COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA — Sen. Marco Rubio walked back comments he made on Fox News Sunday that the Paris attacks were a "positive development," telling reporters Monday he didn't say those exact words but that he stood by the overall sentiment.
"No, I didn't say that," he said, in response to a question from reporters on the comments.
"The fact that it's acted as a catalyst towards focusing on national security is an important development in this campaign, but no terrorist attack is a positive event," he said while campaigning through the Hawkeye State. "That's not what I said."
On Fox News Sunday this weekend, Rubio had said that "I obviously am not happy about the events that happened last week in Paris, but I think it's a positive development that it suddenly has forced Americans to confront more carefully the issue of national security." The comments drew Rubio heavy criticism from Democrats, who suggested he was being insensitive and circulated a selectively-edited clip of the soundbite in an effort to accuse him of saying he was profiting politically from the attacks.
Earlier in the day, Rubio said he wanted to show the world how ISIS leaders "cry like babies" when captured in hopes of dissuading recruits from joining on to the extremist group.
"I believe we should be carrying out attacks against Sunni leadership nodes, videotaping the whole thing and putting it up on Youtube so that the world can see these people are not invincible," he said. "I want the world to see how these ISIS leaders cry like babies when they're captured. I want the world to see how these isis leaders, once captured, begin to sing like canaries if they survive."
He added that he wants young fighters around the world thinking of joining the Islamic State to have "second thoughts" when they see "how easily humiliated they are by Americans."
The bulk of the ground force fighting ISIS, Rubio reiterated, should be made up of Sunni Arabs, but he emphasized the need for U.S. special operations forces to coordinate logistics on the ground and carry out attacks on high-profile targets.
It was the most clarity he's offered on the role special operations forces would play in a President Rubio's strategy to combat ISIS, and it was part of what he said was a much more robust plan than the one President Obama's enacted, which Rubio dismissed on Monday as "all symbolic."
"It's all symbolic, it's all the least amount possible, and I don't get it — other than the fact the doesn't want to embroil us in another conflict," he said. — "Well guess what? We're embroiled in another conflict, whether he wants it or not, and either they win or we win. I know what outcome I want."
Monday's events marked his fourth straight day in Iowa, his longest visit yet to the all-important early nominating state, and one where he's still struggling to break through in polling of the GOP presidential field.
Rubio has only just begun to ramp up his organizing in the state, and has, throughout the weekend, drawn modest crowds of a few hundred supporters to his handful of town halls and rallies.
"It's a new phase in the campaign only to the extent that we are now 70 days away from the Iowa Caucuses, and so more and more people are starting to pay attention, and they are getting closer to making a decision. And if you were going to spend money in a campaign advertising, now would be around the time you would start doing that," Rubio, who just launched his first national ad this week, told reporters.
Rubio also weighed in on Donald Trump's recent comments that he saw Muslims cheering after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, calling Trump's claim "not true."
"I think people know that I'm responsible for what I say. People clearly know that my campaign is different from his in terms of that rhetoric and the things that he says," he said.