Sen. Marco Rubio on Cuba: Engagement Won't Guarantee Freedom

Senator Marco Rubio discusses President Obama's decision to reopen American relations with Cuba, and responds to criticism from fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
6:59 | 12/21/14

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Transcript for Sen. Marco Rubio on Cuba: Engagement Won't Guarantee Freedom
You have been so outspoken this week, senator Rubio, calling the president's decision inexplicable, absurd, disgraceful, but when you hear the young Cubans say we want closer ties to the united States doesn't that give you pause? I want closer ties with Cuba, as well, but those closer ties have to come about as a result of a policy that will also ultimately lead to freedom and that's my problem with what the president has done here. It's not that I simply want to continue to do what we've been doing. I'm okay with changing policy towards Cuba. But it has to be a policy change that has a reasonable chance of achieving freedom, freedom for the Cuban people. And I just don't think this -- no, let me rephrase that. I know that this policy change that the president has now undertaken will not lead to freedom. How do you know that, though, senator? What we've seen for the last 50 years is a policy of an embargo. No real ties between the united States and Cuba and hasn't loosened the Castro's hold on the Cuban people at all and the United States has relations with all kinds of countries that don't meet our democratic standards, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia. That's exactly my point. We have those policies of normalization toward Vietnam, for example, towards China. They're not any more politically free today than when that happened. They may have a bigger economy but their political eedom, I would not hold up China or Saudi Arabia or Vietnam as examples of political freedom proving my point, engagement by itself does not guarantee or lead to political freedom and the Cuban government controls every aspect of their economy. The whole economy is owned and operated by a holding company controlled by Cuban military officials. They will take more travel. They will take more commerce. They will pocket the vast majority of the money that's generated from it and they have already -- they intend to follow the model of Vietnam and China where they can grow their economy but they do not grow political freedoms, in fact, they repress them. Won't a United States embassy there help further that cause of openness? You actually said that the United States embassy in China could be a direct link to the people of China. Why can't a U.S. Embassy in Cuba be that same direct link to the people in Cuba? I hope it would be. But there's two reasons why I believe it won't. We have an intersection in Havana that's large and not allowed to operate. It's constantly harassed and its diplomats are constantly harassed including breaking into in the middle of the night to the facilities where they live and they're not allowed to engage with open society and are under restrictive conditions and the piece that introduced our interview pointed this out. Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state to the western hemisphere, is going to travel to Cuba the second week of January and she's already made it very clear, human rights and freedom will not be on the agenda, and so that is not very promising when the person at the state department who is in charge or will be in charge of this engagement has already said that human rights will not be on the agenda. In the first meeting. Pope Francis played a pretty extraordinary role in all this and you spoke out about that earlier this week. Let's take a look. I would also ask his holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people, for a people to truly be free. I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had where he comes from as the people of Italy has where he now lives. Did you really mean to suggest that the pope hasn't taken up the cause of freedom and democracy? Well, I was asked the question what I would say to pope Francis and I would ask him to take up the cause of the freedom and liberty of the Cuban people which was not part of -- Hasn't he done that? I haven't heard those statements made. I know, look, the pope is a spiritual leader and he always will want to bring people closer together and I respect that as a spiritual leader but I think it's also important to say that people deserve the right to be free. Our nation was founded on that principle and, by the way, I'm encouraged that president Obama is so influenced by pope Francis. Perhaps he'll follow his lead on the sanctity of life and on our respect for religious liberties, as well. That may be a debate for another day. I want to get the debate between you and Rand Paul inside the republican party right now. You got into something of a Twitter war over the course of this week over the issue of Cuba. The latest from Rand Paul saying "Senator Marco Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism." This seems to be a -- If he wants to become the chief cheerleader of president Obama's policy he certainly has the right to do that. I'll continue to oppose the Obama foreign policy on Cuba because I know it won't lead to freedom and liberty for the Cuban people, which is my sole interest here. He's running hard for the nomination. If he gets it could you support Rand Paul and his foreign policy if he were the republican nominee? Well, I anticipate -- I anticipate supporting whoever the republican nominee is and I'm pretty confident that the republican nominee for president will be someone who has a pretty forceful role -- view of America's role in the world as a defender of democracy and freedom and understands it's important for America to be engaged on the global stage. Jeb bush out there already announcing he's actively exploring a run. Has he become the man to beat? Jeb's going to be a very -- if he decides to run, he's going to be a very credible and significant candidate in this race. I have tremendous respect for him, so certainly I think he's deserving of the attention he's receiving having worked alongside him for many years. I think he'll be a very credible candidate. A very strong candidate. A true conservative? Yeah, I mean Jeb has a record in Florida that people can look at. As I said, I mean I think Jeb will be a very credible, strong candidate if he decides to run. He's also been a mentor of yours. We have that great photo of him handing you the sword when you became speaker of the house down in Florida. I know you said that his decision has no bearing on yours, but could you really imagine yourself running against him? Well, first let me say I think presidential primaries aren't running against anyone. I would imagine the presidential field is going to be quite crowded and there will be multiple people running and so, look, for me the decision isn't based on anyone else. And that's not just exclusively Jeb, but anyone else who decides to run. If someone makes this decision the best place for them to serve the country and achieve in my case an agenda to restore the American dream, if I make the decision the best place for me to do that is the presidency then I'm going to run for president. I haven't made that decision yet. But why would you make a better president than Jeb bush? Well, I think ultimately first I have to make the decision that's what I want to do, that that's the best place to serve my country at this time and that's why you have a primary. That's the greatness about our system of government in comparison to what they have in Cuba, for example, where they don't get to choose their leaders. We're going to go out. We would campaign, talk to people and ultimately we wouldn't make that decision. Voters would make that decision. And what will your decision hinge on finally? What's going to determine whether you get in or not? It basically -- I have a very strong agenda I'll be talking about next year as well restoring the American dream. I truly believe it's what distinguishes us from the rest of the world but I think that these dramatic changes to our economy and the 21st century have really placed enormous constraints on the middle class and, by the way, I have a book coming out in January, "American dreams" that outlines that agenda. And if I decide that the presidency is the best place for me to achieve that agenda, I'll run for president.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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