Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, 44, is the youngest among leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Born in Miami of Cuban immigrants, the one-time high school football star rose from positions in local government to become speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. After winning a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, he helped forge a bipartisan compromise on immigration policy. He has lately edged away from that legislative victory, which went nowhere in the House amid fierce criticism from conservatives. Now Rubio has put a sweeping tax reform plan, which he calls necessary for adapting the U.S. economy to 21st century challenges, at the center of his White House campaign. He sat down with John Harwood at a Cuban restaurant in Detroit, where he was addressing that city’s Economic Club.
A partial transcript from Speakeasy with John Harwood featuring Sen. Marco Rubio follows. All references must be sourced to CNBC.com:
HARWOOD: You not only are young, you look really young.
RUBIO: Only in politics is that a bad thing, right? (LAUGH)
HARWOOD: I was talking to someone with one of the other campaigns the other day who said, “People are gonna look at Rubio and say, ‘Great young man, terrific, he’s got plenty of time. Not this time. We just had a first-term senator from Illinois get elected President, Republicans don’t like the results of that.”
RUBIO: Yeah, but I mean, I hear people say that. But the first thing is I have achieved things before I even got into the U.S. Senate. I don’t think Barack Obama failed ’cause he was a senator or because he hadn’t been in the Senate long enough. I think he has failed ’cause his ideas don’t work. Unfortunately I think he has been successful at achieving his agenda. He got Obamacare, he signed a deal with Iran, he has a deal with Cuba—
HARWOOD: Well, so in what respect is he failing?
RUBIO: His agenda doesn’t work. Appeasing our enemies doesn’t work—
HARWOOD: Economy’s going pretty well—
RUBIO: Yeah, it’s not going well—
HARWOOD: –we’ve added 16—
RUBIO: No– it’s not going—
HARWOOD: We’re one of the healthiest major economies in the world right now.
RUBIO: Well– in comparison to where the world is today– look, so yeah, America’s still a great country. But that’s not due to our policies, that’s despite our policies. In the 21st century the better-paying jobs are driven by innovation and we don’t have enough of that in America because of regulatory policy, and tax policy, and a potential debt crisis, and on and on.
HARWOOD: Do you not think that you are vulnerable to this idea that, “What’s 21st century about his stance on social issues, his stance on climate?”
RUBIO: I’m talkin’ about a 21st century economic transformation. And we need 21st century economic policies. There are fundamental truths that will be true no matter what. There are fundamental truths, for example, that—
HARWOOD: But we need 20th century social policies?
RUBIO: Well, well, lemme tell you this: Human life is worthy of protection in every era. There’s no era in which having stronger families won’t be good for our country. What I’m talkin’ about is a new American century because of a new global economy.
HARWOOD: Top three candidates nationally in Republican polling right now: Trump, Carson, Cruz, all the outsider guys. You’re a career politician. Why are you a good fit for this job?
RUBIO: Well first of all, I– most of my political service has been in a part-time job in the state legislature. I’ve had jobs in the private sector up until the day I was elected to the U.S. Senate.
HARWOOD: But you went into politics very young?
RUBIO: Sure at local government, in a small city of 5,000 people. It’s like being on a condominium board, but without the power of a condominium board. So I would say this to you: People are upset and they have a right to be. For 30 years political figures in both parties have been saying things are going to change; they don’t change. It is good to be upset about the direction of our country because that motivates us. But after you’re upset and you’re motivated, you have to have a plan that actually has a chance of working. I’m more frustrated about Washington than they are. I have to work there every day. I ran for office to try to make a difference. That’s why I’m leaving the Senate and running for president, because I can make a difference there that we haven’t been able to make over the last four and a half years under this President.
HARWOOD: Senator, thanks so much for doing it.
RUBIO: Thank you.
HARWOOD: Good luck on the trail.
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