By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Sen. Marco Rubio believes the handling of the coronavirus crisis has been far from ideal. He also said attacks on science have undermined efforts to control the spread of the disease.

CBS4’s Jim DeFede spoke to Sen. Rubio about that, but started on an issue critical for millions of unemployed Americans: the looming end to federal unemployment benefits.

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DEFEDE: Would you support extending the $600 payments?

RUBIO: I don’t know yet for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, obviously, the unemployment insurance will remain what we’re talking about as the additional $600 on top of it. On the one hand, you have a lot of people and, you know, employers and small businesses included, that are saying to us that they believe that this is acting as a disincentive to bring people back to work. And that’s what we’re hearing from them. On the other hand is the reality that there are a lot of people that will tell you, ‘We’d love to go back to work at the place I work is helping, and I can’t pay my bills without it.’ So we got to work our way through it. So it’s a complicated issue, and I’m sure it’s one we’re going to have to deal with because the Democrats have insisted on an extension of it. So we can’t pass a bill without them voting for it. So it’ll be one of those things we have to work through to see if we can figure out a way to help the people who really need it. At the same time making sure that we haven’t created a disincentive. And that’s not an easy needle to thread. No, but it’s why we have to work through it.

DEFEDE: Let me ask you this. In your heart, do you believe most Americans are just trying to stay at home and collect the extra $600? Or do you believe they’re home, as you said initially, because we’re telling them to stay home because businesses are limited capacity, some businesses are reclosing? Aren’t the American people doing exactly what we’ve asked them to do? Don’t we shouldn’t we be taking care of them by extending this benefit?

RUBIO: I think most people would rather have a job that’s going to be there for months, not a benefit that’s going to be there for three or four. But at the same time, we can’t ignore employers saying to us that they’ve tried to rehire people and who are unwilling to come back as long as the benefit is there because they’re actually making more this way. Now, maybe the answer to that is to pay them more, which is what these businesses should consider. But we can’t ignore what we’re being told by some businesses out there.

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DEFEDE: Has the president bungled the response to this virus?

RUBIO: Now, I think that’s an unfair thing to say because, frankly, every country in the world is struggling with it. And people can point to New Zealand, OK. And New Zealand is very small country that can basically seal off all travel and so forth. We’re a large country, a populous country, a very mobile country. We’re state here in Florida, we have people that live here part of the year, or people that live here six months in a day for tax purposes and travel back and forth. We’re a state that invites people to come from all over the world and to visit us and they have family here that they visit as well. So I think the very bottom line is this is a respiratory virus. It spreads when human beings come in contact with each other, and there’s no way to make that zero, the caseloads zero, until we have a vaccine. So the one area where I think we all could have improved on is sort of come up with an app with a with a concise message that everyone is putting out there as opposed to some of the conflicting messages. And I think everyone has shared blame in that. And that includes the CDC, who early on was discouraging people from using masks and on down from there, because I do think that having sort of a unified message across every level of government that isn’t partisan, would be helpful in terms of this response. Instead, we’ve seen a lot of these things turned into sort of a partisan fight or a political statement about whether you’re going to wear a mask or not wear a mask and that sort of thing.

DEFEDE: I accept that there’s plenty of blame to go around. But when you talk about messaging, when you talk about trying to communicate with the public, nobody has a bigger pulpit, nobody has a bigger platform than the president. And it seems as if the president from the very beginning has underplayed, undermined all the things. I mean, if there is a lot of blame to go around, the lion’s share of it should they not be on the president for the message that he’s put out? I agree with you. I think messaging is critical in this and the president has failed on that front.

RUBIO: Yeah, I think that of course has to be balanced with the things they have done and that that go on a different direction. Should we have been able to address this early on in a concise way and set the tone for the country from the White House on down? Of course. By the same token, they took actions that showed seriousness, for example, the mobilization of the American private sector. You know, three months ago we were all worried about ventilators. Now we have extraordinary capacity. The Operation Warp Speed that the White House has been very supportive of, which leads us, I believe, at some point this fall, hopefully, with new therapeutic treatments that cut short the lifespan of this virus… and unparalleled progress on a vaccine we could have in place by the later part of this year, maybe more than one. Even as we speak, they’re mass producing needles and syringes that they’re going to need enable to deploy. And all of this has been driven at the federal level. So I do think they deserve credit for those things, because those things are going to make a difference here, pretty soon hopefully.

DEFEDE: What is your view of Dr. Fauci? Do you believe and trust the information you hear from Dr. Fauci?

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RUBIO: I think he is an important voice in terms of giving us a solid medical and scientific advice that of course has to be balanced in these other things. But I don’t believe we have a Dr. Fauci problem. I think he’s an important voice at that table, and whose advice needs to be balanced with and taken into account alongside some other factors that are very important. But I don’t understand the internals. I don’t know where that comes from. Frankly, I think that in the midst of a crisis such as this, all of our efforts should be focused on responding and the sort of things we can deal with later.

Jim DeFede