Florida Senate Debate: Transcript Part I

By Kate McCarthy

Oct 6, 2010 10:55pm

Here is part one of ABC News' Florida Senate debate:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
And hello, everyone, I’m George Stephanopoulos of ABC.  Coming to you from Orlando at the studios of WFTV Channel 9 Eyewitness News.  We are here for debate between Florida’s three Senate candidates.  It’s being broadcast live on ABC stations across this state.  Also on ABCNews.com and on Facebook.  This is the first primetime debate for the three candidates,Marco Rubio, Kendrick Meek, and Charlie Crist.  And joining me to moderate, our Craig Patrick from our host station.  Also Brendan McLaughlin from ABC Action News Tampa Bay.  Welcome to all of you.  We’ve got a pretty loose format.

Tonight, we’re gonna have rounds of questions where each candidate has 60 seconds to respond and the others will have 30 seconds for rebuttal.  But we’re all gonna, you know, make sure y’all mix it up.  Make sure all the questions are answered and are engaged.  We are gonna begin with opening
statements.  You all drew for the order.  And Governor Crist, you go first.

CHARLIE CRIST:
Thank you very much.  I’m running for the United States Senate as an Independent, because I think Washington is broken.  And we need a change of tone in our nation’s capital to get it back working for you.  Abraham Lincoln once said that the government should be "Of the people, by the
people, and for the people."  I believe that’s true.  Not "of the party, by the party, and for the party."  That’s why I run as an Independent.

It’s abundantly clear to me that there’s an extreme right faction in the Republican Party.  And I think that I’m only the candidate who can both win in November and crash that Tea Party in Washington.  It’s time to have common sense back in our nation’s capital to fight for our fellow Floridians.  You know I will do it, because I’ve done it as your Governor.  When the extreme right wanted to punish teachers and schoolchildren with a bill this past legislative session, I vetoed that bill to stop it for you.

When the extreme right wanted to change the way that women would be able to make a decision about their own life, and force them to get an ultrasound, force them to pay for it, force them to view it and then be lectured on it, it was too much to the right.  And I used this veto pen, and I stopped it, too.  I’ve done it as your Governor.  I’ll do it as your Senator.  When the extreme right said that they wanted to raise the age of eligibility and restructure how Social Security is distributed to our senior citizens, I said, "No way."

If you want a new voice in Washington.  If you want a better way.  Somebody who will fight for you, the people of our state, instead of the respective parties that my opponents are in.  Then I would ask for your vote on November 2nd for your next U.S. Senate member.  Thank you.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Mr. Meek.

KENDRICK MEEK:
Thank you, George, Brendan, and Craig.  Thank you.  And I want to thank all the ABC affiliates for all the work that you’ve done to put on this debate.  My name’s Kendrick Meek.  I’m running to be your next United States Senator.  And I think Floridians are going to have to take a stand in this election over the next several weeks.  If you want a United States Senator that’s going to stand with oil companies and the special interests.  And will stand with health care companies to deny you of health care.  Then you should vote for Marco Rubio.

If you want someone who’s going to stand by and be a very weak, United States Senator.  That will not speak up when it’s time to speak up.  Then you need to vote for Governor Crist.  But if you want a candidate and a United States Senator that will stand with you against oil companies, not allowing them to drill off the coast of Florida.  As I have done.  Because I am the only one that’s sitting at this table, who has– who’s done it.

Or if you want someone who’s gonna stand by the decisions that have been made as it relates to health care.  That insurance companies don’t drop you in your greatest time of need.  Then you’re looking at the candidate that will stand up for you.  If you want to make sure that we create jobs in here in Florida, and working with local leaders in making sure that we come up with real solutions that are gonna create jobs now and not later, then you’re looking at your candidate.

If you’re gonna look– if you’re looking for a United States Senator that will stand up for the middle class.  And making sure that the middle class get tax cuts.  And not grab onto the ideology that my other two opponents have embraced their entire political career, that special interests and– and– and the super wealthy in this country, somehow the dollars are gonna trickle down to the middle class.  Then you’re looking at the candidate that’s going to stand on behalf of the middle class and create jobs in this state.  I look forward to this debate.  I hope that you can make a sound decision as we continue to move forward to November the 2nd.  Thank you.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Debate has already started.  Mr. Rubio.

MARCO RUBIO:
Thank you.  Thank you guys for hosting this debate and everyone who’s watching.  You know, America’s the greatest country in the history of the world.  That didn’t happen by accident.  And it’s not going to continue automatically.  What’s made America great is that every generation of Americans before us have confronted and solved the great challenges of their time.

And because they did, each generation of American has inherited a better life and a better country.  But it’s also not gonna continue automatically that way.  If we want it to be great, we’re gonna have to do the same.  We must confront the challenges of our time.  And that’s what this election is about.  The challenges we face in this nation are extraordinary.  And the direction that Washington is taking us is the wrong one.  They’re taking us, for example, in the direction that will double our national debt in five years and triple it in ten.

And so, what this race is about here in Florida is very simple.  Do you want to stay on that road?  Or do you want to go to a better direction?  A direction that will allow us to keep America where it deserves to be.  The greatest nation in all of human history.  That’s the choice here in Florida.  And it’s very simple.  If you like the way things are going in Washington.  If you support the direction that Washington’s taking America.  Then I’m probably not your candidate.  There are two other people running for U.S. Senate who support the direction Washington is going.

But if you want your next U.S. Senator to be someone that will stand up to the direction that Washington is taking our country and offer a very clear alternative.  An alternative that will allow us to leave our children with what they deserve, the greatest nation in human history.  Well, I’m the only one running that will do that.  And that’s why I’m asking for your vote.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Okay, gentlemen, thank you very much.  Let’s begin the questioning, Mr. Rubio.  You get the first question.  It’s about Social Security, an important issue– to Floridians.  One in six Flo– Floridians receive Social Security.  And– and Governor Crist put out a tough new ad yesterday that suggests your openness to reforms like raising the retirement age and recalculating the…quote– "make people work hard and longer for their money and balance the budget on the backs of seniors."  Your response?

MARCO RUBIO:
My response is that it’s blatantly untrue.  And I think it’s important to point that out first and foremost.  Every idea that I’ve ever advocated for Social Security would not impact a single senior in Florida.  That is no one who’s over 55 years of age or older would be impacted by any of the ideas that I’ve put forth.  You know, one of those seniors, Governor Crist, that’s out there is my mother.  She’s 80 years old this month.  She depends on Social Security.  It is her primary source of income.

And for you to suggest that I would somehow advocate ideas that would harm her is outrageous.  And a blatant untruth.  It’s not true.  It’s a lie.  Now, here’s what I do know, George.  Social Security’s in a lot of trouble.  Governor Crist, in May, you said so yourself.  Social Security will soon– is already paying out more than it takes in.  Every year, the Congress, which Congressman Meek is a part of, goes in and takes the surplus and raises it.  And they use it to pay for other things.

And the result is that soon, as more people retire, and there are less workers to pay for it, we’re gonna run into a big problem in Social Security.  So, there have to be answers to that problem.  And I’ve proposed some.  Now, if they’ve got better ideas about how to save Social Security, they should offer them.  They shouldn’t lie about my record.  They shouldn’t lie about my ideas.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
He just called you a liar three times.

CHARLIE CRIST:
Unbelievable.  His– it was his own words that actually said what he would do with Social Security.  He talked about raising the age of eligibility.  Said it was on the table.  He said he would restructure how Social Security is delivered to our people.  He’s talked about privatization.  He’s been all over the map on this issue of Social Security.

Now, I understand that he may not like what he said before and he’s trying to run away from it.  But the facts are the facts and facts are stubborn things.  This is what was said.  This is what he said to the people of Florida.  Now, when he was, you know, still running– and hadn’t achieved the nomination yet, he had all this hard right stuff that he wanted to talk about all the time.  And now he’s changed course because we have 26 days to go in this election.

But I stand by the ad.  It is truthful.  It is straightforward.  It is honest.  And the people of Florida have a right to know what Marco Rubio would do.  He would put raising the age of eligibility on the table.  He would privatizing Social Security on the table.  I’m the only one in this race who has said that I will protect and preserve Social Security as we know it today.  My other opponent, the good Congressman, said that he wants to punt it to a commission.  And we all know what happens every time you send it to a commission.

They raise the age of eligibility and restructure how Social Security is delivered.  It was a promise that was made to you.  A promise that would make– was made to seniors in our state and throughout the country.  A promise that I believe needs to be honored and respected.  And if I’m elected to the Senate, I’ll do just that for you.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Mr. Meek, who’s right here?

KENDRICK MEEK:
Well, I can tell you one thing.  If you want to talk about ads, I was the first one to put out an ad saying that I– I’m the only one that fought against the privatization of Social Security always.  Mr. Rubio talked about private accounts in January.  Mr. Crist talks– was on the stage with George W. Bush in ’06 when he was talking about privatization of Social Security.  And when he ran in ’98 against– Governor Graham, Senator Graham, saying that we should privatize some of Social Security.

I am the only one that fought against George W. Bush when he wanted to privatize Social Security in Congress.  I am the only one that has stood against private accounts here.  I think it’s important– when we look at this issue of Social Security at who’s telling the truth here.  Mr. Rubio was– very interesting to see his people kind of spin this whole thing that it’s come and gone, this whole private accounts discussion.  But he signed pledges that said that he’s willing to privatize Social Security.

Charlie Crist has a funding source that’s really– bizarre.  Saying that we’re going to legalize (UNINTEL) and then we’re gonna pay for it Social Security trust funds– through that effort.  I’m saying, let’s expand the middleclass workforce so that we can pay into Social Security that will resolve two issues.  One, put Floridians back to work.  Two, make sure that seniors and those that are under 55 or whatever the magic number is, that Rob– Marco Rubio’s talking about.  That’s working hard every day.  Paying into the trust fund.  That we don’t change the game on them in the middle of the game.

I think it’s very, very important to know– George, that there’s only one candidate here that has a track record of standing up for Social Security.  And I’m gonna tell you– I’m gonna say this to every Floridian.  If they want to change Social Security, they’re gonna have to go through me.  I’m 6-3, former State Trooper.  Used to be a football player.  And I think it’s important that we don’t allow this kind of political tailspin on this issue for 40 percent of Floridians.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
I want to move on–
(OVERTALK)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Let’s– let’s try to wrap this up and then move on to the next round of questioning.  On the question of privatization, you’ve raised some charges, as well.  And I just want a yes or no answer.  Is it still on the table?

MARCO RUBIO:
It is not.  Because it doesn’t work.  Because you’re taking payers out of the sys.  And I said that in March, by the way, in a debate.  Governor Crist was sitting right next to me.  I said it to the Wall Street Journal.  But once again, the Governor’s mischaracterized my position.  He’s saying that this impacts seniors.  Not a single senior watching this program would be impacted by any of the changes that I’ve discussed.  Not one.

CHARLIE CRIST:
Let’s be perfectly clear, if we could, about what Marco Rubio has said about Social Security.  Unlike what– Congressman Meek has said.  He has said that he would raise the age of eligibility.  He’s said that.  "You gotta put it on the table."  He said everything should be on the table.  And– and if he wants to deny it tonight, so be it.  But those are the facts.  And that’s what he said about this issue.  I’m the only one who said that we need to protect and preserve it as it is today.

KENDRICK MEEK:
For clarification purposes, George, since we’re clarifying.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Ten seconds.

KENDRICK MEEK:
Marco Rubio has said he’s open to privatization of Social Security.  Charlie Crist has said that he is open to privatization of Social Security.  Both have plans to do so.  I am the only candidate here that is saying no to privatization of Social Security.

MARCO RUBIO:
But George, we still haven’t heard an idea about how to save the system.

KENDRICK MEEK:
How about expanding the middleclass workforce?  How about an idea of standing up for the middle class?  I mean, you and Charlie Crist–

MARCO RUBIO:
That’s not a plan.

KENDRICK MEEK:
What– wait, what is not– creating jobs is not a plan?

MARCO RUBIO:
That’s not a plan for Social Security.  That’s a goal.

KENDRICK MEEK:
(UNINTEL PHRASE)– a goal?

MARCO RUBIO:
Sure.

KENDRICK MEEK:
Well, it’s a great goal to have, when we have double-digit unemployment, Marco.

MARCO RUBIO:
Sure it is.

KENDRICK MEEK:
I think it’s very important.  I think folks want jobs created.  They don’t want political talk back and forth.
 (OVERTALK)

KENDRICK MEEK:
And I think it’s very, very important.

CHARLIE CRIST:
Can I offer– we want to talk about a solution.

MARCO RUBIO:
Congressman, you supported $800–
(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
He supported an $800 billion stimulus package that’s led to higher unemployment.

KENDRICK MEEK:
(UNINTEL) a $700 billion tax–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
We have got to move– we have– we have got to move on.  We’re gonna get to all these questions.  We’re gonna get to all these.  Governor Crist, you have ten seconds, then we have to move on.
  
CHARLIE CRIST:
Thank you, George.  I think it’s important that we realize where Social Security is today.  And let’s have a mature discussion about it.  Report after report says that it’s solvent until 2037 or 2041.  I’m an optimist.  I’m hopeful that the economy will continue to improve.  But I’ve also offered a plan that can help it.  That’s supported by Robert Wright, Secretary of Labor– previously, in a previous administration.

And it’s straightforward and simple.  There are 11 to 14 million people, different estimates by different people, that are not American citizens today.  Not participating in the American economy.  If we can find a pathway to earn citizenship for those 11 to 14 million people, they would be paying into the system.  And when 2037 or 2041 comes, if in fact Social Security is still being challenged, we have another way and an opportunity to pay for it that provides jobs in a legal sense, and is compassionate to immigrants who come to our country.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
We gotta move on.  Craig Patrick.

CRAIG PATRICK:
Governor, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named what it considers to be the 12 most crooked candidates in America, and all three of you made that list.  Now, I’ll assume each one of you will say you don’t belong there.  But Governor, based on everything that you know, do either one of your opponents deserve to be ranked or considered among America’s most corrupt?

CHARLIE CRIST:
Well, I think you have to look at what the facts are that have been presented.  As it relates to Speaker Rubio– you know, I worked with him, when he was Speaker.  And he put forward things in the budget that I thought were questionable, and that’s why I used this veto pen to get rid of ‘em.  Whether they’re corrupt or not, that’s for other people to decide, not me.  But he put in $800,000 for an AstroTurf field on– for a flag football field that he plays on– in Miami.  Or played on.

He also put in millions of dollars that he steered to a university and later got a high-paying job there.  And also millions to a hospital that ended up hiring him as a consultant.  Is that corrupt?  Is it wrong?  It’s clearly wrong, in my view.  That’s why I had to veto some things.  He also tried to put into the budget, when I was Governor and he was the Speaker– things for a friend of his that wanted to get business on the turnpike.  I had to veto it three different times in the budget to get it out of there.

People want public servants who are there to serve you.  That’s how I’ve always comported and conducted myself as Governor, as your Attorney General, and as your Commissioner of Education.  That’s how I’ll comport myself as your United States Senator.  You can trust me.

MARCO RUBIO:
First of all, let’s set the record straight.  The things he’s absolutely said are just not true.

CHARLIE CRIST:
They’re true.

MARCO RUBIO:
I had nothing to do with the flag football field.  And it’s been found by an independent group that’s looked at it.  Even the associated–

CHARLIE CRIST:
Marco, you put $800,000 in the budget.  I had to veto it.

MARCO RUBIO:
Governor, it’s not true.

CHARLIE CRIST:
It is true.

MARCO RUBIO:
The second thing is that he says I steered money– all these things are false allegations.  The fact is that the years that I was Speaker, the Florida House consistently offered leaner budgets than the Governor offered.  Leaner budgets than the Senate offered.  If you– if you wanted a leaner budget, you should have lined up behind our budget.  Our budget was even leaner than yours.

But look, this stuff about corruption and name calling.  You know– that’s old-school politics.  And that’s the road they want to go.  I think it’s interesting the Governor says that he wants to go to Washington and get rid of the rancor and the– and the ugly talk in politics.  And yet he’s participating fully in it.  What I think this debate should be about is the future of America.  What direction is our country headed?  And these gentlemen support the direction Washington is taking our country.  Just a moment ago, we heard the Governor say he supports amnesty for illegal aliens.

CHARLIE CRIST:
I didn’t say that.

MARCO RUBIO:
As a solution to Social Security.  There isn’t a single serious public policy observer in the country that things that’s a serious solution.  In fact, it’s already been called nonsense.  So, I hope we can have a debate tonight about the issues that matter to the people at home.  The issues about the future of our country and the direction that it’s headed in.

KENDRICK MEEK:
Craig, I think it’s important– to look at the political discourse that has taken place in this campaign.  And the airwaves are full of attacks of family members.  Governor’s attacking my mother.  You– you know, you have– Mr. Rubio, you have me, you have a lot of folks that have said different things about different– candidates in this race.  But I can tell you this.  The bottom line is how do we get people back to work?  And I can– when you started talking (UNINTEL) theories about the middleclass workforce, I think it’s important that we expand middleclass jobs.  And I don’t think it needs to be trivalized — trivu– trivial issue here, Marco.  I think it’s important–

MARCO RUBIO:
I didn’t say it was trivial.

KENDRICK MEEK:
I think it’s important.

MARCO RUBIO:
I said you don’t have a plan to do it.

KENDRICK MEEK:
It resolves– I don’t have a plan to do it?

MARCO RUBIO:
You think government creates jobs.

KENDRICK MEEK:
I have a plan– no, I don’t.  I think tax cuts for small businesses create jobs and incentives– for local communities to move forward.  You said that you would vote against the stimulus.  You said you would vote against health care.  You said you would vote against projects that can be supported by the office of the United States Senator and helping local communities such as Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Tallahassee, Miami, you name it.  Helping local communities meet the needs of individuals who need jobs right now.

You’re saying that you believe in a lot of things that you should say no to.  I’m saying that we should say yes in expanding middleclass– opportunities in this state.  And that’s very, very important.  I think that you want to be elected to move a national ideology for the conservative right.  I’m not on board– on board that train.  I’m on board the train of trying to resolve the issues here in Florida.
 (OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
Congressmen Meek, the stimulus is a massive failure.  By the numbers the administration has given us, it’s borrowed and spent over $150,000 per job created or saved.  The stimulus–

KENDRICK MEEK:
What part of it do you like, Marco?  Because you say you like certain parts.  And other parts you don’t.

MARCO RUBIO:
Of the stimulus?
(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
–massive failure.  I think what we should have done instead is–

KENDRICK MEEK:
You believe– you believe that (UNINTEL) thousand–

MARCO RUBIO:
No, Congressman, if I may–

KENDRICK MEEK:
–teachers should have lost their jobs in this state.  You believe that we should have gone into a depression–

MARCO RUBIO:
But the bill was never– the bill was not passed as some sort of a bailout of government.  When you guys passed the stimulus and Governor Crist supported you in the passage of the stimulus, you said the stimulus would stimulate the economy and create jobs.  Unemployment in Florida is at 11.7 percent.  Three million Americans have lost their job.  Look, let’s be very clear, George.  I mean, this– this is one of the examples of the clear choice that voters have in this election.

If people are in favor of the stimulus.  If they think the stimulus worked.  Then you gotta vote for one of these guys.  But if you understand, as I do, and most Americans do, that the stimulus has been a massive failure.  That the only thing it has stimulated is the national debt.  I’m the only one running on this table here today that would have voted against the stimulus and–
(OVERTALK)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
I’ve gotta let Governor Crist–
(OVERTALK)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
I’ve gotta let Governor Crist get a rebuttal on the stimulus and we have to move on.

CHARLIE CRIST:
Thank you very much.  What you’ve just witnessed is the problem and the reason I’m running as an Independent.  These two guys are going at each other, because one’s the Republican right, one’s the Democratic left.  What’s true is there are good things that both parties can present to the future of our country.  Let’s talk about the stimulus for a second.  I accepted it.  And the Congressman is right.

MARCO RUBIO:
No, you supported it.

CHARLIE CRIST:
It saved over 20,000 educators their jobs in the State of Florida.  I don’t know how you can look ‘em in the eye, Marco, and say, you know, "I don’t care about you.  And you’re not gonna have that food on your table for your families."  In addition, there were 60,000 more individuals whose jobs were saved because of that stimulus, that recovery money.

It’s also important to cut taxes.  The Congressman, again, I think is right when he says that we need to have a tax cut that not only helps the middle class, but also reaches across and extends the tax cuts to those who are small business owners, because that will produce jobs for our people.  I’m the only one at this table who can tell you Republicans have some good ideas about reducing spending, cutting taxes.  Democrats also have some good ideas about investing in clean energy and technology and doing what’s right.  If you want somebody to go to Washington and cut through the fog of this partisanship, I’m your guy.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Next round.

BRENDAN MCLAUGHLIN:
Mr. Meek– your former House colleague– Robert Wexler (PH) from your home base in South Florida recently endorsed your opponent, Charlie Crist– as did influential State Senator Al Lawson (PH).  And our recent poll showed that– that Charlie Crist is actually drawing more Democratic support– than you are.  How do you explain the Democrats soft support for your candidacy and their apparent embrace of a man who just a few months ago– declared himself to be the– true Republican in the race.

KENDRICK MEEK:
Well, let me just– let me– let me share this with you.  Recent polls has shown that the Governor and I are neck and neck in this race, okay?  We’re running.  The goal is to be the next United States Senator.  We cannot allow Marco Rubio to be federalized to represent this state.  He doesn’t carry the values that this state needs in the United States Senate to put people back to work.  Robert Wexler is a personal friend of Governor Crist.

He left office in the middle of his term, came back to Florida to endorse the Governor.  I have endorsement, not only of the Mayor of this city, Buddy Dire (PH), but several members of the Democratic delegation.  And I have a lot of Democratic supporters.  I have independent supporters.  This race is far from over, because I can tell you the Governor’s, you know, talking about he’s the only one.  Marco’s saying that he wants to bring about change.

I can tell you this.  That I am the only one that is sitting here at this table that’s willing to stand up to the special interests and have a track record to prove it.  And I think that Democratic voters and Independent voters and Republican voters when they look at who’s gonna go to work for them, they’re gonna look at me.  They’re gonna know that I am the candidate to qualify (UNINTEL) petition, stood up for educators in this state– by– by bringing about smaller class sizes that both of these individuals were against when they were in the State Legislature.

Who d– who stood up for– for– the– increase in the minimum wage in this state?  I did.  My other two opponents were against it.  And so, when you think about the middle class, you think about Democratic voters, who’s the pro-choice candidate here?  I am, 100 percent.  Who’s the pro-environment candidate here?  I am.  100 percent in protecting against offshore oil drilling.  So, I think it’s very, very important.  It’s gonna become abundantly clear, through these debates.  And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate Brendan sitting here at this table, so that we can get these issues on the table and Floridians can see–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Governor Crist.

KENDRICK MEEK:
Who stands for the truth here.

CHARLIE CRIST:
Thank you.  Thank you very much.  I– I think it’s important that the viewers understand what we’re talking about here.  And it is significantly important to understand that I’m very proud that Robert Wexler endorsed my campaign for the United States Senate.  He is a friend.  And he’s been a friend for a long time.  He’s a great public servant, who has served the people well.  Especially the people in Southeast Florida.  And I’m grateful to him for that.

Understands the issue of Israel– very well.  And it’s very important to me.  In fact, the first trade mission that I took as your Governor was to the State of Israel, because I understand the unique bond between not only the State of Florida and Israel, but our country.  So much so, I– actually married a nice Jewish girl.  (LAUGH) But I think it’s really important that you understand that not only did Robert Wexler endorse my campaign for the U.S. Senate.  I’m also supported by Robert Dole, a former United States Senator, a true hero, a great American.  And I think it illustrates to the people at home, the kind of candidacy that I’m putting forward.

To offer the people that there is a better way.  That we can bring the bipartisanship– together, to try to fight for the people of Florida.  As I said earlier, it’s supposed to be "of the people, by the people, and for the people."  And George Washington addressed the problem we’re talking about tonight.  This partisanship gridlock that’s going on in Washington.  In his farewell address, he was the first and last Independent President of the United States.

And in that address, he said, "If we continue to have this partisanship.  And make the parties get stronger and stronger, we may literally cripple the country we have just created."  We’re there.  Washington is crippled.  They can’t get anything done.  They can’t get anything done on tax cuts.  Look at– what’s happening right now.  The Democratic President of the United States has proposed tax cuts.  And the Republicans, of all people, won’t do it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
We’re gonna get to that.  Mr. Rubio.

MARCO RUBIO:
Let me just say this.  A couple things.  First of all, my– Kendrick Meek talked about my values.  My values are pretty straightforward.  I know that jobs aren’t created by politicians.  They’re created by everyday people that start a business or expand an existing business.  And the job of government is to make it easier for them to do that, not harder.  And Washington is making it harder.

Through policies that both Congressman Meek and Con– and Governor Crist support.  I believe the Federal Government should not spend more money than it takes in and continue to grow our debt.  And yet, both of these gentlemen have supported policies that do that.  And finally, I believe the world is a safer place when America’s the strongest country in the world.

Those are my values.  I think the values of Congressman Meek can be found in his voting record.  His voting record is virtually identical to Nancy Pelosi’s.  And Governor Crist was a Republican six months ago, now he’s changed his position on virtually every issue, because he’s trying to take away those Democratic votes from Kendrick Meek.  I think people deserve a Senator that’s gonna go to Washington, D.C., stand up to the direction they’re taking our country, and offer an alternative.  And in this race, I’m the only one that’s offering to do that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Let’s get to the next round.  Big issue, health care in the country.  And Mr. Crist, this one is for– for you.  Marco Rubio’s accused you of taking six different positions– on health care.  You were originally opposed to the measure.  You called for its repeal.  At one point, you said you would have voted for it, then said you misspoke.  And now your position seems to be that it shouldn’t be repealed, but fixed.  So, try to clear this up.  Are– are you for President Obama’s reform or against it?  Would you repeal it?  How would you fix it?

CHARLIE CRIST:
I’m against it.  I think we have to fix it.  There are parts of it that are good.  And there are parts of it that need to be changed.  The parts of it that are good and that I think ought to remain are the fact that they take away what I would call the health insurance company discriminatory policy that– whereby, if you have a preexisting condition, you don’t get coverage.

One of the other things that I think are good in the bill is the fact that it allows young people, up to the age of 26 to be able to continue to be covered by their parents’ policy, if that’s in it.  The things that I don’t like about the bill, that need to be fixed, and wouldn’t let me support it.  Are the fact that it takes about $500 billion out of Medicare Advantage, particularly in a state like Florida, that’s bad.

I also think something that’s bad in the bill is too much taxes, too much mandate.  And all of that leads to the conclusion that it must be fixed, and it must be done right.  Now, you know, my opponent– Marco Rubio talks about the fact that, you know, we have to repeal it.  And, you know, they use different words to talk about it.  But he’s also talked about– women’s right.  This is a health issue, too.  He’s talked about the fact that you’re not pro-life unless you want to repeal Roe vs. Wade.  Overturn Roe vs. Wade, so you wouldn’t have that choice anymore.

As the Congressman knows, I’m pro-life, but I’m also pro-woman.  I think that’s an extremist view.  Marco, I think it’s the wrong thing.  I mean, wanting to punish teachers.  Wanting to punish women.  Wanting to punish seniors by raising the age of eligibility.  You haven’t been drinking the kool-aid, my friend.  You’ve been drinking too much tea.  And it’s just wrong.  And that’s why we have to have less partisanship, and we have to do what’s right for the people.

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, first of all, again, you’ve once again misrepresented my position on the issue of Social Security.  But beyond that, let’s talk about this health care bill the Governor says has really good parts to it.  I think this health care bill is a disaster.  Just in the last two weeks, we’ve learned the following things.  These child only policies are being dropped.  We’ve learned that low-wage, part time workers are now gonna lose their coverage.

We’ve learned that seniors are starting to get dropped out of Medicare Advantage.  We’ve learned that premiums are gonna go up.  In fact, this bill has broken every promise that was made when– Kendrick Meek and Charlie Crist support it.  This is the promise that they’ve broken.  They said it wouldn’t raise premiums on everybody– on anybody.  We now know that it– that’s not true.  They said it would help save Medicare.  We know that that’s not true.

They said it would lower the cost of health care.  They say that that’s not– now we know that that’s not true.  This bill is a disaster.  It cannot be saved.  It must be repealed and replaced with commonsense ideas that allow individual Americans to buy health insurance from any company in America that will sell it to them.  Across state lines.  That will allow individuals to have the same tax benefit their employer has when their embloy– employer buys it for them.

That will allow small companies and associations to pool together with others and together provide insurance for their members.  These are commonsense ideas that would help insure people and cost a lot less money.  And certainly wouldn’t have the disastrous impact that this bill– that these gentlemen support.  You voted for it.

KENDRICK MEEK:
I voted for it.  And I’ll vote for it again, if I had the opportunity.  I think it’s very important that you pay very close attention to what Marco Rubio is saying.  Everything that he identified.  Of saying that insurance premiums will go up.  Copays will go up.  Individuals will be dropped.  That’s what the insurance companies did a year ago.  And the year before that.  And now they’re using the health care bill as an excuse to do what they’ve always done.  They’re running scared right now.

The fact that 85 percent of the Medicare dollar has to go towards the patient care.  The fact that prescription drug companies have to discount drugs to seniors now even more.  And the fact that– we have– small comp– small businesses that are getting a tax cut right now.  So, when you hear– Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist talk about what they like as though they will go– you know, in– some sort of– breakfast bar and– and pick the raisins out of the raisin bran.  And say, "These are the parts of the bread I like."  And leave the rest behind.

I think you have to under– I think everyone has to understand back in– this– this issue here.  When you have a family member in the hospital looking up at …they’re sick.  And insurance company cuts their coverage.  Then you need a United States Senator that’s gonna stand in the gap.  Charlie Crist can talk all he wants to about being tough.  But I’m not gonna take any advice from anyone who bailed out of a Republican primary and did not face up to Marco Rubio.

He wants to run a primary all over again.  I think it’s important that you have a United States Senator that’s gonna be there for you.  That’s gonna be there for you in the time of need.  And I think it’s important to note that both of these candidates are willing to roll back something that we’ve worked very hard for.  To be able to protect every day people against these insurance companies.

They want to empower the insurance companies all over again.  I am the only one here that understands that 35– hundred Floridians lose their insurance every week.  That’s a fact.  That’s not fiction.  And so, when they’re talking about going back, they both have insurance.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Quick rebuttal from each of you.  You first.

CHARLIE CRIST:
Yeah, if I could just talk about what we’ve done here in Florida.  We introduced a plan called Cover Florida.  Cover Florida says that if you don’t have insurance, and about four million of our fellow Floridians do not.  Or you’ve recently lost your job that you can get coverage that’s less expensive than it would have been before.  Before Cover Florida, it would have cost about $600-$700 a month to get an insurance plan.

After Cover Florida, and we negotiated with these insurance companies, it’s down to about $150, in order to be able to get insurance coverage.  How’d we do it?  No government mandates.  No tax increases.  We negotiated hard with insurance companies, as the Congressman talked about, in order to fight for you.  That’s what you need, I think, in a good government official.  Somebody who looks out for you, not for the party first.  Fights for you to get a better deal.  And it’s what you deserve.

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, again, on health care.  It’s just another example of– of what I said at the outset of this– of this– debate today.  I’m the only candidate that will stand up to Washington and the direction that they’re taking us and offer a clear alternative.  It’s a fact.  If I had been in Washington, I would not have voted for this bill.  In fact, not only did Congressman Meek vote for this bill, he actually voted for an even more radical one that was proposed earlier that actually would have created– a public option.  Basically, one step towards a single payer system.  You’re absolutely right, Congressman Meek, I would never have voted for this bill.  I would voted for an alternative that would have helped a lot– insure a lot more people.  But certainly wouldn’t turn over the health care industry–
(OVERTALK)

CLICK HERE for part II of the transcript.

Transcript has been edited for clarity.

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