Marco Rubio explains shifting answers on Iraq War

Republican presidential hopeful and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations on May 13, 2015 in New York City.

Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Jeb Bush isn't the only politician from Florida stumbling over the question of whether he would have authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is a declared candidate for the presidency, also struggled to articulate a nuanced position about the Iraq War during an interview Sunday.

"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace presented Rubio with two clips when he appeared on the show Sunday. In a March 30 Fox News appearance, Rubio said "I don't believe it was" a mistake to go to war in Iraq, because "the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn't run Iraq. In a May 13 interview at the Council on Foreign Relations, when asked whether he would have been in favor of the Iraq invasion after finding out there were no weapons of mass destruction, Rubio said, "not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it."

But Rubio insisted he hasn't changed his position.

"They're two different questions. It was not a mistake," he said. "This is the way the real world works."

The ensuing back-and-forth between Rubio and Wallace consisted mainly of an argument between the two over which question Rubio was answering.

Later in the interview, Wallace asked, "Was it a mistake or not?"

"I don't understand the question you're asking," Rubio said.

"I'm asking you, knowing -- as we sit here in 2015," Wallace said.

But Rubio said it wasn't a fair question.

"A president cannot make decision on what someone might know in the future," he said.

"I understand. But that's what I'm asking you. Was it a mistake?" Wallace asked again.

"It was not a mistake for the president to go into Iraq based on the information he was provided as president," Rubio answered. "Today, we know...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 that the president would have gotten, for example, congressional approval to move forward with an invasion had they known there were no weapons of mass destruction. That doesn't mean he made the wrong decision, because at the time he was presented with intelligence...that said there are 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 the information he had at that time."

Bush similarly argued that his shifting answers were a result of the question he was asked -- or at least the question he thought he was asked. When Fox News' Megyn Kelly initially asked whether he would have authorized the invasion, "knowing what we know now," Bush said, "I would have." He later told conservative radio host Sean Hannity, that he had "interpreted" Kelly's question incorrectly - but he declined to say whether he would have authorized the war, knowing what he knows now, calling it a "hypothetical" question that didn't serve any useful purpose.

He eventually said, ""Knowing what we now know, I would not have engaged."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.