The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Marco Rubio that aired Sunday, June 27, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you, Mark. We go now to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who visited the site of the disaster yesterday. Good morning, Senator.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Morning.
JOHN DICKERSON: You toured the area. What did you learn yesterday? And have you learned anything new this morning?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, I was there on Thursday night, and I can tell you from Thursday night, yesterday afternoon, the entire scene has changed. There’s a tremendous response. Here- we’re here in Florida, very blessed to have some of the best search and rescue teams and task force in the country. So that’s changed, it’s just a huge- big set up, almost a tent city there. I think what we’ve learned is what’s been announced public. I think the officials have been very good in South Florida about sharing with people what they know. They obviously shared that they had found or identified now five people have perished. They didn’t announce the names at the time because some of these family members haven’t even fully been able to notify all of their family members. One of the unique things about this building is it had a substantial number of people that were foreign nationals who were owners or renters and that were and that were in the rubble. So obviously, the searchers are desperately working on this very complex. It’s 12 stories. If you look at it from the north side of it, you can see- you can literally see the layers. And then inside of there, there’s everything from toxic chemicals, fire, smoke, all kinds of other hazards and they have to be very careful. If they move one piece of rebar here, the rest of the pile could collapse somewhere else and either hurt the responders or hurt any survivors that might still be down there.
JOHN DICKERSON: In your discussions and in your tours, what- what’s been for you the most important thing that you wanted to know that you can- you can help out with?
SEN. RUBIO: Well, I wanted to make sure that they had all the resources they needed available to them across government, and obviously there are things the federal government has that it might be able to provide. I know the Army Corps of Engineer has already sent a couple of engineers just to do some preliminary assessment of the building that’s still standing and- and those immediately alongside that complex just to make sure that in the- in the search process, you’re not going to suffer some- some additional collapses or damage. And the other is that they’re still very much in rescue mode. They- some of these people working on this were in Haiti, for example, after that earthquake when they pulled people out of the rubble 10 days after. So I remember the case of, I believe, a 70-year-old woman that was pulled out of the rubble almost a week and a half after the earthquake. So they are very much intent on saving lives still. And they’re- obviously understand every day gets more difficult. And that to me was very important and that came across clearly.
JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned that there are a lot of- there were a lot of residents of the building who have relatives overseas. You’re on the Foreign Relations Committee. How- how does that process work with the federal government, the State Department, in terms of connecting with those families?
RUBIO: Well, I think how it works, how it works- I know it works, is the first thing that happens is that they go to the- if they’re overseas to get an emergency visa if they don’t have one or they come from a country that requires a visa to enter into the US. And so we were- we were very- we were able to- we were able to get them those visas or process them through the State Department. The State Department was excellent in all of these different places. And on top of that, what we were able to do now, the State Department is on site. So the State Department is on site. It’s going to help expedite the visa process as some arrangements have to be made for relatives to come. But sadly, we know that there may have to be arrangements made where, you know, the bodies, the remains of- of those to be sent overseas, if they’re going to be buried there or cremated there, or their family’s going to do services there. So there’s a lot of work to do there. We’re grateful the State Department’s on site now to help with that.
JOHN DICKERSON: As you reach out to the community and talk to the community, people are searching for some explanation to this. It’s going to take a long time and nobody wants to jump to conclusions. But there’s also a question of whether any contributing factor might affect any other building in South Florida. How much is that a concern and have- has that been taken care of by officials there?
SEN. RUBIO: I can’t say it’s been taken care of, because that’s a very- that’s a very complicated question. This is unusual, right? This has never happened before. We hope it never happens again. It shouldn’t happen again. It shouldn’t happen anywhere. So obviously something very unusual happened here. I do know and I understand why people living in the area, particularly a building just north of it, that’s basically a twin, I mean, it’s the same architectural design company that built it, would be concerned about it. And I know that they have now been made FEMA eligible, meaning that if they would like to relocate FEMA will help them with those arrangements. I know the county is taking this very seriously. I know that a team is now in from Washington, from an agency that most people have never heard of. It’s under the Department of Commerce that specializes in massive, catastrophic structural failures. And they’re going to come and help sort of- local authorities identify what kinds of things need to be preserved for a full-scale investigation. I have little doubt that we will know why this happened and be able to make changes to building codes, if necessary, to prevent it from happening again. But right now, 99% of the focus is on trying to find any survivors and give these families closure on this- on this- on this terrible tragedy, even as already thoughts are coming into places of, you know, why this happened and- so that it never happens again.
JOHN DICKERSON: You sponsored a very different piece of legislation called Built to Last, which is to have more climate resistant infrastructure. Again, that’s quite different than what happened here. But in South Florida, people do worry about the sea air, the salt, the rising sea levels, the fact that some of these buildings are shrinking. Do you have questions about the environmental impact that might have contributed in some way here and whether that’s a larger issue to look at?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, obviously, look, I’m not a structural engineer, but I don’t think we should start-out an inquiry like this by ruling anything out. And I think, obviously everything needs to be on the table. Whatever the cause was, whatever contributed to it, we need to know it. And I don’t think we should be in a position now ruling anything out because we just don’t know. And it’s important not just to provide certainty about what happened here, but from that information, I would imagine you can deduce whether other places are similarly in danger and what we need to do moving forward to protect against it.
JOHN DICKERSON: With the minute we have left, Senator, I want to ask you about infrastructure in Washington. There’s a bipartisan deal. Is that something you might be able to sign onto?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: I want to be for infrastructure. I think it’s important for us to build infrastructure in this country, including to mitigate against the rise of sea level, sea level- to mitigate against sea level rise, which we know is a major issue in, for example, southeast Florida. I think the problem here, as we’ve seen, is two things. And obviously because of this tragedy, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and go line by line through this deal. The first, obviously, is these mixed messages from the White House about whether support for that bill is linked to support for something else. And second is, how is this being paid for? The details of these deals is always important because there might be some important things in there that I can’t support. But generally speaking, I want to be for something. I want us to do infrastructure.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Senator Rubio, we’ll leave those details to a future discussion where- we thank you for being with us and our hearts go out to you and your community. Thanks again.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Thank you. Thank you.