This morning, NR editor in chief Rich Lowry spoke with Senator Marco Rubio (R., Florida) to members of the NRPLUS group on a private conference call. The pair discussed the Iranian attack on a Saudi oil tanker, Venezuela, Republican legislation, and more.
Rich began the call by asking Senator Rubio about the recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which many have attributed to the Iranians. Rubio said that there is no doubt in his mind – “common sense tells [us] that.” He pointed out that the operation, which involved running a bout out to enormous vessels, blowing a hole in them, and then returning to remove mines that didn’t go off, could not have been done by any other country in the area. However, our intelligence also says it was them, so there really should be zero doubt in anyone’s mind about who. What to do now is fine to debate.
As for why, Senator Rubio discussed the possibility that the decision was made a while ago, to help give them leverage in future negotiations with powers like the U.S. Simply put, Iran is struggling. They know that they will have to deal with the U.S. or other global powers soon, and they want to approach those talks from a position of strength. These pseudo-clandestine operations help them accomplish that by giving them plausible deniability but assuring that their adversaries would know it was them. And how should the U.S. respond? Senator Rubio said that our first response, to push assets in the region to respond, is the right one. We have allies who could be attacked, and the U.S. has to be there and ready.
Next, Rubio and Rich turned to Venezuela. Why is it in our interest to remove Maduro from the country? Senator Rubio gave four reasons: First, almost all of the cocaine being used in the U.S. is produced in Venezuela. Second, Columbia is our strongest counter-drug partner in the world, and they have been put under a severe strain by taking on so many Venezuelans so a lot of money going to the drug fight is being pushed to migrants. Third, Venezuela openly cooperates with drug flights going to the U.S. Finally, Venezuela has invited into the country many forces from countries like Iran and China, who are using their proximity and protection to conduct shady business. So yes – the U.S. would and should support a friendlier, democratic government. How the U.S. is making that happen is by supporting the region, and we have support from basically every country surrounding Venezuela and most Western countries. I have no doubt he will be gone. But if it’s a palace coup, he won’t be replaced by anyone better.
Rich then turned to questions on Venezuela from group members. First up was a question about how Maduro could be removed from office without the U.S. having to use force. Rubio explained that people don’t realize just how huge these sanctions are. It’s like getting fired. The first missed paycheck is bad, but tolerable. By the fifth one, it’s catastrophic. It compounds. Venezuelans know that Maduro will never be able to stabilize — much less reverse – the catastrophe the sanctions are causing. One example of the sanctions-related turmoil within the Maduro administration: Venezuelan officials are having issues accessing their own bank accounts, meaning they can’t use the money they’ve stolen from the people. The one thing we have to continue insisting upon, Rubio explained, is that the transition toward a constitutionally valid government is working. All the U.S. can do is help a democratically elected power get to his seat – but that depends on the Venezuelan people. As long as they’re in the fight, the U.S. is there with them.
Rubio and Rich moved on to issues of immigration and broader Republican policy during the next part of the call, taking questions from users all the way. One of those questions was about how Republicans can overcome the image of Republicans as the party of business and liberals the party of people and how millennials can be persuaded. Rubio put it this way: Republicans can’t be anti-business, but we can and should showcase how our views are pro-American. He said that he has nothing against major U.S. corporations, but doesn’t support the increasing move toward stocks, the stock market, and shareholders. Many big corporations, for example, just signed a letter to the president asking him to give in to China on the tariff issue, but according to Senator Rubio, the U.S. can’t do that. As policymakers, he and his colleagues have to protect America first and foremost and can’t be concerned with shareholders, who may be from many different countries. “We have to be ‘Americans first.’” He explained that it’s important for Republicans to focus on those examples as we go forward, identifying the difference between “pro-business” and what Republicans actually are.
On the question of how to sway millennials, Rubio said that he is concerned that an entire generation of Americans are starting to become convinced that whatever isn’t working for them is “free enterprise” and that they are opposed to that. There are issues for which government isn’t the answer, and we can often find those answers in our communities and homes. Part of the way forward is by directing people back there.
You can listen to the rest of the call above. We look forward to seeing you on the next call, in July.