Rubio defends foreign aid as essential to national security

Rick Perry said during the debate Saturday that he would cut American aid budgets to zero for each foreign country, and then tie future spending to the extent to which countries supported the United States. Perry implied that Pakistan would no longer receive aid, but that Israel would continue to.

"It's time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don't support the United States of America," Perry said.

The idea received a vote of approval from Newt Gingrich, but Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum defended the aid as important strategic spending. Rubio — a heavily courted voice in the party for his ties to crucial swing state Florida and the inroads he offers to the Latino community — seemed to side with the latter two, saying that while he was open to a critical examination of foreign spending, the issue was complicated and the aid important.

"If that's what they meant by 'start at zero,' I don't know if that's a bad idea; I think it's important that our money is accounted for, but we need to have a foreign aid budget, it's important for our national security," Rubio said.

Rubio also shot down a question about whether he would reconsider joining the eventual Republican ticket, saying that conservatives rallying around him following a Washington Post report that raised questions about his family's immigration history had not changed his mind.

"No, I'm focused on my job as a senator from Florida," Rubio said.

Rubio also said that Republicans should refine their message on immigration to proactively suggest policies that reflect both the country's "history of immigration" and its "commitment to the rule of law."

"It remains a problem that needs to be confronted," Rubio said. "But the Republican Party should not be labeled as the anti-illegal immigration party, but the pro-legal immigration party."

Rubio said that while "90 percent" of the focus should be on jobs and the economy, he believed Republican presidential candidates should consider — and be willing to discuss — immigration programs.