Rubio,Crist Debate on Fox NewsMarch 28, 2010 - 9:51 PM | by: Serafin Gomez
MIAMI- After almost a year of hurling shots and criticisms from a distance, the two Republican candidates in the most closely watched U.S. Senate primary race finally came to a head in their first debate.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, the two heatedly-discussed a wide range of topics, but the most interesting subjects discussed over the 40 minute segment were the two central themes of this defining race so far: Crist’s support of the President Obama’s stimulus bill, and the questions raised over Rubio’s finances.
Right off the bat, Crist, who is trailing by 11 points in the latest poll, attacked Rubio’s expenditures with his Republican Party credit card, and usage of funds from his political action committees during his tenure as a Florida representative.
“Speaker Rubio views public service as a way to enhance his personal enrichment. And that’s just wrong, “Crist said, sitting inches away from his opponent.” He set up about a $600,000 slush fund which he utilized for ostensibly political purposes but it’s been shown lately it’s been used to fix his minivan, get haircuts, employ family members, things of this nature that are not what a political committee is supposed to do.”
“Those allegations are false. The allegations have been proven false, ” Rubio responded pointedly. “In fact, the Associated Press has looked at some of the allegations that the governor has made not just today but on his commercial and found them to be not true and over the top…The facts are that this is not taxpayer money. It was raised for the purposes of political advancement, for advancing a political agenda. And that’s what the money was spent on. Now,there were some occasions where we had some personal expenses which I identified and I made payments on out of my own pocket at the time those expenses were made.”
Rubio then hit Crist over his early support for the Obama stimulus package that lead to Crist’s precipitous drop from front-runner to underdog in the primary race. Crist had lead Rubio by 30 points last summer.
“Governor, you just don’t get it. This campaign is not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about the people watching this program, that are watching their country being fundamentally redefined by this administration and this Congress,” Rubio said about the now-famous “Hug” between Crist and Obama during a pro-stimulus rally in Florida in 200, that angered Florida conservatives, and fueled Rubio’s rise. ” I will stand up to the agenda. Everyone knows that you won’t stand up to the Obama agenda because just a year ago you were campaigning for it.”
Crist argued that he only did what other Republican governors like Haley Barbour of Mississippi had to do, which was make a “tough decision” for his state during a recession, and accept the stimulus funds.
“If we had taken the speaker’s approach, we would have had 87,000 more people on top of that 12 percent that would be unemployed in Florida today, 20,000 of those, as you indicated, school teachers who are teaching the children. That’s awfully important for us to be able to continue to do that,” Crist said.
Crist also acknowledged to Wallace that if he were in the U.S. Senate during the stimulus vote, he would have voted for the bill.
“The stimulus has failed because since that famous day in February where the governor campaigned with Barack Obama on behalf of the stimulus program, 211,000 Floridians have lost their jobs.Today — just this week it was announced we have the highest unemployment rate in Florida’s history ” Rubio said about Florida’s 12.2 percent rate, one of the worst in the country.
“Who do you trust to stand up to Barack Obama and offer a clear alternative? I’m running for the U.S. Senate because if I get there, I will stand up to this.We can’t trust you, Governor, to stand up to Barack Obama,” Rubio added.
“This race is about trust, ” Crist retorted.” Marco Rubio earned $300,000 as a lobbyist lawyer with a firm in Florida while he was in the House of Representatives. Whose interest was he really looking out for? We have a very fundamental different view about public service. I think it is to serve the public. That’s why I took the stimulus money, because I put people above politics.”
Crist also announced on the show that he would not run as an independent, as some have speculated in Florida.
“I’m running as a Republican. I’m very proud to be from the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, others that really have stood up for the principles of our party, like Ronald Reagan” Crist said.” This is a great party. It has a great future. We have a great opportunity to win in November. It’s important that we put a candidate up that can win in November.”
FULL TRANSCRIPT FROM FOX NEWS SUNDAY DEBATE:
It’s the most closely watched Senate primary race in the nation, a rough and tumble battle, some say about the future of the Republican Party — Florida governor Charlie Crist versus former state house speaker Marco Rubio. It’s their first debate and it’s only on “Fox News Sunday.”
Also, now that health care reform is law, we’ll ask our Sunday regulars what issues are next for the president and Democrats, and how should the GOP respond, all right now on “Fox News Sunday.”
And hello again from Fox News in Washington. It’s rare that a primary fight attracts national attention, but the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in Florida is one of the top match-ups in 2010.
Former state speaker of the house Marco Rubio is a new favorite of conservatives and Tea Partiers and he’s hammering Florida governor Charlie Crist for supporting the Obama stimulus last year. Here’s a recent Rubio commercial.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: Why is a desperate Charlie Crist falsely attacking Marco Rubio? Can’t Florida do better?
CROWD: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Governor Crist, whose big lead in the polls has turned into a big deficit, is now going after Rubio as just another political insider. Here is Crist’s first TV ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALE NARRATOR: Rubio shot to national stardom, called the Republican Obama.
FEMALE NARRATOR: Now comes the truth.
MALE NARRATOR: Rubio was a registered lobbyist. His income skyrocketed while his power increased.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Now after months of talking about each other, Governor Crist and Mr. Rubio confront each other for the first time.
And, gentlemen, welcome to “Fox News Sunday.”
(UNKNOWN): Thank you, Chris.
(UNKNOWN): Thank you.
(UNKNOWN): Great to be with you.
(UNKNOWN): Thank you for the opportunity.
WALLACE: I’d like to ask each of you to take a minute to lay out what you think is at stake here. What’s the choice for Florida voters? Take a minute.
Mr. Rubio, you start.
RUBIO: Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity to have us today.
Happy Palm Sunday, Governor.
Happy Palm Sunday to all of our viewers.
Chris, it’s very simple. People from all over America, all over Florida, are looking at this administration chip away at all the things that have made America great and unique throughout our history.
America is not just exceptional nation. It is actually one with — without its greatness the world would be a very different and I would dare say a worse place. And all of that’s being chipped away now by this administration.
And people are looking for leaders that will go to Washington, D.C. and stand up to this agenda and offer a clear alternative. And I’ve chosen to run for the United States Senate in Florida, because in Florida there’s no other candidate that we can count on to actually do that.
That’s the basis of my campaign. It’s the only reason why I’m running. And I think it’s a compelling one. It’s the reason why I think we’ve found success.
WALLACE: Governor Crist, what’s at stake? What’s the choice between the two of you for Florida Republicans?
CRIST: Well, I think the choice is crystal clear in this race, Chris, I really do. I think that it’s important for the voters in Florida to understand that there is a clear, stark distinction between Speaker Rubio and myself and our approach, if you will, to public service.
I view public service as a calling, something that you do to try to help other people, to improve their lives, their quality of life. Unfortunately, recent news accounts in Florida have come out that indicate, in fact, that Speaker Rubio views public service as a way to enhance his personal enrichment. And that’s just wrong.
For example, he set up about a $600,000 slush fund which he utilized for ostensibly political purposes but it’s been shown lately it’s been used to fix his minivan, get haircuts, employ family members, things of this nature that are not what a political committee is supposed to do.
In fact, out of the $600,000 that were raised, only $4,000 went to candidates to try to improve their chances to be elected to office. That’s not what people want. They want people who are not there to enrich themselves but to — who are there to enrich the lives of their fellow Floridians.
WALLACE: Mr. Rubio, this was the first issue I was going to get into, the question of your finances both as a young legislator in 2003-’04 and then also as speaker, where there are allegations that you double billed the state and also the party for various expenses. Your response, sir?
RUBIO: Well, first of all, those allegations are false. The allegations have been proven false. In fact, the Associated Press has looked at some of the allegations that the governor has made not just today but on his commercial and found them to be not true and over the top.
Here are the facts. The facts are that this is not taxpayer money. It was raised for the purposes of political advancement, for advancing a political agenda. And that’s what the money was spent on.
Now, there were some occasions where we had some personal expenses which I identified and I made payments on out of my own pocket at the time those expenses were made. All this money’s been accounted for. And so that’s what this is about.
But, Governor, you just don’t get it.
CRIST: Chris, with due respect…
WALLACE: Let Mr. Rubio finish.
RUBIO: You just don’t get it. This campaign is not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about the people watching this program, that are watching their country being fundamentally redefined by this administration and this Congress.
They’re taking us in a direction that is wrong and they’re looking for people to stand up to this agenda and offer an alternative. And you’re right, there is a distinction. I will stand up to the agenda. Everyone knows that you won’t stand up to the Obama agenda because just a year ago you were campaigning for it.
WALLACE: We’re going to get to the famous hug in a moment.
But, Governor Crist, why…
CRIST: Can I address something that he’s…
WALLACE: Why — yes.
CRIST: … talking about, Chris?
WALLACE: Why is this relevant in a race for the U.S. Senate?
CRIST: Well, if trust and confidence in an individual, what they say and what they do, isn’t relevant, then I don’t know what is.
It’s very important that people who put themselves up for public office understand that they’re asking for the trust of those individuals they’re asking to vote for them. The speaker just misspoke yet again. He said all these things have been accounted for.
There are $34,000 in expenses from that $600,000 slush fund that have not been accounted for. We don’t know where the money went. We don’t know what happened to it. And the speaker won’t tell us. You know, he claims that it’s all accounted for, that these allegations are not true. They’re absolutely true.
You know, the other thing that I think we need to talk about here today is the fact that the speaker continues to tell us that he wants to work for the people, he wants to be a good conservative. I think we can both agree we’re both good conservatives.
But what he has also done is he’s utilized funds, double-dipping, as you mentioned earlier, for plane flights — you know, thousands of dollars where he billed the taxpayers of Florida. He also billed the Republican Party of Florida. Only after he was caught did he take the steps — at least he’s told us he has — to go ahead and repay the party.
I thought he should have repaid the taxpayers. That’s who he worked for. It’s a real simple difference.
WALLACE: Let me ask you to respond to that and also to the question as to whether or not you are amending your tax returns, Mr. Rubio, to reflect some of the questionable finances.
RUBIO: Well, let’s talk about those for a second. All of that money has been accounted for. I wish we would have done a better job of reporting, there’s no doubt about it, and I’ll be the first to admit it. But it has all been accounted for. As far as the flights are concerned, even the chairman of our party has said that they were inadvertent.
Now, let me talk about something else, Chris. This election is about trust. Who do you trust to go to Washington and stand up to Barack Obama and offer a clear alternative?
In 2006, Governor, I voted for you because I trusted you when you said you would be a Jeb Bush Republican. Your record was something very different. You signed a budget that raised taxes. You tried to oppose (ph) the cap and trade system in Florida. You appointed liberal supreme court justices to our supreme court.
CRIST: Who are those — who’s the…
RUBIO: You were…
CRIST: … liberal supreme court justice?
RUBIO: Justice Perry to the supreme court.
CRIST: Justice Perry, who Jeb Bush appointed to the court originally?
RUBIO: You not only did that…
CRIST: He’s a liberal?
RUBIO: … in addition to that, you worked with Acorn…
CRIST: That’s astounding.
RUBIO: … and groups like that to give felons voting rights in Florida. And finally, you campaigned with Barack Obama on behalf of a failed stimulus program. So it is about trust.
WALLACE: All right.
RUBIO: Who do you trust to go to Washington and stand up to President Obama?
CRIST: I, like the speaker, Chris, if I might — I, like the speaker, said that I would utilize those stimulus funds in order to help the people of the state. He admitted…
WALLACE: But let me…
CRIST: … he would do the same thing.
WALLACE: Let me — let me interrupt, if I might…
WALLACE: … because we’re going to get to that right now, which is this has been a big issue in the campaign so far, and it is the issue of your support in February of 2009 when President Obama was fighting for it — and here’s the famous — some would say infamous — picture of the hug when you came out and supported the Obama stimulus package.
By the start of this year, Florida had received $8.2 billion in stimulus funds. Governor Crist says that has created or saved 87,000 jobs, including 26,000 teaching jobs.
Before I let Governor Crist answer, Mr. Rubio, why is $8 billion and 87,000 jobs bad for a state that has 12 percent unemployment?
RUBIO: Well, here’s what the bad — if it’s bad for America, it can’t possibly be good for your state. Let me tell you why the stimulus has failed. The stimulus has failed because since that famous day in February where the governor campaigned with Barack Obama on behalf of the stimulus program, 211,000 Floridians have lost their jobs.
Today — just this week it was announced we have the highest unemployment rate in Florida’s history. But here’s the centerpiece of the stimulus debate that we need to talk about. We’re running for the United States Senate. And so the choice for Republicans in Florida is do you want a candidate that would have stood up to Barack Obama, voted against the stimulus and supported something that would have cost less money and created more jobs. If that’s the candidate you want, that would be me.
Or do you want the next Republican senator from Florida to be someone who would have voted with the Democrats for the stimulus package? And that candidate would be Governor Crist. That’s really the choice here.
WALLACE: Governor Crist, your Republican predecessor, Jeb Bush, says that by embracing the Obama stimulus, you undercut Republicans who at the time were fighting for more tax cuts and less government spending. Let’s watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH: But when Republicans were fighting in a principled way against that, Governor Crist, incorrectly in my opinion, supported the stimulus package. That was a mistake. And I consider it unforgivable in the sense we’re now in a battle for our country’s future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Governor, how do you respond to Jeb Bush, who says it was unforgivable? And also, how do you respond to the fact that despite the stimulus, this week, as Mr. Rubio points out, unemployment in Florida is at an all-time high, recorded high, 12.2 percent?
CRIST: First, let me talk about my friend Governor Jeb Bush. Governor Bush was an extraordinary governor, did great things for our state, particularly in the area of education. I was proud to be his education commissioner during that time.
People have different opinions on different things. Not everybody agrees on everything all the time. And I think it would be, you know, foolish to think that everybody would.
Now, what I want to talk about, though, is the fact that my opponent talks about, you know, we need to look at spending. Well, I think we need to look at spending. Look at the record of my opponent when it comes to what he was paid as a lobbyist. My opponent was a lobbyist while he served in the Florida house of representatives.
WALLACE: Can we please — I’d like an answer to the question about the stimulus and why you think…
CRIST: Well, I think I answered it. You know, we utilized those monies just like Haley Barbour did in Mississippi, just like, you know, Sonny Perdue did in Georgia — some of these wild-eyed liberals who understood they have a duty to the people of their state. They have to put people above politics.
And as governor, you’ve got to make tough decisions. I made the tough decision to utilize these funds to help the people of Florida. I know the unemployment rate is bad. I know the economy is tough. I understand all of that.
If we had taken the speaker’s approach, we would have had 87,000 more people on top of that 12 percent that would be unemployed in Florida today, 20,000 of those, as you indicated, school teachers who are teaching the children. That’s awfully important for us to be able to continue to do that.
WALLACE: Let me — let me follow up and then I’m going to let Mr. Rubio respond.
Only three Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted for the Obama stimulus when it passed in 2009, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter. Are you saying that if you had been a senator, Republican senator, in the U.S. Senate in 2009 you would have voted for the stimulus?
CRIST: Yeah, that’s pretty clear. I mean, you know, I think it was the right thing to do at the time. You have to go back and remember what was happening in our economy. It was literally falling off the cliff.
I mean, some of these, you know, ideas to try to prop up our economy, frankly, began under the Bush administration, President Bush. It was the TARP. They wanted to make sure our financial institutions did not collapse, that people didn’t have to have fear and a run on the banks or something of that nature.
And when it came to the stimulus, it was money to help our economy. Things have started to stabilize now and they’re getting better in Florida.
WALLACE: Mr. Rubio?
RUBIO: Well, I don’t know how you define stability. Having the highest unemployment rate in Florida’s history is certainly not stability, especially to the one out of 10 Floridians that can’t find a job. The stimulus is a failure.
And I think in this conversation we’ve established the critical difference in this campaign. If I had been in Washington, D.C. as a U.S. senator, I would have voted against the stimulus. I would have fought on behalf of alternatives that were offered by Republicans that would have cost less money and would have promoted more jobs, quite frankly.
Had Charlie Crist had been in the U.S. Senate, he would have voted for the stimulus. And so for the Florida Republicans, the choice is pretty clear. Do you want your next U.S. senator to be someone like me or like the gentleman that you’ve named to the U.S. Senate who would have voted against stimulus and fought against it, or do you want someone who would have voted for the stimulus?
WALLACE: This brings us to the bigger issue that I want to discuss, and that is what role you see for yourselves if you’re lucky enough to be elected the next senator from Florida.
Mr. Rubio, you say you will stand up to the Obama agenda and that Governor Crist won’t. You say your favorite senator is Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who opposes the Obama agenda right down the line. Doesn’t that, in effect, mean, though, that if you’re elected it’s more partisan gridlock?
RUBIO: Well, first of all, partisan gridlock is not something I’m in favor of, OK? But the problem is it depends on what you’re standing for. What are you fighting for? I’d be more than happy to work across the aisle to do things like lower the capital gains tax, lower the corporate tax, flatten the tax rate, lower all of these other taxes that make America increasingly an unfriendly place to do business.
And if the Obama administration tomorrow announces that that’s their agenda, or the leadership in Congress does, I’ll be more than happy — I will be thrilled to work with them.
But what they’re attempting to do is to fundamentally redefine the role of government in America, and we can’t cooperate with that. We’ve got to stop that from happening, because once we cross a certain point, we can’t turn back.
WALLACE: Governor Crist, you say that the senators that you admire most are John McCain and Lindsey Graham. And in your recent state of the state speech, you said this — and let’s put it on the screen. ”Problem solvers recognize that important achievements often require consensus, and consensus sometimes requires concession.”
What you seem to be saying is you’d look for areas to work with President Obama, areas of consensus and areas of concession.
CRIST: I would work to make sure that I stand with people who will help the people of my state and my country. I am a pragmatic, common-sense conservative, always have been.
My political mentor was a guy named Connie Mack, a great United States senator. And I look through almost every issue through the prism of less taxing, less spending, less government and more freedom.
I also understand that we’re in a tough economy right now, and when you’re in a tough economy, sometimes you have to do the kinds of things that make sense in order to be able to keep people employed, to continue to have work happening in your state, to make sure that your schools continue to be productive and that you fight for the teachers, you fight for the students, you fight for the people of Florida.
That’s what I’ve always done as attorney general of the state, as commissioner of education, and as a state senator from Tampa Bay. These things do matter.
And you can’t just be off on some limb, you know, rattling the cage and saying you’re going to do great things and stand on principle or politics above the people of your state that you’re supposed to serve. You’ve got to do what’s right.
And this race comes down to doing what’s right. That’s what it’s all about. My opponent has viewed public service as a way to have personal enrichment. We talked about it briefly, about him double billing flights. We talked about it in terms of the $600,000 slush fund that he set up.
Ostensibly, it was supposed to help other candidates. All it helped was Rubio Incorporated. You know, family members were hired. They spent money on the minivan. He got a $135 haircut, or whatever it was. That doesn’t make sense to people and it’s not what they want. They want people to serve in public who want to serve the people.
WALLACE: Mr. Rubio?
RUBIO: Those are outrageous accusations.
CRIST: They’re not outrageous. They’re the truth.
RUBIO: And here we are, 11 months into this campaign…
CRIST: They’re the truth.
RUBIO: … now, Chris. We are almost 15 minutes into this debate and we have yet to hear a single serious public policy proposal from my opponent. All he wants to talk about is tearing me down, personal attacks, et cetera.
He talks about making sense. How does spending $787 billion of money we don’t have, money we’re borrowing from Chinese and Japanese investors, money that my children and their generation are going to have to work their whole life to pay the interest and the principal on — how does that in any way make sense for Florida or for our country?
What would have made sense is meaningful tax reform.
CRIST: Let me tell you what makes sense.
RUBIO: What would have made sense is entitlement reform.
WALLACE: Let — let — let me…
RUBIO: These are the things that would have made sense…
WALLACE: Let me — let me move…
RUBIO: … and those are the things he should have…
WALLACE: Let me move on, because I have want to talk about a specific issue, and see where you agree or disagree, because clearly, one of the biggest issues that the next senator from Florida is going to have to confront is health care reform, which by that point will have been the law of the land for the better part of a year.
Governor Crist, you said a month ago there may be parts of it that you don’t have to scrap. So if you become the U.S. Senator from Florida, what parts would you scrap? What parts of it would you keep? And what can you do as long as Barack Obama is president?
CRIST: I think one thing that’s very important — and I think everybody agrees on this, Chris — that preexisting instances should not be a discriminatory tool that’s used by insurance companies to not give people insurance.
I think what we need to do is go ahead and repeal this thing. Let’s start over. Let’s take an opportunity to do what’s right for the people. The real problems with health care are access and affordability. And we have approached those in Florida.
In fact, the speaker and I worked together on a plan called Cover Florida Health Care, and it’s coverFloridahealthcare.com. We negotiated with the private sector. We reduced the cost to those who were uninsured. We were able to provide access.
And the average cost for health insurance in Florida went from about $600 a month for an individual to about $150 a month. No tax dollars involved. No government mandates. I think Washington could learn a lot from Florida.
WALLACE: Let me ask about that, Governor Crist, because Cover Florida — we looked into it, and you signed it into law two years ago — stripped-down insurance for stripped-down prices. As you say, all voluntary. No subsidiaries. No mandates. We looked at it.
One-tenth of 1 percent of Florida’s uninsured have signed up for it in the last two years, 5,000 out of millions of people.
CRIST: Well, let me talk about those 5,000 people. For every single one of those 5,000 — it’s about 6,000 now, but I won’t quibble over the numbers. But for every individual who now has that peace of mind, who doesn’t have to worry about their child having a catastrophic illness or they themselves…
WALLACE: But it’s hardly “cover Florida,” Governor.
CRIST: Well, I think it’s important that it’s cover families. People who get it like it. They understand that it makes a difference in their lives. It gives them the peace of mind that they deserve. And I think it’s important to understand that.
WALLACE: Mr. Rubio, now that the health care reform bill is law, would you, if you go to Washington, work to repeal it? How would you do it, given the fact that Barack Obama will still be president and could veto a repeal?
And I want to ask you about an article that you wrote last December. Let’s put it up on the screen. ”Any solution should ultimately seek to promote a vibrant private market where individuals can buy health insurance the way we buy auto insurance, independent of our employer, with the kind of flexibility and coverage we need and at affordable prices.”
Mr. Rubio, would you move away from an employer-based health insurance system?
RUBIO: Well, it’s not about moving away. It’s about providing an alternative to it. And let me — let me first tell you about this bill. There are so many things wrong with this bill, we don’t have enough time…
WALLACE: You’re talking about…
RUBIO: In the health care bill.
RUBIO: There’s so much time — we don’t have enough time to talk about it, whether it’s tricky accounting or other — but here’s the main one. We can’t afford it.
The bill, when the true numbers are applied to it, add to our debt and bring us closer to insolvency as a nation. So we have to move away from it. The solutions are like those that were outlined in that article that you pointed to a moment ago.
It’s about allowing individuals to have the same tax benefits that their employer gets when they try to buy insurance from the marketplace. It’s about allowing small businesses to pool together to buy insurance coverage and to do so across state lines. It’s about tort reform. It’s about lawsuit abuse reform that will help lower the cost of health insurance.
These are the sorts of reforms that we should be working on. And I think the first step is to repeal it. And we need to win a few elections before we can get there. But we certainly need to start campaigning and talking about…
WALLACE: But when you — when you talk about creating a private market independent…
WALLACE: … of our employer, are you in some way saying you want to dismantle the employer…
RUBIO: No, the employer would always have the option to continue to offer health insurance. But our congressmen and congresswomen and members of the Senate get their insurance that way.
You get a medical payment and you use that money, on average about 72 percent of the plans — you use that money to go out to an employer — sorry, to an insurance marketplace and buy the health insurance that you want to buy. If we could give the consumer more control over their health care dollars, you would finally have the kind of vibrancy and competition in health insurance in America that will help control costs, help improve quality.
WALLACE: All right. Gentlemen, we have to step aside for a moment.
But when we come back, we’ll continue this debate. We’re going to turn to immigration, and to taxes, and to persistent rumors that Governor Crist may run as an independent. More of the Florida Senate showdown in a moment.
WALLACE: And we’re back to continue the Florida Senate showdown between Governor Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio.
Let’s talk about immigration, gentlemen.
Governor Crist, you say that you want all Floridians counted in the census, including illegals. You also, in 2007, supported the McCain immigration reform plan, which offered a path to citizenship which some called amnesty. Is Marco Rubio tougher on immigration than you are?
CRIST: I don’t think so. I — actually, I think we probably agree on this issue. He is the son of immigrants. I’m the grandson of immigrants.
And I think the first thing we need to realize about immigration reform is to make sure that we seal the border. You know, everything else is an academic conversation unless and until we do that. I think steps have been made to try to enhance that recently, and that’s a good thing.
Secondarily, I think we need to make sure that we’re enforcing the law. As a former attorney general, laws on the books don’t mean anything and have no consequences if they’re not being enforced.
And thirdly, I think that those who are already here shouldn’t be advantaged by the fact that they got here illegally. If they have the opportunity to gain citizenship, they should go to the back of the line, go through the regular process, what the law requires, in order to attain their citizenship, just as my grandfather did and the speaker’s parents…
WALLACE: But you think that the immigration reform plans that were offered in 2007 by President Bush and John McCain — you still think those are pretty good ideas?
CRIST: I don’t think they’re bad ideas. I think that those three principles, though, need to be underscored — protecting the border, making sure that we enforce the law that’s on the books, and that those people who may have gotten here illegally are not advantaged by having done so.
I think it’s very important, Chris, that in order to have legal immigration, we have to stop illegal immigration. As the grandson, as I said, of an immigrant, it’s important to me personally and I know is it to the speaker.
WALLACE: Mr. Rubio, you say that you’re against amnesty for illegals, but critics point out that as speaker, you didn’t bring to the floor several bills that would have cracked down on illegals and on employers who hire them.
And you voted for a bill that would have allowed the children of illegals to pay the same tuition as in-state residents, tuition rate for college as in-state residents. Is Governor Crist tougher on immigration than you are?
RUBIO: It’s not an issue about tougher. Just to address those issues with — regarding Florida, those bills — the only place they ever got a hearing was on the floor of the house, and they didn’t advance because the senate didn’t want to advance them. Governor Crist was governor at the time and he didn’t have an interest in them as well, and — but those bills — the only place they ever got a hearing was in the Florida…
CRIST: I had an interest in them. How can you say what my interest was?
RUBIO: Well, you never — I never saw you speak out…
CRIST: … out of the house.
RUBIO: You never — well, the only place they ever got a hearing was on the floor of the house, never got a letter from the governor, never had him call our office…
WALLACE: But you didn’t bring several of these bills to the floor.
RUBIO: Well, they never got out of their committees.
CRIST: That’s correct, Chris.
RUBIO: They never got a hearing. But here’s the most important thing.
WALLACE: But, Speaker, couldn’t you have done more? Because that’s what some critics say.
RUBIO: Well, we gave it a hearing. The support wasn’t there among the membership at the time, and they were focused at that time on some very serious challenges in a 60-day session.
CRIST: Did you send a letter to the…
RUBIO: But let me move on by…
CRIST: … committee chair saying you wanted him to pass…
RUBIO: Let me move on and answer the question about immigration…
CRIST: Want to answer that one?
RUBIO: … because the Republican Party, I think unfortunately, has been cast as the anti-illegal immigration party. It is not the anti-illegal immigration party. It is the pro-legal immigration party. And having a legal immigration system that works begins, as the governor says, with border security.
By the way, it’s not enough. About a third of the folks in this country illegally enter legally and they overstay visas. And so we’ve got to deal with that issue as well.
We’ve got to deal with the employment aspect of it, because the vast majority of people who enter this country illegally do so in search of jobs, and jobs are being provided to them. So we need some level of verification system so that employers are required to verify the employment status of their folks.
As far as amnesty, that’s where the governor and I disagree. He would have voted for the McCain plan. I think that plan is wrong, and the reason why I think it’s wrong is that if you grant amnesty, as the governor proposes that we do, in any form, whether it’s back of the line or so forth, you will destroy any chance we will ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America.
WALLACE: Let’s turn to taxes and spending.
Mr. Rubio, you say that you support a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. You also say you would freeze federal discretionary spending except for security spending, on homeland security and the Pentagon. But that’s the same spending freeze that President Obama supports, which covers 13 percent of the federal budget.
RUBIO: The freeze is not enough. And actually, I — there’s another plan out there which I think is a pretty good one, and it’s actually advanced by Senator LeMieux in Florida and others. But a freeze is not enough.
Look, we can freeze the non-military discretionary spending and it’s a good step forward. But ultimately, tackling the issue of the federal debt is going to require significant entitlement reforms. That means programs like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid have to be reformed if we hope to save them so that they exist for my generation.
That means we are going to call upon people my age — I turn 39 in May — and people that are far from retirement to make difficult but important and necessary choices to ensure that the runaway growth in entitlement programs and federal spending does not diminish our future or bankrupt America.
And for those who doubt that sovereign debt is a real risk, they need to look no further than what’s happening right now in the European Union and what’s happening with Greece and understand that that very real risk could exist in America’s future.
WALLACE: Let’s pick up on that, and then I want to get back to Governor Crist and your record on taxes.
But now that Medicare spending has been cut to help pay for health care reform, perhaps the biggest issue still out there in a way to try to deal with the deficit is Social Security.
Mr. Rubio, in the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago, you wrote this, “Privatization of the accounts has come and gone. There are other alternatives such as raising the retirement age, how you adjust payments in the future, need measures, et cetera.”
Are you saying that if elected to the Senate you will consider such benefit cuts as raising the retirement age and slowing down or adjusting cost-of-living adjustments?
RUBIO: Well, first of all, I think a great starting point for this conversation is the Ryan roadmap. And I’m proud to have Representative Ryan’s endorsement in this campaign.
WALLACE: This is Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
RUBIO: Correct. I think it’s a great starting point. He does include individual accounts as part of his plan.
WALLACE: I’m asking you about your plan.
RUBIO: But here’s what I would say. Well, first of all, on the individual accounts come and gone, that debate happened a few years ago and it’s — every year that goes by, it becomes more difficult to accomplish that.
But certainly, I think if you’re 55 years of age or older, or close enough to retirement — 55 is the number that the Ryan plan uses — I think this is off the table. We’re not talking about you. We are talking about folks like me that are 39 years of age, many years away from retirement.
Social Security, whether we want it to or not, in its current form cannot survive and will not exist for us. In fact, just this week we received the news that for the first time Social Security is now paying out more in benefits than it’s taking in. That was something that was supposed to happen in 2016. It’s now happening in 2010.
WALLACE: So, direct question…
WALLACE: … would you raise…
WALLACE: … the retirement age?
RUBIO: I think that has to be on the table. That’s got to be part of the solution, the retirement age gradually increases for people of my generation. I think it’s got to be part of…
WALLACE: Would you change cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security?
RUBIO: I think all of that has to be on the table, including the way we index increases in cost of living. All of these issues have to be on the table. They have to be options that I would be open to. They are included in the Ryan roadmap. I think it’s the right approach to Social Security reform.
WALLACE: Governor Crist, we looked all over your campaign Web site. Frankly, we couldn’t find a word about Social Security reform.
CRIST: Well, I think it’s important that we understand Social Security must be saved. It must be protected. The idea of having a higher age for people to be able to be eligible for Social Security really flies in the face of an awful lot of my fellow Floridians and it’s something that I would not advocate.
I think we need to take the fraud out of Social Security, the waste, as with — it is in Medicare as well. I’d like to get back to something that you were talking about with the speaker, and that is taxes.
WALLACE: Well, we’re going to get to taxes in a moment, but I would like to get your answer–
CRIST: I haven’t had a chance to talk about taxes.
WALLACE: We’re — I said we’re going to get to taxes in a moment.
CRIST: Thank you. Thanks.
WALLACE: But the question I have for you is you’re saying that even for people under the age of 55 you would not raise the retirement age or you wouldn’t change the cost-of-living adjustment?
CRIST: No, I would not. No, I would not do that.
WALLACE: Well, I mean, with all due respect, sir, waste and fraud — I mean, it’s the — people have been talking about it for years. Don’t you actually have to make some benefit changes if you’re going to deal with this debt issue?
CRIST: Well, I think you might have to make some, but I think what you want to do first is get the waste–
WALLACE: Such as what?
CRIST: .. and the fraud out.
WALLACE: What would you–
CRIST: Getting the waste and the fraud out. I think you have to have strict enforcement. You have to understand that you have to have U.S. attorneys that go after this with a serious approach and realize that in order for these programs to be able to survive so that my children and my grandchildren have an opportunity to be able to benefit from them, we have to spend less by getting waste and fraud out of these systems.
Now, as it relates to taxes, if I might, I wanted to talk about the fact that, you know, as somebody who believes that we need to reduce the tax brackets, we need to reduce the income tax, in order to have private enterprise flourish — we have to do that because I think that we have an obligation to have this dream called America continue to be able to prosper.
We’ve done that in Florida. In fact, I signed into law the largest single tax cut in the history of my state. We have also slashed spending in Florida by over $7.4 billion since I’ve been governor. This is the kind of conservative fiscal leadership that the Cato Institute said I was the most fiscally conservative governor in America as a result of.
Let me talk about my opponent and what he did on taxes. He proposed the largest tax increase in the history of my state, about a $9 billion increase in taxes. He said it would be some kind of a swap and that justifies it. But it would have hit sales tax, which would have been the most regressive tax that you could imagine — in other words, meaning that people who can least afford it have to pay the same as people who can afford a lot more.
WALLACE: Let me ask you, Governor Crist, about your record, though. When you were running for governor four years ago, you made a flat George H.W. Bush pledge, you will not raise taxes as long as you’re governor.
Last year you signed a $66 billion state budget that had a $2.2 billion increase in taxes — new taxes and fees. Didn’t you break your promise to Florida voters?
CRIST: No, I don’t think I did, and I’ll tell you why. The only part of it that was a tax — and it’s loosely defined as a tax — was on cigarettes. And I would — I would argue that that’s a user fee. If you don’t use them, you don’t pay it.
And so I think it’s important to distinguish between my friend here, who proposed the largest tax increase in the history of the state, and myself.
WALLACE: I’m going to — I’m going to get to Mr. Rubio in a minute. But you also signed into law higher fees on drivers’ licenses and on motor vehicle registration, motor vehicle tags. You said these aren’t broad-based taxes.
Governor, 16 million people are drivers in Florida, and there are 18 million motor vehicles.
CRIST: No, I understand that. I understand that, Chris.
WALLACE: That’s a — that’s a pretty broad-based tax, isn’t it?
CRIST: Well, I don’t think it’s a tax. It’s a fee. If you don’t drive, you don’t pay it. I mean, you know, if you look at it by its pure, common-sense definition, what the — what the speaker wanted to do is have sales tax increase by $9 billion. That would have hit all 20 million of my fellow Floridians. Now that’s a tax increase.
WALLACE: You’ve made that charge. Let’s let Mr. Rubio respond.
RUBIO: Well, let me tell you about that supposed program to raise taxes that he keeps talking about. It was probably the largest tax increase in Florida’s history. It would have eliminated property taxes for all sorts of people. And it was supported by none — no more, no less, than Jeb Bush.
You said you ran as a Jeb Bush Republican. Jeb Bush supported that plan. And later on, you supported a similar one that came out of the tax and budget reform commission. Here are the facts.
WALLACE: But let me just say, as I understand it, what it would have done is it would have eliminated the property tax and substituted–
RUBIO: With a revenue-neutral–
WALLACE: – a state tax?
RUBIO: With a revenue-neutral sales tax.
CRIST: Not revenue-neutral. It would have increased sales tax.
RUBIO: It would have — a revenue-neutral sales tax, Chris. In essence, the sales tax could not have generated more money than the property tax would have.
Thirty percent of our sales tax are paid for by non-Floridians. It would have been a massive tax cut for Floridians on their property taxes.
CRIST: To the contrary.
RUBIO: It was a plan that would have–
CRIST: It would have been a massive tax increase. In all due respect to the speaker, you’ve just got to tell the truth to people. And that’s really what this is all about.
RUBIO: Well, here’s the truth. The truth of it–
CRIST: And he talked about it being–
RUBIO: Chris, if I may–
WALLACE: Go ahead.
CRIST: He talked about it being a swap, and it would be a swap because those who owned their home wouldn’t have to pay a tax anymore.
Forty percent of my fellow Floridians are renters. It would not have applied to them at all. All they would have enjoyed is his tax increase.
WALLACE: You get — you get a brief last word on this.
RUBIO: Absolutely. The renters would have had an opportunity to buy now because the exorbitant taxes that we pay on property in Florida would not have gone up.
But let me say something else about this. I took a pledge when I became a state representative to never raise taxes. I never broke that pledge. And that’s why the leader of that organization and basically every–
CRIST: Actually, the speaker has broken that pledge–
RUBIO: – fiscally conservative group in the country–
CRIST: – Chris.
RUBIO: – has supported my candidacy.
WALLACE: Let me–
RUBIO: The governor has broken his pledge. He broke it last year.
CRIST: No, that’s not true.
WALLACE: Let — wait. Wait. We have to move on. Let’s talk about this–
CRIST: Just let me say that he voted for tax increases when he was on the West Miami City Commission, and he said on his Web site that he has never voted for a new tax. That’s just not the truth, and he ought to be truthful to the people of Florida before he asks for their vote.
RUBIO: Chris, that’s also inaccurate.
WALLACE: Let’s talk about–
CRIST: – just reported it yesterday.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, let’s move on. Let’s talk about the Tea Party movement.
Mr. Rubio, some activists say that if elected, you will be the first Tea Party senator. And Grover Norquist, head — this is relevant to what we were just talking about — head of the Americans for Tax Reform, says that you are the most pro-taxpayer legislative leader in the country.
On the other hand, we got a bunch of e-mails this week when we solicited them from Tea Party activists, and let’s put one on the screen. This is from Patty Morey (ph). She said, “Ask Marco Rubio why he refuses to be vetted by the Florida Tea Parties. I want to hear from Rubio or I will not vote for him.”
We got this from a bunch of Tea Parties all over the state.
RUBIO: Sure. The Tea Party movement has been mischaracterized in the press as some sort of an organization. Tea Parties are where people go and what people do. It’s not what they are or what — or what — it is not an organization. It is a broad-based group of everyday Americans from all walks of life.
If you go to a tea party, what you’re going to find there are people that largely have never been involved in American politics.
WALLACE: All right. But why aren’t you — why aren’t you going–
RUBIO: But let me finish, Chris, if I may.
WALLACE: – because we get this from Tea Party groups.
RUBIO: You find people from all walks of life at these Tea Parties who are fed up at the direction of our country and can no longer stand by and do nothing.
I have gone to 15, 20 of these around the state. I’ve met with multiple groups. I’m not familiar with what vetting process the–
WALLACE: Well, at The Villages they’re not happy with you, sir.
RUBIO: Well, whatever vetting process there are, we always try to undergo them to the extent possible.
CRIST: The Villages are very important in our state, too.
RUBIO: They are, and I’ve been there multiple times and spoken to groups. And if there’s a formal vetting process, I’ve not been made aware of it. But I can tell you that I’m proud of my association with the Tea Party folks and the fact that we have attended multiple events across the state throughout my candidacy.
CRIST: Can I address that?
WALLACE: Governor, we also got e-mail questions for you, and they note that this is your fifth race for statewide office in the last 12 years. And James L. Teeples (ph) asked this. Let’s put it on the screen. ”Why wouldn’t someone feel Mr. Crist is putting his own interests ahead of those of us who voted for him? He hasn’t even completed his first term as governor. If elected, will he just end up running for president in 2012?”
CRIST: No. No, I’m running for the United States Senate and not running for reelection as governor because I know what Americans know. Our country needs help. I love my country and I love my state.
And I feel I can be most effective by getting things done in Washington to reduce taxes, to make sure that we rein in spending, just like we’ve done in Florida. You don’t have to just believe what I say. You can actually judge what I say by what I’ve done as governor, as opposed to my opponent.
We slashed spending in Florida by over $7 billion, more than 10 percent. I signed into law the largest tax cut in the history of the state.
WALLACE: Well, OK. I’m going to — I’m going to break in and I’ll give you a chance for a statement at the end.
CRIST: Yes, sir.
WALLACE: But I wanted you to respond to Mr. Teeples (ph).
CRIST: Of course.
RUBIO: May I comment on that as well, please?
WALLACE: On his political future?
WALLACE: Well, let me ask — no, because I have time to ask Governor Crist–
RUBIO: All right.
WALLACE: – a specific question that I want to ask him.
WALLACE: Speaking of these questions about your political future, there have been persistent rumors in Florida that you are so far behind, at least currently, in the polls — double digits to Mr. Rubio — that you may run instead as an independent.
Here is your chance to dispel all the rumors. Are you willing to pledge right here, right now that you will run in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate and not run as an independent?
CRIST: I’m running as a Republican. I’m very proud to be from the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, others that really have stood up for the principles of our party, like Ronald Reagan.
This is a great party. It has a great future. We have a great opportunity to win in November. It’s important that we put a candidate up that can win in November.
WALLACE: So are you ruling out that you will file as an independent by the April 30th deadline?
CRIST: That’s right. That’s right. I’m running as a Republican.
WALLACE: You will run not for a governor — you’ll run for Senate, and you will run as a — in the Republican primary.
CRIST: Chris, I’m running for the United States Senate. I know that our country needs help. I’m running as a Republican. This man to my left is a friend but I hope to defeat him on August the 24th, and I would encourage every Florida Republican to get out and vote.
WALLACE: Will you support the winner of the GOP primary, whether it’s you or Marco Rubio?
CRIST: Of course I will. Of course I will. But I think before that decision is made, people–
WALLACE: Well, I’m going to get — I’m going to — I’ll give you an opportunity for a final statement. I just want to say, though, you are saying you are going to run in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. You will not run on the no party affiliation line.
CRIST: That’s right. That’s right. That’s what I’m saying.
RUBIO: Chris, if I may, the governor likes to call himself a Reagan Republican. I don’t ever recall Reagan being questioned about running as an independent. But Ronald Reagan asked a very important question–
CRIST: Actually, Reagan was a Democrat before he was a Republican.
RUBIO: Let me — let me–
CRIST: So if you want to talk about Reagan, let’s talk about him.
WALLACE: Go ahead.
Let Mr. Rubio–
RUBIO: Ronald Reagan had a great question he asked during his campaign, are you better off today than you were four years ago? And for Floridians, there’s a powerful answer to that.
We have the highest unemployment record in our history. We have record foreclosures, record reductions in the people’s property value. And we have a governor that supported Barack Obama’s stimulus package.
That doesn’t sound like a Reagan record to me, and I think it makes the answer to that question very easy. Floridians are not better off than they were four years ago since you became governor. And now you come to take the–
CRIST: So under his plan–
WALLACE: Wait, wait. I’m letting him finish and then I’m going to give you 30 seconds to close.
RUBIO: And now your promise is to take those ideas to Washington, D.C.
Chris, is this going to be my last (inaudible)?
RUBIO: Well, then let me just tell you why I’m running for the U.S. Senate. Again, it gets back to something that Governor Crist–
WALLACE: Real quick.
RUBIO: – talked about at the beginning.
CRIST: I think he’s cutting into my time.
WALLACE: Real quick.
RUBIO: It’s something he talked about–
WALLACE: You’ll have time.
RUBIO: – early on in the interview. He said this is about trust.
And you’re absolutely right.
Who do you trust to stand up to Barack Obama and offer a clear alternative? I’m running for the U.S. Senate because if I get there, I will stand up to this.
We can’t trust you, Governor, to stand up to Barack Obama.
CRIST: Chris (inaudible).
Governor Crist, you have the final 45 seconds. Go ahead, sir.
CRIST: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. This race is about trust. Marco Rubio earned $300,000 as a lobbyist lawyer with a firm in Florida while he was in the house of representatives. Whose interest was he really looking out for?
We have a very fundamental different view about public service. I think it is to serve the public. That’s why I took the stimulus money, because I put people above politics.
In addition to that, he won’t reveal his tax returns. Why won’t he reveal his tax returns?
RUBIO: That’s not true, Chris. That’s not accurate.
CRIST: Oh, it is absolutely true. They’re not out. Mine are.
WALLACE: It’s his final statement.
CRIST: Mine are out there, and yours haven’t. We asked you to do it three days ago and you still haven’t done it. Is it because you’re doctoring the books? Is it because of the $34,000 that was raised in that $600,00 you raised and shows up — nobody knows where it is, that the IRS may have an issue with it? I don’t know and we don’t know
WALLACE: Time, and I — but I because of the doctoring the books line, you have 15 seconds to respond, sir.
RUBIO: These are outrageous allegations. You know what? This campaign is 11 months old, and this debate is now 40 minutes old, and we have yet to hear a single significant public policy proposal from Charlie Crist.
You just don’t–
CRIST: Oh, yeah, we have.
RUBIO: You just don’t get it.
CRIST: Yeah. I do get it. I do get it, and you don’t–
WALLACE: Gentlemen, I can’t imagine — I thought 40 minutes would be plenty, but I suspect this is going to continue. We’ll continue to watch it.
Governor Crist, Mr. Rubio, thank you both. Thanks for holding your first debate–
RUBIO: Thank you.
CRIST: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: – of many, I suspect, on Fox News.
CRIST: Thank you very much. My pleasure.