Rick Scott: On the shutdown, the wall, stock buybacks and offshore drilling

Rick Scott was sworn in as Florida's junior Senator on Tuesday. On Thursday, he spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about the latest fight in Washington and some of the issues ahead.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Published Jan. 11, 2019|Updated Jan. 11, 2019

Governor Rick Scott became Senator Rick Scott this week when he was sworn into his new job in Washington, D.C. He walked into a partial government shutdown and a fierce debate over President Donald Trump's demands for $5.7 billion for a wall on the southern border.

The Tampa Bay Times sat down with Scott on Thursday to discuss the shutdown as well as some of the issues he'll face in the Senate. Here's what Scott said.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Do you think the federal employees who work in Florida, the TSA agents that protect airports or the prison employees in the Panhandle still hurting from the hurricane, should have their paycheck stopped over a completely unrelated manner in border security?

I don't understand why we can't come to an agreement. It's pretty basic. We all pay our taxes, we expect our government to work. If  you're working, you should expect to get paid and you shouldn't have to wait for your paycheck.

At the other side of it, why are we fighting over something that's not a political issue? It's something that both parties have voted for in the past. Why are we having a fight over border security? This is clearly something that everybody knows we have to do. It just seems like it's become partisan and political and there's no way it should've been like this. I don't know who you can blame for it, but everybody's got to figure out how to get something done, and everybody's gotten so entrenched. I wouldn't do this in business, right? Have a disagreement with someone and shut down the company for a while? We didn't do it in the state government, we shouldn't be doing it in the federal government.

Do you support the border security measures as laid out by President Donald Trump including the construction of some sort of "barrier" at the south border?

Homeland Security is responsible for coming up with the best plan. And so what I support is, 'We got to figure this out.' Everybody is going to fight over which is the best way of doing this stuff. Bottom line is, we ought to do border security. Whoever gets elected president, they have an obligation to run things. And we ought to let them do it.

You have a relationship with President Trump. Have you spoken with him on this? In the caucus meeting you had or on the phone?

He came to meet with all of us (Wednesday) so I talked to him there.

What did you tell him?

I've been very clear. Everybody has to come together. If I talked to (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer I'd say the same thing. "This is crazy. It's crazy for both of you to have this fight. Fight over stuff that doesn't have an adverse impact on people's lives." This shutdown is an orchestrated fight. It appears to be just politics. How many people believe we ought to shut down government? Almost none. How many people don't believe we shouldn't have border security? Almost none. So why are we having a fight over it?

But it's a specific type of border security that's the issue, whether there should be a physical barrier at the southern border is what this coming down to. So where do you stand on that?

I believe there ought to be. It depends on where it is on the border, right? But yeah, you have to have barriers. You have to have fences, whatever you want to call it. It's not immoral. You do it at your house. You lock your doors. It's not because you don't like people. It's because you love your family and you want to keep your family safe.

Everybody is going to have a disagreement on how you do it. If we just want to have a conversation on how to do border security, let's have that. But that's not what the conversation is about. The conversation is, we're not going to fund anything. They voted for all of this stuff before and in bigger numbers. This is just a political game.

Do you think President Trump should declare a national emergency to get this done?

I know there's a lot of conversation about that. I think the right thing to do, is Congress ought to sit down with the president and they ought to come to an agreement. That would be a better process.

Do you think the government has authority to use eminent domain to obtain the land to build the wall?

I know that's something everybody is reviewing right now.

Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the resignation of all the members of the South Florida Water Management District. That seems like a pretty strong rebuke of the work your appointees have done managing the water and environment down there. What is your response to that?

Every governor has the opportunity to make their own decisions. I'm proud of what we got accomplished. I'm glad that Gov. DeSantis cares about water issues. He's walking into a totally different situation than I was. I walked in with a $4 billion budget deficit with an economy that was in the tank; home prices had dropped in half; 830,000 people lost their jobs in four years. In contrast now, we've added almost 1.7 million jobs; we're at almost 20,000 jobs a month; revenues have skyrocketed; the economy is on fire.

So I'm glad that he's focused on continuing what we've done. If you look at what we've accomplished, it's historic, the money that we've gotten to be able to get invest in the Everglades. We have legislation that requires at least $200 million spent a year. I was able to get President Trump to focus on repairing the dike, which I couldn't get President Obama to focus on. So I think, look I'm glad he cares about.

So you don't take it as criticism of the people you put in there or you?

No. Governors have the right to make appointments. That's what they ought to do. They ought to find who they believe are the best people.

I tried to find the best people to put on boards and commissions and the next governor wants to change some, they can some, but some of them are on there for their term. If he wants to try to get them to resign they don't have to but they can.

You're going to be on the Homeland Security Committee. What do you think is the greatest threat facing this country.

I think there are a lot of threats. I think ISIS is a threat. I think people come into our country that want to do harm to us. I think drugs coming across are a harm to us. Russia is an issue. I don't think you can say, "Oh, this is clearly number one." I think it's a lot.

I think we're at a very difficult time in history where there's a lot of issues. Our federal government has punted on a lot of things that they should have dealt with before. I think we've hurt our economy by not confronting China. They're stealing our technology. We didn't confront North Korea forever. We've been appeasing them to no avail. We have a significant issue in Cuba. We clearly have a significant issue with (President Nicolás Maduro Moros) in Venezuela. So I think there's a lot of issues that now for whatever reason, whether it's President Trump or the right time, there's a lot of issues coming to the forefront, so I'm excited to be here.

If Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen came before the committee, what would you ask her about the two migrant children who died in U.S. custody along the southern border?

I can't imagine losing a child. In my case I have grandchildren. That would be devastating. I've got six grandsons and I can't imagine losing any one of them. So my heart goes out to that family. I'd want to know what can we do to make sure that doesn't happen. That's one side of it. What policies do we have that are causing people to put children in harm's way? I saw some information that (Wisconsin Senator) Ron Johnson showed that the number of unaccompanied children skyrocketed after DACA. Not just a little bit, the numbers just went up like that (makes rising gesture with hand). I don't have the exact numbers. After the (California Senator Diane) Feinstein amendment, the number of families that have come to the border trying to cross has just skyrocketed. That's putting a lot of people in harm's way. We're not doing that, but those families are, somebody is doing that, whether it's the people that are lying to these people, to them that they're going to get to go across and they don't know it, and they're not being told how dangerous it is. Because it is dangerous. Can you imagine sleeping in camps and stuff like that and you don't know who is there? I want America to do what it can, but everyone has got to understand, take care of the children. They're precious.

You've been a big promoter of tax cuts especially during your time as governor. The tax cuts the president signed last year, were you surprised by how much were used for stock buybacks?

I pushed tax cuts. Are they exactly what I would do every time? No. Do I believe government should try doing what they can to give money back to the citizens of the country? Yeah, I think we ought to try to figure out how to make government more efficient.

Why does the cost of government have to go up all the time. I ran companies, right? What you try to do is drive down your overhead cost. Government doesn't think that way. Government thinks you should spend more money all the time. Why? Take Florida. Shouldn't we be able to save money when we drive down the number of people on unemployment because people got a job? Aren't there some savings there?

If our economy is better and there should be less needs, shouldn't the cost of government go down? That doesn't happen at the federal level. There's no correlation between what's going on in the economy and the size of government. It keeps getting bigger.

The way I think about tax cuts is we have to figure out how to make government more efficient. You buy something, right? The next time you buy, if you buy an iPhone or a Samsung or whatever, you expect to get more stuff out of there at a better price. Shouldn't you expect that out of your government?

Since it's always a compromise, is it ever perfect? No, it's not ever perfect. I want them to keep reducing taxes. But here's what I think about. I don't know that everybody is going to spend the money exactly the way I would have them spend the money. But however they spend the money, it goes back to a person, right? When I was in business, I always just tried to figure out what could I invest in to get a good return. That's how I tried to spend my money.

Do you support extending the current moratorium on offshore drilling in the gulf as it stands on offshore drilling for five years? 10 years?

As long as we can get it.

The current moratorium, so no drilling 225 miles off of Tampa Bay? You wouldn't get any closer? Keep it the way it is?