Rubio Interview Sparks Heated Comments On Immigration, Economy

Steve Inskeep talks to Amy Walter of Cook Political Report about the social media response to his two-part interview with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Good morning. Let's follow up on interview we broadcast this week with Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is considering a run for president. In our conversation, Rubio questioned the credentials of the Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: I just think she's a 20th century candidate. I think she does not offer an agenda for moving America forward in the 21st century, at least, not up to now.

INSKEEP: Twentieth century candidate - Rubio's phrase turned the success of her husband's presidency in the '90s against her. One big question, though, is whether Republicans themselves can find a way to appeal to voters in this moment in the 21st century, and we're going to talk about that with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report. She's in our studio. Welcome to the program.

AMY WALTER: Thank you Steve.

INSKEEP: I was fascinated by the social media response to this interview because Rubio talks about his economic ideas - actually, there was a lot of interest in that from across the political spectrum. Then we ask him about immigration, and it's very, very polarized - very, very divided. Does that say something about where the Republican Party is right now?

WALTER: And it also says something where the country is right now, which is - you know, the number one issue for voters right now is the economy, and they do believe that they want government to go and fix this. They've been saying that now for six years. When we start getting on those hot button issues - whether it's immigration - whether it is the social issues, we go back to our partisan lines. The problem for Marco Rubio and for the Republican Party in general is that they know what the 21st century looks like. It is a diverse country. At the same time, their party has only been attracting older, wider voters. They need to figure out a way to get to the other side. They need to figure out a way to get to those other voters who are now making up a large and larger part of the electorate.

INSKEEP: Is Rubio the only republican trying to find a new way to talk here?

WALTER: No, and this is what's fascinating - the 2014 versus the 2016 candidates and the agenda for the party. The 2014 agenda is let's go win the Senate by anyway possible. We're going to win in red states, if we win the Senate - control the Senate. And we don't have to make some of these changes that Marco Rubio and some others, like Rand Paul, are talking about, like expanding the party to include minority voters, reaching out to those younger voters. They can win with that same coalition that Mitt Romney won in 2012.

INSKEEP: Or at least got nominated on in 2012...

WALTER: That's right. That's right.

INSKEEP: ...and lost, ultimately - the same coalition he tried to have in 2012.

WALTER: That's right. Now what Marco Rubio - you're hearing this from Rand Paul - Senator Rand Paul. You're hearing this from Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, saying we cannot be a party of the 21st century with and electorate - that we're appealing to an electorate of the 21st century.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to something that Marco Rubio said when he was talking about the way to appeal, specifically to Latino voters, and more broadly to just lower income, down-scale Americans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUBIO: The vast majority of a significant portion of Americans of Hispanic descent will vote - happen to be working class people who are desperate to not only achieve the American dream but leave their kids better off than themselves. And they are going to vote for the political movement and the candidates who they believe understand what they're facing and have real ideas to help them.

INSKEEP: And of course, Ruby hopes that him or whoever is the Republican nominee, ultimately - but can that happen without immigration reform?

WALTER: You know, that's the big question. And the real issue - when you talk to folks within the community, they say yes, we are looking for economic opportunity. But what Republicans have done is they've sort of poisoned the well by saying, you know, we want to help you get a job but we're also interested in deporting people in your family. Right? - you can't get invited into the living room if by the very first thing they know about you is you are either saying or doing things that look like harsh actions to that community. So this is where Marco Rubio has an opportunity, both as somebody who is the son of immigrants as well as someone who's working on legislation, to open that door.

INSKEEP: We've just got a few seconds left Amy Walter. But we played a tape of Rubio calling Hillary Clinton a 20th century candidate. It got a lot of attention. Washington Post columnists called it the single best argument against Hillary Clinton. Is it?

WALTER: It is a very strong message against Hillary Clinton, somebody who's been in Washington a long time. I'll also note that that was a shot across the bow, I think, to some of his Republican - potential Republican - opponents, someone like Jeb Bush who's also been around a lot in the 20th century.

INSKEEP: Amy, thanks very much.

WALTER: Sure, glad to be here.

INSKEEP: That's Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report.

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