituent, he wanted you to be there more.
You came back at him not just on substance, but you questioned his motives. You basically said, you’re just doing it because your advisers have told you. Is there nothing genuine in his critique of you in your attendance in the Senate?
RUBIO: Well, there’s no record of having criticized anyone else in the past that’s found themselves in the same position.
The truth is, I don’t like missing votes. But what I would really hate is to wake up on the first Wednesday of November to the news that Hillary Clinton has been elected president of the United States. So, we’re going to continue to serve the people of Florida.
We have a — we do, I think, a very good job in our offices of serving our constituents and their interaction with government. We will most certainly be there for most votes and many votes. There will be some I will miss. And I will miss them because I’m campaigning so that in the future those votes actually mean something.
Far too many votes today in the Senate are predetermined. We know what the outcome is going to be. It’s being done for messaging purposes, but it’s never going to pass, because even if you could find enough votes to pass it, the president would veto it.
I want to become president so we can actually start turning some of these ideas into law, into policy. And so when we’re away, that’s what we’re doing.
DICKERSON: Was Jeb Bush your mentor?
RUBIO: He was a big part a — I don’t know about labels like that, he was most certainly a big part of my career.
And I have tremendous admiration. I said that at the debate.
RUBIO: You’re never going to hear me bad-mouth him.
He was a great governor of Florida. He’s someone I have tremendous personal affection for. My issue is not with Jeb Bush. I’m running for president because I honestly believe that our party and our country needs to turn the page and allow people, a new generation of leadership that understands the issues before America now.
I know there are people running that have more experience than I do on the issues we faced 17 years ago. But on the issues before America today, that’s what we should be debating. And I just don’t believe there’s anyone else running who has better understanding of the issues before us now than I do.
DICKERSON: Are people wrong who say that the reason that was such a moment for you in the debate is because you’re — you have this relationship, this friendship with him and you could basically call him on his motives, and that that created this drama that everybody is talking about? People who support you say you put Jeb Bush in his place.
RUBIO: Well, I don’t know.
He said something. I had to respond. And I feel obviously what I said is something that I believe. I do believe that Jeb has been convinced by people around him that he needs to attack me in order to be more successful. I don’t personally agree with it, but I’m not running his campaign. What I control is my campaign. My campaign is not going to be attacking him or any other Republican. If there are policy differences, we should debate those. That’s a legitimate issue.
But I’m not going to bad-mouth other Republicans. I want to be the nominee. But someone on that stage is going to be the Republican nominee. I don’t want to do anything that makes it easier for Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democrat nominee is to defeat the Republican, because we truly, as a nation, cannot afford another four years like the last eight.
DICKERSON: Let me ask you on the Senate attendance question, in Iowa, the Senate campaign there, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee ran a bunch of ads against the Democrat, saying he missed a bunch of votes. And it was devastating for him.
Do you worry about, if it worked against the Democrat in that state, that it could cause you any political…
RUBIO: I’m not a political strategist. I’m a candidate.
I can tell you what would hurt me more. And that is never coming to Iowa and interacting with the voters here. And I think people understand that if I do miss a vote, it’s not because I’m on vacation. It’s because I’m here interacting with the voters, in the hopes that this they will give me a chance to be the Republican nominee and the president.
Again, unfortunately, in the Senate today, the majority of votes that are taken are not going to pass. They’re being voted on for messaging purposes, and important messaging purposes in many cases.
I’m running for president so that, in the future, when we vote to repeal Obamacare or reallocate the money from Planned Parenthood to another entity, we can actually turn that into policy, into law.
DICKERSON: All right, Senator Marco Rubio, thanks so much.
RUBIO: Thank you. Thank you.