Sen. Jeff Sessions got more time at Wednesday night's main Republican presidential debate than some of the candidates.
CNBC debate moderator John Harwood asked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to address the Alabama Republican's position that high-skilled visas programs hurt American workers, pointing to a recent Wired article that said Rubio wanted to be the savior of the tech industry by increasing the amount of H-1B visas. "But your Senate colleague Jeff Sessions of Alabama says in reality, the tech industry uses this program to undercut hiring and wages for highly qualified Americans," Harwood said. "Why is he wrong?"
Rubio has repeatedly said throughout his presidential campaign that he's not going to attack other Republicans and did not take the bait. And attacking someone like Sessions — easily one of the most conservative members of Congress — in a Republican debate could be unwise. Rubio pivoted to his platform instead.
"If you get caught abusing this program, you should never be able to use it again," Rubio said. "The second thing I said is we need to add reforms, not just increase the numbers. ... For example, before you hire anyone from abroad, you should have to advertise that job for 180 days. You also have to prove that you're going to pay these people more than you would pay someone else, so that you're not undercutting it by bringing in cheap labor."
Rubio added that worker training was needed to fit Americans with the skills sought by H1-B visas.
"The best way to close this gap is to modernize higher education so Americans have skills for those jobs," Rubio said.
Unsatisfied, Harwood tried throwing more chum in the water: "So it sounds like you think Senator Sessions is wrong to believe there is enough abuse in that program that we shouldn't increase the number."
But again, Rubio wasn't biting.
"Well, I believe there are abuses," Rubio said. "Those companies should be permanently barred from every using the program again. And we should put strict standards in place to ensure they're not being abused, like the prevailing wage requirement and like the advertisement requirement."
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