Charlie Rose Talks to Senator Marco Rubio

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

How do you balance the need for tax reform and entitlement reform?
The drivers of our long-term debt are Medicare and Medicaid programs and, to some extent, Social Security. I talked about this in my book [American Dreams]—that I don’t want to make any changes for people like my mother, who are in the system now, or people near retirement. If we act now, we can save Medicare and Social Security. We can place our country on a sustainable spending path without making disruptive changes for current beneficiaries—in fact without making any changes at all for them. The people who we would need to ask to accept a different system are people like me. I’ll be 44 in May.

Will economic mobility be a defining theme of the 2016 campaign?
I think it’s a defining theme of our time. My experience in this country is largely through the lens of someone raised by two people with very limited education who, as a bartender and a maid, achieved the American dream. They were never rich, but they owned a home in a safe and stable neighborhood. All four of their children went to college. There are millions of [Americans] today living one broken-down car away from catastrophe.

Or one illness?
Or one illness or, you know, one leak in the roof. You see this all the time in people that are really struggling. What’s happening now is that people wake up in the morning and they read the news about how the economy’s taking off again; Wall Street’s having a great year; the GDP’s growing again. But they’re saying to themselves, “Why isn’t this reaching me?” The truth is, if you’re willing to work for $9 an hour, you could probably find a job in this economy, but you may not be able to pay your bills. We have to address that, because if you lose that upward mobility, you’ve lost the soul, the crux, of what makes us special.

How did this happen? And how do we make it better?
The answer is that, yes, we’ve had some bad political leadership in both parties, but the fundamental reason this is happening is not because of a cyclical downturn that we’re going to recover out of. It’s a structural issue. The entire structure of the economy has rapidly transformed. My parents raised us in a national economy. Today we truly live in a global one, where factors halfway around the world could have as much impact on how much you get paid as something that happens halfway across town. We have more global competition than ever, and America is increasingly less competitive. Second, many of the better jobs being created require skills that many people don’t have.

In your book you say you agree with Senator Elizabeth Warren that the game is rigged in America right now.
Yes, but we disagree on why it’s rigged. She believes it’s rigged by the moneyed class that uses Republicans and others. I believe it’s rigged by the government itself. If you’re an established business in a heavily regulated industry, sometimes you don’t mind a lot of regulation, because only a big company like you can afford to comply.

Have you backtracked on immigration?
No. What I now argue is that the only way for us to achieve immigration reform is through a process, not a comprehensive bill. Step One is to win the confidence of the American people that illegal immigration is truly under control—border security, electronic verification, an entry/exit tracking system. Second is modernizing our legal immigration system towards a merit-based system. And third, if you do these two things, I believe you’re going to have strong bipartisan support to deal reasonably with those who are here illegally.

What differentiates you, politically, from Jeb Bush?
That’s a great question. The answer is, I don’t know, because Jeb has not been engaged in the debate … for about 10 years. I’m sure he has ideas, and we’ll hear them. That’s why if he runs for president and I run for president and others run for president, these are the sorts of things we’ll talk about.

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