LAS VEGAS – Ahead of what is arguably the biggest debate of his political career, Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife rallied supporters in a hotel conference room here in Las Vegas and spoke exclusively with Breitbart News about the threat posed by Islamic State terrorists.
“It’s great to be back in Las Vegas,” Rubio said as he took the stage, recalling his childhood in Vegas and even pointing out that he had family members in the audience.
Rubio’s standard stump speech was altered slightly to reflect his background growing up in Las Vegas where his father “worked banquets at Sam’s Town” and his mother was a “maid at the Imperial Palace.”
The Florida Senator is facing the toughest debate challenge of the race so far, as his challengers have narrowed their focus on an increasingly shrinking top tier field of Republicans running for president.
The frontrunner, Donald Trump, has mocked Rubio for being a “lightweight” who “sweats the most.” Trump argues that he (Trump) is “better looking” and has better hair than the Florida senator. Those kinds of attacks were reserved for former Jeb Bush in earlier debates, but have subsided in recent months after polling numbers for the Florida governor nosedived.
Rubio’s senate colleagues,Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul, have teamed up for attacks on Rubio’s record for supporting increased government surveillance and foreign interventions – not to mention his own failed attempt at immigration reform legislation.
Even former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who largely agrees with Rubio on foreign policy, has appeared critical of Rubio, pointing to the freshman’s senator’s lack of experience.
But Rubio was non-combative against his fellow Republicans before the debate, choosing instead to poke fun at his Democratic rivals in front of a friendly crowd.
“Look, there will be differences between the candidates, and we’re going to talk about those differences. But I still remain very proud of the field that we have running, very strong candidates. The way I view it is we could have nine people on that stage and a few others in the earlier debate – not a single one is a socialist … not a single one is being investigated by the F.B.I.” he joked, referring to Sen. Bernie Sanders and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But Rubio was more serious as he spoke about the Islamic State, and he berated the president for refusing to address the threat properly. He mocked Obama’s widely-panned Oval Office address for refusing to signal a change in strategy or tactics.
“I swear to God, I wish he hadn’t have spoken at all,” he said during the rally.
In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News before the rally, Rubio recalled that he was speaking out about the threat posed by ISIS in 2014, when Obama was dismissing it.
“What took him so long?” Rubio asked. “ISIS has been a clear and present threat since early 2014 when I was warning about it, and he was mocking those of us that said that.” Rubio warned that the Islamic State was still growing, beyond Syria and Iraq and moving into areas like Libya, Jordan, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
Rubio clarified remarks he made on Fox News stating that that the San Bernardino attacks were proof that “This is the first time in modern history” that the enemy was using the legal immigration system to attack Americans.
When asked to explain those comments, Rubio admitted that even though the 9/11 attackers obviously were in the United States legally though loopholes in the visa system, the threat posed by ISIS was more systemic than ever before.
“They are not manipulating the system now for just one plot, they are doing it as a systemic effort to insert as many people as possible for multiple plots,” he said. “This is by far the most expansive attempted manipulation of our legal immigration system in the modern history of our country.”
He pointed out that ISIS attackers were systematically testing multiple weaknesses in the legal immigration systems of Western countries, making border security more important than ever. Any future president, he explained, would have to address the increasing threat by ISIS.
“They’re trying to overload the system, they’re trying to use people coming across the border, they’re trying to use Syrian refugees, they’re trying to use student visas and professional visas,” he said. “They’re also trying to radicalize people in the United States, U.S. citizens. They are overloading the system in multiple different points. It is the most concerted effort ever to use our immigration system against us.”