Republican presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said on Thursday that, though the U.S. has been able to prevent a "grand, big scale" terrorist attack since 9/11, the "odds are" that one will eventually happen.
Rubio made the comment to Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson, who asked him for his "gut feeling that the U.S. may be visited by a Paris-like attack." The Republican presidential candidate replied that it was a credit to law enforcement and intelligence agencies that they had prevented all but smaller-scale attacks, such as that on Fort Hood in 2009, but said he thought a larger attack "will succeed" at some point.
"The grand, big scale ones we've been able to disrupt," Rubio said. "But in my mind, the odds are that eventually one of them will succeed and we need to be prepared for that reality. We are at war with radical Islam and they want to kill Americans here in the homeland and all over the world."
The Florida senator said that the U.S. should be concerned about foreigners entering the country from nations in Europe that participate in the visa waiver program with the United States.
"It appears now that if not all, almost all, of the attackers in the Paris attack last Friday, were passport holders in Europe," Rubio said. "And that means that they came from visa waiver countries and could've easily entered the United States, given the visa waiver programs we have with most if not all of those nations."
Rubio was also asked about the Obama administration's plans to accept Syrian refugees through resettlement. In his answer, Rubio referenced the U.S. "asylum programs." Most Syrian refugees who come to the United States apply through the refugee resettlement program, which is distinct from the asylum process.
Here's that exchange:
HOST: Overwhelmingly now around the country, governors including our own are rejecting the claims of the Obama administration to dump Syrian refugees around the country using the U.N. relocation programs along with the State Department. A lot of people are rebelling against the mechanism and the formula. What's your thinking on it?
RUBIO: Well, first, let's understand our existing asylum programs have very specific criteria. It says that you have to be fleeing oppression whether it's because of your religion or your political party, your political views — you can't just be fleeing a civil war. You have to be fleeing oppression. That doesn't mean we also accept people who are fleeing violence around the world. But the asylum program is for people that are fleeing oppression. The United States remains open to that — we continue to admit refugees every year that are fleeing oppression because of their religion or their political views. The issue is that no matter who you are and no matter why you're coming, you've always had to pass some level of background check, especially if you're coming from a part of the world that is producing terrorism. My argument is it's not going to be easy to background check most of these people. Now if a five-year-old child or an elderly sick person or someone who's well-established as a religious minority in the Middle East and is being oppressed, that might be easier, but for the most part, the bulk of people is hard. Why? Because there are falsified documents, there is no database to cross compare them, you can't just pick up the phone and call Syria and ask who these people are. So my argument has been it's not that we don't want to accept people — it's that we, quite frankly, may not be able to because you cannot conduct reliable background checks on people coming from the Middle East right now.
Christopher Massie is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Christopher Massie at Christopher.Massie@buzzfeed.com.
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