Marco Rubio Defends His ‘Poison Pill’ Iran Amendment

The Florida senator battles Obama by imagining an apocalyptic battle with Iran.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, exits after speaking during the Leadership Forum at the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., on Friday, April 10, 2015.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Democrats call it a "poison pill." South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham calls it a "message," functionally meaningless, except as a distraction from the Iran negotiations. But speaking Friday morning at National Review's semi-annual Ideas summit, Florida Senator Marco Rubio strongly defended his amendment that would require the Islamic republic to recognize Israel as part of any arms deal.

"The criticism of that is that there are a bunch of countries in the Middle East that don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist," Rubio said. "Which is true. But none of them are trying to build a nuclear weapon. And none of them have billions of dollars of sanctions, and if we lift those sanctions, we are handing over billions of dollars to the Iranian regime."

As conservative writers, donors, and intellectuals watched, Rubio painted a grim picture of a future in which Iran signed off on a deal and took "five, six, eight" years to establish itself as a more serious threat.

"Here’s Iran’s play," he said. "We don’t need a nuclear weapon today, is their argument. We’ll get the sanctions lifted. We’ll improve our reputation." Iran, he argued, would use the West's "short attention span" to buffalo investors into making them rich enough for more serious strikes. Channelling the mullahs, Rubio imagined that they would totally dismiss American threats.

"We’ll blow up a bomb in one of their cities," he said. "We’ll blow up their embassies in Latin America. We'll kill Americans. We’re going to punish them– a stronger Iran."

Rubio's all-or-nothing approach to Iran was of a piece with his new, cold view of immigration reform. The reform debate, he said, had been "poisoned" by the aftermath of President Obama's deferred action orders.

"There's strong evidence," Rubio said Rubio at the Ideas summit, "backed up by the fact that I've had leaders of the northern triangle in Central America–Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador–tell me that DAPA [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans] was used by trafficking groups in the northern triangle to recruit people to send children here illegally."

Rubio's explanation fit into the accepted conservative narrative. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was introduced in June 2012. That was roughly six months before Rubio joined the bipartisan group of senators who developed the immigration bill, and a full year before that bill passed the Senate. The immigration bill languished after the Republican-run House dithered over its own bills, with the strong majority of Republicans opposing comprehensive reform. And after the 2014 election, when President Obama signed off on the new DAPA regime of deferred action, conservatives said he had given them no reason to deal.

When pressed on legal immigration levels–a flash point in current Republican debates–Rubio avoided taking a clear position. "I think the number should be based on what our economic realities are, and what they demand," said Rubio. "By and large, I approach it from the stance that we want to continue to be the leading place in the world to invest."

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