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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Immigration, Guns, and North Korea

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DAVID GREGORY:
And good Sunday morning. Excuse my laryngitis. On Tuesday a bipartisan group of senators will present its long-awaited plan for immigration reform. The so-called Gang of Eight has wrapped up months of negotiations and will present a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million immigrants who are here without documentation. With us now, the man at the center of bringing this group together, Republican senator from Florida, Marco Rubio. Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MARCO RUBIO:
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

DAVID GREGORY:
I have to apologize for sounding like Peter Brady from The Brady Bunch this morning. I'm a little under the weather, so bear with me.

MARCO RUBIO:
Thank-- that's fine. (CHUCKLE) I just thought you were getting emotional.

DAVID GREGORY:
Yeah. (LAUGHTER) Let's get right to the issue of immigration and the so-called "Gang of Eight." If we were to sum up this proposal, it would be to beef up border security, at the same time, create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country. Why would you support this, given the obvious political risk that this carries in your own party?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, three things. First of all, even if we didn't have a single person in this country in violation of immigration laws, we'd still have to do immigration reform, because our legal immigration system is broken. It's not good for anybody, the way it works right now. And this bill modernizes it in a way that's going to get broad-based support.
We also have to be able to enforce our laws. And this bill will pass a ser-- this bill once introduced, as we've agreed to, I think, will show that a broad base of enforcement measures, unlike anything this country's ever seen. And what it does is it creates a way for us to address the millions of people that are here undocumented in a way that's compassionate, but also, in a way that's responsible.

It will allow them to ultimately earn access to our legal immigration system. They will still have to apply. It doesn't reward, or it doesn't award them anything. But it does give them access to our legal immigration system through a process that will not encourage people to come here illegally in the future, and then through a process that isn't unfair for people that have done it the right way.

DAVID GREGORY:
So--

MARCO RUBIO:
Now, you talk about the political calculus? I, quite frankly, have avoided making the political calculus on this issue because, for me, and this may sound, you know, new to people or what have you, in terms of how politics works today, but what we have now isn't good for anybody. What we have in place today, the status quo, is horrible for America.

The only people benefiting from the status quo in immigration today are the people trafficking human beings across the border, and the people who are hiring illegal labor for cheap purposes. You know, so they've got to pay them very little. These are the only people benefiting from the status quo. It's bad for (VOICE) everybody else.

DAVID GREGORY:
As you well know, and the criticism is fast and furious from conservatives like Ted Cruz from Texas, your fellow Senator, who says, for those who are going through the legal process, they'll feel like chumps who are outside this country. His word, "Because those who are here illegally would get on this legal path to citizenship, even if they would pay a penalty, even if they would pay a fine and have to go through other checks. Why isn't it tantamount to amnesty, as your critics say?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, amnesty is the forgiveness of something. In fact, there will be consequences for having violated the law. And they'll be reasonable consequences. But the type of consequences (SIC) that-- consequences that ensure that there's no incentive to do it this way again.

Here's my second point. If you're waiting to come legally to the United States now, no one who has done it the wrong way will get it before you. In fact, it will be much cheaper, faster, easier and less bureaucratic if you're doing it the right way. In no way will having done this the wrong way be a reward, in comparison to the people that are waiting to come here legally, or the ones who have come here legally in the past. So I can't wait for the details of this to be available, because I think people will find that we've addressed that concern specifically and effectively.

DAVID GREGORY:
Three years ago in a debate, you were clear on this. You said to earn a pathway to citizenship, you would have to leave this country if you were here illegally, go back home, and then you could come back in. You said an earned pathway was amnesty. Yet, you've changed your mind here. Why?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, what I said throughout my campaign was that I was against a blanket amnesty. And I was and this is not blanket amnesty. On the contrary, this is not blanket anything. And secondly, it's not amnesty, because you pay serious consequences for having violated the law.

Third, we need to understand the existing law. The existing law does not prohibit someone-- the law today does not prohibit someone who violated the immigration laws from getting a green card. It simply says you have to leave the United States and you have to wait ten years. What we have done is created an alternative to that, that forces you to wait more than ten years, that forces you to pay an application fee, that forces you to pay a significant fine, that forces you not to qualify for any federal benefits of any kind, that forces you, tells you you have to work and be gainfully employed so that you're not a public charge.

And ultimately, none of the-- even with all of that, you don't gain access to the green card process. You have to apply for it. It's not, you know, it's not awarded to you. And you don't gain access to any of that until there's a universal e-Verify system in place, until there's a universal--

(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
--entry/exist system in place.

DAVID GREGORY:
But there's still a change, isn't there, Senator? I mean you said that you would have to leave the country before you could come back. And you've changed on that.

MARCO RUBIO:
But that's not necessarily what I've said in the past. What I've said in the past is that there is a pathway to citizenship, and that is the legal immigration system. And all this bill does is give people access to the legal immigration system. It allows them to earn an access to the legal immigration system. And so what we are doing is we are creating an alternative to that path that exists now. And quite frankly, it'll be cheaper, faster and easier to leave and wait ten years than it will be to go through this process that we've designed.

DAVID GREGORY:
The political problem the party faces, Republicans face among minority communities, is so large if you look at the results from the 2012 election. You've spoken to it, as have others. And I wonder whether this is enough. The party's repositioned, you're leading the way on immigration, is enough to overcome some of those difficulties. As you know, Colin Powell was on the program earlier this year. He had some comments about the plight for the Republican Party. And I want to get your response to them.

(Videotape)

COLIN POWELL:
I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed. The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they're going to be in trouble.
There's also a dark-- a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the Party. What I do mean by that? I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities.

(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
Do you agree with that? And do you think that these efforts on immigration are enough to overcome it?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, I don't agree with the Republican Party as characterized by intolerance or looking down on anybody. And I respectfully disagree with someone who I think has served our country admirably. I will say this to you. Obviously, there's political ramifications to everything we do in Washington. But it's not the reason to do it.

And it certainly isn't the reason why I'm involved in doing this. I'm involved in doing this because I think what we have now is terrible for the United States of America. We have a legal immigration system that does not work. It does not reflect the economic needs of this country in the 21st century.

It needs to be modernized. And our agreement will do that. It will modernize the legal immigration system in a way that is more merit-based and jobs-based and less based on whether you know someone who already lives here. And that's an important development, along with the ability for people to access the workforce and the high-tech field, et cetera.

The second thing this does is it puts in place effective enforcement mechanisms unlike anything we've ever had in the history of this country before. My last point on this: I think Republicans need to do a better job of reaching out to everyone in the United States. Politics is always about getting the support of the majority of our people.

And I think the best way to do that is for the Republican Party to prove, as I think we can, that we are the party of upward mobility. We are not the party of the people who have made it. Certainly we don't begrudge people who have made it. We celebrate what they've done. And in America, we've always celebrated success.
But we are the party that stands for the people who are trying to make it, the people who are trying to start a business out of the spare bedroom of their home, who are trying to give their kids a better life. And the only way that's possible is through the America free enterprise system--

DAVID GREGORY:
But it--

MARCO RUBIO:
--which the Democrats on the left are undermining.

DAVID GREGORY:
Isn't the hole rather deep? I mean look at-- based on our recent poll, favorable/unfavorable ratings among Hispanics in this country, comparing you to Hillary Clinton here, look it. She's at 63-13. You're at 23-12. Similar advantages that the president has over you. Isn't that a sign of just how big the hole is, even among Hispanics in this country, between--

MARCO RUBIO:
I don't--

DAVID GREGORY:
--you and--

MARCO RUBIO:
You know--

DAVID GREGORY:
--and two top tier Democrats?

MARCO RUBIO:
I don't know anything about these polls. And, quite frankly, I don't spend a lot of time analyzing them. This is not about improving anyone's poll number numbers. This is (CHUCKLE) very simple. I'm a Senator. I get paid not to just give speeches.
I get paid to solve problems. This is a serious problem here in Florida. We have million-- this is a serious problem in America. We have millions of people in this country who are illegally here. We don't know who they are, where they are. Some of them aren't-- most-- many of them aren't paying taxes. It's not good for them, obviously, either. It's not good for our economy. We have a legal immigration system that our business community is telling us is keeping them from creating jobs--

DAVID GREGORY:
Understood.

MARCO RUBIO:
--not to lead the economic--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
But Senator--

(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
We have immigration laws that aren't being enforced.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is there something that happens in this debate, the amendment process, additional opposition from conservatives, that causes you to step back and say, "I can no longer support this compromise agreement?"

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, I've been very clear about my principles of what reform needs to look like. And if this bill were to somehow to abandon those principles via the amendment process or what have you, certainly I wouldn't support that. But I don't anticipate that.
Now look, there are amendments. Okay? Amendments designed to make a bill better. And I think that's important. What we're working on is a starting point. It is not the take-it-or-leave-it offer. It is a starting point of reform. We spent a lot of time crafting it. I think it's a very good piece of legislation, a very good law. But obviously, there are 92 other senators who have ideas of their own. And I think that, from them, we are going to get ways to improve this.

DAVID GREGORY:
Yet--

MARCO RUBIO:
We are going to get ideas that make it better. And I welcome that. Now, there are amendments designed to undermine this. There are amendments that will be designed to make this thing undoable. And obviously, I'll oppose those, especially if that's the intent of them.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right.

MARCO RUBIO:
And so certainly, I mean I'm looking forward to an open process of debate on this.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to get to a couple of other issues, including the gun control debate. Striking moment this weekend when you had one of the family members of the victims in Newtown actually give the weekly address that the president normally gives. Francine Wheeler had this to say. I want to play a portion of it and get your response.
(Videotape)

FRANCINE WHEELER:
We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass commonsense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we never thought would happen to us.
(End videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
How do you answer Francine Wheeler when you are opposed to expanded background check, when you voted even to oppose this debate coming forward in the Senate?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, let me say that my heart, as everyone else's, goes out to these families. I actually met with these families, including her and her husband. And it was, I can just tell you, the most emotional meeting I've ever had in all my public service, for multiple reasons.

I also admire these families. Because, quite frankly, their agenda's not a political one. They are trying to turn this horrifying tragedy into a positive in some way, in terms of getting some changes in public policy. And I applaud them for that.

Here's my point, and has always been my point on gun laws. They are highly ineffective in terms of accomplishing the following goal: And that is to protect the right of law abiding citizens to possess weapons, which the second amendment guarantees, a constitutional right. And they are ineffective of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals who, quite frankly, because they're criminals, don't care what the law is. So I'm not opposed to all gun laws, I'm just opposed to the ones that don't do those two things.

DAVID GREGORY:
All right, but--
(OVERTALK)

MARCO RUBIO:
--the right of people to possess firearms and to keep it out of the hands of criminals.

DAVID GREGORY:
But what would you need to be challenged here?

MARCO RUBIO:
And I don't think these proposals accomplish that.

DAVID GREGORY:
But Senator, there are existing background checks--

MARCO RUBIO:
Go ahead.

DAVID GREGORY:
--at the federal level. You know that. This would expand those checks--

MARCO RUBIO:
Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:
--in order to shore up certain loopholes. How is it that those additional checks would undermine the second amendment?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well first of all, we have, for example, concealed weapon permits across this country, like my-- I have one. These are people that are pre-approved in terms of getting concealed weapons permits. So perhaps there's a way to accommodate that across all 50 states, where a concealed weapons permit is treated as a de facto background check.

But ultimately, the reason why we are doing this, in essence, we are spending all of our time talking about background checks as if, somehow, criminals will no longer getting guns because they have to undergo a background check. We're lying to people. That isn't true.

The fact of the matter is that we have a violence problem in America. Guns are what people are using. But violence is our problem. And no one is having a debate about the violence problem. And I think this is a missed opportunity to have an honest and open conversation in this country about why these horrifying things are happening, not simply what they're using to carry this out, but why are people doing this to begin with?

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator?

MARCO RUBIO:
And all the focus is on laws that only law abiding people are going to follow.

DAVID GREGORY:
You know the political analysis right now as a prospective 2016 nominee. You've got to be careful not to stray too far from the Republican Party on guns, particularly when you're stepping out and trying to be a leader on immigration. So you've got to pick your areas where you're going to stand up.

MARCO RUBIO:
Well David, I disagree with that analysis. My position on guns is the same they've always been. The second amendment is a constitutional right. I didn't write that into the constitution. That's in there. And any time that you're going to do anything that impacts a constitutional right, the scrutiny should be very, very high.
And that's what I'm applying to this. If someone can produce the law that keeps guns out of the hands of criminals but protects the right of law-abiding citizens to possess them, and doesn't infringe on those rights, I would consider that. But the proposals I've seen so far, and I haven't fully read the Toomey/Manchin Compromise. But all the proposals I've seen so far do not achieve that goal. And quite frankly, they are over-promising. And we are missing a golden opportunity to have an important debate about violence in our society. Violence in our society is the problem.

DAVID GREGORY:
I want to ask you about North Korea, as the administration waits for a potential missile launch from Kim Jung Un. How do you think the administration's handled this. How do you diffuse this crisis?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, I don't have much qualms with the way they've handled it, to be quite frank. I think they've taken the appropriate steps in terms of repositioning assets to the region to protect the United States and to make very clear that we are going to live up to our security obligations to our allies in the region.

The truth of the matter is that I think it's a mistake to view North Korea as a government. It really is more like a criminal syndicate. And this young man who's now in charge of government there is even more erratic, as hard as it is to believe, than his predecessors. So it's a very dangerous situation.

I'm glad to see that Secretary Kerry visited China yesterday. I think it's important that the Chinese weigh in on this. I think, in the long term it's in the goal of everyone to see a unified Korea that actually provides for the people of North Korea the kind of life that they need.

And I think certainly, in the short term, what we have to ensure is that all of our allies in the region clearly understand that we are going to live up to our security commitments, that we are positioned militarily to be able to defend the United States if, in fact, these guys carry out an irrational or irresponsible act.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is--

MARCO RUBIO:
And long term, to make them understand that this pattern of irresponsible behavior, followed by some sort of reward in the form of food aid, that those days are over. And that is what's very important, that we not reward that behavior with any sort of aid.

DAVID GREGORY:
You were critical of the administration this week after a trip down to Cuba by Beyonce and Jay-Z. They were seen, you know, vacationing there, walking through the streets. It was sanctioned by The Treasury Department. Isn't the broader issue here, Senator, what, if anything will it take to get more normal relations with Cuba and the United States?

MARCO RUBIO:
Well, that's up to Cuba. If Cuba wants normal relations, there's certain things they need to do like become a normal country that respects the rights of their citizens. I thought it was hypocritical for Jay-Z and Beyonce to go down to Cuba. There is, in fact, a rapper right now in Cuba who's and a hunger strike and has been persecuted because of his lyrics.

You know, Jay-Z's a guy that wears the Che Guevara t-shirt and he doesn't realize Che Guevara was a racist. Che Guevara was a murderer and a killer. So look, he's an entertainer, obviously. He's not in the middle of any public discourse here. But I think it's important to point out when people take stances like this that are absurd.
Beyond that, I would say that the fundamental problem is not Jay-Z and Beyonce. The fundamental problem is that these trips to Cuba are being abused. They are not people to people trips. They are tourist trips that are providing hard currency for a dictatorial, tyrannical regime to get hard currency that it uses to oppress its people. And that's why these trips need to be carefully scrutinized.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, final question on politics. Can the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016 be a champion for an immigration reform policy that provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in this country?

MARCO RUBIO:
I think that the nominee of our party needs to be someone that has answers to the problems our country faces. And immigration is a serious problem. The 11 million people, or supposedly, the 11 million people that are here undocumented, is not a theory. No one is talking about bringing 11 million people here illegally. They are here now. They will be here for the rest of their lives. That needs to be addressed.
Unless if someone believes we can round them up and deport them, they should advocate that. I don't think that's a reasonable goal. If someone thinks that we should basically make life miserable for them so that they self deport, they should advocate that. That hasn't gone over well in the past because it doesn't work.
Or we can leave things the way they are. That is status quo, and that is amnesty. Or we can try to address it in a way that's responsible. And that's what I'm attempting to do. And that's what I hope I can convince my fellow Republicans to be supportive of.

DAVID GREGORY:
Senator, thank you, as always. Thanks for not making fun of my voice.

MARCO RUBIO:
Thank you.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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