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Rubio: Congress Should Constrain President, Not 'Anonymous' Staffer


Here is one response to the Trump administration official who says aides are working to constrain an amoral president. The anonymous official said that in a New York Times opinion article. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida says that is the wrong way to approach the problem. Rubio argues that a president should be constrained by elections or by Congress. So what should Congress be doing? Rubio spoke with us in his office near the Capitol.

MARCO RUBIO: The way our system of government works, someone's elected president of the United States, and he or her picks a staff to work for them. And the people who work for the president work at the pleasure of the president. And if a moment comes when that person no longer feels like they can serve the president, they should leave the administration. And if they feel compelled to speak publicly about what they saw or disagreed with, they should do so openly.

What I don't think is appropriate is to say, I'm still working here, but here are the things we are doing to undermine a duly elected president and/or constrain a duly elected president because that runs counter to our constitutional republic. That is the role of Congress and, ultimately, the role of elections.

INSKEEP: Well, you're talking about Congress there. That's you, in effect. You are the constitutional check on the president in some situations. And we now do have a circumstance where there's a large number of accounts coming out of the White House, coming out of the administration, describing a president who is somewhat out of control, arguably unfit for office, hard to keep on track, trying to do irresponsible things. What are you doing about that as the constitutional check?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, that's one of the unique aspects of this new era is it's so difficult now to discern truth from exaggeration anymore. And we're all guilty of it, to some extent. But suffice it to say that on the policy issues, I would argue that while it doesn't get much coverage, the interplay between the administration and Congress plays out every single day. We had a circuit court judge nomination that was withdrawn as a result of pushback from the Senate. We've had changes to legislation as well.

INSKEEP: Is it possible that staff members are speaking out in this way because Congress is not looking sufficiently into the way the president is doing his job?

RUBIO: Well, again, the Congress can look at the way the president's doing his job based on the policies the president is promoting. And I would argue that if you look at the policies that this administration has followed, for the most part of course there's support for those things.

INSKEEP: This op-ed writer describes a president who's so erratic that there were, quote, "whispers in the Cabinet about applying the 25th Amendment," which is a way to remove a president who seems unable to perform his duties. Late in the presidency of Ronald Reagan, his then-chief of staff, Howard Baker - it's a matter of history - conducted an examination, even talking to the president himself to try to determine, is there a 25th Amendment problem here? Should John Kelly be doing that?

RUBIO: Oh, that's a stretch. We're talking here more about a behavioral issue in terms of what some people claim anonymously. They don't like temperament. And that's a very different situation. I've never had John Kelly or, frankly, anyone in the administration come to me and said any of the things that have been reported in the last 72 hours.

INSKEEP: Should you be coming to them and asking?

RUBIO: Well, again, I mean, you could. I mean, but, ultimately, why? And I suppose in the end, if they had these real concerns - and in the types of conversations I've had with people in the past, I'm confident that that would have come out.

INSKEEP: Your colleague, Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has made public statements essentially the same as the op-ed writer, that the staff is controlling the president - not controlling the president, but pushing him to make less irresponsible choices. Is there really...

RUBIO: But there's a - but that's not...

INSKEEP: ...Any doubt that that's the dynamic?

RUBIO: But that's not - every president has a pull and tug within any administration. I mean, that's a fact. That happens all the time in every administration.

INSKEEP: Does the president strike you, in your interactions with him or the staff around him, as responsible, focused, on target, fit?

RUBIO: Well, he strikes me as Donald Trump, which is - he's not a political figure. He understands and describes issues differently from someone who served 20 years in the Senate would describe them. But he has a pretty clear understanding of what's at stake with China. He has a pretty clear understanding, in the conversations I've had with him, about what's at stake in Venezuela. He has a pretty clear understanding of the risks involved in this engagement with South Korea - North Korea.

INSKEEP: The understanding about North Korea, he proclaimed that the nuclear threat has been taken care of with North Korea, which is, obviously, not true.

RUBIO: Well, but again, that goes back to the nonpolitical guy. And that is someone...

INSKEEP: That's not nonpolitical. It's not true.

RUBIO: No, but let me tell you why - because in his view, he's a negotiator. He's applying his business acumen. And that's why I tell you he wouldn't express himself the way a 20-year senator or a member of the Council of Foreign Relations would. In his mind, I'm a negotiator. And the way to get the other guy to give me more of what I want is to be nice to him. But he is fully aware that North Korea poses a threat. But he's trying to reach a deal. I, personally - in my view, Kim Jong Un doesn't want a deal. And I've said that to him, and I've said it his administration.

INSKEEP: One more thing. I asked, is he fit? You answered, well, he's Donald Trump. I understand that. But is he fit?

RUBIO: I have not personally seen or been told by anybody anything that causes me to believe that he's not fit to serve as president of the United States.

INSKEEP: Are you willing to say, in a positive sense, yes, he is fit?

RUBIO: Based on everything I've seen and known. That doesn't mean I agree with everything he's done or every conclusion he's reached. And that doesn't mean that I would express myself or that he always expresses himself in ways that I would hope a president would. But that doesn't make him unfit. That just makes him different from what I would prefer. And the one - best way I would describe it is I love a lot of the things that he's doing on a lot of public policy. Many of them are things that politicians have been promising to do for a long time and never did. I just wish we could have that without all the other stuff.

INSKEEP: Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.