OTR Interviews

Rubio: Obama's contraception mandate is unconstitutional - 'We either believe in our Constitution or we don't'

Fla. junior senator takes on health care law's controversial mandate, the 2012 race and more

 

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," February 8, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight: Well, what happened? Why are some of President Obama's friends now ditching him? We heard it's about contraception. A new President Obama health care rule has really ignited a fight, including within the Democratic Party. A new HHS rule, as part of the national health care law, requires all employers cover birth control for their workers. That includes Catholic organizations, who oppose birth control.

Republican senator Marco Rubio calls the mandate an assault on religious freedom. And he's taking action. We spoke with Senator Rubio earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA.: Nice to see you.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, the Religious Freedom Act of 2012 -- that's what your -- your act. Tell me what it is.

RUBIO: Well, it's very simple. The fundamental question is should the federal government have the power to tell a religious organization that they have to pay for something that the religious organization teaches is wrong. And that's what we have here.

This is not about contraception. It's not about social issues. This a very simple constitutional principle. We have religious protections as part of our Constitution in the 1st Amendment, the right to express yourself religiously. You have in the case -- the specific case of this bill, the Catholic church that teaches its members that the use of contraception is wrong. You can disagree with that.

But the bottom line is, should the federal government be able to go in and force them to pay for contraception, something they teach is wrong. The answer is no. That's protected under the Constitution. And what I hope is the president will reconsider, but if he doesn't, we have a bill to fix it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, there are a lot of people who are upset about this, obviously. In fact, even some of the colleagues in the U.S. Senate disagree with you, Senator McCaskill, who's a Democrat but a Catholic -- she is supporting the president's bill. What do you say to her?

RUBIO: I say that it violates the Constitution. I mean, we -- you -- listen, we either believe in our Constitution or we don't. And the Constitution says that religious organizations are protected in their expression of religious beliefs. And if you go in and use the power of the federal government to force a religion to pay for something that the religion teaches is wrong, then you've violated that principle. You basically -- using that logic, you can force them to do all kinds of things because you think it's a good idea.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what have you -- have you heard anything from the Obama administration on this?

RUBIO: No.

VAN SUSTEREN: Not at all?

RUBIO: No.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nothing.

RUBIO: Only what I've seen in the press.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you expect to hear anything?

RUBIO: Yes, I hope that they'll reconsider and say, You know what? We've heard from a bunch of people. Maybe we overreached here. My understanding from press reports is that there were actually people in his administration -- I think one of them was Vice President Biden -- that advised him against doing this, that this was an overreach. You've had some liberal commentators write that this was an overreach.

So look, there's nothing wrong with changing your mind if you -- once you get this public input. I think they're getting a lot of public input that this is a bad idea. I hope they don't dig in. I hope they'll reconsider. There are plenty of other issues for us to debate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you think they're going to give in? I mean, this is...

RUBIO: I don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: You don't -- I mean, is there any indication...

RUBIO: I just don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Anything...

RUBIO: Well, I don't -- I mean, again, I don't really talk to them every day or anything like that, so I have no idea where they're headed. All I can tell you is that they really should reconsider because the implications of this are serious. This is not about women's rights or contraception, this is about the religious liberties that our country has always cherished. And if you say that the federal government has the power to force religions to do things the religions think is wrong, I mean, you've really crossed the line from -- that we don't want to cross.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, one of the things that you're quoted as saying to WLS in -- a Chicago radio station, you said that, Quite frankly -- I'm paraphrasing a bit -- if you use the logic the Obama administration used to arrive at their conclusion, it could lead to scarier results down the road.

RUBIO: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are scarier results?

RUBIO: Well, from -- let me give you a perfect example. You now have the federal government basically saying under this administration that if we think something is a good idea -- meaning we the Obama administration -- it doesn't matter what a religion teaches. We can force you to do it because we know what's best, and we're more important than you. Our policy positions, the policy positions of the Obama administration, are more important than your constitutional protections.

If that's the logic that they're using to reach this conclusion, you can start applying that to a whole bunch of religions and all kinds of other faith systems. And then what is the constitutional protection worth? So we have to be very careful about this, and I hope they'll reconsider.

VAN SUSTEREN: How many calls are you getting? Because even when we walked in here, we saw a priest in your waiting room. And we see people all over Capitol Hill. It seems that this is getting a lot of attention, certainly from the Catholic church, and a lot of religions.

RUBIO: It is. But again, it's not about the contraception part of it. It's about -- and the end of the day, it's about the fact that now the federal government has the power to force a religion to pay for something the religion teaches is wrong. And if the federal government has the power to do that, then we've come -- I mean, we've really extended the power of the federal government beyond anywhere that anyone is comfortable with.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, a very hot race, the 2012 Republican nomination race, but let me ask you -- one of the candidates -- obviously, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, former governor -- in 2005, Governor Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, as a governor, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. And some Catholics say that -- this is the so-called morning-after pill -- is an abortion. Your thought about that.

RUBIO: Well, it's the first I hear of it, and I don't know what Governor Romney's response would be to it or what all the facts are. I would just say that there are states that have rules like that, whatever states they are, that it's obviously up to the state legislators in those states or -- to change it or for people to go to the federal courts or the state courts and say this violates the Constitution.

I'm focused on what's happening here at the federal level, so I'm not aware of what you've asked about. It's the first time I hear of it. But suffice it to say that I think that religious organizations should not be forced to pay for things or to do things that violate the tenets of their faith.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, CPAC this weekend. You're going to speak.

RUBIO: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you written your speech yet?

RUBIO: You know, I usually write notes for speeches. I very rarely write out a speech because I just don't have the time most of the time.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have you done your notes?

RUBIO: Yes, I mean, you know, it's not really a new message. It's pretty a consistent message, you know, and that is that this country -- I think we have to analyze where we are today in 2012 as we head towards this election. We have a president that inherited a bad economy and high unemployment. He got everything he wanted from his friends in the Congress, and everything got worse. And now he's asking for a four-year contract extension.

So -- and obviously, he can't run on his record. This is a president who has run some -- in 2008, for example, he ran the most negative campaign in American history in terms of the funding and the amount of money he spent on negative attack ads. We can expect more of the same in 2012 because he can't run on his record.

And what else are you seeing from the president? He's trying to divide Americans against each other. He tells Americans that the only way for some of us to do better is for other people to do worse. And Americans don't buy that.

At the end of the day, Americans know -- you look at the product of the American century, where America -- in 1945, America's economy was about $200 billion. Today it's $15 trillion large. That's what our economy is. In the last 10 years or in the last 20 years, it's tripled in size. That's the miracle of America.

Are we going to walk away from that and instead go the direction of these other countries that -- whose economic policies people flee and come here to get away from? That's really what the president's asking us to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's the Senate like? This is your first term.

RUBIO: Slow.

VAN SUSTEREN: Slow?

(LAUGHTER)

RUBIO: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why?

RUBIO: It's just a slow institution. I think it's designed to move slow, but not this slow. You know, I think the only thing that troubles me is, I get that there are major disagreements here, and that's why we have elections. And some of them are so big, we have to take it to the American people in November. But there are things we agree on, and not even those things are getting action.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why?

RUBIO: I don't know. I think the politics of it, probably. But I think that's the question you have to ask of the folks that run this place. Why aren't we getting action on these items? Perfect example is a bill, a bipartisan bill that I filed in December with Senator Coons. And this is a bill that's called the Agree Act. It basically went through and took all these ideas that Republicans and Democrats agreed on. We can't get a hearing on it. We can't get any traction on it. It makes no sense.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can't -- and why not, though?

RUBIO: I don't know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Can't -- can't anyone go to Senator Harry Reid and say, Let's get some traction on this?

RUBIO: I -- well, I would imagine that Senator Coons or others have probably tried. I know that I've certainly talked about it. We can't even get the White House to support it. Why? I don't know. But that's what the fundamental core of what happens in our country.

And by the way, look at the Senate. We're now three weeks into this work period. We've voted on one bill. I mean, there's no action. It's not like this country doesn't have any problems or is on autopilot. We have serious issues to confront. And we haven't done anything in the year- and-a-half that we've -- in the year that we've been here. We haven't had a budget in a thousand-something days.

So my point is that I wish there was more of a sense of urgency about the issues that our nation is confronting.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, I know you say that you love your job, you have a lot to do for Florida. I know you get asked this all the time. But if tapped to be on the ticket...

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: And you laugh! Or in cabinet, would you do it if asked?

RUBIO: No, well, I'm not going to be asked.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, well, let's say you are asked.

RUBIO: Well, I'm -- hypotheticals are always dangerous.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hypothetical.

RUBIO: No, look, I don't do hypotheticals. Let me just say that I'm not going to be asked. I'm not going to be the vice presidential nominee. It's not me playing coy. I think that the Senate is an important place, and we need people in the Senate that stand for the limited government principles...

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you -- how -- how are you going to -- if the Senate is so slow...

RUBIO: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... that things don't get done, how are you going to change things?

RUBIO: We need new senators. And that's why we hope we'll have a majority of people here next year that agree that these issues need to dealt with urgently. And I think that means new leadership. So that's what I hope we'll be able to do in this coming election cycle, make the argument to people across this country that we need a few new senators to come up here and change the way the Senate does business. And if we do that, we'll be better off.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happens when you and Senator Harry Reid pass in the hall?

RUBIO: Oh, I don't have any personal problems with anybody.

VAN SUSTEREN: I know you don't, but, like, Hi, Senator...

RUBIO: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... Thanks for sitting on -- thanks for not getting my bill to the floor ... What do you say?

RUBIO: None of it personal. I get along with everybody personally in the Senate. These are all good...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you don't say anything to him at all, like...

RUBIO: Sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... you know, Let's get this moving a little bit?

RUBIO: Well, we talk. I mean, I don't know about Senator Reid in particular. We really only see each other on the floor and he's usually pretty busy. But of course we've asked for people to listen to our ideas and get things done.

But it's never a personal issue. I think that's what folks need to understand.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it's personal to the American people and it's...

RUBIO: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: ... look at Washington and it's not getting done!

RUBIO: Right. And they're right to be frustrated by it, and I get frustrated by that issue. But I don't think you advance the cause by getting angry at people at an individual level. Ultimately, the vast majority of people I deal with in the political process -- for example, on the left, and Democratic Party, are good people. They love their country. They're just really wrong on their ideas, and their ideas are bad for America's future.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

RUBIO: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)