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ICYMI: Rubio Joins Global Recon
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined Global Recon to discuss Rubio’s efforts to pass burn pit legislation, counteract human trafficking, prevent mass shootings, and more. See below for highlights and listen to the full interview here.
On Rubio’s family background and childhood:
“My parents came [to the United States] on May 27th, 1956. Today is [the 60th anniversary of that date]. It’s pretty coincidental…. I was born in 1971. What happened is, my parents had my brother when they were right after they got married, and then they came to America. Then my sister was born here in the 60s, and then they didn’t have kids again until 1971, when my dad was already in his 40s. My mom [was in her] 30s, early 40s, then they had my younger sister right after that. So [there is a] 13-year gap between me and my older sister. There’s a 21-year gap between me and my oldest brother.
“I was born in Miami. We lived in Miami, my dad was a bartender on Miami Beach. That’s [what] he primarily did. For a couple of years, he managed an apartment building instead. It was okay. But I think what happened was my dad, by 1979, was struggling to find work, because Miami Beach started taking a downturn, and it wasn’t the same as before. We had a bunch of family that had moved over to Las Vegas. My mom [is] one of seven sisters. Three of them had moved to Las Vegas. Four of them, including us, lived in Miami. [In] Vegas at that time, there’s a lot of service sector jobs in the hotel industry. We moved over there, and I lived there, I tell people, from ‘79 to ‘85, but basically from third grade through eighth grade, we lived in Las Vegas. And then we moved back to [Miami] right before I started ninth grade. [Living in Vegas] was a unique experience, but I think it was good for us to live in a different part of the country for some time because, when we came back, we had a little bit of a different…perspective, a different point of view on some things, in terms of how the rest of the country is. We had exposure to something different.”
On Rubio’s involvement in burn pit legislation:
“Florida, we are a state that has a lot of veterans, and we have a lot of veterans because a lot of people serve here. We’ve got a lot of military installations. At the end of their careers, when they retire, a lot of people in the military decide, ‘[Florida is where] we’re going to stay.’ …Other than immigration, the number one issue in our office is veterans dealing with the VA. We start seeing an uptick in people that are saying: ‘I was deployed in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and now I’m back. I’m very young, 39 or 40, sometimes as young as 31, 32, 33. I’m facing a bunch of health issues that are not normal for someone my age.’ You start connecting the dots on it. It’s a lot of people that were exposed to these toxic burn pits.
“[Burn pits are] basically stuff you’re not allowed to do in the U.S. You take refuse and garbage, including chemicals and anything else, and you just set them on fire. And that gets in the air, you’re breathing it in, and we have this uptick. So what happens is…, the VA says, ‘Well, you have to prove that that cancer in your brain is because of those burn pits.’ Well, that’s a nearly impossible thing to prove. Even if you could, by the time you did, it’s too late. So in many cases, these are people that are fighting with the VA to get coverage. In some very sad cases, what you’re actually talking about is people that are already terminal or end-of-life. What their family’s really fighting for at this point is just some help caring for their loved one so they could die in dignity, as opposed to spending all your time sort of navigating the system.
“[In our legislation,] we basically create the presumption that anyone who served for more than 30 days in one of these areas and has these very rare conditions is because of burn pits. That causal link will never be made, and we have a lot of people out there suffering as a result of it. I’m hopeful we can get that done.”
On Rubio’s legislation to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
“We’ve actually done two separate versions of [the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act] because we had to improve on the first one. We were finding [that] if you were a mid-level executive, like the person in charge of a VA clinic somewhere in our community, and your appointment times, your wait times are substantially longer than anywhere else — they look at your record, and…you’re just not performing, this person is just not doing a good job — they can’t fire this person. They couldn’t at that time. It was nearly impossible to fire [incompetent employees]. So what we were able to do is pass a bill that allowed that to happen…. That was at the senior levels, on the first bill. One of the first bills that President Trump signed was my second bill, and that was one that allowed him to go even lower down the chain to mid-level managers that weren’t doing a good job.
“I think most of the people that work at the VA do a good job, and they want to do a good job. To the extent there are resource limitations…, that explains a lot of it in that case. There are some people everywhere that are just not doing a good job. If you don’t have an ability to hold them accountable, to remove them and replace them, they’re not going to have improved performance. It’s as simple as that. So the ability to do that, it doesn’t solve every problem. It’s not a panacea, it doesn’t solve everything. We still have issues with the VA. But I think those were important measures that we got passed, not once, but twice. I do think in some areas you’ve begun to see results. You’ve started to see credit clinics, for example, and the VA facilities that that were long identified with poor patient outcomes, long waits, bad customer service that suddenly have turned around, because the person in charge of it now is just better than the person that was there before but couldn’t be moved and couldn’t be fired. I’m hopeful that trend will continue.
“[We] obviously have a bunch of other challenges, too. The burn pit legislation is one that I think will be able to get passed here. Hopefully the week that we get back from our Memorial Day recess, we can pass that bill.”
On the burn pit legislation pending a vote in the Senate:
“What that’ll do is, it’ll say [if] you’ve got this rare list of conditions or upper respiratory cancers — things like that — and you served in an area with burn pits…, there’s a presumption it was because of the burn pits, and you’re going to qualify for the VA coverage. That’s the burn [pit] legislation. That’s the burn pit bill that everyone’s talking about. We’re taking up the House version of it, which I think our version of it is better. Hopefully we’ll be able to substitute it with ours and send it back to them. I don’t remember exactly the House name they gave the bill, but everyone calls it the burn pit bill, burn pit legislation. It’s coming up. That’s going to be very important, because we’re hopeful we can get a result on that and get a bill passed, so that people that are out there, struggling with this right now, will have the ability to get the care that they need.”
On Rubio’s efforts to fight human trafficking:
“It’s one of those things that my wife actually took a great interest in [after] I got elected. We started to learn more about it and realize the scope and breadth of it. There’s a lot of aspects to it.
“There’s forced labor, where people are basically taken captive and forced to work. That actually happens even here in the United States. When someone’s brought to this country illegally by one of these cartels, in many cases they’re forced to work, and they’re told, ‘You’ve got to pay off the debt for bringing you.’ Often because they’re undocumented. If they don’t have documents, and [they are] here illegally, they’re not going to go to the police department, and they’re not going to tell anybody. We’ve seen that happen.
“The other, of course, is the one that people talk a lot about, and that’s the sex trafficking trade. Oftentimes that involves young women who run away from home and [have] somehow fallen into the web of one of these people, who then gets them addicted to drugs and really hooks them into a very dangerous life spiral, and a very destructive one that’s very difficult to escape from. Oftentimes, it’s not just addicted to drugs. It’s a psychological level of control, where the victim starts to feel like they’re helpless and like they’re worthless and no one’s going to care.
“We’ve had some challenges there. One of the struggles that we’ve had with that issue is, in many jurisdictions, if someone busts up a human sex trafficking ring, they’re large. Yeah, they’re going to arrest a client. But in many cases, [they are going to] arrest a worker, be it at one of these massage parlor operations or whatever. They’re going to arrest a worker and treat them like a criminal. In many cases, what will happen is that, because they’re being treated like criminals, it’s very difficult to get them to cooperate against the people who put them in that place in the first place. Trying to get that mindset shifted around, trying to protect people that are victims of that so that they’ll come forward, has been a big part of it….
“The forced labor, commercial aspect of it is actually the majority in terms of the number [of people involved]. [However,] the sex trafficking component of it is one that angers a lot of people. It’s a global phenomenon, but we’re not immune to it here in America. And even in Florida, we know that there are areas, there are times during the year, when we have certain big events from Super Bowl to whatever, where there’s a huge uptick in it. So one of the things that’s really been helpful at the local and state level is equipping people on the front lines — airport workers, airport security, hotel workers, and so forth — about the signs of trafficking. There are certain telltale signs when someone’s being trafficked. Those are the kinds of things we’re trying to help people identify. There’s been a lot of work done at the local level and state level. It’s a big priority, for example, for the attorney general of Florida, Ashley Moody, who’s really made this one of her issues.”
On how human traffickers target underage girls and young women:
“The [Jeffrey Epstein] thing is a unique thing because the guy had a lot of money. He was really sort of a demented sociopath, but he had the ability to use that money to target…young girls that he thought would be susceptible to this, and then sort of trick them into becoming part of this, and then trapping them in that web. He had a lot of enablers. Frankly, I think he had a lot of protection, because there’s still a lot of questions about why the local law enforcement [were not] more aggressive about this, things of that nature.
“It…also, I think, points to the difficulty of putting some of these people away, because in this particular case, initially, it was very difficult to get the victims to testify, to actually cooperate. We see that in non-Epstein trafficking cases where you’re trying to convince, for example, in some instance a young woman that this guy who they think is her boyfriend or she thinks it’s her friend or she thinks is someone who’s helping or cares for her, that this guy is actually taking advantage. Initially, that’s a very, very hard thing to do. They’ve been so battered psychologically that they don’t see their captor as a pimp or as someone who’s using them. So it takes some time to get there. If they don’t cooperate, and if you can’t get their cooperation, their testimony and their evidence, then you can’t convict this person in a court of law.
“I think Epstein benefited from that as well. He could afford [the] best lawyers in the world to represent [him] and so forth. Now, what you point to is exactly right, and that is that was his own ‘personal collection,’ …[which is] a horrifying way to describe it…. I mean, that’s just an unbelievable story. But on a broader scale, you have people that are dedicated to this. They do this on a mass scale. They go around and target dozens of young girls, trap them into this lifestyle, and then send them out to work and collect money.
“Unfortunately, South Florida…is a place that we know is one of the hot spots, during the season where you have a lot of tourists coming into town from around the world for a variety of events. Senator Portman of Ohio has been a real leader on that, going after backpage.com, the company that owned that, because they were putting ads in there online, and in their paper that was published, they just put up ads advertising certain services.
“This continues to be a pervasive problem. It’s a horrifying one. Frankly, a lot of people that you look at, these young women [who] get trapped in this, come from all kinds of backgrounds. They come from broken homes, yes. They also come from good, solid families. For whatever reason, they sort of find themselves in a vulnerable situation. Then it takes off in this direction.
“Anywhere where you have mass destruction[, there is the danger of human trafficking]. Ukraine has four, four-and-a-half million — maybe this number is higher now — displaced people. Imagine there’s a young lady somewhere in Ukraine. Her family’s been displaced. She’s on her own in a refugee camp somewhere. These traffickers, they view that as an opportunity. There’s going to be young women — and I say young women, but also there’s a market for young boys — and they’re alone, and they’re vulnerable. [The traffickers] approach them and be friendly and nice. Some of these people don’t come with a sign around their neck saying, ‘I’m a trafficker, I’d like to hire you.’ They pose as modeling agents. They pose as wealthy business people that are just trying to be nice and help you out in your times of difficulty. Before you know it, you’ve been trapped. Now they’ve got you. Maybe they hook you on drugs, and you don’t even know it. Maybe they batter you psychologically until you cooperate. Maybe they make you think that they’re your boyfriend, and then they start lending you out to people for money. That’s the way they approach some of these things. But these tragedies, in terms of things happening around the world to create instability,…these trafficking networks…view it as a prime opportunity.
“There’s a whole sex tourism situation. There are plenty of Americans who travel to [places] like Costa Rica — frankly, [who go to places like] Cuba — because they believe that is a place where there is a market where they can find underage girls and engage in [that] sort of behavior…. That’s a federal crime to be arrested for doing it overseas. So there’s this whole effort to identify that as well….
“For every one of those people that are caught, there are thousands that get away with it. It’s a whole industry…. Global sex tourism is a whole industry, in particular for underage girls and boys. There are all these sick people, and that’s what they’re into. They know they can travel to certain countries where the law is really not enforced….”
On the argument that schools should be hardened to prevent mass shootings:
“I agree with it. I think there’s a number of factors to look at. First of all, I think we have to establish, what is the goal? The goal is to keep these things from happening. That’s the goal. I think there are people who have a different goal. The different goal they have is that they have pre-existing beliefs about what our gun laws should be. They view these instances as opportunities to pursue that agenda, but the proposals they have are completely unrelated to the prevention of these attacks.”
On the best way to prevent future mass shootings:
“So the question is, how do you prevent these things from happening? I think at the core of it is, what do these shootings all have in common? They have various things in common.
“First, there’s a disturbed individual, who doesn’t just snap from one moment to the next. These are never stories of someone who is fine, they’re just living a normal life and everything’s going well, then [they] just wake up one morning and snap and go somewhere and shoot up a school and commit these atrocities. That’s never the case. If you look at it, it’s generally the case of a young man, over a substantial period of time, [who] has had interactions with law enforcement, has had signs and indications that they’re increasingly moving in a bad direction, who has a fascination with firearms, were making threats, who has made threats in the past. It’s always a pattern that starts to develop over some period of time. That’s one thing that they have in common.
“The second thing they have in common is that they then walk into a licensed gun retailer, a gun store, they pass a background check, and they buy a gun.
“The third thing that happens is, eventually, not the same day they bought it, usually not a couple of days after, but generally at some point, they take the next step and commit this atrocity.
“What is the answer to that? The answer to that, first and foremost, is we’ve got to help identify who these people might be before they act. We have a way to do that. I have a bill that I’ve been offering since 2017 to do that, and it’s now called the EAGLES Act. It’s been called the TAPS Act, but it basically takes the National Threat Assessment Center, which is what the Secret Service created to protect the president. When the president’s going to fly into Miami, they’ve tracked everybody in Miami who fits the profile of someone who could take a shot at the president. I guarantee you, they know where those people are on the day the president’s in town. That same system should be available for local communities where information from the school board, the sheriff’s office, the police department, counselors, [and] health care professionals are all being fed into the system, so you can begin to identify people that could potentially take that next step. That’s the first point.
“The second thing we have in Florida, which I think would be effective, is the red flag law. Right now, in many states in this country, I go to the police and say: ‘My 19-year-old son has gone off the rails. He’s talking about guns a lot. He’s talking about hurting people. I think he’s up to something.’ There’s nothing you can do about it until he does something. Nothing. Even if you believe with all your heart that someone’s going to get up the next morning and go shoot up a school, in most states, no process exists for taking away that person’s guns until after they’ve done something. The something may be kill themselves. In all these cases, these people might kill themselves, too. That’s who we’re trying to protect.
“What a red flag law allows you to do is it allows law enforcement…to go to court, present evidence to a judge, and get a preliminary injunction. Almost like a restraining order that allows them not just to take away the guns that they have, but to prevent them from buying new ones. Then you have to go back to court with a higher burden of proof and prove that this injunction needs to be longer than a week. It needs to be six months in order to really get this person the help they need. That person, of course, has the opportunity to offer counter-evidence [and] argue against it, so there’s due process involved. It is very similar to the way you would get a restraining order.
“Those two things [combined] with the third thing, which is something we tried to do this week and Senator Chuck Schumer blocked it, is a website called [schoolsafety.gov] that was created under [President] Trump, that I was a big part of pushing for. It’s a clearinghouse of all the latest information on the best practices for hardening schools. What stuff works, what stuff doesn’t work, [and] what other places are doing that’s worked really well. It becomes a resource for school districts to look at and say, ‘Okay, these are the things that work in helping schools.’ It’s constantly being updated, and we’re trying to make that a permanent thing. It’s being blocked by Schumer because there are some people on the Far Left who say, ‘Well, we don’t want to harden schools because that means there are going to be police officers on the campus, and that’s going to be triggering to a lot of students and so forth.’
“These three things would be very effective, in my mind, at getting something done, and I don’t know why anybody would be opposed to any of those three things. They could actually help prevent some of these things. Some of these other proposals that are out there would do nothing.”
On the Democrats’ proposals to prevent mass shootings:
“The first thing they talk about is universal background checks. If you want to be for universal background checks, you have a right to be for that, you can have that debate, but that wouldn’t prevent [these shootings]. These people are not buying guns from gun shows, they’re buying them from stores because they pass background checks. [The Uvalde murderer] went in on his 18th birthday and bought two guns.
“Then there’s this whole notion of assault weapons. If you’re going to ban something, you have to define what it is. The definition of ‘assault weapon’ is all based on cosmetic things. If you banned an assault weapon, as they’ve defined it in the law, and [that] is the only way you can define it in the law, all it would mean is that instead of buying a gun that looks like a military weapon, you’re going to have to buy one that doesn’t look like a military weapon, but is just as deadly as the thing you banned. If the AR-15 is banned…, the manufacturer could just change the name,…[and a killer] would still be able to buy a gun that looks different, looks less scary, but is just as lethal, just as dangerous, just as deadly. That’s just not an approach that works. If the goal here is to prevent these things from happening, then we need to do things that actually would prevent them.”
On the hypocrisy of the National Basketball Association getting involved in politics:
“The thing about it is that [the NBA] held a moment of silence at the Miami Heat game on Wednesday night [for the victims of the shooting in Uvalde], which I think is totally appropriate. Then, after the moment of silence, they say, ‘Call your senators from Florida…, and demand that they do something about this. My issue with it is, now you’ve gone from the moment of silence [to something political]…. Everybody here thinks what happened there was horrible. [Listen], I’ve got kids that are still in school. I’ve got family members who’ve got their kids in school…. Who’s not heartbroken by this? Who wouldn’t want to do something to stop it?
“The natural inclination is to try to politicize this thing. The NBA wants to play politics, so now they take the next step. Now they want to politicize this by basically implying to people that there are these things that we could do, and if we did them, it would stop it. ‘There are some easy, common-sense laws that we can pass that would have prevented what happened from happening, but these guys won’t pass those laws. Call them and demand that they do it.’ That’s a lie. That’s a blatant, flat-out lie. The laws that they’re talking about supporting would not have prevented this or any of the other shootings. I’m in favor of things that actually could have prevented something like this from happening, had they been appropriately used. They’re the ones blocking that.
“If the NBA wants to become engaged in politics, they most certainly have a right to do that in America, but then we’re going to talk about politics. We’re going to talk about how you make billions of dollars in a deal that you have with China that takes Uyghur Muslims, puts them in concentration camps, forces them to work like slaves, harvests their organs, and sells them in the organ market. That’s [an] outrage. They make money [from] that. They’re going to play a game next year in a country where homosexuality is punishable by death. Yet they boycott[ed] the All Star Game in Charlotte a few years ago because of a law in North Carolina they didn’t like. The Miami Heat runs a commercial that basically implies that Florida’s voting laws are racist. There are no voting laws in China because there are no elections in China.
“My whole point [is,] if you’re going to play politics, and you’re going to be a moral crusader, you have a right to do that, but if there’s hypocrisy in it…, we’re going to talk about it. It’s not that the NBA is just in business deals with China. They have cracked down on people that speak out about [human rights violations in China]. I remember, a few years ago, people being removed from arenas because they had t-shirts on and held up signs about Hong Kong. They were physically being removed from the arenas at the games. Removed because they didn’t want that symbol there. These things continue to happen. It is what it is.
“I think these things need to be called out for what they are, because ultimately, I hope we’ve reached a point now where there are things that can be passed that could actually help make a difference. Those are the things I hope we’ll focus on. The reason why we don’t is because there are people out there that think that if they can convince people that certain people in politics have blood on their hands because they refuse to do anything about this, they can convince people that might help elections. It’s sick. That’s why none of this stuff ever gets solved.”
On what could have been done to prevent the shooting in Parkland:
“When Parkland happened here in Florida — I heard this over and over again from parents there — everybody knew who it was, before they’d even heard the name. They already knew who it had been because they knew this guy. This killer in Parkland had repeated interactions with law enforcement. He had made threats in school. Law enforcement had been to his house multiple times. There had been calls to the FBI hotline about him. There were a bunch of flashing red lights about this person and nothing happened.
“One of the reasons why nothing happened is because the superintendent of Broward Schools at the time was subscribed to this thing that came out of Chicago that the Obama Administration was very supportive of. It basically said, ‘We do not want to criminalize kids in school. I don’t care if they’re violent. I don’t care if what they’re doing is very dangerous. We don’t want kids being arrested at school. We don’t want cops rolling around schools going after kids that might be dangerous or doing dangerous things.’ So, the guy got away with it. They just kept sort of letting them move on and move on, and nobody addressed it until it finally got to the breaking point. That mentality still exists in a lot of places. I don’t know all the details of [the Uvalde shooting,] but we already know some things about this guy, like he was a disturbed person that was posting stuff on Instagram. The police had already been to his house previously on some other issues. There were already warning signs there.
“Would a red flag law have stopped it? No one can tell you that for sure in any particular case because that requires somebody taking proactive action. I can tell you, of all the proposals that are out there, the two that would have the most impact are the threat assessment process, combined with a legal process, with due process, that allows you to go and actually keep these people from taking action before they do it.”
On the hypocrisy of politicians having security while schools do not:
“Nancy Pelosi was making members of the House of Representatives walk through a metal detector. Members of Congress had to pass a metal detector on the way into the House chamber to vote. Just think about that. I think all of these things are important. I understand in some cases people will say, ‘There was an officer there and it didn’t stop him because he had body armor. They weren’t in the right place at the right time.’ But there are cases, there are dozens of cases around the country, where there were potential school shootings or attempted school shootings, where a resource officer did stop it from escalating.
“We can’t forget, in the midst of the gun violence debate — the mass shootings are tragic and heartbreaking and horrifying — but we have shootings in this country every day by random acts of criminality. I say random acts, [but] some of them are targeted acts of criminality. We read about it every day. They’re one-off, two people shot, three people shot, one person shot. A lot of times these are interpersonal disputes and these are people that are buying guns right off the street. Stolen guns that they’re not buying from a gun show or a gun collector. They’re buying them from the black market.
On gun ownership as the country’s culture has changed:
“The one thing [I think] we have to understand [is,] we’ve had guns in America since 1776. We’ve had the Second Amendment since the very beginning. This country has always been a country that has had more guns available than anywhere else because of the Second Amendment, but we’ve only started to see these things that we’re seeing now in the last 20 years. That’s when we really began to see an uptick.
“I think that begs the question. The guns have been here the whole time. The shootings have only been here at this level for the last 20 years. What’s happened over the last 20 years where…suddenly now you have them being used in this way? What’s happened? Something’s happened in society. Something’s happened in the culture that needs to be examined and needs to be talked about. That’s part of this situation as well. Again, everybody wants to think or hope that there’s some law that you can pass, some magic step we can take, one thing that wou