Rubio: Administration has fostered 'culture of intimidation'

Florida lawmaker weighs in on IRS scandal


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," May 22, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: After the pleading, the seething. You heard from the Tea Party about Lois Lerner pleading the fifth today at the IRS.

Now to Senator Marco Rubio, who says he's heard more than enough today.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R-FLA: It's pretty outrageous that she went to the committee, kind of testified, got her part of the argument out, and then left and said, I'm not talking anymore.

So I think it's certainly instructive. Look, the bottom line is, number one, let's just realize what's happening here. The IRS either deliberately targeted Americans because of their political views or they're incompetent. Which one of those do we feel more comfortable with? I think they're both really bad. And I think in particular it's really bad if the IRS is incompetent, because they're on the front lines of implementing ObamaCare.

Now, as far as where the IRS specific issue goes, I think we need more investigations. We need to get to the bottom of exactly how this happened, who said what. The House's timeline on this issue continues to shift in terms of who knew what within the White House. We find out yesterday that the question that she answered was actually staged and planted at an event. This shows a level of calculation that I think is increasingly concerning.

So, look, I think both the House and Senate should be having more investigative hearings and bringing people in to testify under oath, so we can get to the bottom of what happened here.

CAVUTO: Now, you recently filed an amendment to the 2013 farm bill that would call for stiff punishment of IRS agents who leak.

RUBIO: Right.

CAVUTO: What would that punishment involve?

RUBIO: Well, basically, it could become a felony if they're doing it deliberately like that.

And I think that's really problematic. Think about it. You're turning over documents to a government agency. And then someone in that government agency is cooperating with the press in an effort to embarrass you. And that's separate from this whole paperwork targeting in the not- profit section.

That's another thing that happened that hasn't gotten nearly enough attention that should be looked at as well. So, that needs to be stiffly criminalized. But, beyond that, I think it needs to be part of this investigation as well.

CAVUTO: Now, Senator, over the weekend I think you were talking to an audience in Florida, Hillsboro, I believe...


CAVUTO: ... where you addressed something bigger afoot here, that maybe speaks of government itself.

Quoting here, you said: "History teaches us that when government is too large and too powerful, no matter who's in charge, it will lead to abuses." You went on to say: "When you create that culture in your government, it is going to impact the people that work in it."

In other words, do you think that in this environment IRS agents were emboldened to do this kind of stuff?

RUBIO: So I think there's two separate parts to that.

Number one is I think you have an administration that clearly has fostered a culture of intimidation. They have basically said if you disagree with us on an issue, we don't have just a disagreement. You're a bad person. And we're going to tell everybody how bad you are and we're going to go out and basically smear you.

They did that throughout the campaign. You saw what they did to Mitt Romney, but also to Mitt Romney supporters. You see that even now. If you don't agree with them on the definition of marriage, you're a bigot. If you somehow believe life begins at conception, you're anti-woman.

So, this is their modus operandi. And I think that does influence the people that work with you in government and how they use their powers. Beyond that, the argument is, I don't care if it's a Republican or a Democrat in charge. The bottom line is that if your government is too large, and too powerful, you're going to have abuses, which is why the founders of this country limited government's powers. They learned the lessons of history. They lived under oppressive government. They didn't want to repeat that here. They didn't buy this idea that if you just elect better people, you will have better government. The fact of the matter is that at some point, if government is not limited, no matter who you elect or who you put in charge, there are going to be abuses.

CAVUTO: But if the environment is such that it encourages sort of like the Indians to do stuff on their own without the chiefs, then maybe this could be a case of the chiefs or the White House having nothing to do with this. They might have fostered the atmosphere that allows these, they say, rogue agents to do what they're doing. Or not. What do you think?

RUBIO: Well, let's find out. That's what the investigations are all about.

But right now what the White House is saying -- and think about what they're saying. The White House is saying, this wasn't deliberate, this was incompetence. So, their defense is that the IRS and the people that work for them are incompetent.

But I think we do need to answer that question. Was this directed? Who knew about this and when? If they knew about it earlier, why didn't they act on it? There's evidence that some people knew about it last year in the middle of the campaign and kept it quiet. I think that question needs to be answered, no doubt about it.

But if we take them at their word right now, what they're basically saying is, no, this is because of incompetence. And here's the problem. The agency they're accusing of incompetence also happens to be on the front lines of implementing ObamaCare. They're going to hire 2,000 new agents next year. They are going to go through the personal medical insurance history of Americans to certify that you have the kind of insurance they want you to have.


CAVUTO: Would you stop that right now?


RUBIO: Absolutely. Absolutely.


CAVUTO: But it's slated to go right now. It's sort of like the train has left the station. How can you stop it?

RUBIO: Well, we need to turn that train around, because I think beginning in 2014 people are really going to start to feel the pain of what this means.

CAVUTO: Senator, I want to switch gears and get your reaction to something more that struck me just how it looked and sounded when the Judiciary Committee approved immigration reform in that 13-5 vote. I want you to listen to this if you can and I want to ask you something about this. This is from last night.




UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES: Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!


CAVUTO: Now, I know it's very hard to hear, Senator, but they kept chanting in the crowd, "Yes, we can, yes, we can," a not-so-veiled reference to the administration and to the president.

Now, this was passed in a bipartisan manner, as I said, 13-5, a number of Republicans were on board. But do you worry that among conservatives in your party, it forever labels you, oh, the guy who helped do the president and his goal?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, our plan is not the president's plan.

And by the time this bill is done, it will look nothing like what the president initially wanted. In fact, he's admitted as much.

I would just say this about that chanting and all that stuff. Immigration reform would be a lot easier to do if the president were enforcing the existing laws. It would be a lot easier to do if Janet Napolitano stopped going around telling people the border is secure, when everyone knows that that is not true. It would be a lot easier to do if the president were serious about stopping any future ways of illegal immigration.

Look, the American people, the vast majority of conservatives are prepared to deal with the fact that we do have 11 million people in this country that are illegally here. We're prepared to deal with that, but only if we can ensure that this isn't followed up by another wave of illegal immigration.

And one of the things that shakes people's confidence that that's true, that that's going to happen, is the way this administration has administered our current immigration laws. So, when these folks are chanting, yes, we can, they should be chanting it to the White House, because if they want a secure border and they wanted to improve that situation, they could right now.

And one of the reasons why we have to stop this -- we have to pass this law is because we can't leave in place the status quo that allows the president and Janet Napolitano to go around saying what they said.

CAVUTO: No, no, I hear where you're coming from, Senator. But a lot of conservatives within your own party seem to be of the notion, well, just don't deal with it at all. Senator Ted Cruz comes to mind, the newly elected senator from Texas, who says -- and I quote here -- "If you're somebody in another country who wants to come to the U.S., and you follow al the rules, you apply to come legally, we pass something that allows those here illegally to achieve citizenship, it means you're a chump."

What do you think?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I would say it's going to be a lot easier and cheaper to come the right way. And we certainly ensured that as one of our principals in the bill.

But I would say about Senator Cruz and the vast majority of my colleagues, including him, have all said, they have admitted we do need immigration reform. We need responsible immigration reform. We need an immigration reform that modernizes our legal immigration system that and puts in place mechanisms to ensure there isn't future illegal immigration. And so absolutely we do need to have a legal immigration system that works better, so that people are not incentivized or rewarded to come here illegally.

CAVUTO: But do you think that for all your efforts to try to bridge that and address the millions who are here illegally, there are many in your party who are just saying, don't blink, don't bow, don't bend, just ship them all back? What do you say to that?

RUBIO: Well, I actually haven't heard that from very many people. I think the vast majority of people in my party -- there's a debate going on...


CAVUTO: Well, they do say that it amounts to amnesty and they call that, you know, something that they will not -- abort.

RUBIO: Well, again, I think that there's differences of opinion within the movement on people that work together on all kinds of other stuff.

But I would just say my argument continues to be if we don't pass anything, we have amnesty. We have 11.5 million people potentially living in the United States illegally. And they are going to be here whether we pass the bill or not. Quite frankly, there are no consequences to that. There won't be any consequences to that under this president.

And every year that goes by, the more entrenched they get into the American economy, but they're not paying taxes. They're not being held accountable for the work they're doing, et cetera.

So, we don't know who they are. These are the sorts of reasons why we have to pass immigration reform. If you leave the status quo in place, that is amnesty.

CAVUTO: Senator, finally, I know you got have to go.

But we're 40 years after Watergate. And many in both parties have said that the way these hearings are going on the IRS, and later on Benghazi, and who knows what happens with the Justice Department thing with reporters, it could be another scandal-plagued summer for the White House and maybe for an embattled president.

Do you think this is like Watergate to you?

RUBIO: Well, it isn't right now because we're still undergoing an investigation.

Let's find out what happened here. It was either criminal wrongdoing that was deliberately done or this is incompetence. Either one is bad. We need to know the answer to that. We need to know the answer to that because the agency at the center of this is the IRS. And the IRS in addition to being in charge of our tax code is now on the front lines of ObamaCare, a massive expansion of government into the lives of every single American.

CAVUTO: Does it smell like Watergate to you?

RUBIO: Well, I would just say let's have an investigation before we throw that term around.


RUBIO: But bottom line is, we need to know the answer to that, because the credibility of the American government and the trust of our people and the people that run it is at stake.

CAVUTO: All right, Marco Rubio. So, he's not done with this, nor does he think the IRS mess is behind us.

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