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On Fox News, Marco Rubio denies he’s flip-flopped on Iraq and immigration

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Although Jeb Bush was raked over the coals last week by the press for his meandering answers about whether it was appropriate to invade Iraq in 2003 in retrospect, less noted was how Marco Rubio appeared to flip-flop on his response to the same question. That’s why on Sunday Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tried to pin the Florida Senator down on where he stands on the issue. It resulted in a furious and intense ping-pong style exchange for the next few moments.

First the set-up.

Last week Rubio told Charlie Rose during an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations that, knowing what we know now, “Not only would I not be in favor it, but George W. Bush wouldn’t have been in favor of it.” But in March, when asked if the war in Iraq was a mistake, Rubio told Fox News that it wasn’t. “I don’t believe it was,” he said then. “The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein.”

“Senator, isn’t that a flip?,” Wallace asked on Sunday. “Six weeks ago, it made sense to go into Iraq in 2003, and now you say it was a mistake.”

“Those are two different questions; it was not a mistake,” Rubio said. “The president, based on, this is how the real world works – the president based on the information that was provided-

Wallace: But you were saying based on the information –

Rubio: Based on what we now, I wouldn’t have thought Manny Pacquiao was going to win in that fight –

Wallace: I know, but you were asked the same question, and you said, ‘Yeah, it makes sense.’

Rubio: No, it was not the same question. The question was whether it was a mistake, and my answer was, it was not a mistake. I still say it was not a mistake, because the president was presented with intelligence that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It was governed by a man who had committed atrocities in the past with weapons of mass destruction.

Wallace: What she asked you about was, ‘was it a mistake to go to war in Iraq?’

Rubio: It was not a mistake, given the fact that the president knew at the time –

Wallace: No, she didn’t say that.-

Rubio: That’s not the same question. The question I was asked was, ‘What you know now.’ Well, what we know now I think everybody agrees-

Wallace: Was it a mistake to go to war in Iraq?

Rubio- (unintelligible)

Wallace – I’m asking you –

Rubio: I understand. But it’s not the same question.

Wallace: But that’s the question I’m asking you. Was it a mistake to go –

Rubio: It was not a mistake for the president to decide to go into Iraq, because at the time.

Wallace: I’m not asking you that. I’m asking you-

Rubio: In hindsight.

Wallace: Yeah.

Rubio: Iraq is a better place because Saddam Hussein is not there. So -but I don’t understand the question you’re asking?

Wallace: I’m asking you, knowing everything, as we sit here in 2015-

Rubio: A president cannot make a decision on what someone might know in the future.

Wallace: But that’s what I’m asking you. Was it a mistake?

Rubio: It was not a mistake for the president to go into Iraq based on the information he was provided as president…if the president had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction at the time, you still would have had to deal with Saddam Hussein. But the process would have been different. I doubt very seriously, for example, that the president would have gotten congressional approval to move forward with an invasion, had they known that there were no weapons of mass destruction. That does not mean he made the wrong decision, because at the time he was presented with intelligence –

Wallace: I understand that-

Rubio: That said there were weapons of mass destruction,  he wasn’t dealing with a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He was dealing with Saddam Hussein, and he made the right decision based on information he had at that time. We’ve learned subsequently that that information was wrong. And my answer was, well at the time, it would have been apparent that the intelligence I don’t think George Bush would have moved forward on the invasion and he certainly wouldn’t have had congressional approval. But presidents don’t have the benefits of hindsight. You have to make difficult decisions based on the information that’s before you at that moment.”

Moving on, Wallace also accused Rubio of failing to lead when it comes to immigration, saying he flat out “bailed” out on comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 after he led the effort for passage of such a bill in the Senate.  Rubio denied the assertion, saying the votes simply aren’t there to pass such a bill now because of a variety of issues, including President Obama’s executive orders on immigration and the border/humanitarian crisis that occurred last summer on the Rio Grande border.

“Aren’t leaders suppose to shape public opinion, instead of just follow it?” Wallace asked. “I remember when you came into Fox back in 2013 and you made a very articulate and compelling case for comprehensive reform. Why not stand by it and fight for it?”

“We did, but the problem is that the votes aren’t there in the House,” Rubio responded, mentioning how former GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his bid for re-election in 2014 in part because of his support for such reform.”Clearly, leaders stand for the idea that we need to do something, but you also have to deal with the reality, that in the political process, people are going to vote based on what they’re hearing from their constituents and others.”

He denied Wallace’s assertion that he backed off supporting comprehensive immigration reform when he saw how it hurt him in the polls with GOP voters.

Wallace also went on the aggressive in questioning Rubio’s claim that he’s the candidate of the future, when his prescriptions on foreign and domestic policies seem mired in the past?

“First of all, the ideas are new on the global competitiveness front,” he responded, saying that he supports cutting tax rates to keep up with global competition, and how higher education  needs to be reformed.

“We don’t have enough vocational training, we don’t have enough flexibility in higher education for people who have to work full time, to go back to school and acquire a degree. We gradually too many young people with degrees that do not lead to jobs, and a mountain of student loan debts.”

Going back to his speech announcing his candidacy for president last month, the 43-year-old Rubio appeared to take a dig at Hillary Clinton (and Jeb Bush as well) by emphasizing that the country can’t advance by “going back to the leaders and ideas of the past.”

Wallace asked Rubio, was that another way of saying Clinton’s too old?

“No, it’s another way of saying she’s a defender of a status quo at a time when we’re in desperate need of transformational policies,” the Senator replied. “I mean at the end of the day, what she’s promising to do, to the extent we know, because she’s no talking to the media, is to continue much of the president’s policies. Now, we don’t know where she stands on trade.  We don’t know how she justifies, for example, not supporting the surge in Iraq and these sorts of other things. But we know that she supports much of the president’s agenda.  And this is not a time for status quo.  We need reforms that will make us more globally competitive, that will equip our people with 21st century skills and that will strengthen America’s role in the world and assume the mantle of global leadership again.”

Watch the exchange on Iraq below:

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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