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Sen. Rick Scott gives closing arguments for the GOP ahead of the midterm elections

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This week, President Biden delivered a warning. Because many of this fall's Republican candidates for office reject the 2020 election results, Biden says they cannot be trusted running democratic institutions. The lawmaker running the Republican campaign for U.S. Senate dismisses Biden's speech. Senator Rick Scott of Florida says Biden was just trying to change the subject.

RICK SCOTT: The things that are important to Americans - he just can't talk about those. That's the problem the Democrats have had this entire election cycle. They have to run away from their record.

INSKEEP: We called Senator Scott to hear one Republican's closing argument for this election, and we began with his party's view of the last one. The effort to overturn that election does matter to many voters we've met on this program, like Richard Kramer of Akron, Ohio.

RICHARD KRAMER: It's just so very frightening that we came so close to losing it all.

INSKEEP: There is the matter of evidence for the 2020 election. Thousands of election officials from both parties affirmed the results. Dozens of courts upheld the results. All the various audits and examinations since have not changed anything. So what do you say to any of the many voters and candidates in your party who may be listening right now who still believe the election was stolen?

SCOTT: I think what they want is they want to know that these elections are fair. And so what I do is I tell them what we've done, how we've defended the new election laws in states that have improved their election laws, that we believe you ought to show an ID to go vote - no different than you do for so many other things in life - that we shouldn't have ballot harvesting, that every vote should be - you know, legal vote should be counted and we shouldn't have any fraud. They want to know that the '22 election, the '24 election, the '26 election are all going to be free and fair.

INSKEEP: But when I interview Republican voters, some of them they'll say, 100%, the 2020 election was stolen. It is an election that you voted to object to, but I think you know that it wasn't stolen. Do you also tell them, listen, that election was fair?

SCOTT: Well, what I tell them is that Joe Biden is the Constitutionally elected president of United States, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure elections are fair. But again, the Democrats don't want to talk about the issues that are most important. The most important issue is high gas prices, high food prices, open border, high crime. That's why Republicans are going to win. We're going to win because we're talking about the issues that people care about.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned high food prices. I've interviewed a lot of voters. A lot of people talk about inflation. And when we had Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic House member, on yesterday, we asked him questions about inflation. He said they're working on it. He then asserted that Republicans talk about inflation but have no better ideas to fight it. Let's listen to some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: My Republican colleagues are too busy talking about things without proposing any real plan to address the concerns of everyday Americans. Extreme MAGA Republicans want to impose a nationwide ban on abortion. They actually want to take away Social Security and Medicare after five years.

INSKEEP: OK, there's a lot in there. Let's try to take some things one by one. First, with inflation, what would a Republican Congress do about inflation that's not already being done?

SCOTT: Well, inflation is caused because of reckless Democrat spending. Step one, we've got to do in government what families do. You live within your means. On top of that, we've got to figure out how to produce energy in this country safely.

INSKEEP: Republicans critique Biden for favoring eventual reductions in fossil fuel use, although U.S. oil production this year has gone up.

SCOTT: They're the ones who have caused these prices go up. They're causing shortages. That's what's causing prices to go up, and it's hurting every family in this country. It makes you mad.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned the role of government spending and inflation. Of course, there are multiple factors that go into inflation, such as the pandemic and global supply chain issues. But there is evidence that a lot of deficit spending can contribute to inflation, so you're saying you want to cut that down. But when I look at least on the House side, there is this House commitment to America that includes some kind of tax cut, which would, absent spending cuts, tend to increase deficit spending. Wouldn't that contribute to inflation?

SCOTT: Absolutely not. I cut taxes and fees 100 times when I was governor, and my revenues went up every year.

INSKEEP: For the record, Senate Republicans have not put out a unified plan for what they promise to do. House Republicans have a document that promises to fight inflation but mentions only unspecified spending cuts. The Republican plan for retirement programs is also uncertain. So let's talk about Social Security and Medicare, because I think when Representative Jeffries brought that up, he was talking about you. You put out this plan to sunset programs like Social Security and Medicare after five years - not necessarily to eliminate them, but to reconsider them from the ground up. I know a lot of your fellow Republicans rejected that, but it's interesting - in recent days, some other Republican lawmakers have talked about revisiting Social Security and Medicare. Is there a consensus emerging in your party about what to do if you get the power to do it?

SCOTT: There's not one Republican that I know that has any interest in reducing any Medicare or Social Security benefits. We've got to figure out how to preserve those programs. The Democrats' radical spending is putting those programs at risk. The Democrats have done it. And Joe Biden has used a loophole to not even pay into Medicare. That's what we do know.

INSKEEP: You said that you didn't want to cut any benefits. There's talk of changing the retirement age, for example. You could change payments to doctors. Do you expect to get some money out of Social Security and Medicare to make the numbers add up differently?

SCOTT: What I believe is we need to grow our economy so we don't have to do anything. I am not going to participate in any reduction in Medicare benefits or Social Security benefits. I want to make sure we grow the economy. If you grow the economy, you can put more money into the programs you care about.

INSKEEP: Last thing, Senator - The Wall Street Journal reports a poll that shows support for the war in Ukraine has dropped very, very sharply among Republican voters. How do you think Republican lawmakers would approach funding for the war in Ukraine if you have a majority next year?

SCOTT: Well, I think it's important that we do everything we can to help Ukraine win. We can't waste our dollars. We've got to spend our dollars wisely. We've got to make sure that Russia stops at Ukraine. You know, I think we've got to continue to do what we can do to help Ukraine make sure that they defeat Russia. So I'm going to continue to work to try to make sure we have appropriate funding but not waste people's money.

INSKEEP: Are you going to be able to follow the sentiments of Republican voters if you take that approach?

SCOTT: My experience with Republican voters is they don't - they want to have a strong military. They want to have a strong NATO alliance. They don't want Russia or China, Iran or North Korea, any of these countries to be able to take away American freedoms or freedoms of our allies around the world.

INSKEEP: Yeah, but a lot of them are favorable to Russia. That's been true for several years now.

SCOTT: My experience in talking to voters is they support NATO. They know the atrocities that Russia is doing. They know that China has decided not to - these countries have decided not to be our friend. When I talk to American citizens, they know the risk in the world, and they want to have a lethal military to where we can help ourselves and help our allies.

INSKEEP: Senator Rick Scott of Florida, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

SCOTT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: A closing argument from the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. We heard a leading Democrat, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.