Transcript: Sen. Marco Rubio on "Face the Nation," Oct. 1, 2017

Rubio on Hurricane Maria

"Face the Nation" sat down on Sunday with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, to discuss the situation in Puerto Rico, as well as the attacks on diplomats in Cuba -- and more.

What follows is a transcript of the interview, which aired Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: We turn now to Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He joins us from Miami. Senator, you wrote a letter to the president this week about the situation in Puerto Rico. You said there is no clear command and control. Has that been worked out? And is enough being done at the federal level? 

MARCO RUBIO: Well, I think it really hopefully began to turn the corner on Thursday evening when General Buchanan arrived and a sort of command began to take over of the daily tactical and logistical operation on the ground. You know, my concern was not that FEMA wasn't responding. There's a tremendous amount of aid that's gone into Puerto Rico. The problem is, as I said to someone yesterday, there's aid getting to Puerto Rico, but it wasn't getting to Puerto Ricans because it had to be distributed from San Juan to the different municipalities and then within those municipalities distributed to people. They had established this sort of spo- sort of hub and spoke system where all the aid came in and then had to be distributed out. Those distribution systems were victims of the storm themselves. They were broken. And so I felt and continue to feel that the Department of Defense are the only people that could have gone out and reestablished that. And I hope that that's what's begun to happen.

There are some small inkling signs of progress in that regard. And obviously from the time they make a move to the time you start to see its effects will take a number of days. There are some other issues now emerging that I think are problematic. And I'm very concerned about the situation with the hospitals in Puerto Rico. You know I've -- I've heard some concerning things about that. And hopefully we'll keep an eye on that as well.

JOHN DICKERSON: What concerns you the most about the hospitals?

MARCO RUBIO: I'm concerned about the capacity of these hospitals. I'm concerned about how many medical personnel might still be around. And do they have sufficient quantities of that? And obviously the fuel systems in these hospitals require the operation of generators. And so do they get enough of the fuel to those hospitals in time to continue to operate? We've had reports of hospitals calling in the middle of the night to say, "We're down to two hours of operating fuel." So I know that FEMA and I know that emergency responders are aware of this and are trying to address it at the front end. But that's something to keep an eye on.

JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned that General Buchanan got there on Thursday. That's almost a week after this started. Was there just not fast enough recognition from the administration or from the Department of Defense to get in there?

MARCO RUBIO: You know, I think what it -- they responded to the storm the way we respond to storms. They responded to it in a way no different than Texas or Florida in terms of the assets. And what that is is the federal government says, "We are here," to the local government or to the state government, and in the case of Puerto Rico the territorial government there. "We're here to help. Tell us what you need."

That model generally works. It's worked in Florida a couple weeks ago. It's helped in Texas. It didn't work in Puerto Rico. And the reason why it didn't work is because the government of Puerto Rico itself is a victim of the storm. There are 78 municipalities. Some of those mayors themselves couldn't communicate with San Juan. And even if they could, and even if you could get to them and deliver aid to those mayors, they didn't have enough municipal employees to be able to deliver the aid. Or they didn't have the resources like fuel, or vehicles, or even drivers in many cases. So they recognized that a few days later. But, again, from the time you make a decision to make a change to the time you start to see its impact takes a number of days. And hopefully we are now at that point in time where we're going to begin to see some measurable progress.

JOHN DICKERSON: Speaking of the government, the president has been quite critical of the mayor of San Juan. What do you make of that?

MARCO RUBIO: I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it to be honest with you because right now, having lived through four hurricanes, nothing like what Puerto Rico's facing, you know, our desire is to be a voice and a force for positive results, helping people. I truly believe that if we don't get ahead of the curve there bad things are going to happen. Some have already happened unfortunately. Because storms are terrible things. Especially in an area like Puerto Rico where people have been without electricity-

JOHN DICKERSON: But--

MARCO RUBIO: -now for over a week. A food issue, et cetera. But I do think every minute we spend in the political realm bickering with one another over who's doing what, or who's wrong, or who didn't do right is a minute of energy and time that we're not spending trying to get the response right. And so I think when this is all said and done we're going to have time to stop, and look back, and say, "Should things have been done differently?"

I think everyone involved in the response has things they could have done better. But right now I hope we'll stay 100% focused on what needs to be done to get the people of Puerto Rico help. And then we'll have plenty of time in the future to have these debates about who didn't do the right thing or what could have been done better.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you a question about Cuba, an issue you spent a lot of time working on. You've been critical of the State Department's response to the attacks on diplomats in Cuba. You said it's weak, unacceptable, and outrageous. But is there any evidence that the Cuban government has been behind these attacks?

MARCO RUBIO: Well, obviously I'm limited in what I can discuss in, in a media program like this. Let me just say this. Cuba is one of the most tightly controlled and monitored society in the world. Anyone who's interacted Cuba, been to Cuba, or has anything to do with Cuba understands that very little happens in Havana that the Cuban government doesn't know about, especially Americans working for the State Department. So the idea that over 20 Americans working for the State Department, working for the U.S. embassy could be severely injured in Cuba and the Cuban government not know anything about it is ridiculous.

JOHN DICKERSON: What should be done now?

MARCO RUBIO: Well, I think they've done half of it, which is drawing down our embassy presence, again, for purposes of protecting our personnel. Set the--everybody knows how I feel about Cuba policy. But set that aside for a moment. If something like this had happened anywhere in the world with a government that tries to argue that they know nothing about it, this is the same response we would advocate. So I agree with the drawing down of our personnel. I just think it is fair and, and reciprocal for us to require a proportional drawdown of the Cuban embassy and the Cuban diplomatic presence in the United States.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me--

MARCO RUBIO: And that's what I expect they'll do.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you another question. Secretary Price had to resign this week because of his private plane travel. The White House has new procedures here. Is that it? Is this an executive branch thing? Or does Congress need to look into this and oversee this since Congress controls the purse strings?

MARCO RUBIO: Well, I mean, obviously Congress controls the purse string. And you can always look in the internal budget of an agency and put prohibitions in place. But first I think we should-- it's an executive office management issue. And if they can ahead of it, and manage it appropriately, and prevent that from happening in the future, that's what we would expect them to do. And there may not be a problem. You know, Congress should be focused on tax reform. Congress should have its hands full in the weeks to come in trying to get tax reform done hopefully before Thanksgiving. That won't be easy. And you'll have some guests on later today that will describe the path to get there and how difficult that could be.

And so, but again, look, I think this was an issue that unfortunately kind of got in the way of, of Secretary Price being able to continue to do his job. I think he's a good person. Obviously this didn't work out in a positive way, and he had to step aside. But the important work has to continue.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Secretary-- excuse me. Senator Rubio, thanks so much for being with us.

MARCO RUBIO: Thank you. Thank you.