ABC's George Stephanopoulos Interviews Presidential Candidate Marco Rubio (TRANSCRIPT)

ByABC News
April 13, 2015, 7:33 PM
PHOTO: Republican Senator Marco Rubio talks to ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, just a few hours before the Florida senator's announcement of running for president in 2016.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio talks to ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, just a few hours before the Florida senator's announcement of running for president in 2016.
Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC News

— -- On Monday, April 13, 2015, ABC News' Chief Anchor and host of "This Week" George Stephanopoulos interviewed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

The following is a transcript of the interview:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thanks for doing this.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You made a decision.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Why are you running?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I think this country's at a generational moment, where it needs to decide not what party it wants in charge, but what kind of country are we gonna want to be moving forward. I think the American-- I think the 21st century can be an American century. And I believe that I can lead this country in that direction. I can help lead it there from the Senate. I can lead it there as president --


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I-- first of all, I think I have-- I feel very strong attachment to the desire for upward mobility from my own life, and from the neighborhood I still live, from the people I'm surrounded-- around every single day. I realize that every country in the world has rich people. And I'm glad we have rich people in America too. But what makes us unique is that this is the one place on Earth where millions and millions of people who aren't rich still own a home, are able to save for retirement, are able to leave their kids better off than themselves. And, I think, if we ever lose that, we stop being special. Our next president of the United States has to be someone who understands that, is passionate about it, and has a plan to revive it and expand it to reach more people than ever.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But are you the person most qualified in the country right now to be president?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I absolutely feel that way. First of all, because I'm-- I'm strongly attached to that ideal of upward mobility for all Americans. I mean, I’ve invested the time also in understanding about the risks that we face on a global perspective. Our national security risks today are more complex than they’ve been in two decades. Because we face multiple risks, any of which on their own at any other time in our history would have consumed us. Whether it's Chinese aggression in the South Pacific. Whether it's Russia trying to re-litigate the end of the Cold War or rapid spread not just of radical jihadists but new radical jihadist groups including the risk of homegrown violent extremists, the Iranian nuclear ambition, the South Korean nuclear reality, the erosion of democracy in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere. All of these are pressing issues. And it's important to have a president that understands each of these and has ideas about how to address each of tehse.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You've had one term in the Senate. Hillary Clinton, first lady, senator longer than you're in the Senate, secretary of state.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, first of all, my-- my political career is not just limited to the last four and a half years in the Senate. I mean, I've served at every level of government, including local government, state government, speaker of the house of the third largest state in the country, now senator for four and a half years, including my role in the intelligence Committee and on Foreign Relations. But more importantly than that, the stuff that's on paper, is the fact that I believe I have a strong personal attachment, not just to the American dream, but to the millions of people who are trying to achieve it today.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I read that you called Hillary Clinton, in one word, "yesterday." What does that mean?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, one of the challenges we have today in this country is we are trying to fix 21st century problems with 20th century ideas, right? So the job of the 21st century requires different skills and more education than in the past. So we have people from yesterday, leaders that are still grounded in the 20th century, who think if we just pour more money into our higher education system we'll get a 21st century result. It isn't true anymore. We need to be graduating people from high school, ready to go work. We need to as a welder, as a plumber, as an airplane mechanic. We don't do that in America anymore. We need to have innovations in higher education that allows-- allows a single mom who's a receptionist making $10 an hour to be able to go to school at nights, on weekends, on her own pace and be able to become a paralegal making $55,000 a year. And then we have people graduating from universities in America today with a mountain of debt and degrees that do not lead to jobs. We have to revolutionize what it means to what-- what higher education means in the 21st century. That's just one example of where we are trapped today in yesterday's thinking.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: She says she wants to run to be the champion of everyday Americans. Why are you running?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Because her ideas to help everyday Americans will not help everyday Americans. This notion that somehow we can just increase the size and the scope of the federal government, it helps people who are tryin' to make it has been disproven. The bigger the federal government, the more the people who can hire lobbyists and law firms to help them navigate it are going to do. This is not a coincidence that since Dodd Frank the banking sector has become more consolidated. It's not a coincidence that every single day we see businesses in America using our regulatory framework to create for themselves-- a competitive advantage at the expense of an innovative new competitor. Meanwhile, the people trying to start a business out of the spare bedroom of their home, they can't hire a law firm to navigate big government. So (UNINTEL) taxes for more government and this attachment to more regulations. They don’t just make us uncompetitive in the 21st century, they crush the people who are trying to make it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, a lot of Republicans are lookin' at this race. Why are you the best person to beat her?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, first, I would say that we are-- we're very fortunate as Republicans to have a talented field of multiple people that are gonna be very strong candidates. My view of the primary is we're all gonna go out and make our best argument and then the voters are gonna decide who they want. But again, I go back to what I pointed to say before. I believe that I have a view on foreign policy that voters will notice in comparison to some of the other people running. I believe that I have a history of serving in government at every level and which the American dream and upward mobility has been the cornerstone of what I’ve talk about and tried to do. And also because I believe that at the end of the day, we can show the American people, beginning with Republicans but ultimately all Americans that we have a vision of how the 21st century can be better than the 20th. And we have a specific and detailed plan to get us there. I believe we can inspire them behind that vision. And once again, the Republican Party can be the party of the future.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I gotta ask you about Jeb Bush. He's been described as your mentor. He was governor when you were speaker of the house. You said when you were running for Senate, you would defer if he wanted the Senate seat. Why not defer to him now?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, it was a different time. Back then, I was the termed-out speaker of the Florida house. He was the former sitting governor of Florida. It was at a different time in my life and my career. And the country what at a different moment at that point. I think today we're even further along into the 21st century but not our policies. And I just feel uniquely called to at least lend my voice to this effort. And I think we're gonna be successful. Jeb is my friend. He's still my friend. He’ll continue to be— we’ll still continue to be friends. I have tremendous admiration for him. I'm not running against Jeb Bush --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: -- hard to be friends when you’re running against him?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: No, I also agree with that. And I think it's important to understand I'm not running against Jeb Bush. And I hope he's not running against me. We are competing for the same job. We both feel, I imagine when he announces…


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: That's true. But I also believe that from our field we're gonna have-- we're gonna find people that will be able to serve our country in our capacities.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If you’re doing this. You have to believe-- you've gotta believe that you've got something unique. You've got something that none of the others have. Only you can do this.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, so far-- as far as I've seen in this race, we're the only ones that have outlined a vision of what America can be in this 21st century and a detailed plan on how to address it on everything from-- national security to student loan debts to innovations in higher education. You name it. I'm very proud of the work we’ve put into that. When we talk about these ideas, they're not just generalities. We've given people a specific roadmap on how we're gonna make the 21st century another American century.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I-- I read that-- in one of-- you gave a very birthday tribute to Jeb Bush when you talked about in the Senate you would often ask yourself, "What would Jeb do?"


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Wellif you're askin' yourself that, why shouldn't people choose not to?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, look, I-- and I think that Jeb Bush continues to be a model for people on terms of how you approach public policy. I believe public policy should als-- always be about policies and big ideas. But we've reached the moment now, not just in my career, but in the history of our country, where I believe that it needs a Republican Party that is new and vibrant, that understands the future, has an agenda for that future. And I feel uniquely qualified to offer that. And that's why I'm running for president.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, I-- I read that you all shared a plane back from Tennessee to Miami back on Friday night, I guess it was. So you told him then you’re in?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I think he knew by then. But-- but it was a great time. I mean, every time we see him, we're gonna always be friendly and reminisce.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Not awkward at all?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Not at all. Again, we're-- my feelings towards him or anybody else for that matter are not predicated on, you know, their politics to begin with. But secondarily, I think we're-- we're both reached the point in our lives and in our career where we can respect people. And, in fact, have affection for people that we've worked with together in the past but for, you know, reasons that-- that perhaps no one could have foreseen you wind up now both aspiring to the same office?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And you think that will survive debates?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I-- I certainly plan to make it survive debates.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You're president January 20th 2017. What's the first thing you do?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, a couple of points. I think from a national security perspective, this deal with Iran is an extremely dangerous one. And it's interesting since the president has decided not to bring it back to Congress. It’s not binding. It is basically his decision to use the national security waver to lift sanctions on Iran. I think the next president of the United States is gonna have to deal with that on day number one.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But if it's in place and it's working, you'd still lift it?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, how would you define working. They're still gonna have long-range missiles that they're developing. There's still gonna be a state sponsor of terrorism. The only difference is gonna be they'll have more money to do it with, because the sanctions will have been lifted. The next president of the United States should make a very-- should give Iran a very clear option. "You can either have an economy or you can have nuclear weapons. But you cannot have both."

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: There might be a U.S. embassy in Cuba if you’re president. You’d pull it?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, we have a pretty vibrant introsection. And perhaps that’s what it should become again. And-- and I-- I certainly would reverse decisions the president has made. I would move them back unto the terrorist list where they belong. This is a country that helped North Korea invade U.N. sanctions recently as a year ago. This is a country that continues to harbor fugitives of American justice. This is a country or a government that has appropriated billions of dollars of assets of both American and American companies that's never been compensated. This is a country that routinely undermines the national security of this country by its active espionage against us. And its sharing of secrets with others and it hosts both Chinese and Russian intelligence gathering capabilities on the island that are targeted at us. So and more importantly for me, I desperately want Cuba to have freedoms and democracy. And I think that U.S. policy should always be geared towards that. I think the current policy the president is pursuing will allow the Castro regime to cement itself as a legitimate form of government in the eyes of the world. And the-- and the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people have been set back. So I would reverse every single one of the decisions that he’s made.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If President Obama manages to close Guantanamo, would you reopen it?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Absolutely. But again, what do you-- you're talkin' about reopen-- or close the-- the terrorist camp, not the base. Absolutely. And-- and here's why. We-- we no longer-- on an ongoing basis detain terrorists. So we're not getting interrogation. They're-- they're killed by drone or targeted in some other way. But there's tremendous value in capturing people that are enemy combatants and from them being able to gather actionable intelligence that can not only prevent attacks against the homeland and abroad, but allow us to disrupt the cells that they have created in different parts of the world. We're no longer doing that as aggressively as we once did. And by the way, the recent history of people being freed from Guantanamo is atrocious. A significant percentage have returned to the battlefield, a significant percentage, for example, the ones who went to Uruguay are not being accurately or effectively monitored and present a danger in the short and mid-term for our country and the world. So I think the next president of the United States is gonna have to deal with the aftermath of some of the prisoners that have been released.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You've gotta deal with the aftermath of your push for immigration reform in your-- early in your Senate career. Passed a bipartisan bill, included eventually a path to citizenship. You now say that was a mistake. And it seems like you’ve left no one on any side of that issue happy.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, the mistake was-- the mistake was believing we could do it all in one big piece of legislation. And-- and it was a mistake in the sense that we didn't know that at the time. We've learned that now the hard way. That we're not at a stage now in this country where we can deal with immigration reform in one massive piece of legislation. I still believe we have to deal with it. But what I've said is the only way to move forward on immigration reform, at this moment, given everything that's happened over the last three years, two executive orders that have granted amnesty, a failed immigration effort in the Senate that never got traction in the House, the only way to move forward at this point is to prove – not tell - prove to the American people that the future of illegal immigration will be brought under control. And I believe, from everything I've learned through this process over the last two years, that if we can do that, the American people, and conservative Republicans included, will be very supportive and very reasonable about what to deal-- what to do with those who are in the country illegally.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So you would have the top responsibility for enforcing those borders if you-- if-- and-- securing the borders if you were president. Are you saying that-- if you were able to do that, you would then move forward on pass the citizenship?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: So think, if we can do three things: fully secure, you’ll never seal it, but fully secure that last sector of the border that remains porous, implement and a e-verify system that allows employers to accurately be able to determine whether the people they're hiring are here legally or not or put in place an effective entry/exit tracking system to discourage Visa overstays. If we're able to do those three things-- and some of it you can do now. Some of it will require a legislative change. Then I believe we can move forward on efforts to do two things: modernize our legal immigration system, twoards a more merit-based one, and addressing the fact that we have 12 million human beings living in the United States, many of whom have been here for longer than a decade, who are gonna be here for the rest of their lives. And we have a vested interest as a country to try to incorporate them in the most reasonable and responsible way possible for our country and into our life but not until future illegal immigration is under control but we have a chance to do that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What makes a great president?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I think a great president is someone who first people they're hiring are here legally or not or put in place an effective entry/exit tracking system to discourage can prevent VISA overstays. If we're able to do those three things-- and some of it you can do now. Some of it will require some legislative change. Then I believe we can move forward on efforts to do 2 things: modernize our legal immigration system, towards a more merit-based one, and addressing the fact that we have 12 million human beings living in the United States, many of whom have been here for longer than a decade, who are gonna be here for the rest of their lives. And we have a vested interest as a country to try to incorporate them in the most reasonable and responsible way possible into our country and into our life but not until future illegal immigration is under control but we have a chance to do that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What makes a great president?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I think a great president is someone who first inspires our people to a better futures, despite whatever challenges we may have, can describe to them how the future can be better than the present. Second, a great president is someone with good judgment particularly on national security. Someone who doesn't just see what's immediately in front of them, but can deduce two to three steps ahead of what might happen. So someone, for example, realizes that when the Syrian rebels were challenging Assad, it wasn't just about Assad and the Syrian rebels. It was about the vacuum that would be left behind if a strong non-jihadist (?) rebel group didn't emerge. A good president's someone who could foresee what can happen in Iraq if you pull troops out of there and left that vacuum for Maliki to do whatever he wanted with a Sunni creating the conditions for ISIS. A good president is someone who can see around the corner on Venezuela and realize that what's happening in Venezuela today was fully predictable three or four years ago when Chavez was spending money he didn't have at the time-- to win an election. And now you've seen the catastrophe that exists in our own hemisphere under Maduro. So a good president has vision, but also on foreign policy, has good judgment and foresight of what could happen.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So much of what you deal with though in the White House as a president is dealing with those crises that can't be foreseen--

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Predicted, right --

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --manage those big, big crises. What in your professional life, what is the big challenge, the big crisis that you've had to deal with and what did you learn from it?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, let me say no one’s who's ever been president before has faced a crisis of a presidential magnitude. No governor, no senator, no CEO of a company. Those are unique. But the principles apply and that is what matters. First, you have to ensure that the better prepared you are for things even if you can’t foresee them, the better prepared you are to address those things. So if, in fact, you’ve had the foresight. Maybe you can't predict that ISIS would come across the border into Iraq on a specific date in a specific way, but you certainly would have foreseen that an ISIS type entity would have emerged and would have had in place things to address it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But what's the greatest crisis you've faced?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: In my own life? Well, again, in politics, there's no comparison. No one can compare something they've faced to a presidential crisis. I can tell you that in our time in the Florida legislature on multiple occasions, we faced major issues on property taxes, on property insurance, that required us to make decisions that didn’t necessarily do everything I wanted to do. In essence, you didn't get 100% of what you were asking for, but you understood that progress was better than nothing, that moving forward even half of what you wanted was better than not achieving anything at all. And obviously, in my time now in the Senate, we've foreseen these crises that have emerged. And we've talked about them well before they've happened. And-- and we were talking about what was gonna happen in Syria fully two and a half years in some cases before what actually happened had happened. Had I been president, I think America would have been better positioned to address those things.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (UNINTEL) you've put out a major tax plan with Senator Mike Lee. Create two rates. Would also have a lot of child tax credits. But your critics are saying it would mean for a lot of people, some in the middle class, our right at the edge of the middle, their taxes would go up.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, that's not exactly accurate. First of all, it wouldn't be a lot of people. Second of all, it would-- it would be a very small--

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: For single people goin' down to $75,000 up to the top rate, right?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: But again, it’s people that all they do is draw their salaries from a specific source in essence from a W2 form. The vast majority people who are childless making that amount of money have additional revenue that comes from investments, capital gains, some other form. Many are making their money through a past though company. For example-- (UNINTEL) S-corp, their taxes are gonna go down dramatically in that form, as well. And at the end of the day, what it delivers is massive tax relief to the middle class, and in particular, to working families with children to account for the most of costs of-- of daily life and raising a family.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: In your past races, you've-- you've taken Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge. You going to do it in this race?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Absolutely. I-- I have no-- I have no intention in raising revenue in this country by raising taxes. I think the way you raise revenue is by creating new tax payers through growth, through opportunities, through innovation. We want there to be more taxpayers, not more taxes.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But if the people-- if-- if an individual-- single individual taxes go up or childless couples taxes go up, isn't that a violation?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: It isn't. In fact, Grover's group has endorsed this tax plan. Because for the-- for that very reason, because they’ve seen in it the pro-growth aspects of it. The way to understand the tax plan is twofold. On the one hand, it rapidly grows our economy, faster than any other plan that’s been proposed. And on the other hand, it provides real tax relief to working families with children. That helps them with the cost of daily life. And how much –how expensive it is benefit to be raising children in this economy. I’ve got 4 myself.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you-- I love the story you told about-- you used to tell your grandfather one day you would round up a bunch of exiles and go overthrow Fidel Castro and become President of Cuba,

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: A long time ago.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So is this your backup plan?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, you know ultimately obviously I think I was nine or ten when I said that, at that point. But-- you know, in hindsight looking-- or looking forward now, I think the future of the Cuban people belongs to the Cuban people. But I believe as an American, we have a vested national security interest in not having an anti-American tyranny 90 miles from our shores. And on top of that, all-- all I want for the people of Cuba is what they have in-- in the Dominican Republic, a free and fair election. That's all I ask for for the people of Cuba. And I believe American foreign policy to the extent it can should help to further that. But not an invasion (UNINTEL).

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You also wrote that you teared up the night Barack Obama--


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: --was elected president, because of what it meant. Not because you agreed with him on every issues, but what it meant to have the first African American president. What would it mean for Americans to see the first Latino president?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, I-- I-- I don't know. I mean, I haven't viewed my candidacy in that light. I'm sure it would be an important moment for a lot of people, not just for Americans of Hispanic descent, but for anyone who come from families like mine. You know, parents who less than 2 decades ago my dad was a bartender. My mom was a stock clerk at Kmart. That's, you know, a few blocks from here. The notion that their son less than two decades later could run for the highest office in the land as a credible candidate is something that defines us as a nation. Not just my story. You talked about President Obama's as well. I've always marveled at how a collections of the descendants of former slaves and refugees and exiles built working together-- the single greatest nation in all of human history. I'm proud of that. I think it’s what makes us different from the rest of the world. I just wanted to it to stay that way.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thank you.



ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events