Full Text Campaign Buzz 2016 February 25, 2016: 10th Republican debate CNN Telemundo Salem Radio in Houston, Texas transcript

ELECTION 2016

CAMPAIGN BUZZ 2016

Republican Candidates Debate in Houston, Texas

Source: UCSB, The American Presidency Project 
February 25, 2016

Republican debate – CNN/Telemundo/Salem Radio

Time – 8:30 p.m. ET

Location – University of Houston, Houston, Texas

Moderators – Wolf Blitzer, Maria Celeste Arraras, Hugh Hewitt, Dana Bash

Candidates – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ben Carson

PARTICIPANTS:
Ben Carson;
Senator Ted Cruz (TX);
Governor John Kasich (OH);
Senator Marco Rubio (FL);
Donald Trump;

MODERATOR:
Wolf Blitzer (CNN); with
PANELISTS:
Maria Celeste Arrarás (Telemundo);
Dana Bash (CNN); and
Hugh Hewitt (Salem Radio Network)

BLITZER: We’re live here at the University of Houston for the 10th Republican presidential debate. [applause]

An enthusiastic crowd is on hand here in the beautiful opera house at the Moore School of Music. Texas is the biggest prize next Tuesday, Super Tuesday, when 11 states vote, a day that will go a long way towards deciding who wins the Republican nomination.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I’m Wolf Blitzer. This debate is airing on CNN, CNN International, and CNN in Espanol. It’s also being seen on Telemundo and heard on the Salem Radio Network. Telemundo and Salem are our partners in this debate, along with the Republican National Committee.

We’d also like to welcome a very special guest with us here tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush. [applause]

Everyone here is looking forward to a lively debate. I’ll be your moderator tonight. Joining me in the questioning, Telemundo host Maria Celesta Arrasas, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash; and Salem Radio Network’s Hugh Hewitt, who worked in the Reagan administration for six years.

Tonight, there are five Republican candidates and they’re ready to join us right now.

Please welcome Ohio Governor John Kasich. [applause]

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. [applause]

Businessman and real estate developer Donald Trump. [applause]

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. [applause]

And retired neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson. [applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the Republican candidates for president of the United States. [applause]

BLITZER: Now please rise for our national anthem, performed by country music artist, Deana Carter.

[the national anthem is sung] [applause]

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Deana Carter. A beautiful, beautiful national anthem.

The final debate before Super Tuesday begins right after this quick break.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the University of Houston and the Republican presidential debate.

The candidates, they are now in place. Their positions were selected based on their standing in the delegate race through Nevada, with the top candidate in the center and the others extending outward.

I want to tell you how tonight’s debate will work. As moderator, I will guide the discussion, asking questions and follow-ups, as will Maria Celeste, Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt. Candidates, you’ll have a minute and 15 seconds to answer and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. We have timing lights that are visible to the candidates. Those lights will warn you when your time is up, and as the candidates requested, a bell will sound like this.

[bell ringing]

We know you all want to jump and debate these critically important issues, but please wait until you’re called on. These are the rules all of the candidates have agreed to.

It’s time for the candidates to introduce themselves right now. You’ll each have 30 seconds. Dr. Carson, you’re first.

CARSON: If someone had tried to describe today’s America to you 30 years ago, you would have listened in disbelief. Americans know that our nation is heading off the abyss of destruction, secondary to divisiveness, fiscal irresponsibility, and failure to lead.

Marco, Donald, Ted, John, we will not solve any of these problems by trying to destroy each other. What we need to do is be looking for solutions tonight. It’s not about us, it’s about the American people. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Kasich?

KASICH: Well, you know, on the way over here, even getting ready earlier and sitting in the green room and watching the early coverage, you know, my father carried mail on his back and his father was a coal miner and my mother’s mother was an immigrant, could barely speak English. And I’m standing on this stage. It’s pretty remarkable. But I want to tell you, there’s a lot of young people watching tonight. You can do whatever you want to do in your life. America is an amazing country, where a kid like me can grow up to run for president of the United States and be on this stage tonight. So to all the young people that are out there, your hopes, your dreams, pursue them. Shoot for the stars. America’s great, and you can do it. Thank you, Wolf. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Rubio?

RUBIO: Well, thank you. This election, we have to decide the identity of America in the 2ist century, but as part of this primary, we have to find out our identity as a party and as a movement.

Thirty-six years ago, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush began the Reagan Revolution. For a generation, they defined conservatism as limited government and free enterprise and a strong national defense. But they also appealed to our hopes and our dreams. Now we have to decide if we are still that kind of party and still that kind of movement, or if we’re simply going to become a party that preys on people’s angers and fears.

I hope we remain that conservative movement that appeals to our hopes and our dreams and the belief that America will always be better in its future than it’s been in its story history. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Cruz?

CRUZ: Welcome to Texas. [applause]

Here, Texas provided my family with hope. Here, my mom became the first in her family ever to go to college. Here, my dad fled Cuba and washed dishes, making 50 cents an hour to pay his way through the University of Texas. I graduated from high school at Second Baptist not too far away from here.

When I ran for Senate, I promised 27 million Texans I would fight for you every day, and not for the Washington bosses.

And, I’ll tell you, as I travel the state, Democrats tell me I didn’t vote for you, but you’re doing what you said you would do. And, as president, I will do the same. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: Thank you. My whole theme is make America great again. We don’t win anymore as a country. We don’t win with trade, we don’t win with the military. ISIS, we can’t even knock out ISIS, and we will, believe me. We will.

We don’t win in any capacity with healthcare. We have terrible health care, Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced. We just don’t win.

You look at our borders, they’re like swiss cheese, everybody pours in.

We’re going to make a great country again. We’re going to start winning again. We’re going to win a lot, it’s going to be a big difference, believe me. It’s going to be a big difference. [applause]

BLITZER: Thank you very much. It’s now time to begin questions. Voters in the first four states have spoken, and Mr. Trump has emerged as the frontrunner, but in five days the candidates will face their biggest test yet, Super Tuesday. When nearly half of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination will be awarded, and the biggest prize of the night is Texas.

Immigration is a key issue in this state, for all voters nationwide, including the many people watching us on Telemundo. So, that’s where we begin.

Mr. Trump, you’ve called for a deportation force to remove the 11 million undocumented immigrants from the United States. You’ve also promised to let what you call, “the good ones”, come back in. Your words, “the good ones”, after they’ve been deported.

Senator Cruz would not allow them to come back in. He says that’s the biggest difference between the two of you. He calls your plan amnesty. Is it?

TRUMP: First of all, he was in charge of amnesty, he was the leader, and you can ask Marco because they’ve been debating this every debate that we’ve had.

As far as coming back in, number one, you wouldn’t even be talking, and you wouldn’t have asked that as the first question if it weren’t for me when my opening when I talked about illegals immigration. It wouldn’t even be a big subject.

But, we either have a country, or we don’t have a country. We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally. They will go out. They will come back — some will come back, the best, through a process. They have to come back legally. They have to come back through a process, and it may not be a very quick process, but I think that’s very fair, and very fine.

They’re going to get in line with other people. The best of them will come back, but they’re going to come back through a process. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Cruz, what’s wrong with letting what Mr. Trump calls, “the good ones” come back to the United States?

CRUZ: You know, the people that get forgotten in this debate over immigration are the hardworking men and women of this country — our millions of Americans who are losing their jobs. Millions of legal immigrants who are losing their jobs are seeing their wages driven down.

You know, in the past couple of weeks the Wall Street Journal had a very interesting article about the state of Arizona. Arizona put in very tough laws on illegal immigration, and the result was illegal immigrants fled the state, and what’s happened there — it was a very interesting article.

Some of the business owners complained that the wages they had to pay workers went up, and from their perspective that was a bad thing. But, what the state of Arizona has seen is the dollars they’re spending on welfare, on prisons, and education, all of those have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars. And, the Americans, and for that matter, the legal immigrants who are in Arizona, are seeing unemployment drop are seeing wages rise. That’s who we need to be fighting for.

Listen, we have always welcomed legal immigrants, but I think it is a mistake to forgive those who break the law to allow them to become U.S. citizens, and that’s why I’ve led the fight against granting citizenship to those here illegally, and that’s why I will do the same thing as president. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump, do you want to respond to that?

TRUMP: Well, I’m very glad that Ted mentioned Arizona because probably the toughest man on borders is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and two days ago he totally endorsed me, so, thank you. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Rubio?

RUBIO: Senator Cruz has called your immigration plan amnesty, and has an add out there comparing it to President Obama’s. He says both of you support allowing undocumented immigrants legal status here in the United States after a background check, paying a fine, and paying taxes.

Are those claims correct?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, and before we do anything, I’ve been abundantly clear on this. When I’m president of the United States, before we do anything on immigration, we are going to secure the border. And, that’s not just the physical border with Mexico, it’s Visa overstays. That’s 45 percent of the problem right there.

It also has to do — that’s why we need e-verify, and entry-exit tracking system, and so-forth. And, until that happens, we’re not doing anything else. And then we’ll see what the American people are willing to support.

And Donald mentioned, because he mentioned me in his answer, that his position on immigration is what has driven this debate. Well, the truth is, though, that a lot of these positions that he’s now taking are new to him.

In 2011, he talked about the need for a pathway to citizenship. In 2012, Donald criticized Mitt Romney, saying that Mitt lost his election because of self-deportation.

And so even today, we saw a report in one of the newspapers that Donald, you’ve hired a significant number of people from other countries to take jobs that Americans could have filled.

My mom and dad — my mom was a maid at a hotel, and instead of hiring an American like her, you have brought in over a thousand people from all over the world to fill those jobs instead.

So I think this is an important issue. And I think we are realizing increasingly that it’s an important issue for the country that has been debated for 30 years, but finally needs to be solved once and for all.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, self-deportation is people are going to leave as soon as they see others going out. If you look at Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, they started moving people out and the rest of them left.

Self-deportation, as I really define it, and that’s the way I define it, is you’re going to get some to go, and the rest are going to go out.

As far as the people that I’ve hired in various parts of Florida during the absolute prime season, like Palm Beach and other locations, you could not get help. It’s the up season. People didn’t want to have part-time jobs. There were part-time jobs, very seasonal, 90-day jobs, 120-day jobs, and you couldn’t get.

Everybody agrees with me on that. They were part-time jobs. You needed them, or we just might as well close the doors, because you couldn’t get help in those hot, hot sections of Florida.

RUBIO: That — my point that I made was you had criticized Mitt Romney for self-deportation. You said that his strategy of self- deportation is why he lost the election.

And I think people in Florida would be surprised, because, in fact, the article that was today, they interviewed a number of people that would have been willing to do those jobs, if you would have been willing to hire them to do it.

TRUMP: I criticized Mitt Romney for losing the election. He should have won that election. He had a failed president. He ran a terrible campaign. He was a terrible candidate. That’s what I criticize Mitt Romney — I mean, ran…

RUBIO: No, he…

TRUMP: Excuse me. He ran one terrible campaign. That’s an election that should have been won. [applause]

RUBIO: Well, in fact, I agree we should have won and I wished we would have, but, in fact, you did criticize him for using the term “self-deportation.” I mean, that’s on the record and people can look it up right now online.

But, again, I just want to reiterate, I think it’s really important, this point. I think it’s fine, it’s an important point that you raise and we discuss on immigration. This is a big issue for Texas, a huge issue for the country.

But I also think that if you’re going to claim that you’re the only one that lifted this into the campaign, that you acknowledge that, for example, you’re only person on this stage that has ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally.

You hired some workers from Poland…

TRUMP: No, no, I’m the only one on the stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody. [applause]

RUBIO: In fact, some of the people…

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: And by the way, I’ve hired — and by the way, I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over at my job. You’ve hired nobody.

RUBIO: Yes, you’ve hired a thousand from another country…

TRUMP: You’ve had nothing but problems with your credit cards, et cetera. So don’t tell me about that.

RUBIO: Let me just say — let me finish the statement. This is important.

TRUMP: You haven’t hired one person, you liar.

RUBIO: He hired workers from Poland. And he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgment from…

TRUMP: That’s wrong. That’s wrong. Totally wrong.

RUBIO: That’s a fact. People can look it up. I’m sure people are Googling it right now. Look it up. “Trump Polish workers,” you’ll see a million dollars for hiring illegal workers on one of his projects. He did it. [applause] That happened.

TRUMP: I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over my lifetime. Tens of thousands…

RUBIO: Many from other countries instead of hiring Americans.

TRUMP: Be quiet. Just be quiet. [applause] Let me talk. I’ve hired tens of thousands of people. He brings up something from 30 years ago, it worked out very well. Everybody was happy.

RUBIO: You paid a million dollars.

TRUMP: And by the way, the laws were totally different. That was a whole different world.

BLITZER: Thank you.

TRUMP: But I’ve hired people. Nobody up here has hired anybody. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Cruz, you say you want to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants, but you never want to allow them to come back to the United States. What would happen to the children who are U.S.- born citizens whose parent will be deported under your plan?

CRUZ: Well, existing law provides that those who are deported cannot come back here legally. U.S. citizens can come back. That’s existing law.

But let me say, Wolf, I really find it amazing that Donald believes that he is the one who discovered the issue of illegal immigration. I can tell you, when I ran for Senate here in the state of Texas, I ran promising to lead the fight against amnesty, promising to fight to build a wall. And in 2013, when I was fight against the “gang of eight” amnesty bill, where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on “Celebrity Apprentice.” [laughter]

And indeed, if you look at the “gang of eight,” one individual on this stage broke his promise to the men and women who elected him and wrote the amnesty bill.

If you look at the eight members of the Gang of Eight, Donald gave over $50,000 to three Democrats and two Republicans. And when you’re funding open border politicians, you shouldn’t be surprised when they fight for open borders.

And I think if you want to know who actually will secure the borders and follow through, you ought to ask who has a record before they were a candidate for president of fighting to secure the borders and stop amnesty. And I’m the only one on this stage that has that record. And by the way, Marco is exactly right that a federal court found Donald guilty of being part of a conspiracy to hire people illegally and entered a $1 million judgment against him. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: I can only say this, and I’ve said it loud and clear and I’ve said it for years. And many of these people are sitting right in the audience right now — your lobbyist and your special interest and your donors, because the audience is packed with them, and they’re packed with you.

I’ve had an amazing relationship with politicians — with politicians both Democrat, Republican, because I was a businessman. As one magazine said, he’s a world-class businessman; he was friendly with everybody. I got along with everybody.

You get along with nobody. You don’t have one Republican — you don’t have one Republican senator, and you work with them every day of your life, although you skipped a lot of time. These are minor details. But you don’t have one Republican senator backing you; not one. You don’t have the endorsement of one Republican senator and you work with these people. You should be ashamed of yourself. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Cruz?

CRUZ: You know, I actually think Donald is right. He is promising if he’s elected he will go and cut deals in Washington. And he’s right. He has supported — he has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats. Anyone who really cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be hiring illegal immigrants. Anyone who really cared about illegal immigration wouldn’t be funding Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi; wouldn’t be funding the Gang of Eight. And, you know, he is right. When you stand up to Washington, when you honor the promise you made to the men and women who elected you and say enough with the corruption, enough with the cronyism, let’s actually stand for the working men and women of this country, Washington doesn’t like it.

And Donald, if you want to be liked in Washington, that’s not a good attribute for a president. [applause]

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: Here’s a man — Robin Hood. This is Robin Hood over here. He talks about corruption. On his financial disclosure form, he didn’t even put that he’s borrowed money from Citibank and from Goldman Sachs, which is a total violation. He didn’t talk about the fact that he pays almost no interest. He just left it off, and now he’s going to protect the people from the big bad banks.

Give me a break.

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to move on to Governor Kasich.

Governor Kasich…

[crosstalk]

CRUZ: Wolf, can I respond to that attack?

BLITZER: You can respond, but let me get Governor Kasich in. He’s been waiting patiently.

Governor Kasich, the idea — you’ve said this, and I want to quote you now: “The idea that we’re going to deport all these people is ludicrous and everybody knows it.” Those are your words. Should people be allowed to break the law just because it’s not feasible to stop them?

KASICH: Look, we have a great president here, George Bush, the 41st president of the United States. He worked with Ronald Reagan to pass an effort to try to solve this problem — a path to legalization. You see, that was a time when things worked. It was a time when President Reagan and George Bush decided that we needed to make the country work.

Look, I think there is an answer here. The answer is you complete the border. You let people know that once it’s done, you don’t have a right to come in. If you come in, we don’t want any excuse. You’re going to go back. But I favor a guest worker program. I think it’s practical. And I think for the 11 million or 11.5 million Americans — the illegals that are here, if they have not committed a crime since they’ve been here, I’d make them pay a fine, some back taxes, maybe some community service. And at the end, I’d give them a path to legalization, but not a path to citizenship. I don’t think we’re going to tear families apart. I don’t think we’re going to ride around in people’s neighborhoods and grab people out of their homes. I don’t think — first of all, I don’t think it’s practical and I don’t think it reflects America.

You know what happened? The problem with President Reagan is we didn’t get in there and actually finish the border. And I think it was probably business interests that affected it. But at the end of the day, let’s be practical. Let’s start solving problems in this country instead of kicking them upstairs. With President Reagan and George Bush, it was a bipartisan coalition to address the issue, and I think we can and should do it again. And I will have a plan in the first 100 days to get it done and get this issue behind us. [applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor. [applause]

Dr. Carson, you’ve been critical of mass deportation. You said back in November you don’t think Mr. Trump’s plan necessarily represents the Republican Party. Given how well Mr. Trump has been doing with the Republican primary voters, do you still believe that?

CARSON: I believe in liberty and justice for all. I think everything that we do should be fair. And I’ve already described — you know, how we can secure the border.

We need to secure all the borders, because it’s not just people coming in from South America and Mexico, but there are terrorists who want to destroy us, who are getting across our borders fairly easily. And we have to stop that.

But in terms of the people who are here already, after we — after we stop the illegal immigration, we need to be reasonable. And I would give them a six-month period in which to get registered as a guest worker, assuming that they have an acceptable record.

They have to pay a back-tax penalty, have to pay taxes going forward, but they don’t have to live underground anymore. And I think they do not become American citizens, they do not vote.

If they want to become an American citizen, they go through exactly the same process that anybody else goes through. I think that’s the kind of situation that is actually fair to people.

And we have other ways of — of utilizing our facilities and our talents as foreign aid: doing things in South America and Central America and Mexico that improve the economy there, so that they don’t feel the need to come over here. That would cost us a lot less than borrowing money from China, paying interest on it.

BLITZER: Thank you, Dr. Carson. [applause]

Mr. Trump, your campaign, as you well remember, began with the idea of building a wall along the southern border.

TRUMP: [inaudible].

BLITZER: It’s about 315 miles southwest of where we are right now. You’ve said the Mexican government will pay for it.

TRUMP: Correct.

BLITZER: The spokesperson for the current president of Mexico says that will never happen. The last two presidents of Mexico say that will never happen. In fact, the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox — he said today, and I’m quoting him — he said, “I’m not going to pay for that,” quote, “effing wall.” [laughter]

So if you don’t get an actual check from the Mexican government for $8 billion or $10 billion or $12 billion, whatever it will cost, how are you going to make them pay for the wall?

TRUMP: I will, and the wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me. [applause]

It just got 10 feet taller. I saw him make that — I saw him make the statement. I saw him use the word that he used. I can only tell you, if I would have used even half of that word, it would have been national scandal.

This guy used a filthy, disgusting word on television, and he should be ashamed of himself, and he should apologize, OK? Number one. Number two, we have a trade deficit with Mexico of $58 billion a year. And that doesn’t include all the drugs that are pouring across and destroying our country.

We’re going to make them pay for that wall. Now, the wall is $10 billion to $12 billion, if I do it. If these guys do it, it’ll end up costing $200 billion. [applause]

But the wall is $10 billion to $12 billion. You need 1,000 — you need 1,000 miles. The Great Wall of China, built 2,000 years ago — 2,000, is 13,000 miles. We need 1,000, because we have a lot of natural barriers.

We can do it for $10 billion to $12 billion, and it’s a real wall. This is a wall that’s a heck of a lot higher than the ceiling you’re looking at. This is a wall that’s going to work.

Mexico will pay for it, because they are not doing us any favors. They could stop all of this illegal trade if they wanted to…[bell ringing]… immediately. Mexico will pay for the wall. It’s a small portion of the kind of money that we lose and the deficits that we have with Mexico. [applause]

BLITZER: If the — if the Mexicans don’t pay for the wall, will you start a trade war with Mexico?

TRUMP: Well, you know, I don’t mind trade wars when we’re losing $58 billion a year, you want to know the truth. We’re losing so much. [applause]

We’re losing so much with Mexico and China — with China, we’re losing $500 billion a year. And then people say, “don’t we want to trade?” I don’t mind trading, but I don’t want to lose $500 billion. I don’t want to lose $58 billion.

Mexico just took Carrier Corporation, maker of air conditioners. They just took Ford. They’re building a $2.5 billion plant. They just took Nabisco out of Chicago.

And I always say I’m not having Oreos anymore, which is true, by the way. But they just took a big plant from Nabisco into Mexico. They’re taking our businesses. I don’t mind.

BLITZER: Thank you. Senator Rubio? [applause]

RUBIO: Yeah, a couple points. If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it. The second…[applause]

TRUMP: Such a cute sound bite.

RUBIO: But it — no, it’s not a sound bite. It’s a fact. Again, go online and Google it. Donald Trump, Polish workers. You’ll see it.

The second thing, about the trade war — I don’t understand, because your ties and the clothes you make is made in Mexico and in China. So you’re gonna be starting a trade war against your own ties and your own suits.

TRUMP: All right, you know what?

RUBIO: Why don’t you make them in America?

TRUMP: Because they devalue their currency — they devalue their currencies…

RUBIO: Well, then make them in America.

TRUMP: … that makes it — well, you don’t know a thing about business. You lose on everything…

RUBIO: Well, make them in America.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you — they de-value their currency. They de-value their currencies.

RUBIO: Well then, make them in America.

TRUMP: That makes it — well, you don’t know a thing about business. You lose on everything you do.

RUBIO: Well, make them in America.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, they de-value their currencies. China, Mexico, everybody. Japan with the cars. They de-value their currencies to such an extent that our businesses cannot compete with them, our workers lose their jobs…

RUBIO: And so you make them in China and in Russia.

TRUMP: But you wouldn’t know anything about it because you’re a lousy businessman.

RUBIO: Well, I don’t know anything about bankrupting four companies. You’ve bankrupted..

TRUMP: No, I — and you know why? You know why? [applause]

RUBIO: I don’t know anything about…

TRUMP: You know why?

RUBIO: … starting a university, and that was a fake university.

BLITZER: One at a time.

TRUMP: First of all…

BLITZER: One at a time.

TRUMP: … first of all, that’s called a…

RUBIO: There are people who borrowed $36,000…

BLITZER: Hold on. One at a time, Mr. Trump.

RUBIO: … to go to Trump University, and they’re suing now — $36,000 to go to a university…

TRUMP: And by the way — and by the way…

RUBIO: … that’s a fake school.

TRUMP: … and by the way…

RUBIO: And you know what they got? They got to take a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump…

TRUMP: … I’ve won most of the lawsuits.

RUBIO: That’s what they got for $36,000.

BLITZER: All right, I want to move on.

TRUMP: And they actually did a very good job, but I’ve won most of the lawsuits.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump, Senator, I want to bring in…

RUBIO: Most of the lawsuits.

BLITZER: … I want to bring in my colleague Maria Celeste.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Hey Wolf, let me ask you. Am I allowed to respond to this?

BLITZER: You’re allowed — you’ve been responding.

TRUMP: OK. Well let — no, I haven’t. I really haven’t. [laughter]

RUBIO: He’s talked through the whole thing. [applause]

TRUMP: Here’s a guy — here’s a guy that buys a house for $179,000, he sells it to a lobbyist who’s probably here for $380,000 and then legislation is passed. You tell me about this guy. This is what we’re going to have as president.

RUBIO: Here’s a guy that inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now?

TRUMP: No, no, no.

RUBIO: Selling watches in Manhattan. [applause]

TRUMP: [inaudible] I took…

RUBIO: That’s where he would be.

TRUMP: That is so wrong. We’ll work on that. I took $1 million and I turned into $10 billion.

RUBIO: Oh, OK. One million.

TRUMP: I borrowed $1 million…

RUBIO: Better release your tax returns so we can see how much money he made.

TRUMP: I borrowed $1 million, I turned it into $10 billion…

RUBIO: Oh, he doesn’t make that money.

TRUMP: … more than $10 billion.

BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you. I want to bring in Maria Celeste Arrarás of Telemundo. Maria?

ARRARÁS: Senator Rubio, last week, you said that on your first day in office, you will get rid of President Obama’s executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA for short.

RUBIO: Correct.

ARRARÁS: It is a program that has protected hundreds of thousands of young people that came here when they were children, brought to the U.S. by undocumented immigrants. This is the only home they know, and that is a dramatic change from last April when you said in Spanish, and I’m going to quote you [in Spanish] which translates to DACA is going to have to end at some point, but it wouldn’t be fair to cancel it immediately.

So Senator Rubio, what changed?

RUBIO: It didn’t change.

ARRARÁS: Why is it now fair to cancel it on Day One?

RUBIO: No, it’s the same policy. It will have to end at some moment, and as I said, we will — we will eliminate that executive order. The people that are on it now will not be allowed to renew it, and new applicants will not be allowed to apply to it. And it’s not because we’re not compassionate to the plight of a 2 — someone who came here when they were 2 years old. I understand. I know people that are personally impacted by this.

The problem with the executive order is it is unconstitutional. The president doesn’t have the power to do that. [applause]

And he himself admitted that.

ARRARÁS: Senator, Senator…

RUBIO: I’m sorry, but let me finish my…

ARRARÁS: … but you went — you went from saying that it was deeply disruptive to deport them immediately to deport them on Day One.

RUBIO: No, but this is not about deportation. Everybody always goes immediately to the issue of deportation. This is about DACA. DACA is an executive order that is unconstitutional. I will cancel it on my first day in office, which means people who currently hold those permits will not be allowed to renew them when they expire, and new people will not be allowed to apply for them.

Now, I am sympathetic to the plight of someone who came here when they were 2 or 3 years old through no fault of their own, but you can’t solve it doing something that is unconstitutional. No matter how sympathetic we may be to a cause, we cannot violate the Constitution of the United States the way this president now does on a regular basis. [applause]

ARRARÁS: Senator Rubio, you accused Senator Cruz in a previous debate of lying when he said that you said one thing in Spanish and another one in English. So in what sense did he lie?

RUBIO: Because it is not true that I’m not going to get rid of DACA. I am going to get rid of DACA. In the Spanish interview, you just read out the transcript in Spanish, I said, it will have to end at some point. That point will be when I eliminate the executive order and the people who have those permits when they expire will not be allowed to renew it. And new people will not be able to apply. In fact, I don’t even think we should be taking new enrollees in the program now.

That is how the program ends and how you wind it down is you allow the people who are on it, when the program expires, they cannot renew it, and it goes away. But I will cancel the executive order as soon as I take — as soon as I step foot into the Oval Office.

TRUMP: I have to say, he lied this time. He lied. 100 percent. 100 percent.

RUBIO: You lied about the Polish workers.

TRUMP: Yes, yes, yes. 38 years ago.

RUBIO: You lied to the students at Trump University.

ARRARÁS: Let Senator Cruz jump in.

RUBIO: Oh, he lied 38 years ago. All right, I guess there’s a statute of limitation on lies. [laughter and applause]

CRUZ: Well Maria, I would note you made the exact same point here that I made at the last debate, and you’re right that Senator Rubio called me a liar for saying that.

You know, we’ve both seen at home when Washington politicians say about an illegal, or unconstitutional program. Well, it’ll have to end some day, not immediately, but someday in the future.

That, inevitably, is when a politician doesn’t plan to end it at all.

You know, I’m reminded of that that is the same position that Marco took in Iowa on ethanol subsidies. When I campaigned in Iowa, I took on the lobbyists, took on the corporate welfare and said we should have no ethanol subsidies.

Marco’s position was the same as it is to illegal amnesty. Well, someday it should end, just not now. And, frankly, I think we need a president who knows what he believes in, is willing to say it on day one, not at the end of his term when it’s somebody else’s problem.

RUBIO: That’s not an accurate assessment of what I said about ethanol. What I said is that ethanol will phase out, it is phasing out now. By 2022 that program expires by virtue of the existing law, and at that point it will go away. I don’t agree with the mandate and the program that’s in place, but I think it’s unfair that these people have gone out and invested all this money into this program and we’re just going to yank it away from them.

And, again, you read the statement in Spanish. I said very clearly on Spanish television, DACA will have to end at some point, and that point is — at that time I was not a candidate for president. I said it will end in my first day in office as president, and the people who have it now will not be able to renew it. New applicants will not be able to apply. That is the end of DACA.

I am sympathetic to this cause, but once again, it cannot supersede the Constitution of the United States which this president habitually and routinely every single day ignores and violates. [cheering and applause]

ARRARÁS: Senator Cruz, you and Senator Rubio are the two candidates of hispanic descent on this stage. As a matter of fact, you are the first hispanic candidate ever to win a caucus or primary. [applause]

And yet, there is the perception in the Latino community that instead of trying to prove to Latinos who has the best plan, the best platform to help them, that you two are spending the time arguing with each other. Trying to figure out which one is tougher on immigration in order to appeal to the majority of Republicans.

So, my question to you is are you missing a huge opportunity to expand the Republican base?

CRUZ: Well, Maria, you are right. It is extraordinary that of five people standing on this stage that two of us are the children of Cuban immigrants. It really is the embodiment of the incredible opportunity and promise this nation provides.

You know, I would note that a lot of folks in the media have a definition of hispanics that you can only be hispanic if you’re liberal. That makes sense in the media, but I gotta tell you, one of the things I was most proud of when I ran for Senate here in Texas, I earned 40 percent of the hispanic vote here in Texas.

At the same time, Mitt Romney was getting clobbered with 27 percent of the hispanic vote nationwide. And, the reason is, as you know, you look at the value sin the hispanic community. The values in our community are faith, family, patriotism.

You know, we’ve got the highest rate of military enlistment among hispanics in any demographic in this country. And, when I campaigned, and I campaigned the same here in Houston or Dallas as I did in the Rio Grande Valley, defending conservative principles, defending judeo- Christian principals, telling my father’s story.

Telling my Dad’s story of coming to America with $100 dollars in his underwear, not speaking English, washing dishes, having hopes and dreams for the American dream. And, the truth is the Obama-Clinton economy has done enormous damage to the hispanic community. It is not working in the hispanic community, and I…[bell ringing]…fighting so that everyone who is struggling in the hispanic community and beyond will have a fair and even shake at the American dream.

RUBIO: I’m sorry I was mentioned…

ARRARÁS: … Governor Kasich.

RUBIO: Maria I was mentioned in that. I was mentioned in that statement.

ARRARÁS: Governor Kasich, after the…

RUBIO: … OK. I was mentioned — just because of the hispanic — and I’ll be brief.

A couple points, number one, I do think it’s amazing that on this stage tonight there are two descendants of Cuban origin, and an African American. We are the party of diversity, not the Democratic party. [cheering and applause]

And, the second point I would make is that we have to move past this idea that somehow the hispanic community only cares about immigration.

Yes, it’s an important issue because we know and love people that have been impacted by it. But, I’m going to tell you that the most powerful sentiment in the hispanic community, as it is in every immigrant community, is the burning desire to leave your children better off than yourself…[bell ringing]…and, you can only do that through free enterprise. That’s what we stand for, not socialism like Bernie Sanders, and increasingly Hillary Clinton. [applause]

ARRARÁS: Governor Kasich, after the last presidential election the Republican party realized that in order to win the presidency it needed the support of latinos. Guidelines as to how to accomplish that were spelled out in an autopsy report that concluded, and I’m going to quote it, “if hispanic Americans hear that the GOP doesn’t want them in the United States they won’t pay attention to our next sentence.”

So, do you think that your fellow Republican candidates get it?

KASICH: Well, I’m not going to talk about that. I mean, I’ve got to tell you, I was with this little 12-year-old girl, was at a town hall meeting, and she said, you know, I don’t like all this yelling and screaming at the debates. My mother’s thinking I might not be able to watch the thing anymore.

I think we ought to move beyond that, about what they think. I’m going to tell you what I think. My position on this whole immigration issue has been clear from the beginning. I haven’t changed anything with it.

And, look, my view is, we need economic growth. Everything starts with economic growth. And how do you get it? Common sense regulations, lower taxes for both business and individuals, and, of course, a fiscal plan that balances the budget.

That gives you economic growth. I did it when I was in Washington, as the Budget Committee chairman, negotiating actually with Democrats, that gave us surpluses, economic growth, and the same thing in Ohio.

But here’s the thing that I believe. Economic growth is not an end unto itself. We have to make sure that everybody has a sense that they can rise.

Of course, our friends in the Hispanic community, our friends in the African-American community, the promise of America is that our system, when we follow the right formula, is going to give opportunity for everyone.

It’s what Jack Kemp used to say. A rising tide lifts all boats, not just some boats, but all boats. And you know what? With me and the Hispanic community, I think they like me. And I appreciate that, because I want them to have the same opportunity that I and my children and my wife and the people we love have had in this country.

It’s time to solve problems. [applause]

ARRARÁS: Dr. Carson, concerning this recommendation of the report, are you, as a candidate, getting it?

CARSON: I didn’t hear the first part of the question?

ARRARÁS: The first part of the question is, there was a report that recommended that in order to approach Hispanics and bring them to vote for the Republican Party, certain things needed to happen.

And one of them was that they shouldn’t feel like they were going to get kicked out of the United States, otherwise they wouldn’t pay attention to one more sentence from candidates.

CARSON: OK, well, first of all, let me just mention that last year at the NALEO, the National Association for Latino Elected Officials, I was the only one of 17 Republican candidates to go there.

And the reason that I don’t fear going to an organization like that is because the message that I give is the same message to every group. You know, this is America. And we need to have policies that are — that give liberty and justice to all people.

And that’s the way that I have fashioned virtually every policy, looking at that. And I think that’s the way the Republican Party generally thinks. We don’t pick and choose winners and losers. We are compassionate.

But real compassion is providing people with a ladder of opportunity to climb up from a state of dependence and become part of the fabric of America. When we begin to emphasize that, I think we will attract everybody. [applause]

ARRARÁS: Mr. Trump, it is common knowledge that the Hispanic vote is very important in this race. You keep saying that Hispanics love you.

TRUMP: True. [laughter]

ARRARÁS: And, yes, you won the Hispanic vote in Nevada.

TRUMP: True.

ARRARÁS: But a brand new Telemundo poll says that three out of four Hispanics that vote nationwide have a negative opinion of you. They don’t like you. Wouldn’t that make you an unelectable…

TRUMP: No.

ARRARÁS: … candidate in a general election?

TRUMP: First of all, I don’t believe anything Telemundo says.

ARRARÁS: You used to say that you love…[laughter]

TRUMP: Number one. Number two, I currently employ thousands of Hispanics, and over the years, I’ve employed tens of thousands of Hispanics. They’re incredible people. They know, and the reason I won in Nevada, not only won the big one, but I also won subs, like, as an example, I won with women.

I won with every single category. I won with men, I won with high-income, low-income, I won with Hispanics. And I got 46 percent. Nobody else was close. Because they know I’m going to bring jobs back from China, from Japan, from so many other places.

They get it. They’re incredible people. They’re incredible workers. They get it. And I’ve won many of the polls with Hispanics. I didn’t maybe win the Telemundo poll.

But one thing I’m also going to do, I’m going to be getting — bringing a lot of people in who are Democrats, who are independents, and you’re seeing that with the polls, because if you look at anywhere, look at any of the elections, every single election, it has been record-setting.

And the good news is, for the Republican Party, the Democrats are getting very poor numbers in terms of bringing them in. We’re getting record-setting numbers. I think I have something to do with that.

We’re getting record-setting numbers. And I won every one — the three of them that I won, I won with record-setting numbers.

TRUMP: New people are coming into the Republican Party. We are building a new Republican Party, a lot of new people are coming in. [applause]

ARRARÁS: For the record, you have said publicly that you loved Telemundo in the past. But it is not just a Telemundo poll. We have…

TRUMP: I love them. I love them. [applause]

ARRARÁS: All right. Well, it’s not the only poll.

TRUMP: They’re fine. Do you know what? They’re fine.

ARRARÁS: Just last night — let me — let me finish, please.

Just last night, The Washington Post showed that 80 percent of Hispanic voters in their polls have a negative view of you. And concerning the Nevada victory, allow me to explain that the poll in Nevada was based on a tiny sample, statistically insignificant of only about 100 — let me finish please — of 100 Hispanic Republicans in the state of Nevada.

TRUMP: Why did they take the poll? Why did they…[crosstalk]

ARRARÁS: I am making reference — I am making reference to Hispanic voters nationwide in a general election.

TRUMP: I’m just telling you, I’m doing very well with Hispanics. And by the way, I settled my suit, as you know, with Univision. It was settled. We’re good friends now. It was all settled up. [laughter]

Very happy, very happy. Very good people.

I’m just telling you — I’m just telling you that I will do really well with Hispanics. I will do better than anybody on this stage. I have respect for the people on the stage, but I will do very well with Hispanics. But I’m telling you also, I’m bringing people, Democrats over and I’m bringing independents over, and we’re building a much bigger, much stronger Republican Party.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump, thank you.

I want to turn our attention now to another critically important issue for the American people, the United States Supreme Court, where filling the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia has become a major campaign issue. I want to bring in Salem Radio Network host, Hugh Hewitt.

Hugh?

HEWITT: Thank you, Wolf.

To me, it’s the most important issue. I’ll start with you, Senator Cruz. Do you trust Mr. Trump to nominate conservative justices?

CRUZ: Well, Hugh, I agree with you that it — Justice Scalia’s passing underscores the enormous gravity of this election. Justice Scalia was someone I knew personally for 20 years; was privileged to be at his funeral this weekend. And with his passing, the court is now hanging in the balance. We are one liberal justice away from a five-justice radical leftist majority that would undermine our religious liberty; that would undermine the right to life; and that would fundamentally erase the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms from the Constitution.

Now, I think the voters of Texas, the voters across Super Tuesday are assessing everyone standing on this — this stage. In the past, Republican presidents always promise to nominate strict constitutionalists. So I’m certain if you took a survey, everyone would say they would do that.

But the reality is, Democrats bat about 1,000. Just about everyone they put on the court votes exactly as they want. Republicans have batted worse than 500, more than half of the people we put on the court have been a disaster.

I’ve spent my whole life fighting to defend the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. I can tell you, for voters that care about life or marriage or religious liberty or the Second Amendment, they’re asking the question: Who do you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, who do you know will nominate principled constitutionalists to the court? I give you my word, every justice I nominate will vigorously defend the Bill of Rights for my children and for yours. [applause]

HEWITT: Mr. Trump, Senator Cruz mentioned the issue that keeps me up at night, which is religious liberty. Churches, Catholic and Christian colleges, Catholic adoption agencies — all sorts of religious institutions fear that Hobby Lobby, if it’s repealed, it was a five-four decision, they’re going to have to bend their knee and provide morning-after pills. They fear that if Bob Jones is expanded, they will lose their tax exemption.

Will you commit to voters tonight that religious liberty will be an absolute litmus test for anyone you appoint, not just to the Supreme Court, but to all courts?

TRUMP: Yes, I would. And I’ve been there. And I’ve been there very strongly. I do have to say something, and this is interesting and it’s not anybody’s fault. It’s not Ted’s fault. Justice Roberts was strongly recommended and pushed by Ted. Justice Roberts gave us Obamacare. Might as well be called Roberts-care. Two times of the Supreme Court, Justice Roberts approved something that he should have never raised his hand to approve. And we ended up with Obamacare.

That is a rough thing. And I know Ted feels badly about it. And I think he probably still respects the judge. But that judge has been a disaster in terms of everything we stand for because there is no way — no way that he should have approved Obamacare.

Now, with that being said, these are the things that happen. But Ted very, very strongly pushed Judge Roberts, and Justice Roberts gave us something that we don’t want.

HEWITT: Ted Cruz, Senator, the chief justice got Hobby Lobby right, but what do you make of Mr. Cruz’s criticism?

CRUZ: Well, listen — Donald knows that it was George W. Bush who appointed John Roberts. Yes, it’s true, I supported the Republican nominee once he was made.

But I would not have nominated John Roberts. I would have nominated my former boss, Mike Luttig, who was the strongest proven conservative on the court of appeals. And I’ll tell you, Hugh…[applause]…you know, it’s interesting now that Donald promises that he will appoint justices who — who will defend religious liberty, but this is a man who, for 40 years, has given money to Jimmy Carter, to Joe Biden, to Hillary Clinton, to Chuck Schumer, to Harry Reid.

Nobody who supports far-left liberal Democrats who are fighting for judicial activists can possibly care about having principled constitutionalists on the court.

And what Donald has told us is he will go to Washington…[bell ringing]…and cut a deal.

HEWITT: Mr. Trump…

CRUZ: So that means on Supreme Court…

HEWITT: … can I…

CRUZ: … he’s going to look to cut a deal, rather than fight for someone who won’t cut a deal on the Constitution, but will defend it faithfully. [applause]

HEWITT: Can I trust you on religious liberty?

TRUMP: Well, let — let me — let me just say — let me just say this. Look, I watched Ted — and I respected it, but he gets nowhere — stand on the Senate floor for a day or two days, and talk and talk and talk.

I watched the other senators laughing and smiling. And when Ted was totally exhausted, he left the Senate floor, and they went back to work. OK? We have to have somebody that’s going to make deals.

It’s wonderful to stand up for two days and do that. Now, Ted’s been very critical — I have a sister who’s a brilliant…

HEWITT: Mr. Cruz, will you make a deal about religious liberty?

TRUMP: … excuse me. She’s a brilliant judge. He’s been criticizing — he’s been criticizing my sister for signing a certain bill. You know who else signed that bill? Justice Samuel Alito, a very conservative member of the Supreme Court, with my sister, signed that bill.

So I think that maybe we should get a little bit of an apology from Ted. What do you think?

HEWITT: Let me — Senator.

CRUZ: Let me tell you right now, Donald, I will not apologize for a minute for defending the Constitution. I will not apologize for defending the Bill of Rights. [applause]

And I find it amazing that your answer to Hugh and to the American people is, on religious liberty, you can’t have one of the these crazy zealots that actually believes in it. You’ve got to be willing to cut a deal.

And you know, there is a reason why, when Harry Reid was asked, of all the people on this stage, who does he want the most, who does he like the most, Harry Reid said Donald — Donald Trump.

Why? Because Donald has supported him in the past, and he knows he can cut a deal with him. [bell ringing]

You know what, Donald…[crosstalk]

HEWITT: Senator Rubio.

CRUZ: … I don’t want a Supreme Court justice that you cut a deal with Harry Reid to undermine religious liberty, because that same justice will also erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights. [applause]

TRUMP: When you say crazy zealot, are you talking about you? Crazy zealot — give me a break.

HEWITT: Senator Rubio, you’ve heard this exchange on religious liberty. You have said that religious liberty will trump even the ability of people to stay away from same-sex marriages, not provide flowers, not provide baked goods, et cetera. Are you satisfied with this exchange on religious liberty?

RUBIO: Well, I think you ask a very important question, because the issue here — the next president of the United States has to fill this vacancy.

Justice Scalia — in the history of the republic, there has never been anyone better than him at standing for the principle that the Constitution is not a living and breathing document — it is supposed to be applied as originally meant.

And the next president of the United States has to be someone that you can trust and believe in to appoint someone just as good as Scalia — plus there may be at least two other vacancies.

So you ask Mr. Trump to respond and say that he would, and he says that he would. But the bottom line is, if you look at his record over the last 25 or 30 years, on issue after issue, he has not been on our side.

Now, if he’s changed, we’re always looking for converts into the conservative movement. But the bottom line is that, if you don’t have a record there to look at and say, “I feel at peace that when Donald Trump is president of the United States, he’s going to be firmly on our side on these issues.”

In fact, very recently, he was still defending Planned Parenthood. He says he’s not going to take sides in the Palestinians versus Israel. These are concerning things.

And so, yes, I have a doubt about whether Donald Trump, if he becomes president, will replace Justice Scalia with someone just like Justice Scalia.

HEWITT: Mr. Trump? [applause]

TRUMP: Well, let — let me just say — let me just say, first of all, I have great respect for Justice Scalia. I thought he was terrific. And if you talk about evolving, Ronald Reagan was a somewhat liberal Democrat. Ronald Reagan evolved into a somewhat strong conservative — more importantly, he was a great president. A great president.

As far as Planned Parenthood is concerned, I’m pro-life. I’m totally against abortion, having to do with Planned Parenthood. But millions and millions of women — cervical cancer, breast cancer — are helped by Planned Parenthood.

So you can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly. And I wouldn’t fund it.

I would defund it because of the abortion factor, which they say is 3 percent. I don’t know what percentage it is. They say it’s 3 percent. But I would defund it, because I’m pro-life. But millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood. [applause]

HEWITT: Governor Kasich, back to religious liberty. You’ve been a little bit less emphatic. You’ve said, same-sex couple approaches a cupcake maker, sell them a cupcake. Can we trust you as much on religious liberty as the rest of these people?

KASICH: Well, you know, , of course. I mean, if — look, I was involved in just being a pioneer in a new church. Religious institutions should be able to practice the religion that they believe in. No question and no doubt about it.

Now, in regard to same-sex marriage, I don’t favor it. I’ve always favored traditional marriage, but, look, the court has ruled and I’ve moved on. And what I’ve said, Hugh, is that, look, where does it end?

If you’re in the business of selling things, if you’re not going to sell to somebody you don’t agree with, OK, today I’m not going to sell to somebody who’s gay, and tomorrow maybe I won’t sell to somebody who’s divorced.

I mean, if you’re in the business of commerce, conduct commerce. That’s my view. And if you don’t agree with their lifestyle, say a prayer for them when they leave and hope they change their behavior.

But when it comes to the religious institutions, they are in inviolate in my mind, and I would fight for those religious institutions. And look, I’ve appointed over a hundred judges as governor. I even appointed adjudge to the Ohio Supreme Court.

And you know what they are? They’re conservatives. Go check it out. They are conservatives. They don’t make the law. They interpret the law. That’s all they do. And they stick by the Constitution. So I will do that.

But let’s just not get so narrow here as to gotcha this or that. I think my position is clear.

HEWITT: Dr. Carson, let me wrap it up with you. Are their positions clear? [applause]

Are the positions you’ve heard clear about the First Amendment and the first freedom?

CARSON: Well, first of all, let me just add my praise to Justice Scalia. I first met him when we got an honorary degree together a long time ago. A tremendous wit and intellect.

As far as religious freedom is concerned, one of the basic tenets of this nation, and I believe that the Constitution protects all of our rights. And it gives people who believe in same-sex marriage the same rights as everybody else.

But what we have to remember is even though everybody has the same rights, nobody get extra rights. So nobody gets to redefine things for everybody else and then have them have to conform to it. That’s unfair.

And this is the responsibility of Congress to come back and correct what the Supreme Court has done. That’s why we have divided government. And we’re going to have to encourage them to act in an appropriate way, or we will lose our religious freedom.

And as president, I would go through and I would look at what a person’s life has been. What have they done in the past? What kind of judgments have they made? What kind of associations do they have? That will tell you a lot more than an interview will tell you.

The fruit salad of their life is what I will look at.

BLITZER: Thank you, Dr. Carson. [applause]

All of you want to repeal and replace Obamacare, so let’s talk about your plans, specific plans to replace it. I want to bring in our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

BASH: Senator Rubio, you said yesterday, right here in Houston, that Mr. Trump thinks part of Obamacare is pretty good. So, he says he is going to repeal Obamacare. Are you saying that you’re worried he won’t?

RUBIO: The individual mandate. He said he likes the individual mandate portion of it, which I don’t believe that should be part of it. That should not remain there. I think here’s what we need to replace it with.

We need to repeal Obamacare completely and replace it with a system that puts Americans in charge of their health care money again. If your employer wants to buy health insurance for you, they can continue to do so from any company in America they want to buy it from.

Otherwise, your employers can provide you health care money, tax- free, not treated as income, and you can use that money only for health care, but you can use it to fund health care any way you want, fully fund a health savings account, the combination of a health savings account or a private plan from any company in any state in the country.

And if you don’t have that, then you will have a refundable tax credit that provides you health care money to buy your own health care coverage. And that, I think, is a much better approach than Obamacare, which, by the way, isn’t just bad for health care, it’s bad for our economy. It is a health care law that is basically forcing companies to lay people off, cut people’s hours, move people to part-time. It is not just a bad health care law, it is a job-killing law. And I will repeal it as president and we will replace it with something substantially better for all Americans. [applause]

BASH: Mr. Trump, Senator Rubio just said that you support the individual mandate. Would you respond?

TRUMP: I just want to say, I agree with that 100 percent, except pre-existing conditions, I would absolutely get rid of Obamacare. We’re going to have something much better, but pre-existing conditions, when I’m referring to that, and I was referring to that very strongly on the show with Anderson Cooper, I want to keep pre- existing conditions.

I think we need it. I think it’s a modern age. And I think we have to have it. [applause]

BASH: OK, so let’s talk about pre-existing conditions. What the insurance companies say is that the only way that they can cover people is to have a mandate requiring everybody purchase health insurance. Are they wrong?

TRUMP: I think they’re wrong 100 percent. What we need — look, the insurance companies take care of the politicians. The insurance companies get what they want. We should have gotten rid of the lines around each state so we can have real competition.

We thought that was gone, we thought those lines were going to be gone, so something happened at the last moment where Obamacare got approved, and all of that was thrown out the window.

The reason is some of the people in the audience are insurance people, and insurance lobbyists, and special interests. They got — I’m not going to point to these gentlemen, of course, they’re part of the problem, other than Ben, in all fairness.

And, actually, the Governor too, let’s just talk about these too, OK? [laughter]

Because I don’t think the Governor had too much to do with this.

But, we should have gotten rid of the borders, we should have gotten rid of the lines around the state so there’s great competition. The insurance companies are making a fortune on every single thing they do.

I’m self-funding my campaign. I’m the only one in either party self-funding my campaign. I’m going to do what’s right. We have to get rid of the lines around the states so that there’s serious, serious competition.

BASH: But, Mr. Trump…

TRUMP: … And, you’re going to see — excuse me. You’re going to see preexisting conditions and everything else be part of it, but the price will be done, and the insurance companies can pay. Right now they’re making a fortune. [applause]

BASH: But, just to be specific here, what you’re saying is getting rid of the barriers between states, that is going to solve the problem…

TRUMP: That’s going to solve the problem. And, the insurance companies aren’t going to say that, they want to keep it. They want to say — they say whatever they have to say to keep it the way it is. I know the insurance companies, they’re friends of mine. The top guys, they’re friends of mine. I shouldn’t tell you guys, you’ll say it’s terrible, I have a conflict of interest. They’re friends of mine, there’s some right in the audience. One of them was just waving to me, he was laughing and smiling. He’s not laughing so much anymore.

Hi. [applause]

Look, the insurance companies are making an absolute fortune. Yes, they will keep preexisting conditions, and that would be a great thing. Get rid of Obamacare, we’ll come up with new plans. But, we should keep preexisting conditions.

RUBIO: Dana, I was mentioned in his response, so if I may about the insurance companies…

BASH: … Go ahead.

RUBIO: You may not be aware of this, Donald, because you don’t follow this stuff very closely, but here’s what happened. When they passed Obamacare they put a bailout fund in Obamacare. All these lobbyists you keep talking about, they put a bailout fund in the law that would allow public money to be used, taxpayer money, to bail out companies when they lost money.

And, we led the effort and wiped out that bailout fund. The insurance companies are not in favor of me, they hate that. They’re suing that now to get that bailout money put back in.

Here’s what you didn’t hear in that answer, and this is important guys, this is an important thing. What is your plan? I understand the lines around the state, whatever that means. This is not a game where you draw maps…

TRUMP: … And, you don’t know what it means…

RUBIO: … What is your plan, Mr. Trump? [applause] What is your plan on healthcare?

TRUMP: You don’t know.

BASH: [inaudible]

TRUMP: … The biggest problem…[crosstalk]

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … The biggest problem, I’ll have you know…

RUBIO: … What’s your plan…

TRUMP: … You know, I watched him meltdown two weeks ago with Chris Christie. I got to tell you, the biggest problem he’s got is he really doesn’t know about the lines. The biggest thing we’ve got, and the reason we’ve got no competition, is because we have lines around the state, and you have essentially….

RUBIO: … We already mentioned that [inaudible] plan, I know what that is, but what else is part of your plan…

TRUMP: … You don’t know much…

RUBIO: … So, you’re only thing is to get rid of the lines around the states. What else is part of your healthcare plan…

TRUMP: … The lines around the states…

RUBIO: … That’s your only plan…

TRUMP: … and, it was almost done — not now…

RUBIO: … Alright, [inaudible]…

TRUMP: … Excuse me. Excuse me.

RUBIO: … His plan. That was the plan…

TRUMP: … You get rid of the lines, it brings in competition. So, instead of having one insurance company taking care of New York, or Texas, you’ll have many. They’ll compete, and it’ll be a beautiful thing.

RUBIO: Alright…[applause] So, that’s the only part of the plan? Just the lines?

BASH: [inaudible]

TRUMP: The nice part of the plan — you’ll have many different plans. You’ll have competition, you’ll have so many different plans.

RUBIO: Now he’s repeating himself.

TRUMP: No, no, no. [laughter, applause, and cheering]

TRUMP: [inaudible]

RUBIO: [inaudible]

[cheering]

TRUMP: [inaudible] I watched him repeat himself five times four weeks ago…

RUBIO: … I just watched you repeat yourself five times five seconds ago…[applause]

TRUMP: I watched him meltdown on the stage like that, I’ve never seen it in anybody…

BASH: … Let’s stay focused on the subject…

TRUMP: … I thought he came out of the swimming pool…

RUBIO: … I see him repeat himself every night, he says five things, everyone’s dumb, he’s gonna make America great again…

BASH: … Senator Rubio…

RUBIO: … We’re going to win, win win, he’s winning in the polls…

BASH: … Senator Rubio, please.

RUBIO: … And the lines around the state. [applause]… Every night.

BASH: Senator Rubio.

[cheering]

TRUMP: I tell the truth, I tell the truth.

BASH: Senator Rubio, you will have time to respond if you would just let Mr. Trump respond to what you’ve just posed to him…

RUBIO: … Yeah, he’s going to give us his plan now, right? OK…

BASH: … If you could talk a little bit more about your plan. I know you talked about…

TRUMP: … We’re going to have many different plans because…

BASH: … Can you be a little specific…

TRUMP: … competition…

RUBIO: … He’s done it again. [cheering and applause]

TRUMP: There is going to be competition among all of the states, and the insurance companies. They’re going to have many, many different plans.

BASH: Is there anything else you would like to add to that…

TRUMP: No, there’s nothing to add. [cheering and applause] What is to add?

BASH: Thank you. Thank you both.

RUBIO: Alright.

BASH: Governor Kasich, you’ve said it is, quote, “Un American to deny someone health insurance if they have a preexisting condition.”

Would you leave the individual mandate in place requiring all Americans to purchase insurance?

KASICH: No, I wouldn’t. And — but that doesn’t matter when it comes to the issue of preexisting conditions. You don’t want any American to lose their house, everything they’ve saved, because they get sick. Now, I think it is more complicated than what we’ve heard here tonight. We’re actually running significant health reform in my state.

I would repeal Obamacare for a variety of reasons. I would take some of the federal resources, combine it with the freed-up Medicaid program, which I would send back to the states, and cover the people who are currently the working poor because we don’t want to have tens of millions of Americans losing their health insurance.

And then we’re driving towards total transparency. If any of you here ever get a hospital bill, it’s easier to interpret the Dead Sea scrolls than to understand your hospital bill. The fact is what we need is transparency with hospitals and with the providers.

And I’ll tell you what we will do. We are actually going to make payments to physicians and to hospitals who actually deliver healthcare with great quality at low prices. We actually are going to make the market work.

BASH: Governor, let me just go back to the original question about the individual mandate. In 1994 when you were in Congress, you proposed a plan requiring an individual mandate. So what changed?

KASICH: Well, Dana, the Heritage Foundation had this position as well. And when I look at it, I don’t think it’s tenable. And we don’t need to do that. Again, I’m telling you that we are going to — we have a proposal, a plan that we’re enacting now that says if you are a hospital or a doctor and you’re providing very high quality at lower prices, below the midpoint — some charge high, some charge low. If you are below the midpoint, we are going to give you a financial reward for allowing you to provide services that result in high quality for our people at lower pricess.

That is the way in which we are going to damp down the rising costs of healthcare. Because if you think about your own deductibles today, they’re going higher, higher and higher. And you know what? At some point, people can’t afford it. Our plan will work. It uses the market. It uses transparency. It gets the patient in the middle. And guess what? We’re actually doing it in my state, the seventh-largest state in the country. And if this will go — this will go national, we will get our hands on healthcare where you will know what’s going on. We will pay for quality, lower prices, and we will begin to see healthcare become affordable in America and where people will also be able to have health insurance, even if they have a preexisting condition.

We don’t want to throw millions of people out into the cold and not have the health insurance, Dana. So that’s really what we’re doing. This is not a theory. This is what we are actually doing in our state. We will begin payments next year based on episodes that we have in our lives. If our primary care physicians keep us healthy for a year, with really high quality, guess what? They will get a financial reward.

Our primary care physicians need help. They need support. We’re losing them. This will allow them to get a reward for doing a great job.

BASH: Governor Kasich, thank you.

KASICH: Thank you. [applause]

BASH: Dr. Carson, you have dealt with the sickest of patients. You support covering preexisting conditions. How would you change Obamacare, but maintain that coverage?

CARSON: Well, first of all, healthcare is not a right. But I do believe it is a responsibility for a responsible society, and we are that. We spend almost twice as much per capita on healthcare as many other nations who have actually much better access than we do.

I propose a system in which we use health empowerment accounts, which are like a health savings account with no bureaucrats. And we give it to everybody from birth until death. They can pass it on when they die. We pay for it with the same dollars that we pay for traditional healthcare with. We give people the ability to shift money within their health empowerment account within their family. So dad’s $500 short, mom can give it to him or a cousin or uncle.

And it makes every family their own insurance carrier with no middle man. It gives you enormous flexibility. And also, you know, if Uncle Joe is smoking like a chimney, everybody’s going to hide his cigarettes because they’re all interested in what’s going on there.

Also, the — your catastrophic healthcare is going to cost a lot less money now because the only thing coming out of that is catastrophic healthcare. So, it’s like a homeowners policy with a large deductible, versus a homeowners policy where you want every scratch covered. One costs $1,500 a year; one costs $10,000 a year. You can buy the $1,500 one. That will take care of 75 percent of the people. The people who are indigent, how do we take care of them now? Medicaid. What’s the Medicaid budget? Almost $500 billion; almost 80 million people participate, which is way too many, and that will get a lot better when we fix the economy, which I hope we get a chance to talk about.

But do the math. Over $5,000 for each man, woman and child, and all — they will have a lot more flexibility. What could you buy with that? A concierge practice.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CARSON: And you could still have thousands of dollars left over. And let me just finish, because I don’t get to talk that much. And, you know, let’s…[applause]…you can have the money that’s left over to buy your catastrophic insurance. But most importantly, we give them a menu, just like we do in Medicare Part C, and they have the choices that will allow them not only to have catastrophic health care, but drug care and everything else.

It will be such a good program that nobody will want Obamacare after that, and that’s probably the best way do it, although if anybody still did, I would still de-fund it.

BLITZER: Thank you. [applause]

Thank you, Dr. Carson. Let’s talk about the economy. Let’s talk about…

CRUZ: Wolf, Wolf, Wolf. Does everyone get to address Obamacare but me?

BLITZER: I want to move on, but there’ll be plenty of opportunities for you to address…

CRUZ: It’s kind of an issue I have a long history with.

BLITZER: I know you do. And — all right, go ahead. [laughter]

CRUZ: Thank you, Wolf.

KASICH: How do you — how do you get that extra time, Cruz? You’re very good at…

CRUZ: You know, this is another issue on which Donald and I have sharp disagreements. On Planned Parenthood, he thinks Planned Parenthood is wonderful. I would instruct the Department of Justice to investigate them and prosecute any and all criminal violations. [applause]

On Obamacare, both Donald and I say we want to end it, but for very different reasons. I want to end it because it goes too far, it’s killed millions of jobs, and it’s hurting people’s health care. Donald wants to end it because he says it doesn’t go nearly far enough. And what was amazing in that exchange that was missing is for decades Donald has been advocating socialized medicine.

What he’s said is government should pay for everyone’s health care, and in fact, a couple of debates ago, he said, if you don’t support socialized health care, you’re heartless. Now, liberal Democrats have been saying that for years. Now let me tell you if you’re a small business owner, Donald Trump’s socialized medicine, putting the government in charge of your health care would kill more jobs than Obamacare, and if you’re elderly, the results of socialized medicine in every country on earth where it’s been implemented has been rationing, has been the government saying, no, you don’t get that hip replacement, you don’t get that knee replacement, the government is in charge of your health care.

I’ll tell you this. As president…

BLITZER: Senator…

CRUZ: … I will repeal every word of Obamacare. [applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, thank you. Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: I do not want socialized medicine, just so you understand. He goes around saying oh, he wants it. I do not want socialized medicine. I do agree with him that it’s going to be a disaster, Obamacare, for the economy.

In 2017, it will be impossible for us to pay for it if you look at what’s going on. That’s why it has to be repealed, for a lot of reasons, Number one, it doesn’t work, number two, premium. You look at premiums going up, 25, 35, even 45 percent, and more. We have to get rid of Obamacare. It is going to destroy our economy completely. Our economy is not doing well. It is going to destroy our economy greatly. And on that, I agree.

CRUZ: Donald, true or false, you’ve said the government should pay for everyone’s health care.

TRUMP: That’s false.

CRUZ: You’ve never said that?

TRUMP: No, I said it worked in a couple of countries…

CRUZ: But you’ve never stood on this debate stage and says it works great in Canada and Scotland and we should do it here.

TRUMP: No, I did not. No I did not.

CRUZ: Did you say if you want people to die on the streets, if you don’t support socialized health care, you have no heart.

TRUMP: Correct. I will not let people die on the streets if I’m president.

CRUZ: Have you said you’re a liberal on health care?

TRUMP: Excuse me. Let me talk. If people…

CRUZ: Talk away. Explain your plan, please.

TRUMP: If people — my plan is very simple. I will not — we’re going to have private — we are going to have health care, but I will not allow people to die on the sidewalks and the streets of our country if I’m president. You may let it and you may be fine with it…

CRUZ: So does the government pay for everyone’s health care?

TRUMP: … I’m not fine with it. We are going to take those people…

CRUZ: Yes or no. Just answer the question.

TRUMP: Excuse me. We are going to take those people and those people are going to be serviced by doctors and hospitals. We’re going to make great deals on it, but we’re not going to let them die in the streets.

CRUZ: Who pays for it?

RUBIO: Well, can I just clarify something?

BLITZER: Gentleman, please.

RUBIO: Wolf, no. I want to clarify something.

BLITZER: Gentlemen please. I want to move on.

RUBIO: This is a Republican debate, right? Because that attack about letting people die in the streets…

BLITZER: I want to talk about the economy.

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Gentleman, gentleman. All of you have agreed — Senator Cruz…

TRUMP: You know what? Call it what you want.

CRUZ: It’s a yes or no.

TRUMP: Call it what you want, people are not going to be dying on the sidewalk.

BLITZER: All of you have agreed — all of you have agreed to the rules. I want to move on. We’re talking about the economy right now. Mr. Trump, you want to cut taxes more than President Ronald Reagan did, more than President George W. Bush did. The Independent Tax Foundation says the cost to the country of your proposal would be about $10 trillion, and that takes into account the economic growth that would emerge from your proposed tax cuts.

How would you cut $10 trillion over 10 years, but make sure the country isn’t saddled with even more debt?

TRUMP: Because the country will become a dynamic economy. We’ll be dynamic again. If you look at what’s going on, we have the highest taxes anywhere in the world. We pay more business tax, we pay more personal tax. We have the highest taxes in the world.

It’s shutting off our economy. It’s shutting off our country. We have trillions of dollars outside that we can’t get in. Yes, we will do my tax plan, and it will be great. We will have a dynamic economy again.

BLITZER: What specific cuts will you make to pay for that tax cut?

TRUMP: We’re going to make many cuts in business. We’re getting rid of — we’re going to get rid of so many different things. Department of Education — Common Core is out. We’re going local. Have to go local. [applause]

Environmental protection — we waste all of this money. We’re going to bring that back to the states. And we’re going to have other [inaudible] many things. [applause]

We are going to cut many of the agencies, we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump — Mr. Trump. If you eliminate completely the Department of Education, as you have proposed, that’s about $68 billion. If you eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, that’s about $8 billion. That’s about $76 billion for those two agencies.

The current deficit this year is $544 billion. Where are you going to come up with the money?

TRUMP: Waste, fraud and abuse all over the place. Waste, fraud and abuse. [applause]

You look at what’s happening with Social Security, you look — look at what’s happening with every agency — waste, fraud and abuse. We will cut so much, your head will spin.

BLITZER: Governor Kasich. [applause]

When you were in Congress, you were chairman of the Budget Committee. You helped craft the last balanced budget the United States had. Can Mr. Trump’s plan work?

KASICH: Well, I think it takes three things, Wolf. And I’ve done it. I mean, I — we got the budget balanced. We cut the capital gains tax. You see, in order to get this economy moving again, you have to grow the economy, and you have to restrain the spending.

And when I was chairman, we cut that capital gains tax and we instituted a significant program to get to balance. We had a balanced budget four years in a row, had to take on every interest group in Washington — every single one of them — and we paid down a half a trillion of the national debt.

And why do you do it? Because you want job growth. If you don’t have regulatory reform, common-sense regulations, reasonable tax cuts, which I have, and a fiscal plan, you won’t get there. You will never be able to do it.

Now, I — I inherited an an $8 billion hole in Ohio, I have common-sense regulations, I have tax cuts — the biggest of any governor in the country — and we have a fiscal plan.

And it’s not all — it’s not always cutting. It’s innovating — it’s producing a better product at, frankly, a lower price. Now we have a $2 billion surplus. Our credit is strong, our pensions are strong.

And, look — I’ve got a plan to take to Washington, and I will have it there in the first hundred days, and it will include shifting welfare, education, transportation, Medicaid and job training back to us, so we can begin, in the states, to be the laboratories of innovation.

I’ve done it — I did it in Washington — four years of balanced budgets. No one could even believe it happened. [bell ringing] I’ve done it in Ohio, we’re growing, the jobs are up and people are having opportunity. And I will go back to Washington and do it again for the American people. I promise you that. [applause]

Within the first hundred days, we will have the plan to get this done.

BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you, governor. [applause]

Speaking of taxes…

TRUMP: I just want to say — and I’m a big fan of the governor, but they also struck oil, OK, so that helped Iowa a lot.

KASICH: OK, let me — let me — let me just talk about that, because I know that — that Donald believes the energy industry is important. So do I. But of the over 400,000 jobs that we’ve created in the state, we think maybe 15,000 are connected to this industry, because it’s early-stage.

See, what we’ve done in Ohio, and what a president needs to do, is to have a cabinet and a whole operation that’s jobs-friendly. We have diversified our economy.

We — we do have energy, we have medical devices, we have financial services, we have I.T., we just got Amazon — their Cloud computing in the Midwest. You know why it’s happening? [bell ringing]

Because we’re balanced budgets, we’re strong, we’re job-friendly, we don’t raise their taxes, and if we have a president that does that in America, we will get the economic growth, and that is what this country needs. Jobs, jobs and jobs, period. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump, yesterday, the last Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, called on you to release your back tax returns, and said, and I’m quoting him now, “there is good reason to believe there is a bombshell in them.”

Romney said either you’re not as wealthy as you say you are, said maybe you haven’t paid the kind of taxes we would expect you to pay, or you haven’t been giving the money to veterans or disabled people. Are any of those accusations that he has leveled true?

TRUMP: All right. First of all, let me just explain. I was the first one to file a financial disclosure form — almost 100 pages. You don’t learn anything about somebody’s wealth with a tax return. You learn it from statements.

I filed — which shows that I’m worth over $10 billion. I built a great company with very little debt. People were shocked, the people in the back, the reporters, they were shocked when they went down. And I filed it on time. I didn’t ask for five 45-day extensions, which I would have been entitled to.

So as far as that’s concerned, I filed it. And that’s where you find out what kind of a company. You don’t learn anything from a tax return.

I will say this. Mitt Romney looked like a fool when he delayed and delayed and delayed. And Harry Reid baited him so beautifully. And Mitt Romney didn’t file his return until a September 21st of 2012, about a month-and-a-half before the election. And it cost him big league.

As far as my return, I want to file it, except for many years, I’ve been audited every year. Twelve years, or something like that. Every year they audit me, audit me, audit me.

Nobody gets audited — I have friends that are very wealthy people. They never get audited. I get audited every year. I will absolutely give my return, but I’m being audited now for two or three years, so I can’t do it until the audit is finished, obviously. And I think people would understand that.

BLITZER: Hugh, go ahead.

HEWITT: Mr. Trump. You told me…

TRUMP: Are you going to ask anybody else that question?

CARSON: Yes, amen, amen. [laughter]

TRUMP: Every single question comes to me?

HEWITT: Mr. Trump…[crosstalk]

TRUMP: I know I’m here for the ratings, but it’s a little bit ridiculous. [laughter]

HEWITT: Mr. Trump, a year ago you told me on my radio show, the audio and the transcript are out there on YouTube, that you would release your tax returns.

TRUMP: True.

HEWITT: Are you going back on your commitment?

TRUMP: No, I’m not. First of all, very few people listen to your radio show. That’s the good news. [laughter]

Let me just tell you, let me just — which happens to be true. Check out the ratings.

Look, let me just tell you something. Let me just tell you something. I want to release my tax returns but I can’t release it while I’m under an audit. We’re under a routine audit. I’ve had it for years, I get audited.

And obviously if I’m being audited, I’m not going to release a return. As soon as the audit is done, I love it.

HEWITT: So, Senator Rubio, Mitt Romney also called upon to you release your tax returns. Your campaign said last spring that you would release your returns that you had not previously released. And you said, coming out any day momentarily. When are we going to see your returns?

RUBIO: Yes, tomorrow or Saturday, in fact, is our plan to release them. And there’s nothing really that interesting in them. So I have no problem releasing them. And luckily I’m not being audited this year, or last year, for that matter.

[crosstalk]

RUBIO: But this is my time. I want to go back to this question you asked about the debt. This is an important issue. It’s a huge issue, OK? In less than five years, 83 percent of our entire budget will be made up of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the interest on the debt.

That means only 17 percent of our budget will be for things like the military or the Department of Education or environmental protection issues.

You cannot balance our budget unless you deal with that 83 percent, which is why I’ve been repeatedly talking about since my time running for the Senate in Florida, where there are a lot of people like my mother that depend on Social Security and Medicare, on the need to save those programs, by reforming the way they work for future generations.

And I think if we — the longer we take to do this, the closer we are going to get to a debt crisis. And, Wolf, you did not get an answer to your question. This debt issue is — the next president of the United States will not be able to serve four to eight years without dealing with the national debt.

It is not a question of if, it is a question of when we have a debt crisis. And we should not leave the stage here tonight without hearing a serious answer from every single one of us about how we are going to deal bring the national debt under control once and for all.

HEWITT: Thank you, Senator Rubio. But I am…[applause]…I’m being fair to all of the candidates.

Senator Cruz, Tuesday is five days away. Why haven’t voters seen your 2012, 2013, and 2014 returns?

CRUZ: So, I’ve released five years of tax returns already. We will have two more years available tomorrow. And I would note that this question really goes — you know, Donald says he’s being audited.

Well, I would think that would underscore the need to release those returns. If he has said something that was false and that an audit is going to find was fraudulent, the voters need to know.

And listen, people across this country, we recognize our country is in crisis. The most important question is how do we win the general election in November, 2016. And roughly 65 percent of Republicans think Donald is not the right candidate to go against Hillary Clinton.

Now, part of the reason in the last 10 polls…

TRUMP: Eighty-five percent say you, big difference.

CRUZ: … RealClearPolitics he has lost to Hillary on eight of them. In the last 10 polls on RealClearPolitics, I either tied or beat Hillary. And this is an example.

You know, the mainstream media is laying off Donald now. They’re going to pick apart his taxes. They’re going to pick apart his business deals.

And let’s take, for example, one of Hillary’s great vulnerabilities, the corruption at the Clinton Foundation, the fact that she had CEOs and foreign companies giving her money while she was secretary of state.

The next Republican nominee needs to be able to make that case against Hillary. And if Donald tried to did it, Hillary would turn to Donald and say, “but gosh, Donald, you gave $100,000 to the Clinton foundation. I even went to your wedding.”

He can’t prosecute the case against Hillary, and we can’t risk another four years of these failed Obama policies by nominating someone who loses to Hillary Clinton in November. [applause]

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: So at the beginning, I said openly to everybody that I contribute to many, many politicians, both Republican and Democrat. And I have, over the years. I’m a businessman. I have, over the years.

And I sort of have to laugh when Ted makes a big deal out of the fact that he’s doing well in the polls. Well, I’m beating him in virtually every poll. I’m tied in Texas, by the way, which I shouldn’t be. But I think I’ll do very well. [applause]

But a poll just came out — a Bloomberg poll — where I am beating him so badly that it’s, like, embarrassing even for me to say I’m beating him that badly. [applause]

And — and here’s the thing — it was sort of funny — 65 percent of the people don’t like you — I just got 36 percent of the vote, right? I just got 46 percent on another one. I got 38 percent…[bell ringing]…on another one. That means — and he got 20 and 22, and he lost in South Carolina so badly — that was going to be his stronghold. He said a year ago, “I can’t lose South Carolina.” I beat him in a landslide.

Last week in Nevada, I beat him in a landslide, and he sank about the polls. One other thing — Hillary Clinton — take a look at USA Today, take a look at the Q poll. I beat her, and I beat her badly. And I — and I haven’t even started at her. I only had one little interchange…[applause]…I only had one little interchange, and that was…[bell ringing]…four weeks ago, when she said I was sexist. And believe me, they had a rough weekend that weekend, between Bill and Hillary. They had a rough weekend. [applause]

BLITZER: Gentlemen. Gentlemen. Gentlemen.

CRUZ: Hold on. He — he attacked me, Wolf. I get a response.

BLITZER: I was about to say — Senator Cruz, respond.

CRUZ: Thank you. Thank — thank — thank you very much.

You know, it’s interesting — Donald went — went on — on an extended tirade about the polls, but he didn’t respond to any of the substance. He has yet to say — he can release past year’s tax returns. He can do it tomorrow.

He doesn’t want to do it, because presumably there’s something in there…

TRUMP: Nothing.

CRUZ: … that is bad. If there’s nothing, release them tomorrow.

[crosstalk]

CRUZ: They’re already prepared. The only reason he’s not releasing them…

TRUMP: You — you don’t…

CRUZ: … is because he’s afraid that he will get hit.

TRUMP: I’m not afraid [inaudible].

CRUZ: You know, Marco made reference earlier to the litigation against Trump University. It’s a fraud case. His lawyers have scheduled the trial for July.

I want you to think about, if this man is the nominee, having the Republican nominee…[bell ringing]…on the stand in court, being cross-examined about whether he committed fraud. You don’t think the mainstream media will go crazy on that?

And on substance, how do we nominate a candidate who has said Hillary Clinton was the best secretary of state of modern times, who agreed with her on foreign policy, who agrees with Bernie Sanders on health care, who agreed with Barack Obama on the Wall Street bailout?

BLITZER: All right…

CRUZ: If — we’ve got to win this election, and we can’t do it with a candidate who agrees with Hillary Clinton and can’t take it to her and beat her on the debate stage and at the polls.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump. Mr, — hold on. Mr. Trump — Mr. Trump…

TRUMP: … first of all, he’s talking about the polls. I’m beating him awfully badly in the polls.

[crosstalk]

CRUZ: But you’re not beating Hillary. You’re not beating Hillary.

TRUMP: Well, then, if I can’t — if — hey, if I can’t beat her, you’re really going to get killed, aren’t you? [applause]

So — so let me ask you this, because you’re really getting beaten badly. I know you’re embarrassed — I know you’re embarrassed, but keep fighting — keep swinging, man. Swing for the fences.

Let me just tell you — let me just tell you, the Trump University case is a civil case. Not a — it’s a civil case. It’s a case where people want to try and get — it’s a case that is nonsense.

It’s something I could have settled many times. I could settle it right now for very little money, but I don’t want to do it out of principle. The people that took the course all signed — most — many — many signed report cards saying it was fantastic, it was wonderful, it was beautiful.

As — and believe me, I’ll win that case. That’s an easy case. Civil case. Number two, as far as the taxes are concerned, I’m being audited. It’s a very routine audit, and it’s very unfair, because I’ve been audited for, I think, over 12 years.

Every year, because of the size of my company, which is very, very large, I’m being audited — which is a very large company.

[bell ringing]

BLITZER: Thank you.

TRUMP: I’m being audited 12 years in a row, at least.

Now, until that audit’s done, and I don’t think anybody would blame me, I’m not giving it…[crosstalk]

CRUZ: … the years you’re not being audited? Will you release those years?

BLITZER: Gentlemen, gentlemen, thank you.

TRUMP: [inaudible] audited for those years.

CRUZ: Which years? Which years are you being audited?

BLITZER: Gentlemen…[crosstalk]…we actually have rules — we’re trying to obey these rules that all of you agreed. We’re going to take a quick break. We have a lot more — many more critically important issues to discuss.

Our coverage of this tenth Republican presidential debate from the University of Houston continues in a moment. [applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the Republican presidential debate here at the University of Houston.

Gentlemen, I want to turn our attention right now to key issues involving foreign policy and national security. And Mr. Trump, I’ll begin with you.

TRUMP: Shocking. [laughter]

BLITZER: You said this about the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians — I’m quoting you now: “Let me be sort of a neutral guy. I don’t want to say whose fault it is, I don’t think it helps.”

TRUMP: Right.

BLITZER: Here’s the question. How do you remain neutral when the U.S. considers Israel to be America’s closest ally in the Middle East?

TRUMP: Well, first of all, I don’t think they do under President Obama because I think he’s treated Israel horribly, all right? I think he’s treated Israel horribly. [applause]

I was the grand marshall down 5th Avenue a number of years ago for the Israeli Day Parade, I have very close ties to Israel. I’ve received the Tree of Life Award and many of the greatest awards given by Israel.

As president, however, there’s nothing that I would rather do to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors generally. And I think it serves no purpose to say that you have a good guy and a bad guy.

Now, I may not be successful in doing it. It’s probably the toughest negotiation anywhere in the world of any kind. OK? But it doesn’t help if I start saying, “I am very pro-Israel, very pro, more than anybody on this stage.” But it doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors, because I would love to do something with regard to negotiating peace, finally, for Israel and for their neighbors.

And I can’t do that as well — as a negotiator, I cannot do that as well if I’m taking big, big sides. With that being said, I am totally pro-Israel.

BLITZER: Senator Cruz? [applause]

CRUZ: Well, this is another area on which Donald agrees with Hillary Clinton and on which I disagree with them both strongly. Both Donald and Hillary Clinton want to be neutral, to use Donald’s word, between Israel and the Palestinians.

Let me be clear. If I’m president, America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel. [applause]

And the notion of neutrality is based upon the left buying into this moral relativism that is often pitched in the media. Listen, it is not equivalent. When you have terrorist strapping dynamite around their chest, exploding and murdering innocent women and children, they are not equivalent to the IDF officers protecting Israel. And I will not pretend that they are.

Just today, Iran announced they’re going to pay $7,000 to each suicide bomber. And I would note, missing from Donald’s answer was anything he has done in his nearly 70 years of living defending Israel. I have over and over again led the fight to defend Israel, to fight for Israel. And this — if you want to know who will stand with Israel, we ought to start with who has stood with Israel when the heat was on. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: Well, I can only say — look, I can only say I’ve been a big contributor to Israel over the years. I’ve received many, many awards from Israel, as I’ve said before. I have a great relationship with Israel. And I’m going to keep it that way. And if I could bring peace, that would be a fantastic thing. It would be one of my greatest achievements as president.

BLITZER: Governor Kasich, I want you to weigh in.

KASICH: Well, I mean, well, I was in Congress for 18 years on the Defense Committee. And then, you know, after 9/11, the secretary of defense called me in to help out with some things. And I’ve been a supporter of Israel — a strong supporter of Israel longer than anybody on this stage. I didn’t give as much money as Donald gave, but I’ve been standing with the Israelis for a very long time.

And frankly, I think the problem we have in foreign policy right now, Wolf, is that we are not certain with who we stand with. Our allies are not sure what to make of us, and our enemies are moving. And one — are moving because they’re not sure what we will do.

It’s a very interesting development here within the 24 hours. We said to the South Koreans that we would give them the high altitude defense system. It really rattled the Chinese, and for the first time since we took positive action, the Chinese are beginning to take action against North Korea.

When we stand firm and we let the world know who we’re with, who we stand for, and we bring our allies together, that is the road forward.

[crosstalk] [applause]

BLITZER: We’re going to get to North Korea in a moment. But Senator Rubio, what’s wrong with the U.S. being an honest broker in a negotiation, as Mr. Trump is proposing?

RUBIO: Because — and I don’t know if Donald realizes this. I’m sure it’s not his intent perhaps. But the position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position. And here’s why. Because you cannot be an honest broker in a dispute between two sides in which one of the sides is constantly acting in bad faith. The Palestinian Authority has walked away from multiple efforts to make peace, very generous offers from the Israels. Instead, here’s what the Palestinians do. They teach their four- year-old children that killing Jews is a glorious thing. Here’s what Hamas does. They launch rockets and terrorist attacks again Israel on an ongoing basis. The bottom line is, a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, given the current makeup of the Palestinians, is not possible.

And so the next president of the United States needs to be someone like me who will stand firmly on the side of Israel. I’m not — I’m not going to sit here and say, “Oh, I’m not on either side.” I will be on a side. I will be on Israel’s side every single day because they are the only pro-American, free enterprise democracy in the entire Middle East. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: I’m a negotiator. I’ve done very well over the years through negotiation. It’s very important that we do that. In all fairness, Marco is not a negotiator. I watched him melt down and I’ll tell you, it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. He’s not going down — excuse me…

RUBIO: He thinks a Palestinian is a real estate deal.

TRUMP: … wait a minute, and these people may even be tougher than Chris Christie. OK?

RUBIO: The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald.

TRUMP: OK, no, no, no — a deal is a deal. Let me tell you that. I learned a long time ago.

RUBIO: A deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists. Have you ever negotiated with terrorists?

TRUMP: You are not a negotiator. You are not a negotiator. [applause]

And, with your thinking, you will never bring peace. You will never bring peace…

RUBIO: … Donald, might be able to [inaudible] Palestinians and Arabs, but it’s not a real estate deal…

TRUMP: … Excuse me, I want to be able to bring peace…

BLITZER: … Senator.

TRUMP: He will never be able to do it. I think I may be able to do it, although I will say this. Probably the toughest deal of any kind is that particular deal.

BLITZER: Let’s move on to talk about North Korea. You raised it, Governor Kasich. The threat posed by North Korea to the United States and its sallies, the commander of American forces in South Korea said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would use a weapon of mass destruction if he thought his regime was being threatened. You have said the United States should start examining a strategy of regime change in North Korea.

Let’s be clear. Are you talking about getting rid of Kim Jong Un?

KASICH: When you talk about regime change, Wolf, it means regime change. That’s what it means. Even though there’s so much chaos in North Korea right now, there’s a lot of reports of uncertainty, and instability in that government.

But, look, here’s what I think we ought to do — like, immediately. And, we’ve been kicking the can down the road on this for, I don’t know, 15 years. We should be intercepting the ships that are leaving North Korea so they’re not selling this material, or this technology, or giving it to someone else.

Secondly, the same goes with the aircraft.

Thirdly, we need to slap even tougher sanctions on North Korea because we really don’t have the toughest sanctions on North Korea. We ought to talk about arming South Korea with ballistic missile technology. And, of course, also Japan with ballistic missile technology. Because we’re now starting to take a firm position. We have the attention of the Chinese. The Chinese are the best way to calm that regime down and get them in a position of where they back off.

But, when I say regime change, I don’t have to talk exactly what that means. Look, I’ve been involved in national security for a long time. You don’t have to spell everything out, but what I’m telling you is you look for any means you can to be able to solve that problem in North Korea, and in the meantime put the pressure on the Chinese. And, what we’re doing is beginning to work against them.

They are the key to being able to settle this situation.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise, Governor Kasich, this is critically important. There are a million North Korean troops North of the DMZ…

KASICH: … I’m very well aware of that.

BLITZER: A million South Korean troops, 28,000 U.S. troops along the DMZ, right in between. Would you risk war for a regime change?

KASICH: Wolf, again, it would depend exactly what, you know, what was happening. What the situation was. But, if there was an opportunity to remove the leader of North Korea and create stability? Because, I’ll tell you, you keep kicking the can down the road we’re going to face this sooner or later.

But, in the meantime, I’m also aware of the fact that there’s 10 million people living in Seoul. So, you don’t just run around making charges. I have put it on the table that I would leave to see regime change in North Korea.

Now, perhaps the Chinese can actually accomplish that with this man who is now currently the leader, but the fact is we have to bring everything to bear. We have to be firm, and we’ve got to unite those people in that part of the world to stand firmly against North Korea, and make sure we have the ballistic…[bell ringing]…ballistic missile technology to defend ourselves.

BLITZER: Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: One thing I’d like to add to what the Governor’s saying, I think that we are now in a position — are $19 trillion dollars because of the horrible omnibus budget that was approved six weeks ago, it’s going to be $21 trillion dollars. We can no longer defend all of these countries, Japan, Germany, South Korea.

You order televisions, you order almost anything, you’re getting it from these countries. Whether it’s a Mercedes-Benz, or whether it’s an air conditioning unit. They’re coming out of these countries. They are making a fortune. Saudi Arabia, we are defending Saudi Arabia. Before the oil went down, now they’re making less, but they’re making plenty. They were making $1 billion dollars a day. [bell ringing]

We defend all of these countries for peanuts. You talk about budgets. We have to start getting reimbursed for taking care of the military services for all of these countries. [applause]

KASICH: Hey, Wolf, Wolf…

BLITZER: Dr. Carson.

KASICH: Hey, Wolf, let me just say this because he mentioned this. Look, we’re all in agreement that the Japanese need to do more. We’re all in agreement that the Europeans need to do more, but I hate to just tell everybody we are the leader of the world and we should put the pressure on them to do their job. There is no question about it.

But, at the same time, we also have to rebuild the military. Look, I have a balanced budget plan that cuts taxes, reforms regulations, but also builds the military, puts a $100 billion dollars more in defense. We need to rebuild our defenses,

But, I must also tell you, a long time reformer of the Pentagon, we must reform that building. [bell ringing]

We can’t have a weapon system take 22 and a half years. We have 800,000 bureaucrats working for DOD, performing bureaucratic functions when we ought to be putting…

BLITZER: … Thank you…

KASICH: … these resources into strengthening the military. So, we can do it all…

BLITZER: Dr. Carson, how would you deal with North Korea?

CARSON: OK. Well first of all, people say that I whine a lot because I don’t get time. I’m going to whine because I didn’t get asked about taxes, I didn’t get asked about Israel. Hugh, you said you’re going to be fair to everybody, you didn’t ask me about taxes. I had something to say about that.

Now…

BLITZER: Go ahead. This is your moment. [applause]

CARSON: OK. We have a system of taxation in this country that is horribly wrong. You know, I never had an audit until I spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, and then all of a sudden, they came in, they said we just want to look at your real estate dealings. And then they didn’t find anything, so they said let’s look at the whole year. And they didn’t find anything, so they said let’s look at the next year and the next year. They didn’t find anything and they won’t find anything because I’m a very honest person.

But he fact of the matter is the IRS is not honest and we need to get rid of them. [applause]

And as far as Israel is concerned, you know, when I was there several months ago, I talked to a lot of people. I couldn’t find a single one who didn’t think that we had turned our backs on Israel. You know, they are a strategic partner for us but also recognize that we have a Judeo Christian foundation, and the last thing we need to do is to reject Israel. It doesn’t mean that we can’t be fair to other people. We can always be fair to other people, but, you know, it’s like when you have a child, you know, you want to be fair to all the children around but you have a special attention for your own child.

And now, as far as North Korea is concerned, you know, Kim Jung Un is an unstable person, but he does understand strength. And I think we have to present strength to him. We should be encouraging the alliance with Japan and South Korea. We should be encouraging the placement of the THAAD, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, that seems to disturb not only the North Koreans but the Chinese as well.

And we also need to have a much more robust naval presence in that area, and I think we need to be developing strategic defense initiative because this man is going to have long-range missiles, he is going to have nuclear capabilities. We need to be able to defend ourselves. And lastly, we should make sure that he knows that if he ever shoots a missile at us, it will be the last thing he ever does. [applause]

BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you. We’re going to continue with national security. Go ahead, Hugh.

HEWITT: Thank you, Wolf. Mr. Trump, we are less than 24 hours away from a ceasefire in Syria that has been brokered between the U.S. and Russia. Do you support this ceasefire?

TRUMP: I really don’t because it not working and the countries aren’t agreeing to it and the rebels aren’t agreeing and Syria is not agreeing. So It’s a meaningless ceasefire.

I love the idea of a ceasefire. I love the idea of — with a total cessation. But it’s not working, as you know very well. It’s not working. If — we can do what we want with Russia but nobody else is adhering to it.

So I certainly support it, I would certainly love it, but all parties have to be part of it.

HEWITT: Senator Cruz, your opinion on the ceasefire.

CRUZ: Well look. We’re certainly hopeful that the violence will cease, but there’s reason to be highly skeptical. Russia has enhanced its position because of Obama’s weakness in the Middle East, weakness in Syria. And you know, as we’re headed to November, we need no nominate a Republican candidate that can lay out a clear difference with both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on foreign policy.

One of the real challenges with both Donald and Senator Rubio is that they have agreed over and over again with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. So for example, in Libya, both of them agreed with the Obama/Clinton policy of toppling the government in Libya. That was a disaster. It gave the country over to radical Islamic terrorism and it endangered America.

Another example is John Kerry. John Kerry — Senator Rubio voted to confirm John Kerry as secretary of State. I voted against him. And Donald Trump supported John Kerry against George W. Bush in 2004, gave him a check. And John Kerry has been the most anti-Israel secretary of State this country has ever seen. His diplomacy has been a disaster. And if we nominate someone who agreed with John Kerry, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on foreign policy, we’re not in a strong position to win the general election. [applause]

HEWITT: A response, Mr. Trump, then Mr. Rubio.

TRUMP: Again, I think I gave them both checks to be exactly honest. I think they both liked me very much. But the fact is that …

CRUZ: But you called for Bush to be impeached.

TRUMP: Well, I think Bush did a hell of a bad as far as that’s concerned. You know it and so do I.

CRUZ: But you gave him a check and called for him to be impeached.

TRUMP: Be honest. Be honest. No, this was before. The check came early.

But let me just tell you, Syria, he’s saying that I was in favor of Syria. He said I was in favor of Libya? I never discussed that subject. I was in favor of Libya? We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now.

If these politicians went to the beach and didn’t do a thing, and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Gadhafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, we’d be — at least they killed terrorists, all right?

And I’m not saying they were good because they were bad, they were really bad, but we don’t know what we’re getting. You look at Libya right now, ISIS, as we speak, is taking over their oil. As we speak, it’s a total mess.

We would have been better off if the politicians took a day off instead of going into war. [applause]

HEWITT: Senator Rubio.

RUBIO: Yes, a couple of points. Number one, on the Libya situation, we didn’t topple Gadhafi, the Libyan people toppled Gadhafi. The only choice before America that this president had to make is, does it happen quickly or does it take a long time?

And I argued if it takes a long time, you’re going to have rebel forces emerge like these radical Islamists to take advantage of the vacuum. And that’s what happened. That’s where the term “lead from behind” came. And that’s the foreign policy that apparently Senator Cruz appears to agree with.

On John Kerry, yes, you know why, because every day John Kerry wasn’t appointed was another day Hillary Clinton was still in charge of the State Department. And she was absolutely horrible.

I couldn’t imagine that they were going to find somebody even worse than her, but this president never ceases to amaze. [laughter amd applause]

And the last point I would make on South Korea, now this is important, because we’re asking to be commander-in-chief. Donald is asking to be commander-in-chief. And he’s saying these guys need to do more.

South Korea contributes $800 million a year to that effort. And Japan contributes as well. And here’s why our commitment to that regional security is so critical, Donald, because if we walk away from them, both Japan and South Korea will become nuclear weapons powers.

They can do that very quickly. And that’s what they will do if the American defense agreements wither away, which is why we have to rebuild the military, but why we can’t walk away from our Asia-Pacific defense status.

HEWITT: Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: I never said walk away. I wouldn’t want to walk away. I want them to pay us much more money. We cannot afford to subsidize…

RUBIO: How much?

TRUMP: A lot. I’ll negotiate a lot more money than you’ll ever get.

As far as John Kerry is concerned, there has been no tougher critic of this man, I think he negotiated one of the worst deals in the history of our country, the Iran deal, where they get their $150 billion and all of the other things that take place.

It is a disaster for this country, and speaking of Israel, it’s a disaster for Israel. I’m no fan of John Kerry.

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Hold on, hold on, Governor.

Senator Cruz.

CRUZ: You know, it’s interesting, Donald just said that he never came out in favor of toppling Gadhafi in Libya. Well, he stated that in an interview that will be on our Web site, tedcruz.org.

You can see and hear the exact words from Donald’s mouth. And I assume when he sees that interview, maybe he forgot about it, but I assume Donald will apologize where he sees that he said exactly that.

With regard to John Kerry, I will say John Kerry’s foreign policy has been a disaster for decades. That’s why I voted against him when he came up. And the fact that Donald Trump would write him a check and support him against George W. Bush shows exceptionally poor foreign policy judgment.

And I’ll give one more example on Israel. When the Obama administration canceled civilian air flights into the national of Israel, when Hamas was raining rockets down on them, I publicly asked, is this an economic boycott against Israel?

The next day Michael Bloomberg, another New York billionaire, got on a plane, a commercial flight, and flew to Israel from London. Together the heat and light that was put on the State Department was so great that within 36 hours they lifted the ban on air flights into Israel.

During that entire battle, and indeed during every battle on Israel the natural question is, where was Donald? If this is something he cares about, why has he supported anti-Israel politicians from Jimmy Carter to Hillary Clinton to John Kerry for four decades?

If you care about Israel, you don’t write checks to politicians who are undermining Israel. Instead you stand and support the national security of America and the alliance with Israel.

[crosstalk]

KASICH: There’s a critical point that needs to be made here. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor, Governor, Governor, he attacked Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump has a right to respond.

TRUMP: Well, look, my response is very simple. There is nobody on this stage that has done more for Israel than I have. Nobody. You might say, you might talk, you’re politicians, all talk, no action. [applause]

I’ve been watching it all my life. You are all talk and no action.

CRUZ: Then name one specific thing you’ve done.

TRUMP: What I’ve seen up here — I mean, first of all, this guy is a choke artist, and this guy is a liar. You have a combination…

RUBIO: This guy always goes for…

TRUMP: You have a combination of factors. He can’t do it…

RUBIO: This is so typical.

TRUMP: … for the obvious reason, and he can’t do it because he doesn’t know how to tell the truth. Other than that, I rest my case.

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: One at a time, gentlemen.

Governor Kasich, you have the floor. Governor…[crosstalk]

BLITZER: You will have a response. But I promised Governor Kasich he could respond.

CARSON: Can somebody attack me, please? [laughter and applause]

KASICH: There’s something — I want to — I want to point out something here today that is — it’s so critically important — about how the Obama administration has really done such a ridiculous, feckless job here in foreign policy.

First of all, we should have been supporting the rebels long ago. They could have taken Assad out, and because we did nothing, the Russians are in, and they’re sitting in the catbird seat.

We should have been helping them. I’m thankful that the aid trucks are finally getting into Syria. But the fact is, had we had acted, we would have solved that problem.

Now, let’s talk about Libya. Libya didn’t go down because there was some people revolution. Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and all these other people convinced the president to undermine Gadhafi. They undermined him, and now they have created a cesspool in Libya.

And let me just say to you — we have ISIS beginning get — get a foothold in Libya. We’re gonna have to deal with it. There are not many major cities in Libya. They’re on the coast, which — mostly, it’s desert, but it’s a problem.

Then we have ISIS in — in Syria, and we have ISIS in Iraq. Because this administration has not had a strong and firm foreign policy, we are going to inherit — one of us here is going to inherit a total mess…

BLITZER: All right…

KASICH: … and we’re going to have to work our way out of it, including…

BLITZER: Let’s continue.

KASICH: … the need to arm the Ukrainians. They have been ignored, and we need to help them as well…

BLITZER: Let us continue.

KASICH: … and assert ourselves as America.

BLITZER: Let’s continue the questioning on ISIS. Maria.

CRUZ: Hold on, Wolf. You said I got a response.

BLITZER: You’ll have a chance. Maria will pick up…[crosstalk]

CRUZ: Hold on. He called me a liar. You’re saying I can’t respond to being called a liar? [crosstalk]

BLITZER: Go ahead and respond.

CRUZ: You know, what we’re seeing with Donald is actually the pattern of Washington — the pattern of Washington deal makers, which is they make promises, they break their words, and then when anyone calls them on it, they call you a liar.

And so that’s Donald’s pattern over and over again. He said, for example, seven months ago — this is Donald speaking, quote — “I, Donald Trump, was a member of the establishment.”

There’s a reason Harry Reid thinks he’s the best Republican up here. There’s a reason Jimmy Carter said he would support Donald Trump over me, because he said Donald Trump is malleable, he has no fixed set of beliefs…[bell ringing]…whereas Ted Cruz is not malleable. And every time anyone points at Donald’s actual record…

BLITZER: Thank you.

CRUZ: … what he said on national television, Donald yells “liar.” Let me tell you something — falsely accusing someone of lying is itself a lie…

BLITZER: Go ahead, Mr. Trump.

CRUZ: … and it’s something Donald does daily.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: I watched — I watched…[applause]…the lobbyists. I watched what this man did to Dr. Ben Carson, who I respect, in Iowa, where he said that Ben Carson is out of the race — he has left Iowa and he’s out of the race. And I thought it was disgraceful.

And got a lot of votes because of that — a lot of votes. Took them away from Ben Carson. I watched that. Probably took them away from me, too. But I watched it.

I also watched where he did a forum that looked like it came right out of a government agency, and it said on top, “Voter Violation,” and then it graded you…[bell ringing]…and it scared the hell out of people, and it said the only way you clear up the violation, essentially, is to go and vote for Ted Cruz. I watched that fraudulent document, and I said it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in politics. [bell ringing]

To me, that was even worse than what he did to Ben.

BLITZER: Senator Cruz…[crosstalk]

TRUMP: I know politicians — I know politicians, believe it or not, better than you do. And it’s not good.

CRUZ: I believe it. No, no. I believe you know politicians much better than I do, because for 40 years, you’ve been funding liberal Democratic politicians. And by the way…

TRUMP: I funded you. I funded him. Can you believe it? [applause]

CRUZ: … the reason is — you’re welcome to have the check back.

TRUMP: I funded this guy. I gave him a check.

CRUZ: Yeah, you gave me $5,000.

TRUMP: I gave him a check. He never funded me.

CRUZ: And — and by the way, let’s be clear. [applause]

Donald claims — Donald claims to care about…

TRUMP: You know why? I didn’t want to, but he sent me his book with his autograph…[crosstalk]

CRUZ: Donald. Donald. Donald. I understand rules are very hard for you. They’re very confusing.

TRUMP: Mr. Trump, you’re doing a great job. I have his book.

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: Thank you — thank you for the book. Go ahead.

CRUZ: Donald, you can get back on your meds now.

TRUMP: This is a lot of fun up here tonight, I have to tell you. [applause]

Thank — thank you for the book. I really appreciate it.

CRUZ: Donald — Donald, relax.

TRUMP: Go ahead. I’m relaxed. You’re the basket case. [crosstalk] Go ahead.

CRUZ: Donald…

TRUMP: Go ahead. Don’t get nervous.

CRUZ: [inaudible]…

TRUMP: Go ahead. [crosstalk]

CRUZ: I promise you, Donald, there’s nothing about you…

TRUMP: I’ve seen you.

CRUZ: … that makes anyone nervous.

TRUMP: You’re losing so badly you — I want to…

CRUZ: You know, people are actually watching this at home.

TRUMP: … I — you don’t know what’s happening. [crosstalk]

BLITZER: Gentlemen, gentlemen.

CRUZ: Wolf, I’m going to ask my time not be deducted when he’s yelling at me.

BLITZER: You’ve gotta stop this. [crosstalk] The latest debate — gentlemen, please.

CRUZ: Hold on, I’m going to get my answer. He doesn’t get to yell the whole time.

BLITZER: I want to move — I want to move on. These are the rules. [crosstalk]

CRUZ: Excuse me, he called me a liar, then interrupted the whole time. Am I allowed to…[crosstalk] [applause]

Wolf, do I not get a response? Do I not get a response without being interrupted?

BLITZER: You’ll get — you’ll get plenty of response, so stand by.

CARSON: My name was mentioned.

BLITZER: I want to talk — I want to talk about ISIS right now, and the federal government — how much best to keep Americans safe from ISIS.

There’s a huge battle underway right now between the tech giant Apple and the federal government. The federal government wants Apple to unlock the phone used by that San Bernardino terrorist to prevent future attacks. Apple has refused, saying it would compromise the security of all of its customers. And just this afternoon, they went to court to block the judge’s order.

Dana Bash, pick up the questioning.

BASH: Senator Rubio, you say it’s complicated, and that, quote, “Apple isn’t necessarily wrong to refuse the court order.” Why shouldn’t investigators have everything at their disposal?

RUBIO: No, in fact what I have said is the only thing — the FBI made this very clear 48 hours ago — the only thing they are asking of Apple is that Apple allow them to use their own systems in the FBI to try to guess the password of the San Bernardino killer. Apple initially came out saying, “We’re being ordered to create a back door to an encryption device.” That is not accurate.

The only thing they’re being asked to do, and the FBI made this very clear about 48 hours ago, is allow us to disable the self- destruct mode that’s in the Apple phone so that we can try to guess using our own systems what the password of this killer was.

And I think they should comply with that. If that’s all they’re asking for, they are not asking for Apple to create a back door to encryption.

BASH: So just to be clear, you did say on CNN a couple of weeks ago this is a complicated issue; Apple is not necessarily wrong here.

RUBIO: Because at the time, Apple was portraying that the court order was to create a back door to an encryption device.

BASH: But just to be clear — just to be clear, if you are president, would you instruct your Justice Department to force Apple to comply or not?

RUBIO: To comply with an order that says that they have to allow the FBI the opportunity to try to guess the password?

BASH: Correct.

RUBIO: Absolutely. That Apple phone didn’t even belong to the killer. It belonged to the killer’s employer who have agreed to allow him to try to do this. That is all they’re asking them to do is to disable the self-destruct mode or the auto-erase mode on one phone in the entire world. But Apple doesn’t want to do it because they think it hurts their brand.

Well, let me tell you, their brand is not superior to the national security of the United States of America. [applause]

BASH: Senator Cruz, Apple CEO Tim Cook says this would be bad for America. Where do you stand: national security or personal privacy?

CRUZ: Well, as you know, at that same CNN forum, both Marco and I were asked this question. His answer, he was on both sides of the fence. He’s now agreeing with me. And so I’m glad.

What I said is yes, Apple should be forced to comply with this court order. Why? Because under the Fourth Amendment, a search and seizure is reasonable if it has judicial authorization and probable cause. In this instance, the order is not put a back door in everyone’s cell phone. If that was the order, that order would be problematic because it would compromise security and safety for everyone.

I would agree with Apple on that broad policy question. But on the question of unlocking this cell phone of a terrorist, we should enforce the court order and find out everyone that terrorist at San Bernardino talked to on the phone, texted with, e-mailed. And absolutely, Apple doesn’t have a right to defy a valid court order in a terrorism investigation. [applause]

BASH: Dr. Carson, Tim Cook, again, the CEO of Apple, says that this would be bad for America. What do you think?

CARSON: I think allowing terrorist to get away with things is bad for America. [applause]

You know, we have the — we have a Constitution. We have a Fourth Amendment. It guards us against illegal and unreasonable search and seizure. But we have mechanisms in place with the judicial system that will allow us to gain material that is necessary to benefit the nation as a whole or the community as a whole. And that’s why we have FISA courts and things of that nature.

So absolutely, I would — I would expect Apple to comply with the court order. If they don’t comply with that, you’re encouraging chaos in our system.

BASH: Mr. Trump…[applause]

KASICH: I want to weigh in on this please. I want to just tell you that the problem is not right now between the administration and Apple. You know what the problem is? Where’s the president been? You sit down in a back room and you sit down with the parties and you get this worked out. You don’t litigate this on the front page of the New York Times, where everybody in the world is reading about their dirty laundry out here.

The president of the United States should be convening a meeting, should have convened a meeting with Apple and our security forces. And then you know what you do when you’re the president? You lock the door and you say you’re not coming out until you reach an agreement that both gives the security people what they need and protects the rights of Americans. This is a failure of his leadership to get this done as an executive should be doing it.

And I’ll tell you, that’s why you want a governor. I do this all the time. And we reach agreements all the time. Because as an executive, you’ve got to solve problems instead of fighting on the front page of the newspaper.

ARRARÁS: Thank you, Governor. [applause]

KASICH: Thank you.

ARRARÁS: Mr. Trump, you have been very vocal about securing the Mexican border, but ISIS has called upon its supporters to conduct attacks on our neighbor to the North, Canada.

As a matter of fact, U.S. officials have warned that it is the Canadian border which is the most significant threat. You have said that you will not build a wall in Canada. When it comes to national security, and the threat of terrorism, why does Mexico need a wall, and Canada doesn’t? Isn’t that, like, closing the front door, and leaving the back door open?

TRUMP: First of all, you’re talking about a border that’s many, many times longer. You’re talking about a massive border.

We have far less problem with that border than we do with our Southern border, and tremendous amounts — you know, I won, I had the privilege of winning by a landslide, by the way, New Hampshire.

You go to New Hampshire, the first thing they talk about is heroin and drugs pouring in. And, you wouldn’t think this beautiful place — it’s beautiful. With the trees and the roads, and the countryside. Their biggest problem is heroin, and it’s such a shame to see it.

They’re pouring in from the Southern border, so I’m talking about great security. I’m talking about a wall that can absolutely be built, and I’ll build it on time, on budget. It’ll be a very high wall, a great wall. It’s going to be built, it’s going to be built. It’s going to be paid for by Canada, by the way — maybe I’ll get Canada to pay? Got to be paid for by Mexico.

The problem with Canada, you’re talking about a massively long piece. You’re talking about a border that would be about four times longer. It would be very, very hard to do, and we — it is not our biggest problem. I don’t care what anyone says. It is not our big problem. Our big problem is not only people coming in, and in many cases the wrong people, it’s the tremendous amount of drugs that are coming in. [applause]

ARRARÁS: I want to talk to you, Senator Rubio, about Puerto Rico. As you know, Puerto Rico’s in the midst of financial collapse, unable to pay it’s debt of $72 billion dollars. Puerto Rico is asking for bankruptcy protection which would give Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans, which are U.S. citizens, you know that — the tools to restructure the debt. That is the same debt the other 50 states have.

You oppose granting Puerto Rico that bankruptcy protection. You say that it is only a last resort measure, but the government of Puerto Rico has said that bankruptcy is it’s last resort. That that’s where they are now. How do you explain this very strong stance to the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans that vote across the U.S. , and particularly in your state of Florida?

RUBIO: Sure, because bankruptcy doesn’t work unless you change the way you’re operating, or you’re going to be bankrupt again. And, the problem with Puerto Rico is it’s economy is not growing. It has a massive exodus of professionals and others that are leaving to my home state of Florida, and all over the country.

They’re coming to the mainland from Puerto Rico because the economy there is not growing, it’s too expensive to do business there. The tax rate is too high. The government regulations are too extensive.

This year alone, with all the problems they’re having, they barely cut their budget from one year to the next. So, I think the leadership on the island has to show their willingness to get their house in order and put in place measures allow the economy there to grow again. If the economy of Puerto Rico does not grow they will never generate the revenue to pay this debt, or the billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities that they have on their books of promises they’ve made to future generations to make payments.

So, yes, if they do all of those things then we can explore the use of bankruptcy protection, but not as the first resort, which is what they’re asking for, because it will not solve the problems on the island and you’re going to continue to see hundreds of thousands of people leave that beautiful place, and coming to the mainland.

They’re United States citizens, they’re obviously entitled to do so, and we welcome them, but we would also prefer to see a Puerto Rico that once again is growing economically, and is robust. And, the leaders in charge there now are doing a terrible job.

Their previous governor, Louis Fortuno was doing a great job until he barely lost that election to…[bell ringing]…to someone who has taken a big government stance once again…

BLITZER: … Senator, thank you very much. [applause]

I want our viewers to stay with us right now, including the last pitch in the final debate before Super Tuesday. [applause and cheering]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the University of Houston. It’s time now for closing statements. All of you will have 30 seconds. Dr. Carson, we’ll start with you.

CARSON: Well first of all, I want people to think about what kind of leader do you want and what kind of person do you want your kids to emulate. Think about that.

Secondly, several years ago, a movie was made about these hands. These hands by the grace of God have saved many lives and healed many families. And I’m asking you tonight, America, to join hands with me to heal, inspire and revive America. If not us, who? And if not now, when? [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Kasich.

KASICH: Well, the last USA Today poll had me beating Hillary Clinton by 11 points, more than anybody on this stage. Secondly, I hope you saw tonight that executive experience really matters. It matters in terms of growing our economy, balancing budgets, cutting taxes, reforming regulations. I’ve done it in Washington, I’ve done it in Ohio, and I can go back to Washington and do it again.

But I hope you also noticed tonight that I do have the foreign policy experience, not just a few years, but a lot of years in working with some of the great, great minds in this country to develop the expertise, the confidence, the firmness, the toughness and the ability to bring people together.

I hope you all think about giving me your vote. I would appreciate it very much. And I tell you, we won’t have to spend time figuring what we’re going to do. I will hit the ground running and we will get America moving again. Thank you all very much. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Rubio.

RUBIO: Well, thank you for having us tonight. You know, this campaign has come a long way. It was just a few months ago there were 15 or 11 us on the stage and now it’s narrowed and the votes are starting to count. And we have an incredible decision to make, not just about the direction of America, but the identity of our party and of the conservative movement.

The time for games is over.

I know you’ve had a lot of choices to make, but now it’s time to narrow it down. And I’m asking you to get behind me, go on our Web site and join you our effort, marcorubio.com, so we can bring an end to this silliness, this looniness, and once again re-embrace all the things that made America and the Republican Party the bearer of the conservative movement in this country. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Cruz.

CRUZ: Washington deals are bankrupting this country. There are several deal-makers on this stage but there is only one person who has consistently stood up to both parties, fighting for the American people against the Washington deals.

If I’m elected president, on the first day in office I will rescind every single illegal and unconstitutional executive action. I will instruct the Department of Justice to open an investigation into Planned Parenthood and prosecute any criminal violations.

I will instruct every federal agency that the persecution of religious liberty ends today. I will rip to shreds the Iranian — catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal. And I will begin the process of moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

We will repeal Obamacare, abolish of IRS, secure the border, and bring back jobs. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: Thank you.

Nobody knows politicians better than I do. They’re all talk, they’re no action, nothing gets done. I’ve watched it for years. Take a look at what’s happening to our country.

All of the things that I’ve been talking about, whether it’s trade, whether it’s building up our depleted military, whether it’s taking care of our vets, whether it’s getting rid of Common Core, which is a disaster, or knocking out Obamacare and coming up with something so much better, I will get it done. Politicians will never, ever get it done. And we will make America great again. Thank you. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Trump, thank you.

And thanks to each of the candidates, on behalf of everyone here at CNN and Telemundo. We also want to thank the Republican National Committee and the University of Houston. My thanks also to Hugh Hewitt, Maria Celeste, and Dana Bash.

Super Tuesday is only five days away.



Citation: Presidential Candidates Debates: “Republican Candidates Debate in Houston, Texas,” February 25, 2016. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=111634.

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January 26, 2012: CNN / Republican Party of Florida Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Jacksonville, Florida January 26, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
Wolf Blitzer (CNN)

BLITZER: Candidates, please take your podiums while I tell you more about how this debate will work tonight.

I’ll be the moderator. And as I mentioned, our partners from the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network will also ask questions. I’ll follow up and try to guide the discussion.

Candidates, I’ll try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of questions. You’ll have one minute to answer, 30 seconds for follow ups and rebuttals. And I’ll certainly make sure you get time to respond if you’re singled out for criticism.

Now let’s have the candidates introduce themselves to Florida voters.

Please keep it short. Here is an example: I’m Wolf Blitzer and I’m thrilled to be here on the campus of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Senator Santorum, let’s begin with you.

SANTORUM: I’m Rick Santorum, and I’m thrilled to be here on the campus of North Florida. [laughter] [applause]

And I’m especially thrilled because I’m here with a North Florida resident who lives right down the beach from Jacksonville, my mom, who is 93 years old, who is with me here tonight. [applause]

I better just stop right there.

GINGRICH: I’m Newt Gingrich, from the neighboring state of Georgia. I’m delighted to be in Jacksonville, which will be the site of the next nuclear aircraft carrier battle group. [applause]

ROMNEY: I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m pleased to be here with my wife and my oldest son Tagg Romney. We’re the parents of five sons, five daughters-in-law, 16 grandkids. And it’s great to be back in Jacksonville.

Thank you. [applause]

PAUL: I’m Ron Paul. I’m a congressman from Texas, 12 terms.

I am the champion of a sound monetary system, a gold standard, as it is under the Constitution, and a foreign policy based on strength which rejects the notion that we should be the policemen of the world and that we should be a nation builder. [applause]

BLITZER: All right. Let’s start with a question from the audience.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello.

Can you tell me what specific actions you’ll take to address the costly consequences of illegal immigration while preserving the rights of those who seek to immigrate legally?

BLITZER: All right.

Senator Santorum, let’s take that question. But also, in the course of that question, express your opinion on what we heard from Governor Romney, that self-deportation, or illegal immigrants leaving the country voluntarily, is a possible solution.

SANTORUM: Well, the possible solution is — I actually agree with Governor Romney. The bottom line is that we need to enforce the laws in this country.

We are a country of laws. People come to this country. My grandfather came to this country because he wanted to come to a country that respected him. And a country that respects you is a country that lives by the laws that they have. And the first act when they come to this country, is to disobey a law, it’s not a particularly welcome way to enter this country. What I’ve said is from the very beginning, that we — we have to have a country that not only do you respect the law when you come here, but you respect the law when you stay here.

And people who have come to this country illegally have broken the law repeatedly. If you’re here, unless you’re here on a trust fund, you’ve been working illegally. You’ve probably stolen someone’s Social Security number, illegally. And so it’s not just one thing that you’ve done wrong, you’ve done a lot of things wrong. And as a result of that, I believe that people should no — should not be able to stay here.

And so I think we need to enforce the law at the border, secure the border. Secondly, we need to have employer enforcement, which means E-verify and then we need to have not only employers sanctioned, but we have to have people who are found who are working here illegally, they need to be deported. That is again the principle of having a rule of law and living by it. I am very much in favor of immigration. I’m not someone — my dad came to this country and I’m someone who believes that — that we need immigration. We are not replacing ourselves.

We have — we need not only immigration for — to keep our population going, but we need immigration because immigrants bring a vitality and a love of this country that is — infuses this country with — with great energy. And so, I support legal immigration, but we need to enforce the law and in fact, if you don’t create an opportunity for people to work, they will leave because they can’t afford to stay here.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, you’ve suggested that self- deportation as advocated by Governor Romney is in your words, “An Obama level fantasy.” Why?

GINGRICH: Well look, I think that first of all, you should control the border, which I have pledged to do by January 1, 2014. You should fix legal immigration in terms of visas so people can come and go easily — more easily than doing it illegally. You should also make deportation easier so when you deport people who shouldn’t be here. The 13 gang members, for example. It should be very quick and very clear.

You should have a guest worker program, probably run by American Express, Visa or MasterCard so they minimize fraud, which the federal government won’t do. And you should have much stronger employer penalties at that point because you can validate it. I actually agree that self-deportation will occur if you’re single. If you’ve only been here a short time. And there are millions of people who faced with that, would go back home, file for a guest worker program and might or might not come back.

The one group I singled out, were people who have been here a very long time who are married, who may well have children and grandchildren. And I would just suggest that grandmothers or grandfathers aren’t likely to self-deport. And then you’ve got a question. I — I offered a proposal, a citizen panel to review whether or not somebody who had been here a very long time, who had family and who had an American family willing to sponsor them, should be allowed to get residency, but not citizenship so that they would be able to stay within the law, but would not have any chance of becoming a citizen, unless they went back home. I don’t think grandmothers and grandfathers will self-deport.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, the few times and I think it was only once, that they experimented with self-deportation, only a handful of individuals voluntarily left. What makes you think that — that program could work?

ROMNEY: Well, you’ve just heard the last two speakers also indicate that they support the concept of self-deportation. It’s very simply this, which is for those who come into the country legally, they would be given an identification card that points out they’re able to work here and then you have an E-verify system that’s effective and efficient so that employers can determine who is legally here and if employers hire someone without a card, or without checking to see if it’s been counterfeited, then those employers would be severely sanctioned.

If you do that, people who have come here illegally won’t be able to find work. And over time, those people would tend to leave the country, or self-deport. I don’t think anyone is interested in going around and rounding up people around the country and deporting 11 million Americans — or, excuse me 11 million illegal immigrants into America. Now, let’s look at — and — and I know people said, but isn’t that unfair to those 11 million that are here and have lived their lives here and perhaps raised children here? But I think it’s important to remember, that there are three groups of people that are of concern to us.

One are those that have come here illegally, 11 million. The second is the group of people who are brought over by coyotes and who are in many cases abused by virtue of coming into this country illegally. And the third, are the four to five million people who are waiting at home in their own nations trying to get here legally. They have family members here asking them to come here. Grandparents and uncles and aunts. Those are the people we have a responsibility for. And the second group as well, those that are abused. We — we’re concerned about them.

Let’s focus our attention on how to make legal immigration work and stop illegal immigration.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Paul — sorry, excuse me, Congressman Paul you’re from Texas. The state with the longest border with Mexico. Is this a viable option, what we just heard?

PAUL: Well, I’d talk about it, but I don’t see it as being very practical. I think it’s a much bigger problem.

You can’t deal with immigration without dealing with the economy. The weaker the economy, the more resentment there is when illegals come in. If you have a healthy, vibrant economy, it’s not a problem; we’re usually looking for workers.

Even under today’s circumstances, a lot of businesses are looking for workers and they don’t have them. They’re not as well-trained here.

But also, the way we’re handling our borders is actually hurting our economy because the businesspeople — you know, visitors have a hard time coming in. I mean, we don’t have a well-managed border. So I think we need more resources and I think most of the other candidates would agree we need more resources. But where are the resources going to come from?

I have a suggestion. I think we spend way too much time worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Use some of those resources on our own border. [applause]

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, you had an ad, but you pulled it this week, in which you described Governor Romney as the most anti- immigrant candidate. Why did you do that?

GINGRICH: Why did we describe him that way?

Because, in the original conversations about deportation, the position I took, which he attacked pretty ferociously, was that grandmothers and grandfathers aren’t going to be successfully deported. We’re not — we as a nation are not going to walk into some family — and by the way, they’re going to end up in a church, which will declare them a sanctuary. We’re not going to walk in there and grab a grandmother out and then kick them out.

We’re not going — and I think you have to be realistic in your indignation. I want to control the border. I want English to be the official language of government. I want us to have a lot of changes. [applause]

I am prepared to be very tough and very bold, but I’m also prepared to be realistic, because I’ve actually had to pass legislation in Washington and I don’t believe an unrealistic promise is going to get through, but I do believe, if there’s some level of humanity for people who have been here a long time, we can pass legislation that will decisively reduce illegality, decisively control the border and will once again mean the people who are in America are here legally.

BLITZER: I just want to make sure I understand. Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?

GINGRICH: I think, of the four of us, yes.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Governor.

ROMNEY: That’s simply unexcusable. That’s inexcusable. And, actually, Senator Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate.

Mr. Speaker, I’m not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife’s father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive.

Don’t use a term like that. You can say we disagree on certain policies, but to say that enforcing the U.S. law to protect our borders, to welcome people here legally, to expand legal immigration, as I have proved, that that’s somehow anti anti-immigrant is simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long.

And I’m glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I’m glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it, and I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets.

GINGRICH: I’ll tell you what…[applause]

I’ll give you an opportunity to self-describe. You tell me what language you would use to describe somebody who thinks that deporting a grandmother or a grandfather from their family — just tell me the language. I’m perfectly happy for you to explain what language you’d use.

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, I think I described following the law as it exists in this country, which is to say, I’m not going around and rounding people up and deporting them.

What I said was, people who come here legally get a work permit. People who do not come here legally do not get a work permit. Those who don’t get work will tend, over time, to self-deport.

I’m not going to go find grandmothers and take them out of their homes and deport them. Those are your words, not my words. And to use that rhetoric suggests to people that somehow, if you’re not willing to keep people here who violated the law, that you’re anti- immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am pro-immigrant. I want people to come to America with skill and vitality and vibrance. I want them to come legally. There are grandmothers that live on the other side of the border that are waiting to come here legally. I want them to come here, too, not just those that are already here. [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, so we have gone — we’ve gone from your Washington attack when I first proposed this and you said it was outrageous; it would be a magnet to you’re accepting the fact that, you know, a family is going to take care of their grandmother or their grandfather.

The idea that you are going to push them out in some form by simply saying they can’t go get a job — I think the grandmother is still going to be here. All I want to do is to allow the grandmother to be here legally with some rights to have residency but not citizenship, so that he or she can finish their life with dignity within the law. [applause]

ROMNEY: You know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. Our problem is — all right. [applause]

Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have. It’s school kids in schools that districts are having a hard time paying for. It’s people getting free health care because we are required under the law to provide that health care.

And the real concern is the people who want to come here legally. Let’s let legal immigrants come here. Let’s stop illegal immigration. [applause]

BLITZER: The rhetoric on immigration, Governor, has been intense, as you well know, as all four of you know, and anyone who watches television knows. You had an ad running saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto.”

What do you mean by that?

ROMNEY: I haven’t seen the ad, so I’m sorry. I don’t get to see all the TV ads. Did he say that?

BLITZER: Did you say that?

GINGRICH: No. What I said was, we want everybody to learn English because we don’t — and I didn’t use the word “Spanish.” We do not want anyone trapped in a situation where they cannot get a commercial job, they cannot rise, and virtually every parent of every ethnic group — and by the way, they are 94 languages spoken at the Miami-Dade College — 94 languages. And that’s why I think English should be the official language of government, and that’s why I think every young American should learn English.

And my point was, no one should be trapped in a linguistics situation where they can’t go out and get a job and they can’t go out and work. So I would say as much as Governor Romney doesn’t particularly like my use of language, I found his use of language and his deliberate distortion equally offensive. [applause]

ROMNEY: I’d like — I doubt that’s my ad, but we’ll take a look and find out. There are a bunch of ads out there that are being organized by other people.

But I think our position on English in our schools and in our nation is the same, which I believe English should be the official language of the United States, as it is. I also believe that in our schools, we should teach kids in English.

So, when I was governor, I fought for — actually, before I was governor, I fought for, during my election and thereafter, a program to have English immersion in our schools so our kids could learn in English. I think we agree on this, which is, you know what? Kids in this country should learn English so they can have all the jobs and all the opportunity of people who are here.

BLITZER: I want to bring Congressman Paul and Senator Santorum into this. But let’s take this question from Miami.

CNN en Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez has a guest there.

LOPEZ: Hola, Wolf.

We’re at the viewing party for the Hispanic Leadership Network, and it really is a party. They are holding their yearly conference, a meeting of Hispanic Republican leaders. And I’m joined by Raquel Rodriguez. She’s an attorney in Miami. She practices business and international law, and she has a question for the candidates.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, good evening.

The U.S. has been largely away in its foreign and trade policy with Latin America. In the meantime, Iran and China have been increasing their influence over an involvement in Latin America through the leftist and left-leaning governments.

What would each of you do as president to more deeply engage in Latin America and, importantly, to support the governments and the political parties that support democracy and free markets?

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Well, I think free trade is the answer. Free trade is an answer to a lot of conflicts around the world, so I’m always promoting free trade. And you might add Cuba, too. I think we would be a lot better off with Cuba, trading with Cuba. [applause]

So, I think the more you can do to promote this free trade, the better off we’ll be. But as far as us having an obligation, a military or a financial obligation to go down and dictate to them what government they should have, I don’t like that idea.

I would work with the people and encourage free trade, and try to set a standard here where countries in Central America or South America or any place in the world would want to emulate us and set the standards that we have. Unfortunately, sometimes we slip up on our standards and we go around the world and we try to force ourselves on others.

I don’t think the nations in South America and Central America necessarily want us to come down there and dictate which government they should have. And yet, I believe with friendship and trade, you can have a lot of influence, and I strongly believe that it’s time we have friendship and trade with Cuba. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, are you with Congressman Paul?

SANTORUM: No, I’m not with Congressman Paul and I’m not with Barack Obama on this issue.

Our policy in Central and South America under this administration has been abysmal. The way we have treated, in particular, countries like Honduras, Honduras, which stood up for the rule of law, which threw out a would-be dictator who was using the Chavez playbook from Venezuela in order to try to run for re-election in Honduras, and the United States government, instead of standing behind the — the people in the parliament, the people in the Supreme Court, who tried to enforce the constitution of Honduras — instead of siding with them, the Democrats, President Obama sided with two other people in South America — excuse me — Central America and South America. Chavez and Castro and Obama sided against the people of Honduras.

This is a consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists, siding with those who don’t support democracy, not standing up for our friends in Colombia, not standing up for our friends who want to engage and support America, who want to be great trading partners and great allies for our country, to be able to form that kind of bond that is so essential in our own hemisphere.

The European Union understood how important it was for diverse people to be able to come together in an economic unit. We only — not only have to come together as an economic unit, but the threat of terrorism, the threat of Iran now in Venezuela and in other places, and Cuba and in Nicaragua, the threat of radical Islam growing in that region — is it important for — it’s absolutely important for us to have a president who understands that threat and understands the solution is closer ties. I will visit that area of the world, repeatedly, to solidify those ties when I become president.

BLITZER: Let me let Congressman Paul…[applause]… quickly respond. [applause]

PAUL: The — the senator mentioned standing up for some of these nations, but he doesn’t define it, but standing up for nations like this usually means that we impose ourselves, go and pick the dictators, undermine certain governments, also sending them a lot of money.

It doesn’t work. Most of the time, this backfires. They resent us. We can achieve what he wants in a much different way than us using the bully attitude that you will do it our way. This is the…[applause]

This is not a benefit to us. And besides, where do you get the troops and where are you going to get the money? Because you’re talking about force. And I — I know of a much better way than using force to get along with people.

SANTORUM: I don’t know where…[applause]

I don’t know what answer Congressman Paul was listening to. He obviously wasn’t listening to my answer. [applause]

What I talked about is building strong economic relationships, strong national security relationships. No one’s talking about force. Nobody’s talking about going into Cuba or going into Venezuela. It’s talking about the other countries in the region, which are being influenced greatly by those countries, that are tending and moving toward those militant socialists, instead of the United States.

Why? Because we’ve ignored them. You’ve got a president of the United States that held a Colombian free trade agreement — Colombia, who’s out there on the front lines, working with us against the narco- terrorists, standing up to Chavez in South America. And what did we do?

For political — domestic political purposes, the president of the United States sided with organized labor and the environmental groups and held Colombia hanging out to dry for three years. We cannot do that to our friends in South America. [applause]

BLITZER: All right, we’re going to — we’re going to come back to this. [applause]

We’re going to come back to Cuba, as well. But stand by for that.

We did double-check, just now, Governor, that ad that we talked about, where I quoted you as saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto” — we just double-checked. It was one of your ads. It’s running here in Florida in — on the radio. And at the end you say, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this ad.”

So it is — it is here. [booing]

ROMNEY: Let me ask — let me ask a question.

Let me ask the speaker a question. Did you say what the ad says or not? I don’t know.

GINGRICH: It’s taken totally out of context.

ROMNEY: Oh, OK, he said it.

GINGRICH: I did not — no. I did not say it about Spanish. I said, in general, about all languages. We are better for children to learn English in general, period. [applause]

ROMNEY: Let’s take a look at what he said. [applause]

BLITZER: All right. We have a very important subject, housing. Not only here in Florida, foreclosures really, really bad, but all over the country. And a lot of people are wondering if the federal government contributed to the housing collapse in recent years.

We got a question that came in to us and — let me put it up there and I’ll read it to you. “How would you phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Does the private mortgage industry need additional regulation?” — that from William Schmidt.

Let me start with Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: Well, I think you know that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were a big part of why we have the housing crisis in the nation that we have. And we’ve had this discussion before.

Speaker Gingrich was hired by Freddie Mac to promote them, to — to influence other people throughout Washington, encouraging them to — not to dismantle these two entities. I think that was an enormous mistake. I think, instead, we should have had a whistle-blower and not horn-tooter.

He should have stood up and said, look, these things are a disaster; this is a crisis. He should have been anxiously telling the American people that these entities were causing a housing bubble that would cause a collapse that we’ve seen here in Florida and around the country. And are they a problem today? Absolutely. They’re offering mortgages, again to people who can’t possibly repay them. We’re creating another housing bubble, which will hurt the American people.

The right course for our — for our housing industry is to get people back to work so they can buy homes again. We have 9.9 percent unemployment in Florida. It’s unthinkable, 18 percent real unemployment here. Get people back to work. We’ll get people into homes. Get the foreclosures out of the system. Let people get into homes, rent properties if necessary and get America’s housing industry growing again.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Let me start by saying, Florida is one of the two or three most hard hit states on foreclosures. How many of you know somebody who has had a house foreclosed? Just raise your hand. Raise your hand. [applause]

Okay. The governor has cheerfully — the governor has cheerfully attacking me inaccurately and he knows it. The contracts we released from Freddie Mac said I would do no consulting, wrote in, no — I mean no lobbying, none. But this is a more interesting story. We began digging in after Monday night because frankly I’d had about enough of this. We discovered to our shock, Governor Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that. Governor Romney owns share — has an investment in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians.

So maybe Governor Romney in the spirit of openness should tell us how much money he’s made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments? And let’s be clear about that. [applause]

ROMNEY: First of all, my investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments that they’ve made, we’ve learned about this as we made our financial disclosure, have been in mutual funds and bonds. I don’t own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There are bonds that the investor has held through mutual funds. And Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. [applause]

Let me — let me — I’ve got more time. Let me — let me — let me just — let me just continue. There’s a big difference between buying like U.S. savings bonds and getting a return. That’s a — that’s not taking money out of the United States, that’s loaning money to the United States. And what my trustee did, is he loaned money to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and — and they got paid interest of course, just like if you buy U.S. savings bonds. But what the speaker did, was to work as a spokesman to promote Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. To protect them from those people that wanted to take them down.

He got paid $1.6 million to do that. He said his first contract indicated there would be no lobbying. But his second contract didn’t have that prescription taken out of it. And so you have to ask yourself why is that? What he was doing was clearly promoting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in this case Freddie Mac to the tune of $1.6 million. That is one of the reasons we’re in the trouble we’re in.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, you’ll notice that the governor wasn’t aware of the ad he was running. He’s not aware of the investments that were being made in his name.

ROMNEY: Of course, I can’t it’s a blind trust.

[crosstalk]

GINGRICH: …compare my investments with his is like comparing a tiny mouse with a giant elephant. The fact — the fact is…[applause]…that there is a very substantial question. You didn’t give any instructions to — to say, gee, let’s not do this or let’s not do that? You’re very quick to draw the widest possible exaggeration. The fact is, the only time I ever spoke to the Congress about this issue was in July of 2008. The New York Times reported it. I told the Republicans in the House, vote no. Do not give them any money. They need to be reformed. And in answer to the question earlier, I would break each of them up into five or six separate units.

And over a five year period, I would wean them from all federal sponsorship because we need to get away from this gigantic systems.

BLITZER: Let me bring Congressman Paul, then Senator Santorum. [applause]

A follow up question to you both specifically. It seems they both acknowledge they both made money from Fannie and Freddie. Should they return that money?

PAUL: That — that subject really doesn’t interest me a whole lot. [applause]

But the question does. The — the question is, what are we going to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It should have been auctioned off right after the crash came. It would have been cleansed by now. [applause]

It should have been sold. [applause]

But maybe it’s my physician background, but I think an ounce of prevention is what we ought to talk about so we can quit doing this. But we know how the bubble came about. It was excessive credit, interest rates held too low, too long, the Federal Reserve responsible for that.

Community Reinvestment Act, which is Affirmative Action telling banks they have to make these risky loans. And at the same time, there was a line of credit which allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to, you know, make more money. And it was — it was assumed that they would always be protected.

Now, you can’t argue. I’ve talked a long time about cutting off that credit from the Fed. I was trying to prevent this stuff. [applause]

Also, I opposed the Community Reinvestment Act, as well as I had legislation in 10 years before the bust came to remove that line of credit to the Treasury.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Well, I would just say, in answer to the question, that as I mentioned last debate, in 2006, I went out and authored a letter with 24 other senators asking for major reform of Freddie and Fannie, warning of a meltdown and a bubble in the housing market. I stood out, I stood tall, and tried to get a reform, and we couldn’t do it. The reform we’d need is to gradually decrease the amount of mortgage that can be financed by Freddie — or underwritten by Freddie and Fannie over time, keep reducing that until we get rid of Fannie and Freddie.

The bigger issue here is, these two gentlemen, who are out distracting from the most important issues we have been playing petty personal politics, can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies — and that’s not the worst thing in the world — and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because worked hard and he’s going out and working hard? And you guys should that alone and focus on the issues. [applause]

BLITZER: We’re going to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to discuss. Coming up, the debate questions go to space, the final frontier.

Stay with us.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: We’re continuing the debate here in Jacksonville, Florida.

Let’s get to the issue of transparency, because voters out there, they want to know as much about you four gentlemen as possible before they vote.

Tax returns — let me bring this to Speaker Gingrich.

Earlier this week, you said Governor Romney, after he released his taxes, you said that you were satisfied with the level of transparency of his personal finances when it comes to this. And I just want to reiterate and ask you, are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances?

GINGRICH: Wolf, you and I have a great relationship, it goes back a long way. I’m with him. This is a nonsense question. [applause]

Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we’ll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?

BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, “He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts.” I didn’t say that. You did.

GINGRICH: I did. And I’m perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.

BLITZER: But if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.

GINGRICH: I simply suggested — [booing]

You want to try again? I mean —

ROMNEY: Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t make accusations somewhere else that they weren’t willing to defend here? [applause]

GINGRICH: OK. All right.

Given that standard, Mitt, I did say I thought it was unusual. And I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account. I’d be glad for you to explain that sort of thing.

ROMNEY: OK. I will. I will. I’ll say it again.

I have a trustee that manages my investments in a blind trust. That was so that I would avoid any conflicts of interest. That trustee indicated last week, when he was asked about this, he said that he wanted to diversify the investments that I had. And for awhile he had money in a Swiss account, reported in the U.S., full taxes paid on it, U.S. taxes.

There’s nothing wrong with that. And I know that there may be some who try to make a deal of that, as you have publicly. But look, I think it’s important for people to make sure that we don’t castigate individuals who have been successful and try and, by innuendo, suggest there’s something wrong with being successful and having investments and having a return on those investments.

Speaker, you’ve indicated that somehow I don’t earn that money. I have earned the money that I have. I didn’t inherit it.

I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America.

I’m proud of being successful. I’m proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I’m not going to run from that.

I’m proud of the taxes I pay. My taxes, plus my charitable contributions, this year, 2011, will be about 40 percent.

So, look, let’s put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money, and let’s get Republicans to say, you know what? What you’ve accomplished in your life shouldn’t be seen as a detriment, it should be seen as an asset to help America. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, I’m ready to move on, if you are.

GINGRICH: What?

BLITZER: I said I’m ready to move on to the next subject if you are.

GINGRICH: I’m happy to. I’m happy to simply say, you know, it would be nice if you had the same standard for other people that you would like applied to you and didn’t enter into personal attacks about personal activities about which you are factually wrong. So I would be glad to have a truce with you, but it’s a two-way truce. [booing] [applause]

ROMNEY: I’m happy on any occasion to describe the things that I believe with regards to the Speaker’s background. We’ll probably get a chance to do that as time goes on.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, explain why you think the money that he made over these many years, recent years, under your tax — hold on. Mr. Speaker, under your tax plan — we’re talking about taxes right now. This is substance. Under your proposed tax plan, he would pay zero taxes. Explain that.

GINGRICH: Well, it would depend on whether the particular kind of payments he made were counted under that plan as capital gains or whether they were counted as regular income. But even as regular income, he would pay about the same. And I’ve said this.

This is where I’m the opposite of Obama. I believe we need to have somebody who fights for hardworking taxpayers.

My interest is in reducing everybody’s tax here to 15 percent, not trying to raise his to the Obama level. So I proposed an alternative flat tax — [applause]

You know, I have proposed an alternative flat tax that people could fill out where you could either keep the current system — this is what they do in Hong Kong — keep the current system with all of its deductions and all its paperwork, or you’d have a single page — I earned this amount, I have this number of dependents, here is 15 percent. My goal is to shrink the government to fit the revenue, not to raise the revenue to catch up with the government.

And I’d be happy…[applause]

Let me just say, I’d — I would be happy to have the Mitt Romney flat tax for every American to pay at that rate, and I haven’t complained about the rate he pays.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, most of the polls, almost all of the polls, want the wealthiest Americans to pay more in taxes in order to balance the budget. Why are they wrong, in your opinion?

SANTORUM: Because we need to have as much money funneling through this economy as possible. And the people who make those investments are people who have resources and wealth, and we want them to deploy that wealth in the most productive way possible.

And when you increase tax rates and you make things much more expensive to do — in other words, the rate of return is not as profitable, then they tend to do things like investing in — in nontaxable instruments and other things that don’t employ people.

And so what I believe is we need to reduce taxes. I don’t — look, I’m honest. I don’t reduce the higher — top rate as much as these other folks do. I take the Reagan approach. Ronald Reagan had a 28 percent top rate. If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it’s good enough for me. And that’s what we put the top rate as. [applause]

And — and we have a bottom rate of 10 percent. I believe in a differential. I don’t believe in a flat tax. I believe in a simplified tax code with five deductions and — and focus on simplify, creating two rates.

I disagree with Newt also on this. I don’t believe in a zero capital gains tax rate. I don’t think you need to get to zero to make sure that there’s an efficient deployment of capital and investment.

I think, if you get to zero, then, in fact, guys like Mitt Romney, who, again, I give him — I wish I made as much money as Mitt Romney, but…[applause]

But — you know, but he wouldn’t probably pay much at all in taxes. And I think that, as long as the tax is not one that deters a proper investment to be able to deploy capital and to get jobs created, then lower rates are better than zero when it comes to the issue of capital gains.

BLITZER: Are you with Ronald Reagan as far as the tax rates, as Senator Santorum has suggested, Congressman Paul?

PAUL: No, he taxed too much. My goal is to get rid of the 16th amendment. And the only way you can do that…[applause]

The only way you can do that is not run a welfare system and a warfare system in policing the world.

But I do want to address this subject about taxing the rich. That is not a solution. But I understand and really empathize with the people who talk about the 99 percent and the 1 percent.

Because there’s a characteristic about what happens when you destroy a currency. There is a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. And this has been going on for 40 years. So the middle class is shrinking. They are getting poorer and they’re losing their jobs and they’re losing their houses. But Wall Street isn’t getting poorer. And they are the ones who are getting the bailout.

So we have to address the bailout and the system that favors a certain group over another group. If you don’t have sound money and if you have a welfare state, no matter whether the welfare state is designed to help the poor, you know, the welfare system helps the wealthy.

And there has been this transfer of wealth. So, if we could stop all of these transfers to the wealthy class, but the solution isn’t to tax the wealthy. If you give an honest product and customers buy that product, you deserve to keep that money and earn that money. But there’s a big difference between those who earn money and those who rip us off through the government and the monetary system. [applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you’re a physician. You’re 76 years old. You would be the oldest president of the United States if you were elected. Are you prepared to release your medical records so voters out there know what your health is? [laughter]

PAUL: Oh, obviously, because it’s about one page, if even that long. But…[laughter]

But I’m willing to…[applause]

I’m willing to challenge any of these gentlemen up here to a 25- mile bike ride any time of the day in the heat of Texas. [applause]

And, you know — you know, that subject has come up and sometimes in fun but sometimes not in fun. But, you know, there are laws against age discrimination, so if you push this too much, you better be careful. [applause]

BLITZER: I raise the question because you remember, four years ago, the same question came up with John McCain and he released his records, finally. I remember our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent hours reviewing those records.

So let me go down and ask all of you. Are you ready to release your medical records?

ROMNEY: Happy to do so.

GINGRICH: I’m happy to. And I also want to attest I’m confident that Dr. Paul is quite ready to serve if he’s elected. Watching him campaign, he’s in great shape. [laughter] [applause]

BLITZER: All right, we have another question from the audience. I’ll look forward to seeing your medical records. [laughter]

Go ahead.

Let’s take a question right now. Please introduce yourself, as well.

QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Matthew Bathel. My question is, what would your plan be for the future of manned space flight and the future of NASA?

BLITZER: All right, let me go to Governor Romney on this one. An important issue, especially here in Florida where a lot of people have lost their jobs as a result of the decline of the space program. Yesterday Speaker Gingrich outlined a — a pretty long plan on what to do about it and he said that by the end of his second term, if he were elected president, there would be a permanent base on the moon. Good idea?

ROMNEY: That’s an enormous expense. And right now I want to be spending money here. Of course the space coast has been badly hurt and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I’d like to bring in the — the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we’re doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs.

And — and finally of course, the — the people from — the administration if I had an administration. I’d like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I’d like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a — in a part — in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I — I believe in a manned space program. I’d like to see whether they believe in the same thing.

I’m not — I’m not looking for a — a colony on the moon. I think the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. I’d rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S.

BLITZER: We have a question. I want to speaker to weigh in as well. [applause]

This question is related from — we got it from Twitter. Speaker Gingrich, how do you plan to create a base on the moon while keeping taxes down in eight years? [laughter]

GINGRICH: I think, look it’s a great question. You start with the question, do you really believe NASA in it’s current form is the most effective way of leveraging investment in space? We now have a bureaucracy sitting there, which has managed to mismanage the program so well that in fact we have no lift vehicle. So you almost have to wonder, what does the Washington office of NASA do? Does it sit around and think space? [laughter]

Does it contemplate that some day we could have a rocket? My point in the speech I made yesterday, which is on CSPAN and I’d love to have all of you look at it. It’s based on having looked at space issues since the late 1950’s when missiles and rockets was a separate magazine. And working with NASA and others. I believe by the use of prizes, by the use of incentives, by opening up the space port so that it’s available on a ready basis for commercial fight, by using commonsense for example the Atlas-V could easily be fixed into a man capable vehicle so you didn’t have to rely on — on a Russian launch or a Chinese launch.

There are many things you can do to leverage accelerating the development of space. Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000.00 prize. If we had a handful of serious prizes, you’d see an extraordinary number of people out there trying to get to the moon first in order to have billed (ph) that. And I’d like to have an American on the moon before the Chinese get there.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum? [applause]

SANTORUM: I — I believe America’s a frontier nation and obviously the frontier that — that we’re talking about is — is the next one, which is space. And that we need to inspire. One of the big problems we have in our country today is that young people are not getting involved in math and science and not dreaming big dreams. So NASA or the space program where space is important, NASA is one component that — our — our space defense is another area. I think both of — both of which are very, very important. I agree that we need to bring good minds in the private sector much more involved in NASA than the government bureaucracy that we have. But let’s just be honest, we run a $1.2 trillion deficit right now. We’re — we’re borrowing 40-cents of every dollar. And to go out there and promise new programs and big ideas, that’s a great thing to maybe get votes, but it’s not a responsible thing when you have to go out and say that we have to start cutting programs, not talking about how to — how to — how to grow them.

We’re going to cut programs. We’re going to spend — under my administration, we’re going to spend less money every year — every year. Year, to year, to year the federal government amount of spending will go down for four years until we get a balanced budget. And you can’t do that by — by — by grand schemes. Whether it’s the space program or frankly whether it’s the Speaker’s Social Security program, which will create a brand-new Social Security entitlement. Those are things that sound good and maybe make big promises to people, but we’ve got to be responsible in the way we allocate our resources.

BLITZER: We’re going to get to that in a moment, but…[applause]

Congressman Paul, Texas, the space program very important there as well. Where do you stand on this?

PAUL: Well, I don’t think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there. [applause]

But I went — I went into the Air Force in 1962 and studied aerospace medicine. Actually had a daydream about maybe becoming the first physician to go into space. That — that didn’t occur, but I see space — the amount of money we spend on space, the only part that I would vote for is for national defense purposes. Not to explore the moon and go to Mars. I think that’s fantastic. That’s — I love those ideas. But I also don’t like the idea of building government business partnerships. If we had a healthy economy and had more Bill Gateses and more Warren Buffetts, the money would be there. It should be privatized, and the people who work in the industry, if you had that, there would be jobs in aerospace.

And I just think that we don’t need a bigger, a newer program, when you think of the people — I mean, health care or something else deserves a lot more priority than going to the moon. So, I would be very reluctant, but space technology should be followed up to some degree for national defense purposes, but not just for the fun of it and, you know, for — you know, for scientific —

BLITZER: We’re going to leave this subject, but before we do, I want Speaker Gingrich to clarify what you said yesterday in that major speech you delivered on space. You said that you would support a lunar colony or a lunar base, and that if 13,000 Americans were living there, they would be able to apply for U.S. statehood from the moon.

GINGRICH: I was meeting Rick’s desire for grandiose ideas. But —

BLITZER: That’s a pretty grandiose idea.

GINGRICH: But let me make just two points about this.

It is really important to go back and look at what John F. Kennedy said in May of 1961 when he said, “We will go to the moon in this decade.” No American had orbited the Earth. The technology didn’t exist.

And a generation of young people went into science and engineering and technology, and they were tremendously excited. And they had a future.

I actually agree with Dr. Paul. The program I envision would probably end up being 90 percent private sector, but it would be based on a desire to change the government rules and change the government regulations, to get NASA out of the business of trying to run rockets, and to create a system where it’s easy for private sector people to be engaged.

I want to see us move from one launch occasionally to six or seven launches a day because so many private enterprises walk up and say, we’re prepared to go do it. But I’ll tell you, I do not want to be the country that having gotten to the moon first, turned around and said, it doesn’t really matter, let the Chinese dominate space, what do we care? I think that is a path of national decline, and I am for America being a great country, not a country in decline. [applause]

BLITZER: We’re going to move on, but go ahead, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, “You’re fired.”

The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it’s not a good idea. And we have seen in politics — we’ve seen politicians — and Newt, you’ve been part of this — go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear. The Speaker comes here to Florida, wants to spend untold amount of money having a colony on the moon. I know it’s very exciting on the Space Coast.

In South Carolina, it was a new interstate highway, and dredging the port in Charleston. In New Hampshire, it was burying a power line coming in from Canada and building a new VHA hospital in New Hampshire so that people don’t have to go to Boston.

Look, this idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that’s what got us into the trouble we’re in now. We’ve got to say no to this kind of spending. [applause]

GINGRICH: I want to make two points.

First, I thought we were a country where one of the purposes of candidates going around was to actually learn about the states they campaigned in and actually be responsive to the needs of the states they campaign in. For example, the port of Jacksonville is going to have to be expanded because the Panama Canal is being widened, and I think that’s useful thing for a president to know. I think it’s important for presidents to know about local things.

Second — and at the other end of the state, the Everglades Restoration Project has to be completed, and it’s the federal government which has failed.

But, second, in response to what Rick said, when we balanced the budget with the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and ultimately had four consecutive balanced budgets, we doubled the size of the National Institutes of Health because we set priorities. It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country.

You don’t just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done. [applause]

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to move on.

But go ahead, Ron Paul.

PAUL: I want to make a quick comment, because Newt’s mentioned this quite a few times about balancing the budget for four times. I went back and looked at the record.

The budget was — the national debt during those four years actually went up about a trillion dollars. What he’s talking about is, he doesn’t count the money he takes out of Social Security.

So, Reagan nor you had a truly balanced budget because the national debt goes up, and that’s what we pay the interest on. So I think you’ve stretched that a little bit more than you should have. [applause]

BLITZER: Go ahead and respond. And then Senator Santorum.

GINGRICH: No, I…

BLITZER: You want to respond to Congressman Paul?

GINGRICH: No, I would just say — I would just say, under the system that was used, we were $405 billion [inaudible]…[booing]

I agree with Ron — but let me finish. I actually agree with you, and I propose that we take Social Security off budget so no president can ever again get threaten, as Obama did in August, that he would not send the check out, and you could set Social Security back up as a free-standing trust fund. It does have enough money and you could in fact pay the checks without regard to politics in Washington.

BLITZER: Go ahead, quickly. [applause]

SANTORUM: Well, look, we just listened to the president of the United States the other night completely ignore the biggest problem facing this country when it comes to our financial health. We’ve been downgraded as a — as a — as a country and the president of the United States completely ignored any of the heavy work, the hard work in being honest with the American public about what we have to do to get our fiscal house in order.

And I think that’s the point I would make here. Going around and promising a whole bunch of new ideas and new projects and big ideas — that was fine. And maybe we need it; we can do that. I supported the doubling of the National Institutes of Health. But we didn’t have a $1.2 trillion deficit. We didn’t — we weren’t at over — we are now going to reach $16 trillion, which is more than our whole GDP. We were not in that situation 20, 15 years ago.

We are in a different world. We need leaders who are going to be honest with the people of this country, of the problems we have, and have bold solutions to make that happen. I’ll do that.

BLITZER: Let’s continue on this subject. [applause]

But let’s take a question from the audience.

Go ahead. Stand up and please introduce yourself.

QUESTION: My name is Lynn Frazier and I live here in Jacksonville. And for the Republican presidential candidates, my question is, I’m currently unemployed and I found myself unemployed for the first time in 10 years and unable to afford health care benefits.

What type of hope can you promise me and others in my position? [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s ask Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Well, it’s a tragedy because this is a consequence of the government being involved in medicine since 1965.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have a whole lot, but my dad had a small insurance, but medical care costs weren’t that much. And you should have an opportunity — medical care insurance should be given to you as an individual, so if you’re employed or not employed, you have — you just take care of that and you keep it up. When you lose a job, sometimes you lose your insurance.

But the cost is so high. When you pump money into something, like housing, cost — prices go up. If you pump money into education, the cost of education goes up. When the government gets involved in medicine, you don’t get better care; you get — cost goes up and it distorts the economy and leads to a crisis.

But your medical care should go with you. You should get total deduction on it. It would be so much less expensive. It doesn’t solve every single problem, but you’re — you’re suffering from the consequence of way too much government and the cost going up because government has inflated the cost and we have a government-created recession, and that is a consequence of the business cycle.

BLITZER: Speaker — Speaker Gingrich, what should Lynn do? [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, look, the first — she actually put her finger on two different problems. The largest challenge of this country is to get the economy growing so she can have a job so it’s easy for her to have insurance.

We — we need — and the president did nothing about this the other night. In fact, his proposal on taxes would make the economy worse.

We need to have a program which would start with, frankly, repealing Obamacare, repealing Dodd-Frank, repealing Sarbanes-Oxley. [applause]

And we need to give her a chance at a job.

Second, we need real health reform, not the Obama style, but we need health reform that allows her to buy in. And Dr. Paul is right. She ought to get the same tax break whether she buys personally or whether she buys through a economy.

She should also be able to buy into an association so that she’s buying with lots of other people so it’s not single insurance, which is the most expensive kind.

But you combine those two, reforming the insurance system and getting the economy growing again so people are back at work, you cure an awful lot of America’s problems with those two steps, and you put her back in a position where she’s in charge of her life; she’s not dependent on Barack Obama to take care of her. [applause]

BLITZER: That plan work for you, Governor?

ROMNEY: Actually, what both these gentlemen said is pretty much spot-on. And I’d — and I’ll add a couple of things.

One, I want to underscore something both of them said, and that is, right now in America, if you have insurance, you most likely got it through your employer. And the reason is, your employer gets a deduction for you when they buy the insurance for you.

That means that, if you change jobs, you’ve got to get a new insurance company, most likely. And if you become unemployed, you lose your insurance.

That doesn’t make sense. And if an individual wants to own their own insurance, they’re not part of a big group, and so as a result they get a very high rate.

What we should do is allow individuals to own their own insurance and have the same tax treatment as companies get. You do that and people like this young woman would be able to own her insurance. The rates would be substantial lower for her buying it individually than if she had to buy it individually today.

Secondly, getting people to work. This president has failed the American people.

He got up there and gave a speech last night. It was like Groundhog Day all over again. He said the same things and the same results we’re seeing today. People are not working. [applause]

And we know what it takes to put people back to work. He said some of those things last night — lowering corporate taxes, lowering regulations, opening up all of the above in energy, cracking down on China. He just doesn’t do any of those things, and if I’m president, I will do those things and I’ll get you back to work.

Thank you. [applause]

SANTORUM: All three of these folks sound great and I agree with them. I would just add that health savings account, which I introduced 20 years ago with John Kasich, is really the fundamental reform of getting consumers back involved in the health care system.

The problem with the answers from Congressman Gingrich and Governor Romney is that, well, they didn’t always say what they’re saying. Governor Romney was the author of Romneycare, which is a top- down government-run health care system which, read an article today, has 15 different items directly in common with Obamacare, everything from the increase in the Medicaid program, not just that government is going to mandate you buy something that’s a condition of breathing, mandate that you buy an insurance policy, something that Governor Romney agreed to at the state level, something Congressman Gingrich for 20 years advocated, that the federal government can force each and every person to enter into a private contract. Something that everyone now, at least up on this stage, says is radically unconstitutional, Congressman Gingrich supported for 20 years.

Governor Romney supported it in the state, a state that is a — pretty much a model for what Obamacare is going to look like — the highest health care costs in the country, 27 percent above the average, average waiting time — 94 percent of the people in Massachusetts are now insured, but there was just a survey that came out and said one in four don’t get the care they need because of the high cost. So, you have a card, you’re covered, but you can’t get care.

This is the top-down model that both of these gentlemen say they’re now against, but they’ve been for, and it does not provide the contrast we need with Barack Obama if we’re going to take on that most important issue. We cannot give the issue of health care away in this election. It is too foundational for us to win this election.

BLITZER: A quick rebuttal from Speaker Gingrich and then Governor Romney. [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, in my case, I think Rick is lumping us together rather more than is accurate.

If you go to healthtransformation.net, I founded the Center for Health Transformation. I wrote a book in 2002 called “Saving Lives and Saving Money.” It calls for you and your doctor and your pharmacist and your hospital have a relationship. I believe in something like patient power.

I didn’t advocate federal mandates. I talked about it at a state level, finding a way — which included an escape clause that people didn’t have to buy it — finding a way to try to have people have insurance, particularly for wealthy people who are simply free-riding on local hospitals. But the fact is, it was a personal system, dramatically different than either Romneycare or the version Rick just discussed.

BLITZER: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: The system that we put in place in our state was something we worked out with the labor community, the health care community, business, and the citizens of the nation. We came together, it was voted by a 200-person legislature. Only two voted no.

Our system has a lot of flaws, a lot of things I’d do differently. It has a lot of benefits. The people of the state like it by about three to one.

We consider it very different than Obamacare. If I were president, day one I will take action to repeal Obamacare. It’s bad medicine. It’s bad economy. I’ll repeal it. [applause]

And I believe the people — I believe the people of each state should be able to craft programs that they feel are best for their people. I think ours is working pretty well. If I were governor, it would work a heck of a lot better.

BLITZER: All right.

And very quickly, go ahead.

SANTORUM: What Governor Romney just said is that government-run top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it. Now, think about what that means —

ROMNEY: That’s not what I said.

SANTORUM: — going up against Barack Obama, who you are going to claim, well, top-down government-run medicine on the federal level doesn’t work and we should repeal it. And he’s going to say, wait a minute, Governor. You just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well.

Folks, we can’t give this issue away in this election. It is about fundamental freedom. Whether the United States government or even a state government — you have Amendment 1 here offered by Scott Pleitgen, who, by the way, endorsed me today, and it’s going to be on your ballot as to whether there should be a government mandate here in Florida.

According to Governor Romney, that’s OK. If the state does it, that’s OK. If the state wants to enforce it, that’s OK. Those are not the clear contrasts we need if we’re going to defeat Barack Obama and a —

BLITZER: Let’s go to Miami. [applause]

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Very quickly.

ROMNEY: Rick, I make enough mistakes in what I say, not for you to add more mistakes to what I say. I didn’t say I’m in favor of top- down government-run health care, 92 percent of the people in my state had insurance before our plan went in place. And nothing changes for them. They own the same private insurance they had before.

And for the 8 percent of people who didn’t have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There’s no government plan.

And if you don’t want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn’t have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility.

Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

SANTORUM: Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?

ROMNEY: Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care. Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea.

SANTORUM: So, in Massachusetts…[applause]

Just so I understand this, in Massachusetts, everybody is mandated as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts, to buy health insurance, and if you don’t, and if you don’t, you have to pay a fine.

What has happened in Massachusetts is that people are now paying the fine because health insurance is so expensive. And you have a pre-existing condition clause in yours, just like Barack Obama.

So what is happening in Massachusetts, the people that Governor Romney said he wanted to go after, the people that were free-riding, free ridership has gone up five-fold in Massachusetts. Five times the rate it was before. Why? Because…

ROMNEY: That’s total, complete…

SANTORUM: I’ll be happy to give you the study. Five times the rate it has gone up. Why? Because people are ready to pay a cheaper fine and then be able to sign up to insurance, which are now guaranteed under “Romney-care,” than pay high cost insurance, which is what has happened as a result of “Romney-care.”

ROMNEY: First of all, it’s not worth getting angry about. Secondly, the…[applause]

Secondly, 98 percent of the people have insurance. And so the idea that more people are free-riding the system is simply impossible. Half of those people got insurance on their own. Others got help in buying the insurance.

Look, I know you don’t like the plan that we had. I don’t like the Obama plan. His plan cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn’t, of course, touch anything like that. He raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn’t do that.

He wasn’t interested in the 8 percent of the people that were uninsured. He was concerned about the 100 percent of the people of the country. “Obama-care” takes over health care for the American people.

If I’m president of the United States, I will stop it. And in debating Barack Obama, I will be able to show that I have passion and concern for the people in this country that need health care, like this young woman who asked the question.

But I will be able to point out that what he did was wrong. It was bad medicine, it’s bad for the economy, and I will repeal it. [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s move on, let’s move on.

SANTORUM: Wolf, what Governor Romney said is just factually incorrect. Your mandate is no different than Barack Obama’s mandate. It is the same mandate. He takes over… [applause]

BLITZER: All right. All right.

SANTORUM: You take over 100 percent, just like he takes over 100 percent, requires the mandate. The same fines that you put in place in Massachusetts are fines that he puts in place in the federal level. Same programs.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, who is right?

PAUL: I think they’re all wrong. [laughter] [applause]

I think this — this is a typical result of when you get government involved, because all you are arguing about is which form of government you want. They have way too much confidence in government sorting this out.

So, I would say there’s a much better way. And that is allow the people to make their decisions and not get the government involved. You know, it has only been…[applause]

When I started medicine, there was no Medicare or Medicaid. And nobody was out in the streets without it. Now, now people are suffering, all the complaints going on. So the government isn’t our solution.

So, I’m not too happy with this type of debate, trying to blame one versus the other, so, but — most likely we’re going to continue to have this problem unless we straighten out the economy. And that means…

BLITZER: I’ll give you 30 seconds, Mr. Speaker.

PAUL: … cut the spending. And they talk about these new programs and all, but how many of the other candidates are willing to cut anything? I’m willing to cut $1 trillion out of the first year. [applause]

BLITZER: All right.

GINGRICH: Well, I just want to say that I actually think if you look at what Ron Paul’s background is as a doctor, and you look at medicine in the early ’60s, and you look at how communities solved problems, it was a fundamentally more flexible and less expensive system.

And there’s a lot to be said for rethinking from the ground up, the entire approach to health care.

BLITZER: Let’s go to Miami. We have another question. [applause]

CNN Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez is standing by. Go ahead?

LOPEZ: Yes, Wolf, our question now comes from Jennifer Coryn she is a — the Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, our cosponsor and she is the spouse of a Marine Corps Gunnery Sargent and I believe, Jennifer, your question has to do with the future?

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much and good evening. We have many qualified, Hispanic leaders. Which of our Hispanic leaders would you consider to serve in your cabinet?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM:: Well, I mean I hate to throw one to Florida, but obviously your Senator Marco Rubio is a pretty impressive guy. [applause]

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: I think that there are a number, and I think for example of — of when you think cabinet, I think for example of Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico. You know, at the cabinet level I think of somebody like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I actually thought about Marco Rubio on a slightly more dignified and central role, then being in the cabinet, but that’s another conversation. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: We — we are blessed — we’re blessed to have an enormous number of highly qualified Hispanic-Americans in the Republican Party and leadership right now. Brian Sandoval, the governor of — of Nevada. You mentioned Susana Martinez in New Mexico. I — both of the Diaz-Belart brothers, one retired from Congress, the other currently there. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mel Martinez is back in the private sector. Who knows, he could be pulled back. Of course, Senator Marco Rubio a — a terrific Hispanic- American. I — I’m sure I’m missing many, many others, but we have a — a remarkable — Carlos Gutierrez, formerly secretary of Commerce.

These individuals can for membership in our — in our cabinet, I believe. And — and potentially as the — as the speaker indicates, other positions as well.

PAUL: I — I — I don’t have one particular name that I’m going to bring up, but my litmus test would be to get individuals, Hispanic or otherwise to understand monetary policy and understand the system. But also the Hispanic community is especially attuned to the foreign policy of non-intervention. They — they are more opposed to war than other communities, so I would think there’s plenty in the Hispanic community that could give me good advice and an understanding of why a non-intervention foreign policy is very attractive to the Hispanic people.

BLITZER: All right, gentleman stand by. Much more to discuss. I want to take a short break. We have many more topics to include — including this, we’ll get into this a little bit, what would your wife — why would your wife make the best first lady. I’ll ask these four candidates. Stay with us. [applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: I’m Wolf Blitzer.

We’re here in Jacksonville for CNN’s Florida Republican presidential debate. Many of you are watching online, commenting on Twitter, Facebook, at CNN.com. We have many more questions for the candidates, including one that hits close to home.

Stand by to find out why each man on this stage thinks his wife would be the best first lady.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Want to get right back to the rest of the debate, but first, on a lighter subject, I want to ask each of these gentlemen why they think their wife would make a great first lady.

Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Well, she’s been my wife for 54 years. And we’re going to have an anniversary on February 1st.

BLITZER: Congratulations.

PAUL: So — but she’s the mother of five of our children, and she’s a grandmother of 18 grandchildren, does an excellent job. And she’s also the author of a very famous cookbook, “The Ron Paul Cookbook.”

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: I’ve got to take a little bit more time, a little more seriousness.

My — nothing wrong with what you said — I’m sorry.

My wife is also a mom, as I pointed out early on, but in some respects, she is a real champion and a fighter. She was diagnosed in 1998 with Multiple Sclerosis, and more recently with breast cancer. She has battled both successfully. And as first lady, she will be able to reach out to people who are also struggling and suffering and will be someone who shows compassion and care.

And she’s also had a passion all of her adult life on helping people in troubled situations, young women in particular, understand the importance of getting married before they have babies and encouraging people to create families to raise kids in. [applause]

GINGRICH: Let me say, first of all, having gotten to know them, I think all three of the wives represented here would be terrific first ladies. Callista and I have gotten to know all three of them, and we think they’d be fabulous people. So I would rather just to talk about why I like Callista, and why I’d like her to be first lady, but she’s not necessarily in any way better. These are wonderful people, and they would be wonderful first ladies.

But Callista brings a couple of things. One is a tremendous artistic focus. She’s done a video in music education, why it really matters. She’s a pianist by background, plays the French horn in a community band, sings in the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She really cares about the arts and would bring a really strong feeling for music education and for art, and why it matters to people as part of their education.

She’s also very patriotic about American exceptionalism. She’s had a best-selling “New York Times” book, children’s book, and has really reached out to young people to get them to understand America.

And she’s helped produce and host seven movies now, so she would bring an entire, I think, artistic flavor.

But — and I, obviously, would be thrilled to be able to hang out with her at the White House. So it would be good.

BLITZER: And I suspect you would be.

Unfortunately, Senator Santorum, your wife is not here tonight.

SANTORUM: Yeah, she’s not. She’s — she’s doing what she does incredibly well, which is to be a mother to our seven children. And she is — she’s my hero. She’s someone who has been, you know, well- educated. She was a neo-natal intensive care nurse for nine years at one of the most advanced nurseries in the — in the country.

She went on to, because she saw all these ethical challenges there, so she went on and got a law degree so she could — she could deal with those in the — in the legal world.

And then when she got married, she gave that up; she walked away and walked into something that she felt called to do, which was to be a mom and to be a wife.

And we’ve — we’ve had eight children. We are blessed to be raising seven. We’ve been through a lot together, losing a child, having a child with a disability that we have now, our little Bella.

And the — the amount of love for these special kids is just palpable in her.

She wrote a book about our son that we lost called “Letters to Gabriel,” about that ordeal that we went through. That book, that little book has saved countless — I don’t — we know of at least hundreds of lives that were saved because people read that book and realized that the child they we’re carrying had the dignity to be love and nurtured irrespective of what malady may have — may have befallen that baby in the womb. And so many children were born and are alive today because of that book.

She’s also written a book on manners. That’s something that I — I — we have seven children, so we know that kids are not born good. And…[laughter]… and so manners is very important in our house. And she wrote a storybook because there were all sorts of how-to books on manners but there was no storybook, teaching manners through, well, how Christ taught us, through stories. And — and that’s what she did. And that book has hopefully somewhat civilized some children around this country. [laughter]

BLITZER: Very nice.

All right, let’s get back to the debate — the debate now. [applause]

Governor Romney, you criticized Speaker Gingrich for not being as close to Ronald Reagan as he says he was. When you ran for the Senate, you said you were, quote, “You weren’t trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”

So the question is, do you think you can claim the Reagan mantle more than Speaker Gingrich?

ROMNEY: Oh, of course not. No, I — I was — at the time Ronald Reagan was — was president, I was just getting started. I went through school, came out of school, got my first job, worked my way up in a consulting company, and then, after awhile, started a business of my own. I was looking at politics from afar and learning as time went on.

I didn’t get involved in politics early in my life. I instead spent my time building a business. And then later, as my business had been successful and we’d been involved in some turnaround situations, some businesses in trouble that we were able to help — not all worked out as we’d hoped, but a number did — I got asked to go off and help get the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 on track and put aside my business and went — went to Utah. And it was perhaps the greatest professional experience of my life, going there and spending three years helping getting those games on track.

I — I happen to believe the Olympics is one of the great showcases of the — of the human spirit that exists in the media world. And it was very successful. And then — and then, after that, I was asked by some friends to come back and run for governor, did that. And that’s when I became terribly politically involved.

And in that involvement, I learned a lot of lessons. Being governor taught me a lot of things. I became more conservative, by the way, as I was governor, and found the importance of lowering taxes, making it easier for businesses to grow, the importance of driving schools to be the best in the country. Those are the things I did.

And so I’m not suggesting — the speaker was a congressman at the time Ronald Reagan was president, so he — he, of course, was closer to the Ronald Reagan era than I.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, you’ve heard the criticism lately that you weren’t necessarily as close to the president as you suggest?

GINGRICH: Well, it’s increasingly interesting to watch the Romney attack machine coordinate things. And all of a sudden, today, there are like four different articles by four different people that randomly show up.

The fact is, I’m thrilled that Michael Reagan has endorsed me and will be campaigning with me here in Florida. I remember very fondly, in 1995, when we were at the Goldwater Institute and Nancy Reagan said, you know, “Barry gave Ronnie the torch, and now Ronny’s passing the torch to Newt and his team in Congress. So I think it’s reasonable to say, and I think the governor said it fairly, I am vastly closer to Reagan. In that period the governor was an independent business person. In ’92 he was donating to the Democrats for Congress and voted for Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primary. In ’94 running against Teddy Kennedy, he said flatly, I don’t want to go back to the Reagan-Bush era, I was an independent.

So there’s a pretty wide gap. Now, he’s more mature. He’s more conservative, I accept that. I think it’s a good thing. But those of us who were in the trenches fighting in the ’80’s, it would be nice to be recognized for what we actually did and not to have orchestrated attacks to try to distort the history of that period.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, you can respond please. [applause]

ROMNEY: Just a — just a short clarification. I — I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot. And — and in my state of Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in which — either primary happens to be very interesting. And any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took. And so I — I’m…[applause]…I have voted — I have always voted for a Republican any time there was a Republican on the ballot. With regards to the Speaker’s involvement in the Reagan years, he can speak for himself. The Reagan Diaries and the other histories that were written at that time can lay that out as well. I — I — I think, I think what he said speaks for itself and I’m proud of the things I was able to accomplish.

BLITZER: Let’s take another question from the audience. Go ahead. Please stand up and give us your name?

QUESTION: Hi, my name is George Miatus, I live here in Jacksonville and when I was 3-years-old I was very blessed that my parents brought me here from Cuba. They brought me here so that I could be raised in freedom and in liberty. President Obama has recently announced that he is liberalizing trade and travel policies. What would be your position as president toward the island of Cuba?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: I would oppose it. I’ve been 100 percent in support of the Cuban people and their right to have a free Cuba and the United States should stand on the side of the Cuban people against these despots who are not just reigning terror, continuing reign of terror in Cuba. But now have their — their — their puppet, Chavez in — in Venezuela and Noriega and Morales and it keeps — it keeps like a cancer growing. So the idea that a president of the United States would take the heart of the cancer that is in Central and South America, and begin to reward behavior that has spread this cancer because of our dilly-dallying and our inattentiveness to the problems in Central and South America.

Now, we’re going to reward the secret police. We’re going to [inaudible] president of Venezuela as they are in Cuba. We’re going to reward this type of thuggery, this type of Marxism in our region. We’re going to reward a country that is now working with these other countries to harbor and bring in Iran and the terrorist — the Jihadist’s who want to set up missile sites and to set up training camps. And so we’re going to reward this behavior by opening up and liberalizing. This is the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul…[applause]…you said the U.S. should talk to everyone. Imagine you’re in the Oval Office, you speak to Raul Castro. What would you say to him?

PAUL: Well, I’d ask him what he called about, you know? [laughter]

What was the purpose of his call? No, I would ask him what can — what can we do to improve relations? Because I wouldn’t see them as likely to attack us. When I was drafted in October of ’62, that was a different world. I mean there were nuclear weapons in Cuba. That was a different story. But — but today to — not to talk to them and take the call and see what you can work out, helps — helps Castro. It hurts the people, the dissidents, the people who want to overthrow him have always had to be, you know, nationalistic and unified behind the leader.

So as well intended as these sanctions are, they almost inevitably backfire and they help the dictators and hurt the people. [applause]

So it’s time to change. The Cold — the Cold War — the Cold War is over. They’re not going to invade us and I just think that a better relationship and trade relationship, so many people — I think — I’ve noticed already since I’ve been talking about this issue the last four of five years, I think the people have changed their mind. It’s very — the American people are getting much more open. Not nearly as frightened. And people — I don’t think they see a Jihadist under the bed every night…[laughter]…and we have to worry about that. I think there’s — I — I worry about overreaction, over concern and lack of ability to talk to them when they call you.

BLITZER: I want both of you to weigh in, Governor Romney first?

ROMNEY: Two — two major flaws with President Obama’s foreign policy.

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Well what about Ron Paul’s policy?

ROMNEY: Well, I’m talking about President Obama right now. We can get back to Ron Paul in a moment. [applause]

First of all, I think the president has largely ignored Latin America, Cuba in particular, Venezuela, and other nations. I think we have to change that dramatically.

I think we have to have economic initiatives to build trade throughout Latin America, particularly with Colombia and Panama, now part of free trade agreements. I want more of that throughout Latin America. But that’s the first flaw, ignoring Latin America.

And number two is reaching out with accommodations to some of the world’s worst actors, whether it was Putin in Russia, giving him what he wanted, or Castro, saying we’re going to let you have remittances coming from the U.S. to fund your future, or relaxed trade restrictions. Throughout the world, with Ahmadinejad opening an open hand, tyrants look for weakness to take advantage. That’s the wrong course.

The right course for Cuba is to continue to honor Helms-Burton. And if I’m president of the United States, I will use every resource we have, short of invasion and military action, Congressman Paul. I’ll use every resource we can to make sure that when Fidel Castro finally leaves this planet, that we are able to help the people of Cuba enjoy freedom.

They want it. It’s a God-given right. And it is our responsibility to help share the gift of freedom with people throughout the world that are seeking it. [applause]

BLITZER: Are you open — Mr. Speaker, are you open to improving relations with Cuba?

GINGRICH: Well, let me start with where the governor correctly pointed out. I was very proud as Speaker to be able to make sure that the Helms-Burton Act passed, and I’m delighted that Congressman Dan Burton is here tonight and is campaigning with me, because it was a very important step towards isolating the Castro regime.

I think it’s amazing that Barack Obama is worried about an Arab Spring, he’s worried about Tunisia, he’s worried about Libya, he’s worried about Egypt, he’s worried about Syria, and he cannot bring himself to look south and imagine a Cuban Spring. And I would argue that we should have, as a stated explicit policy, that we want to facilitate the transition from the dictatorship to freedom. We want to bring together every non-military asset we have, exactly as President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher and Pope John Paul II did in Poland and in Eastern Europe.

They broke up the Soviet empire without a general war by using a wide range of things, one of which is just psychological, saying to the next generation of people in Cuba, the dictatorship is not going to survive. You need to bet to moving to freedom in order to have prosperity in Cuba, and we will help you get to that freedom. [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s take another question from the audience.

Please give us your name and tell us where you are from.

UNKNOWN: Abraham Hassel from Jacksonville, Florida.

How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian-American Republican, I’m here to tell you we do exist.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s ask Governor Romney, first of all.

What would you say to Abraham?

ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there’s not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is — in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it’s in school books that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it’s in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.

There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.

And I believe America must say — and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.

This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw — [applause]

I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the ’67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend, Israel.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor. [applause]

Speaker Gingrich, you got into a little hot water when you said the Palestinians were an invented people.

GINGRICH: It was technically an invention of the late 1970s, and it was clearly so. Prior to that, they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese, or Egyptian, or Jordanian.

There are a couple of simple things here. There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war.

You have leadership unequivocally, and Governor Romney is exactly right, the leadership of Hamas says, not a single Jew will remain. We aren’t having a peace negotiation then. This is war by another form.

My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom. and they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we’re going to live side-by-side, now let’s work together to create mutual prosperity.

And you could in five years dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian. But the political leadership would never tolerate that. And that’s why we’re in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis.

On the first day that I’m president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we’re with Israel. [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s go to Miami. Let’s take another question from Miami. Juan Carlos, go ahead?

LOPEZ: Thank you, Wolf. I’m joined now by Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder. She is the CEO and founder of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce in Florida. She is based out of Tampa.

And I’m pretty sure, Elizabeth, your question has to do with the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.

CUEVAS-NEUNDER: [speaking in Spanish]. Good evening. [speaking in Spanish]. I am bilingual, proud of it. My question to the candidates, we have 4 million Puerto Ricans in the United States, voters, 3.8 in Puerto Rico.

We have been treated as second class citizen and just now our governor’s name was not mentioned as a V.P. possibility, a great governor. My question to you is, where do you stand for Puerto Rico to become a state? And secondly, how do you — where do you stand on domestic trade between Florida and Puerto Rico, between Tampa Bay and Ponce ports which have been neglected? Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Santorum, let’s throw that question to you. The question about, do you support Puerto Rico potentially as the 51st state?

SANTORUM: Well, first, I will give a shout-out to Governor Luis Fortuno, who is a good friend of mine, and someone — I know him and his family, we have known each other for many years, we actually used to go to church together.

And so I spoke to Luis this week. And I’ve been to Puerto Rico many times. And actually, when I was a United States senator, we did a lot of work with Puerto Rico. Because of my relationship with many friends down there, I was made aware of problems, for example, in the Medicaid program.

We went down and we actually passed things to help with reimbursement rates, which were deplorably low in Puerto Rico. We also worked on hurricane relief and a whole lost of other things as a result of my relationship with many Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania, and developed those relationships on the island.

I believe that — I believe in self-determination. That, you know, the Puerto Rican people should have the opportunity to be able to be able to speak on this. I have supported that. I don’t take a position one way or the other on statehood, commonwealth, independence, that’s for the people of Puerto Rico to decide.

But I also supported a lot of things to help the Puerto Rican economy. Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, and the poverty, the unemployment rates simply are — are simply not something that we as Americans should allow to occur in our country.

And we need to make sure that there are pro-growth, supply side economics to make sure that Puerto Rico can be successful as an economy on that island, and I believe they can. And under my administration, that’s something that I would work towards.

BLITZER: I’ll take that as a maybe. Statehood, not statehood.

SANTORUM: No, I take no position on that. That’s — I would — I’ve supported, you know, the opportunity for them to make that decision.

BLITZER: Let’s take another question from the audience here. Go ahead, please. What is your name?

SUZANNE BASS: Suzanne Bass, I’m an attorney in Jacksonville. Welcome to the great city of Jacksonville.

My question, how would your religious beliefs, if you’re elected, impact the decisions that you make in the office of the presidency?

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Well, my religious beliefs wouldn’t affect it. My religious beliefs affect my character in the way I treat people and the way I live. The only thing it would affect…[applause]

The only thing that would affect me in the way I operate as a president or a congressman is my oath of office and my promises that I’ve made to the people.

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: Ron Paul makes very good point. I concur with that. I would also seek the guidance of — of providence in making critical decisions.

And of course, ours is a nation which is based upon Judeo- Christian values and ethics. Our law is based upon those values and ethics. And in some cases, our law doesn’t encompass — encompass all of the issues that we face around the world.

The conviction that the founders, when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, were writing a document that was not just temporary and not just for one small locale but really something which described the relationship between God and man — that’s something which I think a president would carry in his heart.

So when they said, for instance, that the creator had “endowed us with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I would seek to assure that those principles and values remain in America and that we help share them with other people in the world, not by conquering them, but by helping them through our trade, through our various forms of soft power, to help bring people the joy and — and — and opportunity that exists in this great land.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker? [applause]

GINGRICH: I would say that there are three ways in which religion would affect me.

The first is, I agree with Governor Romney. I think anyone who is president is faced with decisions so enormous that they should go to God. They should seek guidance. Because these are decisions beyond the ability of mere mortals to truly decide without some sense of what it is we should be doing.

I would say, second, that we have a real obligation to recognize that, if you’re truly faithful, it’s not just an hour on Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays. It’s in fact something that should suffuse your life, to be a part of who you are. And in that sense, it is inextricably tied in with how you behave.

But I would say, third, one of the reasons I am running is there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity in this country, largely by…[applause]… largely by a secular elite and the academic news media and judicial areas. And I frankly believe it’s important to have some leadership that stands up and says, enough; we are truly guaranteed the right of religious freedom, not religious suppression by the state. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator?

SANTORUM: Faith is a very, very important part of my life, but it’s a very, very important part of this country. The foundational documents of our country — everybody talks about the Constitution, very, very important. But the Constitution is the “how” of America. It’s the operator’s manual.

The “why” of America, who we are as a people, is in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

The Constitution is there to do one thing: protect God-given rights. That’s what makes America different than every other country in the world. No other country in the world has its rights — rights based in God-given rights, not government-given rights.

And so when you say, well, faith has nothing to do with it, faith has everything to do with it. If rights come…[applause]

If our president believes that rights come to us from the state, everything government gives you, it can take away. The role of the government is to protect rights that cannot be taken away.

And so the answer to that question is, I believe in faith and reason and approaching the problems of this country but understand where those rights come from, who we are as Americans and the foundational principles by which we have changed the world.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator. [applause]

We have one more break to take, but we have a lot more to discuss. Don’t go too far away. Coming up, the final debate question before Florida votes. [applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: All right. We’re in the last few minutes of the last question to these four presidential candidates before the Florida primary on Tuesday in this debate format. Here is the question, and it involves the president of the United States. I want you to tell voters who are watching or are here on this campus right now why you are the one person on this stage that is most likely to beat Barack Obama.

Congressman?

PAUL: Well, you know, so far, we have some pretty good evidence that I’ll do quite well and have a better chance than the rest to beat him, because if you do a national poll, I do very, very well against Obama. But one of the reasons is, is that the freedom message in the Constitution is very appealing to everybody in all political beliefs because it includes free markets, which conservatives endorse, but it also protects civil liberties, the way people run their lives.

If it is a God-given life, and it’s your life, you should have the right to run your life as you so choose as long as you don’t harm other people. This means a lot more tolerance that some would like to give. So that brings people in who are concerned about civil liberties, and all of a sudden, my position undermines Obama completely and totally because the foreign policy is different.

He promises to end the wars, but the wars expand. A constitutional foreign policy will end the wars. And if you want somebody to talk about peace and prosperity, it has to be somebody who understands money and a foreign policy and free markets. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney, why are you the one person on this stage most likely to beat President Obama?

ROMNEY: The people of America recognize that this is a critical time. This is not just an average election.

This is a time where we’re going to decide whether America will remain the great hope of the 21st century, whether this will be an American century, or, instead, whether we’ll continue to go down a path to become more and more like Europe, a social welfare state. That’s where we’re headed.

Our economy is becoming weaker. The foundation of our future economy is being eroded. Government has become too large. We’re headed in a very dangerous direction.

I believe to get America back on track, we’re going to have to have dramatic, fundamental, extraordinary change in Washington to be able to allow our private sector to once again reemerge competitively, to scale back the size of government and to maintain our strength abroad in our military capacities.

I believe that, to change Washington in such a dramatic way, you cannot do it by people who have been there their entire careers.

I believe, if you just elect the same people to change chairs in Washington, not much happen. I think, if you want to change Washington, you’re going to have to bring someone in who has been on the outside.

I have lived in the private sector. I know how it works. I’ve competed with businesses around the world. I know how to win.

I know what it takes to keep America strong. I know how to work in government. I’ve had experience for — four years, rather, working as the governor of Massachusetts.

I will use the experience of my life to get America right. And I will be able to convince the American people that someone with my experience is very different than Barack Obama. And that experience is how I’ll beat him. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker…[applause]… why are you the one person on this stage most likely to beat President Obama?

GINGRICH: You know, I have participated in the two largest Republican sweeps in modern time, 1980, in the Reagan campaign, and 1994, with the Contract with America, which had the largest one-party increase in American history, 9 million extra votes.

I believe that what we need this fall is a big-choice election that goes to the heart of who we are. I’m running more than anything for my two grandchildren, Maggie and Robert. I’d like them to be able to look back 50 years from now and say that what we did, what we the American people did, the choice we made in 2012 to unleash the American people, to rebuild our country based on the core values, to pose for the American people a simple choice: Do you want freedom and independence and a paycheck and a job, or do you want dependence and big government and food stamps and a lack of future?

And I believe, if we have a big election with truly historic big choices, that we can defeat Barack Obama by a huge margin. But it won’t be by running just as a Republican. It will be an American campaign open to every American who prefers a paycheck to food stamps, who prefers the Declaration of Independence to Saul Alinsky and who prefers a strong national security to trying to appease our enemies. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator? [applause]

I’ll repeat the question for you. Why do you think you’re the best, most qualified person on this stage to beat President Obama?

SANTORUM: I agree with the previous two speakers that this is a big election. This is an election about fundamental freedom. It’s about who America is going to be. Are we a country that’s going to be built great from the bottom up, as our founders intended, or from the top down?

I just think I’m a lot better than the previous two speakers to be able to make that case to the American people. I’m not for a top- down government-run health care system. I wasn’t for the Wall Street bailouts like these two gentlemen were.

Governor Romney talks about the private sector and how he’s going to bring private sector. When the private sector was in trouble, he voted for government to come in and take over the private sector and be able to — and to bail them out.

Cap-and-trade — both of them bought into the global warming hoax, bought into the cap-and-trade, top-down control of our energy and manufacturing sector.

If you look at President Obama’s speech the other night, what did he lead with? He lead with manufacturing. He led with manufacturing why? Because the base of his party, the ones that are always the ones — not the base — the swing vote in his party, the ones that Ronald Reagan was able to get — we call them Reagan Democrats up in Pennsylvania. Those are the blue-collar working people of America who know that this president has left them behind. He has a plan for them, and it’s more dependency, not work, not opportunity.

So he went out and tried to make a play for manufacturing. That’s been the center point of my campaign. The center point of my campaign is to be able to win the industrial heartland, get those Reagan Democrats back, talking about manufacturing, talking about building that ladder of success all the way down so people can climb all the way up.

That’s why I’m the best person to be able to go out and win the states that are necessary to win this presidency and govern with the mandate that Newt just talked about.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator. [applause]

And thank you to the four presidential candidates. [applause]

I also want to thank our partners in this debate, the Republican Party of Florida, the Hispanic Leadership Network. Thank you very much to them. [applause]

We’d also like to thank our hosts here on the campus of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

November 22, 2011: CNN / Heritage Foundation / American Enterprise Institute Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Washington, DC November 22, 2011

PARTICIPANTS:
Representative Michele Bachmann (MN);
Herman Cain (GA);
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Former Governor Newt Gingrich (UT);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Governor  Ron Paul (TX);
Former Governor  Ron Paul (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
Wolf Blitzer (CNN)

BLITZER: From Constitution Hall in the nation’s capital, this is the Republican presidential debate.

[applause]

BLITZER: Every U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge has been inside this historic hall, just steps away from the White House.

Tonight, the eight Republican candidates are here with their ultimate goal in sight.

I’m Wolf Blitzer.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Tonight’s debate is airing on CNN, CNN International, CNN en Espanol and the American Forces Network. We want to thank our co- sponsors, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

Members of these distinguished conservative think tanks, they are here in our audience and some of them will have a chance to question the candidates. They’ll add their knowledge and insights to our discussion, making this unlike any debate so far in this presidential campaign.

Viewers also can take part in our debate by sending us your questions online, on Twitter. Make sure to include the hash tag, cnndebate; on Facebook at Facebook.com/cnnpolitics; and, of course, on CNNPolitics.com.

It’s time now to meet the 2012 Republican presidential contenders.

Joining us onstage, the former U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

Thank you. [applause]

HUNTSMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

BACHMANN: Good to see you, Wolf. [applause]

BLITZER: The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

[applause]

BLITZER: The former president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain. [applause]

The former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney…[applause]

Texas governor, Rick Perry…[applause]

Texas congressman, Ron Paul…[applause] [inaudible] from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum. [applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for President of the United States. [applause]

Now, please rise for our National Anthem. Please rise. The National Anthem performed by Mauricio Perez, from the Tony Award winning musical, “Jersey Boys,” now playing at the National Theater here in Washington, D.C. [applause] [national anthem] [applause]

BLITZER: Mauricio Perez, thank you.

Candidates, please take your — to your podiums while I tell you a little bit more about how this debate will work. I’ll be the moderator and as I mentioned, our partners from the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute will ask questions as well.

I’ll follow up. I’ll try to guide the discussion. Candidates, I’ll try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of questions.

You’ll have one minute to answer, 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. And I’ll make sure you get time to respond if — if you’re singled out for criticism.

This year more than ever we’ve seen how events beyond our borders directly affect America, including perhaps the biggest national security issue right now, the economy.

Candidates, tonight Republican voters are here. They are watching around the country to decide if you have what it takes to be the next commander in chief, to shape foreign policy, to protect this great nation.

On some of these issues you will agree. On some you’ll disagree. But by the end of the night, voters should have a better understanding of how you would lead the nation in times of crisis.

Now, let’s have the candidates introduce themselves to our audience, but we’ll keep it very brief. Here’s an example of what I’m looking for.

I’m Wolf Blitzer and yes, that’s my real name. I’ll be your moderator this evening and I’m happy to welcome each one of you to our debate.

Rick Santorum, let’s begin with you.

SANTORUM: Well, I am Rick Santorum. And it’s great to be here and I want to thank AEI and Heritage [inaudible]. … One constitutional responsibility of the federal government and that is national security. And I think we can all agree that if you like what Barack Obama has done to our economy, you’ll love what he’s done to our national security.

PAUL: I’m Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas. I am pleased to be here at the debate because this is a very important debate. I am convinced that needless and unnecessary wars are a great detriment. They undermine our prosperity and our liberties. They add to our deficits and they consume our welfare. We should take a careful look at our foreign policy.

PERRY: I’m Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, and I want to take a moment and introduce you, the beautiful first lady of the state of Texas, Anita. Thank you for being here with me, 29 years of wedded bliss and 45 years ago we had our first date. So I’m a blessed man in many ways to represent a great state, and we’re here to ask you for your support, your blessings and your vote.

ROMNEY: I’m Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name. And…[laughter]… I’m a husband, a father, a grandfather of 16. I love this country very much. I spent my life in the private sector. And as I’ve watched the direction this president has taken our country, both domestically and internationally, I’m afraid that he’s taking us on a perilous course. I want to keep America strong and free, and if I’m president, I’ll use every ounce of my energy to do just that. [applause]

CAIN: I am businessman Herman Cain. I’m delighted to be here to discuss one of the most critical issues we face because, as a result of this administration, our national security has indeed been downgraded. [applause]

GINGRICH: I’m Newt Gingrich. My father spent 27 years in the infantry. And as a result of that, in the fall of 1958, I decided that national survival was worth the study of a lifetime. I’ve worked with both Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute for over 30 years. I can’t imagine any two institutions better to partner with CNN on the most important single topic, the survival of the United States. [applause]

BACHMANN: My name is Michele Bachmann. I’m a proud member of the United States Congress. I’m privileged to serve on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. My father honorably served in the United States Air Force, my stepfather in the United States Army and my brother in the United States Navy.

I think for every one of us who are here on this stage tonight, I think we all want to send our very best Happy Thanksgiving greetings to all of our men and women in uniform who are serving us overseas, here in the United States and also to their families. Happy Thanksgiving. We appreciate, we love you and we want to get you home as soon as we can. [applause]

HUNTSMAN: My name is Jon Huntsman. I believe this week, in particular, that there is still much to be grateful for in this, the greatest nation that ever was. I’m here with my wife of 28 years, Mary Kay, who is fortuitously sitting in the New Hampshire box up here. We are the wife — or we are the parents of seven kids, two in the United States Navy.

Twice elected governor of the great state of Utah, I’ve lived overseas four times, three times as a United States ambassador. I am honored and privileged to be here. Wolf, CNN, Heritage, AEI, thank you one and all for making tonight possible.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. And let’s get right to the questions.

[applause]

BLITZER: Our leadoff question is from the honorable Ed Meese, the former attorney general of the United States, who is representing the Heritage Foundation.

ED MEESE, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: At least 42 terrorist attacks aimed at the United States have been thwarted since 9/11. Tools like the Patriot Act have been instrumental in finding and stopping terrorists.

Shouldn’t we have a long range extension of the investigative powers contained in that act so that our law enforcement officers can have the tools that they need?

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, only this weekend there was an alleged terror plot uncovered in New York City. What do you think?

GINGRICH: Well, I think that Attorney General Meese has raised a key point, and the key distinction for the American people to recognize is the difference between national security requirements and criminal law requirements.

I think it’s desperately important that we preserve your right to be innocent until proven guilty, if it’s a matter of criminal law. But if you’re trying to find somebody who may have a nuclear weapon that they are trying to bring into an American city, I think you want to use every tool that you can possibly use to gather the intelligence.

The Patriot Act has clearly been a key part of that. And I think looking at it carefully and extending it and building an honest understanding that all of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives. This is not going to end in the short run. And we need to be prepared to protect ourselves from those who, if they could, would not just kill us individually, but would take out entire cities.

BLITZER: So, Speaker, just to clarify, you wouldn’t change the Patriot Act?

GINGRICH: No, I would not change it. I’m not aware of any specific change it needs. And I’d look at strengthening it, because I think the dangers are literally that great. And again, I’ve spent years studying this stuff. You start thinking about one nuclear weapon in one American city and the scale of loss of life and you ask yourself, what should the president be capable of doing to stop that?

And you come up with a very different answer. Again, very sharp division. Criminal law, the government should be frankly on defense and you’re innocent until proven guilty. National security, the government should have many more tools in order to save our lives.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, I suspect you disagree.

PAUL: I do.

BLITZER: Tell us why.

PAUL: I think the Patriot Act is unpatriotic because it undermines our liberty. I’m concerned, as everybody is, about the terrorist attack. Timothy McVeigh was a vicious terrorist. He was arrested. Terrorism is still on the books, internationally and nationally, it’s a crime and we should deal with it.

We dealt with it rather well with Timothy McVeigh. But why I really fear it is we have drifted into a condition that we were warned against because our early founders were very clear. They said, don’t be willing to sacrifice liberty for security.

Today it seems too easy that our government and our congresses are so willing to give up our liberties for our security. I have a personal belief that you never have to give up liberty for security. You can still provide security without sacrificing our Bill of Rights. [applause]

BLITZER: I want to bring others in, but do you want to respond, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Yes. Timothy McVeigh succeeded. That’s the whole point.

[applause]

GINGRICH: Timothy McVeigh killed a lot of Americans. I don’t want a law that says after we lose a major American city, we’re sure going to come and find you. I want a law that says, you try to take out an American city, we’re going to stop you.

[applause]

PAUL: This is like saying that we need a policeman in every house, a camera in every house because we want to prevent child- beating and wife-beating. You can prevent crimes by becoming a police state. So if you advocate the police state, yes, you can have safety and security and you might prevent a crime, but the crime then will be against the American people and against our freedoms. And we will throw out so much of what our revolution was fought for. So don’t do it so carelessly. [applause]

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, let me bring you into this conversation. Are you with Congressman Paul or Speaker Gingrich or do you have your own view?

BACHMANN: Well, I’m with the American people, with the Constitution, and with the job of the commander-in-chief as the number one duty of the president of the United States.

We have to realize we’re in a very different war, with very different techniques that are used for that war, and very different bad actors than we’ve had before in the terrorists and their motivations are very different.

We can’t forget that technology is completely different. When we were looking at prior laws, phones were wired in to walls. That’s not how it works any more. Today we deal with wireless functions. And we have to completely change the way that we go about investigating.

This is one thing we know about Barack Obama. He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.

When the bomber — or the attempted bomber over Detroit, the underwear bomber was intercepted, he was given Miranda warnings within 45 minutes. He was not an American citizen. We don’t give Miranda warnings to terrorists, and we don’t read them their rights. They don’t have any. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, where do you stand on the Patriot Act? Do you believe it’s un-American, as Congressman Paul has suggested?

HUNTSMAN: I think we have to be very careful in protecting our individual liberties. We forget sometimes that we have a name brand in this world. And I have seen it shine living overseas. And when our light shines based on the values that we live up to and represent, it moves people, it moves countries, it moves events like nothing else can.

We are a nation of values. And forever, like what we’re trying to do in this debate tonight, we’ll try to find that balancing act between our individual liberties and security. But we also have to remember as we’re talking about security, I see Tom Ridge in the audience here, a great former secretary of Homeland Security. He will tell you, he will tell you that we cannot secure the homeland out of Washington, D.C., itself. We’ve got to make sure that we have partnerships with governors and mayors, that this is a national effort.

No longer can we compartmentalize intelligence. Those are the old days. Today we’ve got to share. We’ve got to make sure that we are prepared as a people, we are prepared not only as a federal government, but we’re prepared as well as a local government in a collaborative and sharing kind of relationship.

BLITZER: I’m going to give everyone a chance to respond, but let me get this one question from CNN Politics, that came to cnnpolitics.com, and then we’ll bring in the rest of you.

This was the question: “TSA pat-downs: violation of civil liberty or a necessity to ensure national security?”

Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: Well, we can do a lot better than the TSA system. It’s going to get get better over time. We can use better technology. We can also identify people who are lower risk and allow them to go through the process more quickly than the current process.

But let’s come back to the issue that seems to be so confusing here.

And that is Congressman Paul talked about crime. Newt Gingrich was right. There are different categories here. There’s crime and there are rights that are afforded to American citizens under our Constitution and those that are accused of crime. Then there’s war. And the tool of war being used today in America and around the world is terror. There’s a different body of law that relates to war.

And for those that understand the difference between the two, they recognize that we need tools when war is waged domestically to ensure that, as president of the United States, you can fulfill your first responsibility, which is to protect the life, liberty and property of American citizens and defend them from foes domestic and foreign.

And that means, yes, we’ll use the Constitution and criminal law for those people who commit crimes, but those who commit war and attack the United States and pursue treason of various kinds, we will use instead a very different form of law, which is the law afforded to those who are fighting America.

that we need tools when war is waged domestically to ensure that as president of the United States you can fulfill your first responsibility which is to protect the life, liberty and property of American citizens and defend them from foes domestic and foreign. That means yes we’ll use the constitution and criminal law for those people who commit crimes but those who commit war and attack the United States and pursue treason of various kinds we will use instead a very different form of law which is the law afforded to those who are fighting America.

BLITZER: Governor Perry…[applause]… you proposed legislation that would criminalize these TSA pat-downs under certain circumstances.

PERRY: Right.

BLITZER: Explain what you have in mind.

PERRY: Well, here’s what I would do with the TSA; I would privatize it as soon as I could and get rid of those unions. [applause]

It’s working in Denver. They have a program where they’re privatizing it. And the airlines and other private-sector groups work together to do the security in our airports. And it makes abundant good sense.

And I agree with most of my colleagues here on the stage when we talk about the Patriot Act. And we need to keep it in place. We need to have — strengthen it if that’s what’s required, to update it with new technologies as they come along, Newt.

But here’s the other issue that I think we’ve really failed at, and that is in our ability to collect intelligence around the world. And this administration in particular has been an absolute failure when it comes to expending the dollars and supporting the CIA and the military intelligence around the world, to be able to draw in that intelligence that is going to truly be able to allow us to keep the next terrorist attack from happening on American soil.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, under certain circumstances in the past, you’ve supported profiling. Is that correct?

SANTORUM: I have.

BLITZER: What do you have in mind?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, I think TSA is a good example of that. We should be trying to find the bomber, not the bomb. Other countries have done it. Israel is probably the best example of that.

But to put this enormous expense on the federal government, to put the enormous expense on the traveling public for — for pat-downs and other intrusions, I think, is too much money. I agree with Governor Perry; I actually voted when I — when this bill came up, I voted to allow for privatization. I was not for this being a government function. I thought it could be a private function.

But the issue of the Patriot Act is — is a little different. We are at war. The last time we had a — we had a threat at home like this — obviously, it was much more of a threat at home — was during the Civil War.

And, of course, Abraham Lincoln ran right over civil rights. Why? Because we had a present domestic threat. In the previous wars that we’ve had, we haven’t had this type of threat that we have here in the homeland. And we have to deal with it differently.

I disagree with Governor Huntsman. He made some good points. And we have had the debate. It’s been an open debate. It’s really shown the values of our country, that we can engage in this open debate and balance those interests, and I think we have done so appropriately.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, is it ethnic profiling, religious profiling? Who would be profiled?

SANTORUM: Well, the folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes. If you look at — I mean, obviously, it was — obviously, Muslims would be — would be someone you’d look at, absolutely. Those are the folks who are — the radical Muslims are the people that are committing these crimes, as we’ve — by and large, as well as younger males.

I mean, these are things that — not exclusively — but these are things that you profile to — to find your best — the most likely candidate.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: That’s digging a… [applause] That’s digging a hole for ourselves. What if they look like Timothy McVeigh? You know, he was a pretty tough criminal.

I think we’re using too much carelessness in the use of words that we’re at war. I don’t remember voting on — on a declared — declaration of war. Oh, we’re against terrorism. [applause]

And terrorism is a tactic. It isn’t a person. It isn’t a people. So this is a very careless use of words. What about this? Sacrifice liberties because there are terrorists? You’re the judge and the jury? No, they’re suspects.

And they have changed the — in the — in DOD budget they have changed the wording on the definition of al-Qaeda and Taliban. It’s anybody associated with organizations, which means almost anybody can be loosely associated so that makes all Americans vulnerable.

And now we know that American citizens are vulnerable to assassination.

So I would be very cautious about protecting the rule of law. It will be a sacrifice that you’ll be sorry for. [applause]

BLITZER: Herman Cain, let’s bring you into this conversation. Are you with Senator Santorum when he says that there should be religious profiling, that Muslims in particular should get extra screening when they go — go through airports?

CAIN: I believe we can do a whole lot better with TSA. And I called it, targeted identification.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

CAIN: We can do — we can do — targeted identification. If you take a look at the people who are trying to kill us, it would be easy to figure out exactly what that identification profile looks like.

But I want — but I want to make sure that I get to the Patriot Act. So I believe we can do a whole better. The answer, I believe, also may be privatization.

Now, relative to the Patriot Act, if there are some areas of the Patriot Act that we need to refine, I’m all for that. But I do not believe we ought to throw out the baby with the bathwater for the following reason. The terrorists have one objective that some people don’t seem to get. They want to kill all of us.

So we should use every mean possible to kill them first or identify them first — first. [applause]

BLITZER: Now, just to be precise, Mr. Cain. I just want to — I’ll give you a chance. Is it OK for Muslim Americans to get more intensive pat downs or security when they go through airports than Christian Americans or Jewish Americans?

CAIN: No, Blitz. That’s oversimplifying it. I happen to believe that if — if you allow our intelligence agencies to do their job they can come up with an approach — I’m sorry, Blitz, I meant Wolf, OK? [laughter] [applause]

This was — since we on a — since we on a blitz debate, I apologize. Wolf, what I’m saying is let’s ask the professionals to give us an approach of how we can increase the identification of people that might be a danger to civilians as well as a danger to this nation.

BLITZER: Thank you, Cain. [laughter] [applause] All right. Go ahead. We have another question. Please give us your name and the organization you represent.

QUESTION: I’m Fred Kagan, resident scholar and director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

And my question is, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was obviously an important success in the struggle against al-Qaeda, although it also drove U.S. relations with Pakistan into a new low.

Do you think that an expanded drone campaign in Pakistan would be sufficient to defeat al-Qaeda and to secure our interests in Pakistan?

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: Let me just say that as we talk about foreign policy, let’s be reminded that in order to have an effective foreign policy we need a Washington that works.

Today we have a president who can’t lead. We have a Congress that can’t even figure out how to balance our budget. They need term limits, by the way. We’ve gotta get our house in order if we… [applause] Thank you. We’ve gotta get our house in order if we’re gonna expect to get anything done overseas because when our light shines we can influence the rest of the world.

Pakistan is a concern. That’s the country that ought to keep everybody up at night. You have not President Zardari in charge but General Kayani over the military, which also is responsible for ISI.

You’ve got the youngest demographic of the 160 million people in Pakistan. You’ve got a Midrasha movement. You’ve got over 100 nuclear weapons. You’ve got trouble on the border.

You’ve got a nation-state that is a candidate for failure. And I say it’s a haven for bad behavior. It’s a haven — it’s — it’s a haven for training the people who seek to do us harm. And an expanded drone program is something that would serve our national interest.

I think it must be done. And I think it must be consistent with recognizing the reality on the ground of what we need out of Afghanistan — we don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

We don’t need to nation-build in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built.

BLITZER: We’re gonna get to Afghanistan.

HUNTSMAN: But we need something. We need something in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, we’ll be bringing you in. You’re a member…

HUNTSMAN: We need Special Forces and drones.

BLITZER: All right. You’re a member of the Intelligence Committee. Do you think, as Governor Perry has said, that Pakistan should no longer receive U.S. aid because they’ve shown they’re not a good friend, ally of the United States?

BACHMANN: Pakistan has been the epicenter of dealing with terrorism. They are, as Governor Huntsman said, there are al-Qaeda training grounds there. There’s also the Haqqani network that can be trained there as well.

And they also are one of the most violent, unstable nations that there is. We have to recognize that 15 of the sites, nuclear sites are available or are potentially penetrable by jihadists. Six attempts have already been made on nuclear sites. This is more than an existential threat. We have to take this very seriously.

The United States has to be engaged. It is complicated. We have to recognize that the Chinese are doing everything that they can to be an influential party in Pakistan. We don’t want to lose influence.

I’m answering your question. You asked me about the money that the United States gives to Pakistan. This is a — this is a dual answer. A nation that lies, that does everything possibly that you could imagine wrong, at the same time they do share intelligence data with us regarding Al Qaida.

We need to demand more. The money that we are sending right now is primarily intelligence money to Pakistan. It is helping the United States. Whatever our action is, it must ultimately be about helping the United States and our sovereignty…

BLITZER: So…

BACHMANN: … our safety and our security.

BLITZER: … you would continue that aid to Pakistan?

BACHMANN: I — at this point I would continue that aid, but I do think that the Obama policy of keeping your fingers crossed is not working in Pakistan,. And I also think that Pakistan is a nation, that it’s kind of like too nuclear to fail. And so we’ve got to make sure that we take that threat very seriously.

BLITZER: Governor Perry?

PERRY: I understand where she’s coming from, but the bottom line is that they’ve showed us time after time that they can’t be trusted. And until Pakistan clearly shows that they have America’s best interests in mind, I would not send them one penny, period.

I think it is important for us to send the message to those across the world that, if you are not going to be an ally of the United States, do not expect a dime of our citizens’ money to be coming into your country. That is the way we change foreign policy. Now, if we want to engage these countries with our abilities and our companies that go in, and help to economically build these countries up, rather than just writing a blank check to them, then we can have that conversation, because I think that is a change in foreign policy that would be adequate and appropriate and a positive move for us.

But to write a check to countries that are clearly not representing American interests is nonsensical.

BLITZER: You want to respond, Congresswoman Bachmann?

BACHMANN: Well, I — with all due respect to the governor, I think that’s highly naive, because, again, we have to recognize what’s happening on the ground. These are nuclear weapons all across this nation. And, potentially, Al Qaida could get hold of these weapons.

These weapons could find their way out of — out of Pakistan, into New York City or into Washington, D.C., and a nuclear weapon could be set off in this city. That’s how serious this is. We have to maintain an American presence.

They certainly aren’t looking out for the best interests of the United States. I wouldn’t expect them to. But at the same time, we have to have our interests, which is national security, represented. The best way we can do that with an uneven actor state is to have some sort of presence there.

BLITZER: I just want to give Governor Perry the chance to respond.

She just said your views are highly naive.

PERRY: And I — absolutely we need to be engaged in that part of the world. I never said for us not to be engaged. I just said we need to quit writing blank checks to these countries, and then letting them decide how these dollars are going to be spent.

We’ve got Afghanistan and India working in concert right now to leverage Pakistan. I think if we would create a trade zone in that part of the world, where you have all of those countries working together, that may be the answer to getting Pakistan to understand that they have to work with all of the countries in that region.

BLITZER: All right, I want to move on.

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: I want to move on, but you’ll have a chance — you’ll have a chance to respond…

BACHMANN: If I can just — Wolf, if I could just…

BLITZER: Very quickly.

BACHMANN: … clarify, we’re not writing just blank checks. We’re also exchanging intelligence information. So we aren’t writing blank checks in that region.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s take another question from the audience.

Please give us your name and your organization.

QUESTION: Israel Ortega with the Heritage Foundation.

Is the money that we’ve drawn back from U.S. troops in Afghanistan really worth the risk of allowing Taliban to expand territories, and Al Qaida to grow safe sanctuaries?

BLITZER: Governor Romney, $2 billion a week the United States is spending right now in Afghanistan, $2 billion, more than $100 billion a year. And U.S. troops are supposed to stay for another three years at least, till the end of 2014. Is that money well spent?

ROMNEY: We spent about $450 billion so far, 1,700 or so service men and women have lost their lives there, and many tens of thousands have been wounded. Our effort there is to keep Afghanistan from becoming a launching point for terror against the United States. We can’t just write off a major part of the world.

Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world. We can’t just say goodbye to all of — of what’s going on in that part of the world.

Instead, we want to draw them toward modernity. And for that to happen, we don’t want to literally pull up stakes and run out of town after the extraordinary investment that we’ve made. And that means we should have a gradual transition of handing off to the Afghan security forces the responsibility for their own country.

And for the region, what happened in Indonesia back in the 1960s, where — where we helped Indonesia move toward modernity with new leadership. We — we brought them in the technology that allowed them to trade in the world.

We need to bring Pakistan into the 21st century — or the 20th century, for that matter, so that they — they can engage throughout the world with trade and with modernity.

Right now, American approval level in — in Pakistan is 12 percent. We’re not doing a very good job with this huge investment we make of $4.5 billion a year. We can do a lot better directing that to encourage people to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities the West and freedom represent for their people.

BLITZER: Now, Governor Huntsman, do you agree with Governor Romney that the U.S. has to stay in Afghanistan at these levels?

HUNTSMAN: No, I — I totally disagree. I think we need to square with the American people about what we’ve achieved. We need an honest conversation in this country about the sacrifices that have been made over nearly 10 years. We have — we have dismantled the Taliban. We’ve run them out of Kabul. We’ve had free elections in 2004. We’ve killed Osama bin Laden. We’ve upended, dismantled al Qaeda. We have achieved some very important goals for the United States of America.

Now, the fact that we have 100,000 troops nation-building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built, when, on the ground, we do need intelligence gathering, no doubt about that. We need a strong Special Forces presence. We need a drone presence. And we need some ongoing training of the Afghan National Army.

But we haven’t done a very good job defining and articulating what the end point is in Afghanistan. And I think the American people are getting very tired about where we find ourselves today. [applause]

BLITZER: Let me let Governor Romney respond.

ROMNEY: Well, let me respond.

Are you suggesting, Governor, that we just take all our troops out next week or what — what’s your proposal?

HUNTSMAN: Did you hear what I just said?

I said we should draw down from 100,000. We don’t need 100,000 troops. We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan… [crosstalk] …many of whom can’t even cross the wire. We need a presence on the ground that is more akin to 10,000 or 15,000. That will serve our interests in terms of intelligence gathering and Special Forces response capability. And we need to prepare for a world, not just in South Asia, but, indeed, in every corner of the world in which counter-terror — counter-terrorism is going to be in front of us for as far as the eye can see into the 21st century.

ROMNEY: And the — and the commanders on the ground feel that we should bring down our surge troops by December of 2012 and bring down all of our troops, other than, perhaps, 10,000 or so, by the end of — of 2014.

The decision to pull our troops out before that, they believe, would put at risk the extraordinary investment of treasure and blood which has been sacrificed by the American military.

I stand with the commanders in this regard and have no information that suggests that pulling our troops out faster than that would do anything but put at — at great peril the extraordinary sacrifice that’s been made. This is not time for America to cut and run. We have been in for 10 years. We are winding down. The Afghan troops are picking up the capacity to secure their country. And the mission is pretty straightforward, and that is to allow the Afghan people to have a sovereign nation not taken over by the Taliban.

BLITZER: Let me bring the speaker in. What do you say…

GINGRICH: I would…

BLITZER: — pull out?

HUNTSMAN: Just — just one point.

BLITZER: You want — oh, go ahead.

HUNTSMAN: Yes, just about the generals on the ground. And listen, I think it’s important for the American people to know we have achieved some very important objectives in raising standards in Afghanistan and helping to build civil society.

But at the end of the day, the president of the United States is commander-in-chief, commander-in-chief. Of course you’re going to listen to the generals. But…[applause]…I also remember when people listened to the generals in 1967 and we heard a certain course of action in South Asia that didn’t serve our interests very well.

The president is the commander-in-chief and ought to be informed by a lot of different voices, including of those of his generals on the ground.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich? [applause]

GINGRICH: It’s…

ROMNEY: Look, I’ve got a good — he gets a response, I get a response.

BLITZER: All right.

ROMNEY: Of course the commander-in-chief makes — make the final decision.

PAUL: How about the rest of us?

ROMNEY: Of course the final — look…

PAUL: How about us who haven’t had a response?

BLITZER: [inaudible] got a chance.

ROMNEY: Of course the commander-in-chiefs makes the — makes the final decision. But the commander-in-chief makes that decision based upon the input of people closest to the ground. And — and we — we’ve both been to Afghanistan. I’ve been to Afghanistan. The people I speak with there say we have a very good prospect of the people in Afghanistan being able to secure the peace and their sovereignty from the Taliban, but that if we pull out on a precipitous basis, as Governor Huntsman suggests, that we could well see that nation and Pakistan get pulled into terror and become another launching point to go after America. That’s a mistake. That’s why you listen and then make your decision.

BLITZER: Speaker? [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, Wolf, I’m a little confused about exactly what we’re currently debating, because I think — I think we tend to get down to these narrow questions that — that, in a sense, don’t get at the — at the core issues.

The very first question I thought about Pakistan is the one that should be the starting point.

The gentleman said that when we went in and killed bin Laden, that we drove U.S.-Pakistan — did I have — is this like a 30-second response?

BLITZER: Go ahead.

GINGRICH: I mean, I’m happy to play by the rules, I just want to know what they are. But I think this is the heart of the American dilemma. We were told, a perfectly natural Washington assumption that our killing bin Laden in Pakistan drove U.S.-Pakistan relations to a new low.

To which my answer is, well, it should have because we should be furious. [applause]

GINGRICH: Now, and that’s where this has got to start. You want to keep American troops in Afghanistan, you accept hot pursuit, you say no sanctuaries, you change the rules of engagement, you put the military in charge of the military side, you overhaul the State Department and AID so they get the job done, and you do it for real and you do it intensely, and you tell the Pakistanis, help us or get out of the way, but don’t complain if we kill people you’re not willing to go after on your territory where you have been protecting them. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: I agree with Ron Paul. We are not fighting a war on terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. We’re fighting a war against radical Islam. And what radical Islam is telling — all of the radical Islamist leaders are saying is that just wait America out, America is weak, they will not stand for the fight, they cannot maintain this, they’ll set time limits, politics will interfere, and we will tell the people in Afghanistan, we will tell the people in Iraq and other places that we will be the strong horse in the region.

And President Obama, by making political decision after political decision about timelines and constraints on rules of engagement, has validated everything these radical Islamists are saying.

So the answer to you, Jon, is that you’re doing exactly — Governor Huntsman, is that you’re doing exactly what all of the radical leaders are saying that America will do, that we are not in this to win, we are going to play politics with this, and then we will find this problem in Afghanistan on our shores in a very short order.

BLITZER: We are going to come to Congressman Cain [sic] in a moment. But just hold your horses for a second because we’re going to take a quick break. Much more coming up. The former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff calls this the number one threat to America’s national security. The candidates will answer that question on this topic, coming up next.

We want you to send us your questions for the candidates. Go to cnnpolitics.com or facebook.com/cnnpolitics or on twitter use #cnndebate. Our coverage of this historic debate at Constitution Hall in Washington continues in a moment.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to historic Constitution Hall here in the nation’s capital. [applause]

We’re continuing the CNN national security debate. Let’s go right to the audience. We have a question from the audience. [applause]

Go ahead with your question.

Hello?

No question from the audience.

Yes, we do. We do have a question from the audience. [laughter]

We were waiting for you. [laughter]

QUESTION: I’m Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation.

BLITZER: Thank you.

QUESTION: If Israel attacked Iran to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, would you help Israel launch the attack or support it otherwise?

BLITZER: All right. We’ve got the question. Let me ask Herman Cain first. Did you get the question?

CAIN: I didn’t quite get the question.

BLITZER: If — the specific question is, if Israel attacked Iran to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, would you help Israel launch the attack or support it otherwise?

CAIN: I would first make sure that they had a credible plan for success, clarity of mission and clarity of success.

Remember, when you talk about attacking Iran, it is a very mountainous region. The latest reports say that there may be 40 different locations, and I would want to make sure that we had a good idea from intelligence sources where these are located.

And if Israel had a credible plan that it appeared as if they could succeed, I would support Israel, yes. And in some instances, depending upon how strong the plan is, we would join with Israel for that, if it was clear what the mission was and it was clear what the definition of victory was. [applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, would you support Israel and help Israel in such an attack?

PAUL: No, I wouldn’t do that. [laughter]

But there would be good reasons because I don’t expect it to happen. Because, you know, the Mossad leader that just retired said it would be the stupidest thing to do in the world. And it’s a big argument over in Israel. They’re not about to do this.

They’ve just polled 40 major experts on foreign policy here by the National Journal. Not one of them said there should be a unilateral attack on — on the sites in — in Iran.

So that’s not going to happen. And if it did — you’re supposing that if it did, why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way. I mean, we interfere with them. We interfere with them…[laughter]… when they deal with their borders. When they want to have peace treaties, we tell them what they can do because we buy their allegiance and they sacrifice their sovereignty to us. And then they decide they want to bomb something, that’s their business, but they should, you know, suffer the consequences. When they bombed the Iraqi missile site, nuclear site, back in the ’80s, I was one of the few in Congress that said it’s none of our business and Israel should take care of themselves. Israel has 200, 300 nuclear missiles. And they can take care of themselves. Why should we commit — we don’t even have a treaty with Israel. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel? So I think they’re quite capable of taking care of themselves.

I think we do detriment — just think of all the money we gave to Egypt over 30 or 40 years. Now, look, we were buying friendship. Now there’s a civil war, they’re less friendly to Israel.

The whole thing is going to backfire once we go bankrupt and we remove our troops, so I think we should be very cautious in our willingness to go to war and send troops without a proper declaration by the U.S. Congress.

BLITZER: Let me let Herman Cain respond. [applause]

CAIN: Thank you.

I stated if the mission and the plan were clear, that it could succeed, but I pointed out that that is highly unlikely, given the terrain, the mountainous terrain in Iran.

But here’s the other reason that we should help Israel in an initiative live that. Back to Afghanistan: if we pull out of Afghanistan too soon, Iran is going to help to fulfill that power vacuum in Afghanistan. And so it is in our best interests, the United States of America, to prevent them from being able to help fill that power vacuum in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Let’s stay on this subject. And I want all of you to weigh in. We have another question.

Please give us your name and your organization.

QUESTION: Good evening. I’m Danielle Pletka; I’m the Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Yesterday the United States and the U.K. slapped new sanctions on Iran. But we haven’t bought oil directly from Iran in over 30 years. We’ve had targeted sanctions on Iran for more than half that time.

Nonetheless, Iran is probably less than a year away from getting a nuclear weapon. Do you believe that there is any set of sanctions that could be put in place that would stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

BLITZER: Let’s go to Governor Perry. What do you think?

PERRY: Absolutely. We need to sanction the Iranian Central Bank. That would be one of the most powerful ways to impact that. As a matter of fact, Congressman Paul, that is what we need to do before we ever start having any conversations about a military strike, is to use every sanction that we have. And when you sanction the Iranian Central Bank, that will shut down that economy. At that particular point in time, they truly have to deal with the United States. And it’s one of the reasons that I call for the — there is an area over there, of all of them working together — and I’m talking about Syria — and bringing them into the mix as well.

As I called for, one of the options is to have a no-fly zone over Syria at the same time you’re putting those types of sanctions against Iran. And in that moment, they will understand that America is serious. This President refuses to do that, and it’s another show of lack of leadership from the President of the United States.

BLITZER: The argument, Speaker Gingrich — and I know you’ve studied this, and I want you to weigh in — on the sanctioning of the Iranian Central Bank, because if you do that, for all practical purposes, it cuts off Iranian oil exports, 4 million barrels a day.

The Europeans get a lot of that oil. They think their economy, if the price of gasoline skyrocketed, which it would, would be disastrous. That’s why the pressure is on the U.S. to not impose those sanctions. What say you?

GINGRICH: Well, I say you — the question you just asked is perfect, because the fact is we ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here, so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil.

Now that’s how we won World War II. [applause]

GINGRICH: So, I think you put your finger, Wolf, on the — on the — you know, we all get sucked into these tactical discussions. We need a strategy of defeating and replacing the current Iranian regime with minimum use of force. We need a strategy, as Rick Santorum was saying, of being honest about radical Islam and designing a strategy to defeat it wherever it happens to exist.

We need a strategy in central Asia that recognizes that, frankly, if you’re Pashtun, you don’t care whether you’re in Pakistan or Afghanistan, because you have the same tribal relationships. So we need to be much more strategic and less tactical in our discussion.

But if we were serious, we could break the Iranian regime, I think, within a year, starting candidly with cutting off the gasoline supply to Iran, and then, frankly, sabotaging the only refinery they have.

BLITZER: But sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank now, is that a good idea or a bad idea?

GINGRICH: I think it’s a good idea if you’re serious about stopping them having nuclear — I mean, I think replacing the regime before they get a nuclear weapon without a war beats replacing the regime with war, which beats allowing them to have a nuclear weapon. Those are your three choices.

BLITZER: I want Congresswoman Bachmann to weigh in. Go ahead. [applause]

BACHMANN: I agree with all of that. And energy independence is something that President Obama certainly has avoided.

BLITZER: But that’s going to take many years.

BACHMANN: It — it will but the president — almost every decision that the president has made since he came in has been one to put the United States in a position of unilateral disarmament including the most recent decision he made to cancel the Keystone Pipeline.

That would have not only created jobs but it would have helped us in energy independence.

But I want to go back to something. That’s the fact why is it that we’re talking about Israel having to make a strike against Iran? It’s because Iran has announced they plan to strike Israel.

They’ve stated, as recently as August just before President Ahmadinejad came to — to the U.N. General Assembly. He said that he wanted to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth.

He has said that if he has a nuclear weapon he will use it to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. He will use it against the United States of America.

This isn’t just an idle threat. This is a reality. And that’s why President Obama has — has failed the American people because for two and a half years he gave the Iran the luxury of time.

He met with them with no preconditions. It’s the doctrine of appeasement. He has changed the course of history because at the time when we needed a leader most, we didn’t have one.

That’s what I’ll do differently as President of the United States. I’ll lead. [applause]

BLITZER: Thank you. All right. I — I — I want to — I want to — we’re gonna continue this but we have another question from Paul Wolfowitz. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Paul Wolfowitz. I’m a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and my question is about development assistance.

Under George W. Bush, who was a conservative Republican, the United States spent billions of dollars to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa and elsewhere and set up the Millennium Challenge Corporation to encourage governments of poor countries to pursue policies that promote economic growth and job creation.

Do you believe those are still wise expenditures? Or do you think we can no longer afford them?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Well, as the author of the Global Fund Bill and the Millennium Challenge in the United States Senate and someone who worked with the president on PEPFAR to deal with the issue of AIDS in Africa, I believe it’s absolutely essential.

Africa was a country on the brink. On the brink of complete meltdown and chaos, which would have been fertile ground for the radical Islamists to be able to — to get — to get a foothold.

We’re seeing it already. But the work that we’ve done in stabilizing that area, while humanitarian in nature, was absolutely essential for our national security.

And I hear people up here talking abut zeroing out foreign aid and humanitarian aid in particular. I think that’s absolutely the wrong course.

You want to — you want to spend more money on the military, zero out all the things we do to develop relationships around the world and we will spend a lot more money on the military.

It’s important for us to use all the assets we have. Promote our values. America is that shining city on the hill. It is — it is the city that comes to the aid of those in trouble in America — in the world.

We have done more good for America in Africa and in the third world by the things that we’ve done. And we have saved money and saved military deployments by wisely spending that money not on our enemies but on folks who can and will be our friends. [applause]

BLITZER: Herman Cain?

CAIN: Here again…

BLITZER: All right, here’s the question. Can the United States afford to continue that kind of foreign assistance to Africa for AIDS, malaria — could run into the billions of dollars? CAIN: It depends upon priorities. Secondly, it depends upon looking at the program and asking the question, has that aid been successful.

In other words, let’s look at the whole problem. It may be worthwhile to continue. It may not. I would like to see the results.

Just like every program we have here domestically, what have the results been. Then we make a decision about how we prioritize.

Ron Paul?

PAUL: I — I think the aid is all worthless. It doesn’t do any good for most of the people. You take money from poor people in this country and you end up giving it to rich people in poor countries.

And they’re used as weapons of war so you accomplish nothing. We should export some, maybe some principles about free markets and sound money and maybe they could produce some of their — their own wealth.

But this whole idea of — of talking about the endless wars and the endless foreign aid, it seems like nobody cares about the budget. I mean, we — we’re in big trouble and — and — and nobody wants to cut anything.

So if you’re gonna keep sending foreign aid overseas and these endless wars that you don’t have to declare and — and go into Libya without even consulting with the Congress, the biggest threat — the biggest threat to our national security is our financial condition.

And this is just aggravating it. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: Congressman Paul, what they’re doing is cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget. They’re cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget, which just happens to equal the trillion dollars we’re putting into “Obama-care.”

And so what you have is a president that has a priority of spending us into bankruptcy, but he’s not just spending us into bankruptcy, he’s spending the money foolishly.

We need to protect America and protect our troops and our military and stop the idea of “Obama-care.” That’s the best way to save money, not the military. [applause]

BLITZER: Hold on one second because Ron Paul wants to respond to that point.

PAUL: Well, they’re not cutting anything out of anything. All this talk is just talk. [applause]

Believe me. They’re cutting — they’re nibbling away at baseline budgeting, and its automatic increases. There’s nothing cut against the military. And the people on the Hill are nearly hysterical because they’re not going — the budget isn’t going up as rapidly as they want it to. It’s a road to disaster. We had better wake up. [applause]

ROMNEY: OK. Let’s just talk about what they’re cutting with the first $350 billion, not the next 600 which is coming down the road. The first $350 billion, what do they cut? They stopped the F-22. They delayed aircraft carriers. They stopped the Navy cruiser system. They said long range Air Force bombers aren’t going to be built. They’re trying to cut our troops by 50,000. The list goes on.

They’re cutting programs that are cutting the capacity of America to defend itself. Look, let’s stand back for a moment, because we’ve been talking about Israel and Iran. What we’re talking about here is a failure on the part of the president to lead with strength.

And that’s why we have discussions about whether Israel should have to step in to stop the nuclear program, whether Iran is going to become nuclear. We have a president who pursued an agenda of saying we’re going to be friendly to our foes and we’re going to be disrespectful to our friends.

The right course in America is to stand up to Iran with crippling sanctions, indict Ahmadinejad for violating the Geneva — or the Genocide Convention, put in place the kind of crippling sanctions that stop their economy. I know it’s going to make gasoline more expensive. There’s no price which is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon.

And the right course for Israel is to show that we care about Israel, that they are our friend, we’ll stick with them. If I’m president of the United States, my first trip — my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region. [applause]

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to stay on this subject.

Go ahead.

ALISON ACOSTA FRASER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OKLAHOMA OFFICE OF STATE FINANCE: Hi, my name is Alison Acosta Fraser, and I’m the director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. And my question is this, the next president will have to make some very, very tough choices in order to solve the nation’s spending and debt crisis. Would you be willing to say that our national security is so paramount that cuts to the defense budget are unacceptable?

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich.

GINGRICH: No. I helped found the Military Reform Caucus in 1981 at the beginning of the Reagan buildup because it’s clear that there are some things you can do in defense that are less expensive.

It’s clear, if it takes 15 to 20 years to build a weapons system at a time when Apple changes technology every nine months, there’s something profoundly wrong with this system. So I’m not going to tell you automatically I’m going to say yes. [applause]

GINGRICH: But let me make a deeper point. There’s a core thing that’s wrong with this whole city. You said earlier that it would take too long to open up American oil. We defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in three years and eight months because we thought we were serious.

If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse. Now, that’s what we would do if we were a serious country. If we were serious… [applause]

One last thing, if we were serious, we would apply Strong America Now’s model of Lean Six Sigma, we would save $500 billion a year by having an efficient effective federal government. We would open up federal lands, increasing dramatically both jobs and the amount of revenue of the federal government.

There are lots of things you can do if you decide break out of the current mindless bureaucracy of this city and just get the job done, including, by the way, making the Millennium Challenge work and doing it in a way that we actually help people even more effectively and at a much lower cost by having public/private partnerships.

BLITZER: I’m going to bring Governor Huntsman in, but very quickly, Mr. Speaker, would you, if you were president of the United States, bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power?

GINGRICH: Only as a last recourse and only as a step towards replacing the regime. No bombing campaign which leaves the regime in charge is going to accomplish very much in the long run. You have to seriously talk about regime replacement, not just attacking them.

But I will also say — this is, I guess, where I disagree with my good friend Ron Paul. If my choice was to collaborate with the Israelis on a conventional campaign or force them to use their nuclear weapons, it will be an extraordinarily dangerous world if out of a sense of being abandoned they went nuclear and used multiple nuclear weapons in Iran. That would be a future none of us would want to live through. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, where do you stand on defense cuts?

HUNTSMAN: Well, let’s face the economic reality. Let’s face the deficit reality we have as a country. We have an economic deficit. And I’d argue that 70 percent debt-to-GDP is a national security problem because, at some point, you just don’t grow any more, when your debt becomes that.

I mean, look at Japan. They’re in their third decade of lost growth. Look at Greece. Look at Italy. So I’d say, aside from that, we’ve got another deficit in this country. It’s called the trust deficit.

People have lost trust in their institutions of power in America. They don’t trust Congress. They don’t trust the executive branch. They don’t trust Wall Street. The list goes on. We’ve got to fix both those deficits.

As it relates to defense spending, let’s be realistic about this. We can’t have an intellectually honest conversation about where we go with debt and spending with sacred cows. Everything’s got to be on the table. The Defense Department’s got to be on the table, for haven’t sake. But we need to have a Defense Department and a budget for the Defense Department. If we can’t find some savings in the $650 billion budget, we’re not looking closely enough.

But we need spending for the Department of Defense that follows a strategy. And that strategy needs to follow how we best protect the American people now that we’re in the second decade of the 21st century.

And I believe our national security strategy and our foreign policy increasingly needs to follow, number one, economic policy.

It used to break my heart sitting in Beijing, the second largest embassy in the world, looking at neighboring Afghanistan. We’d have 100,000 troops there. The Chinese would move in and take the mining concession. And I’d say there’s something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

When are we going to get with the program and determine that foreign policy will be driven by economics, that which plays right back to strengthening our core…[applause]… and creates jobs here on the home front.

And, second of all, let’s face the reality that we have a counterterror threat for as far as the eye can see.

Professor Wolfowitz was just up here. I know he’s done a lot of work on — for as far as the eye can see, and that means not only in Afghanistan but every corner of the world. We’ve got to prepare for the reality that counterterrorism is here to stay. We need friends and allies who are in this fight with us. We need special forces response capability. We need defense spending that will match the realities of where we find ourselves.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. [applause]

Let me bring in Governor Perry into this conversation.

As you know, the so-called supercommittee failed. And as a result, unless Congress takes action next year — in an election year, that would be difficult — there’s not going to be any change in that automatic trigger as it’s called. That sequestration, $1.2 trillion cut, including $600 billion in defense, will go into effect.

Here’s the question. If you were president of the United States, would you compromise with Democrats in Congress in order to avoid that Washington gridlock that, if you believe the polls, the American people hate?

PERRY: I don’t think anybody is particularly surprised that a supercommittee failed. It was a super-failure. And I think we expected that. We had a president of the United States who is not a leader. He pitched this over to them and said, here, you all figure this out.

I’ve signed six balanced budgets as the head of the state of Texas. I worked with those legislators on a daily basis, or my staff.

This president has been an absolute failure when it came to this budget process. And the idea — it was almost reprehensible to me. I’ve worn the uniform of this country. I’ve been the commander in chief of the 20-plus-thousand National Guard troops that we have in Texas, Dr. Paul.

But it was reprehensible, for me, for this president to stand in front of Americans and to say that that half a trillion dollars, $500 million-plus is not going to be on the table and we’re just going to have to work our way through it, putting young men and women’s life in jeopardy.

And I will tell you, as a commander in chief, as an American citizen, that is totally and absolutely irresponsible. Even his own secretary of defense said it was irresponsible. As a matter of fact, if Leon Panetta is an honorable man, he should resign in protest.

BLITZER: Here’s the question, though. Would you compromise — all of you have said you wouldn’t accept any tax increases at all, even if there were 10 — 10 times as many spending cuts. So would you just let the gridlock continue, Governor Perry, or would you compromise under those circumstances?

PERRY: Listen, I’ve had to work with Democrats for the 10 years that I’ve been the governor of the state of Texas.

So the idea that you can’t sit down and work with people on both sides of the aisle, but just to, you know, throw us into — into that briar patch at this particular point in time and say, what would you do — we would never have gotten into that situation if I were the president of the United States. I’d have been there working day in and day out so that we had a budget that not only — I’ve laid out a clear plan to — flat tax of 20 percent; cut the spending; and put a 20 percent corporate tax rate in. And, as a matter of fact, they ought to make the legislature, the Congress, part-time, and that would make as big an impact in this city as anything I can think of.

BLITZER: Let me bring Senator Santorum into this, because I covered Ronald Reagan’s presidency. And, as you know — and I’ll read a quote. He wrote in his autobiography this: “If you got 75 of 80 percent of what you were asking for, I say you take it and fight for the rest later.”

If you got 75 percent or 80 percent of what you wanted, would you make a deal with Democrats, increase some taxes in order to move on and fight the next battle the next day?

SANTORUM: It all depends on what the 75 percent and 85 percent is. If the — if the things that you have to give up make what you’re trying to accomplish harder to do — in other words, reduce the deficit, what the Republicans — why the Republicans are drawing a line in the sand, rightfully so, it’s because what they’re — what the Democrats are attempting to do is increase taxes, which will slow down to the — this economy, which will increase the deficit, reduce tax revenues, ultimately, and — and increase government payments.

So you don’t work against yourself. You — you won’t — you — you take ideas from the other side that you may not find particularly valuable, like spending cuts that you may not want. There are spending cuts that I would like to, you know, I mean there’s things that it mentioned before, that I would stand — stand firm on.

But in a compromise, yes, you do give up some things that you think maybe are critical spending. But you don’t undermine the ability of this con — economy to grow because of politics. This president has poisoned the well. He’s campaigned all over this country, trying to divide group from group in order to — to — to win, you know, to — to position himself to win this election and rally his troops. And what he’s done is poisoned the well here in Congress.

I’ve worked together, I’ve got a long track record of bipartisan accomplishments where I kept to the principles. I use welfare reform as an example. Welfare reform, I stuck to my principles. We cut the welfare budget. We had — we had time limits. We block granted to the states and we put a work requirement.

Did I compromise on things?

Yes. I compromised on some — on some child care. I compromised on — on some transportation.

So I got 75 percent. But it 100 percent changed the welfare system because we…

BLITZER: Thank you.

SANTORUM: — stuck to our principles.

BLITZER: Let — but let’s stay on this subject, because I know many of you want to weigh in. [applause]

We have another question.

ALEX BRILL: My name is Alex Brill and I’m a research fellow in the economics department at the American Enterprise Institute. Even if the super committee hadn’t failed, the savings that they would have proposed would have been a drop in the bucket relative to the $11 trillion deficit our country may face in the subsequent decade. In the decades after that, without entitlement reform, we’ll borrow even more.

To strengthen our economy, to strengthen our country, what entitlement reform proposals would you make to address our long-term structural deficit?

BLITZER: Good question.

Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: It’s a great question and it raises the — the core issue of really large scale change.

Yesterday in Manchester, I outlined a Social Security reform plan based on Chile and based on Galveston, Texas. In Chile, people who have now have the right to a personal Social Security savings account, for 30 years, the government of Chile has promised that if you don’t have as much savings as you would get from Social Security, the government would make up the difference.

In 30 years time, they’ve paid zero dollars, even after ’07 and ’08 and ’09, people slid from three times as much to one-and-a-half times as much, but they didn’t go below the Social Security amount. The result is in Chile, for example, 72 percent — they have 72 percent of the GDP in savings. It has — it has increased the economy, increased the growth of jobs, increased the amount of wealth and it dramatically solves Social Security without a payment cut and without having to hurt anybody.

So I think you can have a series of entitlement reforms that, frankly, make most of this problem go away without going through the kind of austerity and pain that this city likes.

BLITZER: Let’s talk about that, Congresswoman Bachmann.

Social Security, Medicare, health care — what would you cut first?

What would you tackle if you were president of the United States?

BACHMANN: Let me answer that in the context of the super committee, because I was involved in the middle of that fight as a member of Congress this summer. And my voice said this. I said it’s time for us to draw a line in the sand. We have sufficient revenues coming in to pay the interest on the debt.

But the real issue was, were we going to give Congress another $2.4 billion in borrowing authority?

In other words, another blank check to the president. Because, again, consider the context. A little of four years ago, we were just over $8 trillion in debt. We are now $15 trillion in debt in just over four years. Now we’re talking about — if the gentleman is correct — adding another $11 trillion in debt over 10 years, or potentially $8.5 trillion, according to the super committee.

All that they were asked to do is cut back on $1.2 trillion of that increase in debt. We aren’t even talking about the central issue, which is balancing the budget. We need to balance the budget and then chip away at the debt. This isn’t Monopoly money.

Because what we need to recognize is that when we are sending interest money over to China, with whom we are highly in hock, we’re not just sending our money. We’re sending our power.

What will happen is that our national security and our military will decrease and our money will increase China’s military. So think about that.

Our money will be used to grow China’s military at the expense of the United States military. That should give every American pause.

BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stand by and all of you are going to weigh in. We’ve got a lot more to discuss, important issues that we’re talking about. Collect your thoughts for a moment.

More tough questions for the candidates including their plans for protecting the border, reducing illegal immigration — we’re live from Constitution Hall here in Washington, D.C. This is the CNN Republican National Security Debate. [applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN National Security Debate.

The next President of the United States will certainly have to tackle conflicts in the Middle East. You’re looking at these live pictures coming in from Cairo’s Tahrir Square right now, the middle of the night in Egypt.

Thousands of Egyptians are again protesting their government as the Arab Spring continues into the winter months.

The candidates will weigh in on this and much, much more. We’re being seen live, around the world right now. Remember, you can send in your questions and comments at cnnpolitics.com; at Twitter, remember hash tag #cnndebate.

The Republican National Security Debate — we’ll be right back.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the historic Constitution Hall here in Washington, D.C. We’re at the CNN Republican National Security Debate. Let’s go right to the audience. We have a question. Please, give us your name and your organization.

TRULUCK: Thank you. My name is Phil Truluck. I’m executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Heritage Foundation. And I’d like to thank all the candidates for joining us tonight. I know some of you may want to be in other places, but we appreciate you being here and sharing your views with us.

Let’s — I’d like to turn it back a little bit, a little closer to home, and talk about what’s going on on the borders, our southern border. As all of you know, the drug-related crimes and violence are getting heavier and heavier in that area.

First, do you consider that to be a national interest threat? And, secondly, what could we be doing with the Mexican government to help stop these drug cartels?

BLITZER: Let’s go to Governor Perry. You represent the state with the longest border with Mexico right now. What do you think you should do, if you were President of the United States, as far as using the United States military?

PERRY: Well, let me kind of broaden it out. I think it’s time for a 21st century Monroe Doctrine. When you think about what we put in place in the — in the 1820s, and then we used it again in the 1960s with the Soviet Union. We’re seeing countries start to come in and infiltrate. We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States.

We know that Hugo Chavez and the Iranian government has one of the largest — I think their largest embassy in the world is in Venezuela. So the idea that we need to have border security with the United States and Mexico is paramount to the entire western hemisphere.

So putting that secure border in place with strategic fencing, with the boots on the ground, with the aviation assets, and then working with Mexico in particular, whether it’s putting sanctions against the banks, whether it’s working with them on security with Mexico, all of those together can make that country substantially more secure and our borders secure.

As the President of the United States, I will promise you one thing, that within 12 months of the inaugural, that border will be shut down, and it will be secure. [applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you’re from Texas. Do you agree with your governor?

PAUL: Not entirely. [laughter]

No, the drug was mentioned. I think that’s another war we ought to cancel, because it’s… [applause]… to nobody’s benefit. And that’s where the violence is coming from. But, yes, we do have a national responsibility for our borders. What I’m, sort of, tired of is all the money spent and lives lost worrying about the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan and forgetting about our borders between the United States and Mexico. We should think more about, you know, what we do at home.

We need better immigration services, obviously. But, you know, if you subsidize something or give people incentives, you get more of it. So if you give easy road to citizenship, you’re going to have more illegals. If you have a weak economy, which is understandable and we should have prevented, that’s understandable.

But giving — mandating to the states and to Texas that we have to provide free medical care and free education, that’s a great burden. It’s a great burden to California and all the border states.

So I would say eliminate all these benefits and talk about eliminating the welfare state because it’s detrimental not only to here but the people that come because that’s the incentive to bring their families with them.

BLITZER: But I just want you to clarify. When you say cancel the war on drugs, does that mean legalize all these drugs?

PAUL: I think the federal war on drugs is a total failure. [applause]

You can — you can at least let sick people have marijuana because it’s helpful, but compassionate conservatives say, well, we can’t do this; we’re going to put people who are sick and dying with cancer and they’re being helped with marijuana, if they have multiple sclerosis — the federal government’s going in there and overriding state laws and putting people like that in prison.

Why don’t we handle the drugs like we handle alcohol? Alcohol is a deadly drug. What about — the real deadly drugs are the prescription drugs. They kill a lot more people than the illegal drugs.

So the drug war is out of control. I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties. It magnifies our problems on the borders. We spend — like, over the last 40 years, $1 trillion on this war. And believe me, the kids can still get the drugs. It just hasn’t worked.

BLITZER: Herman Cain, let me let you…[applause]… weigh in.

CAIN: Yes. Allow me to answer the gentleman’s question. The answer is yes. An insecure border is a national security threat for the following reasons.

Number one, we know that terrorists have come into this country by way of Mexico. Secondly, 40 percent of the people in Mexico, according to a survey, already believe that their country is a failed state. Thirdly, the number of people killed in Mexico last year equals the number of people killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

So yes, so let’s solve the whole problem. Number one, secure the border for real. Number two, enforce the laws that are already there. We don’t need new laws. Number three, promote the current path to citizenship. Clean up the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. so people can come through the front door instead of sneaking in the side door. And, number four, to deal with the illegals that are already here, empower the states to do what the federal government is not capable of doing. [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s stay on this subject. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: I have a question about high-skilled immigration. We hear a lot about low-skilled immigration, so I want to ask you about high-skilled immigration.

What would you do to ensure that the United States is as welcoming as possible to the world’s skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Well, as the son of a legal immigrant to this country, I strongly believe in legal immigration and believe we are that shining city on the hill, that our future — if you look at all of the jobs that are being created in our economy today, a huge percentage of them come from the legal immigrants of this county — country who have innovated, who created great products, who created great companies and employed lots of people.

That’s one of the reasons that — that I put together my economic plan, was to take all that great innovation that’s coming as a result, in part, of legal immigration and make sure that those products that are being created are actually made here in America.

That’s part of the problem that — you know, Reaganomics was criticized as trickle-down. Problem is, we’re not seeing that money trickle down to the blue-collar workers in America. And that’s why I put forth a four-point economic plan to revitalize manufacturing that begins with zeroing out the corporate tax for manufacturers; also, regulatory reform, repatriation of profits, if invested in this country, to pay no taxes; and finally, energy policy that will explode the energy industry in this country.

We do those things, we’ll not only have the innovation, which I support, coming from legal — legal immigrants, but we’ll have that money trickle down to blue-collar workers and we can see that income mobility that a lot of people are right in that is not happening in America.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, let me let you broaden out this conversation. Back in the ’80s — and you remember this well. I was covering you then. Ronald Reagan and you — you voted for legislation that had a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, as you well remember. There were, what, maybe 12 million, 10 million — 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States right now.

Some called it amnesty then; they still call it amnesty now. What would you do if you were President of the United States, with these millions of illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in this country for a long time?

GINGRICH: Let me start and just say I think that we ought to have an H-1 visa that goes with every graduate degree in math, science and engineering so that people stay here. [applause]

You know, about five blocks down the street, you’ll see a statue of Einstein. Einstein came here as an immigrant. So let’s be clear how much the United States has drawn upon the world to be richer, better and more inclusive.

I did vote for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Ronald Reagan, in his diary, says he signed it — and we were supposed to have 300,000 people get amnesty. There were 3 million. But he signed it because we were going to get two things in return. We were going to get control of the border and we were going to get a guest worker program with employer enforcement.

We got neither. So I think you’ve got to deal with this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system — once you’ve put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here.

If you’re here — if you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. period. If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

The Creeble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don’t get a pass to citizenship. And so there’s a way to ultimately end up with a country where there’s no more illegality, but you haven’t automatically given amnesty to anyone.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, you agree with the speaker?

BACHMANN: Well, I don’t agree that you would make 11 million workers legal, because that, in effect, is amnesty. And I also don’t agree that you would give the DREAM Act on a federal level. And those are two things that I believe that the speaker had been for, and he can speak for himself.

But those are two areas that I don’t agree with. What I do think, though, is what Steve — what Steve Jobs said to President Obama. He had said to President Obama that he had to move a great deal of his operation over to China because he couldn’t find 30,000 engineers to be able to do the work that needed to be done.

That’s what we want to do. We do want to have people. And I agree with the speaker, people like chemists and engineers, and people who are highly skilled.

We think about the United States and what’s in the best interests of the United States. If we can utilize these workers, like Steve jobs wanted to, then we need to offer those visas. That will help the United States. But I don’t agree that we should make 11 million workers who are here illegally legal.

BLITZER: Let me let the speaker respond to that.

GINGRICH: Well, I mean, two things, first of all, in the DREAM Act, the one part that I like is the one which allows people who came here with their parents to join the U.S. military, which they could have done if they were back home, and if they serve on it with the U.S. military to acquire citizenship, which is something any foreigner can do.

And I don’t see any reason to punish somebody who came here at three years of age, but who wants to serve the United States of America. I specifically did not say we’d make the 11 million people legal.

I do suggest if you go back to your district, and you find people who have been here 25 years and have two generations of family and have been paying taxes and are in a local church, as somebody who believes strongly in family, you’ll have a hard time explaining why that particular subset is being broken up and forced to leave, given the fact that they’ve been law-abiding citizens for 25 years.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, you want to respond? [applause]

BACHMANN: If I understood correctly, I think the speaker just said that that would make 11 people — 11 million people who are here illegally now legal. That’s really the issue that we’re dealing with. And also, it would be the DREAM Act, the federal DREAM Act, which would offer taxpayer-subsidized benefits to illegal aliens. We need to move away from magnets, not offer more.

BLITZER: Let’s broaden it out.

Governor Romney, where do you stand? Are you with the speaker, that some of those illegal immigrants — I think — he didn’t say all — some of them, if they have roots, they belong to a church, for example, should be allowed to stay in this country? ROMNEY: Look, amnesty is a magnet. What when we have had in the past, programs that have said that if people who come here illegally are going to get to stay illegally for the rest of their life, that’s going to only encourage more people to come here illegally.

The right course for our immigration system is to say we welcome people who want to come here legally. We’re going to have a system that makes that easier and more transparent. But to make sure we’re able to bring in the best and brightest — and, by the way, I agree with the speaker in terms of — I’d staple a green card to the diploma of anybody who’s got a degree of math, science, a Masters degree, Ph.D.

We want those brains in our country. But in order to bring people in legally we’ve got to stop illegal immigration. That means turning off the magnets of amnesty, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, employers that knowingly hire people that have come here illegally.

We welcome legal immigration. This is a party, this is a party that loves legal immigration. But we have to stop illegal immigration for all the reasons the questioner raised, which is, it is bringing in people who in some cases can be terrorists, in other cases they become burdens on our society.

And we have to finally have immigration laws that protect our border, secure the border, turn off the magnets, and make sure we have people come to this country legally to build our economy.

BLITZER: Just to precise, and I’ll give Speaker Gingrich a chance to respond. Are you saying that what he’s proposing, giving amnesty in effect, or allowing some of these illegal immigrants to stay, is a magnet that would entice others to come to this country illegally?

ROMNEY: There’s no question. But to say that we’re going to say to the people who have come here illegally that now you’re all going to get to stay or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing.

People respond to incentives. And if you can become a permanent resident of the United States by coming here illegally, you’ll do so. What I want to do is bring people into this country legally, particularly those that have education and skill that allows us to compete globally. [applause]

GINGRICH: I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them.

I do believe if you’ve been here recently and have no ties to the U.S., we should deport you. I do believe we should control the border. I do believe we should have very severe penalties for employers, but I would urge all of you to look at the Krieble Foundation Plan.

I don’t see how the — the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, are you with the speaker or with the governor, Governor Romney? [applause]

PERRY: Here we go again, Mitt. You and I standing by each other again and you used the words about the magnets. And that’s one of the things that we obviously have to do is to stop those magnets for individuals to come in here.

But the real issue is securing that border. And this conversation is not ever going to end until we get the border secure. But I do think that there is a way. That after we secure that border that you can have a process in place for individual who are law- abiding citizens who have done only one thing, as Newt says, 25 years ago or whatever that period of time was, that you can put something in place that basically continues to keep those families together.

But the idea that we’re having this long and lengthy conversation here, until we have a secure border is just an intellectual exercise. You’ve got to secure the border first. And I know how to do that. I’ve been dealing with it for 10 years.

And we have to put the boots on the ground and the aviation assets in place, and secure that border once and for all, and be committed to it.

BLITZER: Let me let Governor Romney respond.

ROMNEY: Yes, I don’t disagree with what Governor Perry indicated. Certainly we have to secure the border. And we talk about people who have been here 25 years, that is the extreme exception…

BLITZER: You would let them stay.

ROMNEY: … not the rule.

BLITZER: You would let them stay?

ROMNEY: I’m not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who get to go. The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.

The answer is we’re going to have a system that gives people who come legally a card that identifies them as coming here legally. Employers are going to be expected to inspect that card, see if they’re here legally. On that basis we’re going to be able to bring you to this country.

The number of people that we need to power our industries, whether that’s agriculture or high tech, we welcome people in here with visa programs. We have a whole series of legal programs. But the idea of focusing a Republican debate on amnesty and who we’re going to give it to, is a huge mistake.

Secure our border, protect legal immigration, and return to a system that follows the law.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s take another…[applause]… quick break because we have a lot more to — I want to bring everybody into this conversation. We’re also going to broaden the conversation and go to the Middle East and see what’s going on in the so-called Arab Spring.

Don’t forget, Twitter — you can weigh in on what’s going on, #CNNdebate. Also, go to Facebook, CNNpolitics.com. Much more from historic Constitution Hall, here in the nation’s capital, right after this.

[commercial break]

[applause]

BLITZER: All right. Welcome back to the CNN Republican national security debate. Let’s go right to the audience.

Please give us your name and your organization.

QUESTION: I’m David Addington. I’m a vice president with the Heritage Foundation. [applause]

Serious violence has erupted in Syria between the repressive al- Assad regime and some elements of the people of Syria. Syria borders a major ally of the United States, NATO ally, Turkey, and three other friendly countries, Israel, Jordan and Iraq.

In your view, what are the interests of the United States in this region and what would you do to protect them?

BLITZER: Herman Cain, you may not know this, but today Governor Perry called for a no-fly zone, for the U.S. to participate in a no- fly zone over Syria. Would you go that far? Would you support that?

CAIN: No, I would not. I would work with our allies in the region to put pressure to be able to try and get our allies and other nations to stop buying oil from Syria. That would be one thing that I would do, but I would not support a no-fly zone.

The most effective tools that we have in any of these situations are a strong military, which it is getting weaker, unfortunately, and our own economic strength.

This whole discussion tonight about cutting and compromise, we didn’t spend enough time talking about the other part of the problem — growing this economy, because this administration has failed dismally at growing this economy. We can cut until the cows come home but it still would not solve the problem until we have effective economic growth.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, why would you support a no-fly zone over Syria?

PERRY: Obviously, that’s one of a multitude of — of sanctions and actions that I think work very well from the standpoint of being able to pressure that regime, overt, covert, economic sanctions.

I mean I think there are a number of ways. But when you put the no-fly zone above Syria, it obviously gives those dissidents and gives the military the opportunity to maybe disband, that want to get out of the situation that they’re in in Syria, as well.

So I think if we’re serious about Iran — and that’s what we’re really talking about here. We’re talking about Syria is a partner with Iran in exporting terrorism all across that part of the world and — and around the globe.

So if we’re serious about Iran, then we have to be serious about Syria, as well.

So I think a no-fly zone is an option of one of a multitude of options that we should be using. And we should put them in place if we’re serious about Iran not getting the nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, let me bring you into this conversation.

We just got a question from Twitter. I’ll read it to you.

“So many people view the Arab spring as a good thing. Given the recent violence in Egypt, do you worry this can go bad?”

And we’ve got some live pictures we’re going to show our viewers out there of Tahrir Square in Cairo right now. Thousands of people are protesting the military regime in Egypt right now.

What do you say to this person who sent this — this — this Twitter message to us?

HUNTSMAN: His — history will tell. We missed the Persian spring. The president failed on that front. We go into Libya, where, to my mind, we don’t have any definable American interests. We’ve got Syria now on the horizon, where we do have American interests. It’s called Israel. We’re a friend and ally. They’re a friend and ally. And we need to remind the world what it means to be a friend and ally of the United States.

And we have nuclearization in Iran. Centrifuges spinning. At some point, they’re going to have enough in the way of fissile material out of which to make a weapon. That’s a certainty.

We had a discussion earlier tonight about sanctions. Everybody commented on sanctions. Sanctions aren’t going to work, I hate to break it to you. They’re not going to work because the Chinese aren’t going to play ball and the Russians aren’t going to play ball.

And I believe Iran has already — the mullahs have already decided they want to go nuclear.

Why?

They have looked at North Korea. They’ve got a weapon. Nobody touches them. They like at Libya. Libya gave up their weapon in exchange for friendship with the world. Look where they are.

So I say let’s let history be our guide. We saw the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1919. We saw the region transform and make itself into something different. We saw changes in 1947.

I think we do our national interests a disservice by jumping in too soon and taking up sides with people we don’t fully understand, Islamist groups, pan-Arab groups.

Our interest in the Middle East is Israel. And our interest is to ensure that Israel — that Iran does not go nuclear.

BLITZER: All right, let’s stay in the region.

We have another question from the audience.

KATHERINE ZIMMERMAN: I’m Katherine Zimmerman from the American Enterprise Institute Political Press Project.

The United States adopted a policy of disengagement with Somalia after its retreat following Black Hawk down.

Today, an al Qaeda affiliate, Al Shabab, controls significant territory in that country.

What can the United States do to prevent Al Shabab from posing the same threat that al Qaeda did from Afghanistan 10 years ago?

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: You’re talking about al Qaeda, correct?

ZIMMERMAN: Right.

PAUL: You have to understand who the al Qaeda really is. The — the al Qaeda responds in a very deliberate fashion. As a matter of fact, Paul Wolfowitz explained it very clearly after 9/11.

He said that al Qaeda is inspired by the fact that we had bases in Saudi Arabia. So if you want to inspire al Qaeda, just meddle in — in that region. That will inspire the al Qaeda. As a matter of fact, he went on to say that that was a good reason for us to remove the base that we had had in 15 years in — in Saudi Arabia and that we should have done that.

So there is a response. Al Qaeda responds to that and they — they are quite annoyed with us. So if you drop — if you have a no- fly zone over Syria, that’s an act of war.

What if we had China put a no-fly zone over our territory? I don’t think — I don’t think we would like that.

And I think we should practice a policy of good will to other people. What about saying that we don’t do anything to any other country that we don’t have them do to us? When we have a no-fly zone over Iraq, it was for — meant to be regime change. And evidently, some want to have regime change.

What is our business? Why should we spend more money and more lives to get involved in another war? That’s an — that is the internal affairs of the other nations and we don’t want — we don’t need another nation to start nation building. We have way too many already. So this is just looking for more trouble. I would say why don’t we mind our own business? [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney, where do you stand?

ROMNEY: Wolf, that is a foreign policy. It’s different than President Obama’s, but similar in some respects. President Obama’s foreign policy is one of saying, first of all, America’s just another nation with a flag.

I believe America is an exceptional and unique nation. President Obama feels that we’re going to be a nation which has multipolar balancing militaries. I believe that American military superiority is the right course. President Obama says that we have people throughout the world with common interests. I just don’t agree with him. I think there are people in the world that want to oppress other people, that are evil.

President Obama seems to think that we’re going to have a global century, an Asian century. I believe we have to have an American century, where America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.

President Obama apologizes for America. It is time for us to be strong as a nation. And if we are strong, with a military and economy that are so strong, no one in the world will try and attempt to threaten us or to attack our friends.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, are you with Governor Perry…[applause]… on declaring a no-fly zone over Syria?

ROMNEY: No, this is not — this is not the time for a no-fly zone over Syria. This is the time for us to use not only sanctions, but covert actions within Syria to get regime change there. There are people in the military that are shifting over, that are — that are becoming part of the rebel effort.

We should support those efforts. We need to meet with the Alawites to make sure they understand that they have a future after Assad, that they don’t have to link with him. He’s getting pressure now from both Turkey as well as Saudi Arabia. They’re coming and putting pressure on him. The Arab League is putting pressure on him.

We — that’s the right way to go. And by the way, they have 5,000 tanks in Syria. A no-fly zone wouldn’t be the right military action. Maybe a no-drive zone. I mean, this is — this is a nation — this is a nation which is not bombing its people, at this point, and the right course is not military.

BLITZER: We’re ready to wrap it up. But let me have Governor Perry react.

PERRY: Yes, as I said, I said the no-fly zone is one of the options that we have. But I think you need to leave it on the table to make sure, because this is not just about Syria. This is about Iran, and those two, as a partnership and exporting terrorism around the world. And if we’re going to be serious about saving Israel, we better get serious about Syria and Iran, and we better get serious right now.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s take another question from the audience. This is last question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Mark Teese and I’m a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute. And my question has to do with the unexpected. During the 200 Presidential debates, Governor George W. Bush was never asked about the threat from Al Qaida, yet the battle with Al Qaida dominated his presidency. What national security issue do you worry about that nobody is asking about, either here or in any of the debates so far?

BLITZER: All right. Let’s go down the line and start with Senator Santorum. Give us a quick answer. What do you think?

SANTORUM: Well, I’ve spent a lot of time and concern — and Rick mentioned this earlier — about what’s going on in Central and South America. I’m very concerned about the militant socialists and there — and the radical Islamists joining together, bonding together.

I’m concerned about the spread of socialism and that this administration, with — time after time, whether it was the delay in moving forward on Colombia’s free trade agreement, whether it was turning our back to the Hondurans and standing up for democracy and the — and the rule of law.

And we took the side with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro for a corrupt President. We’ve sent all the wrong signals to Central and South America.

BLITZER: Thank you.

SANTORUM: You know, maybe the first trip I would take to Israel, but my second trip, and third and fourth, would be into Central and South America. We need to build a solid hemisphere and those people — and the people in south of our border need to know that we are going to…

BLITZER: All right.

SANTORUM: … solidarity with them and build strong alliances.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

I want to do this quickly, if we can, because we don’t have a lot of time.

Congressman?

PAUL: I worry most about overreaction on our part, getting involved in another war when we don’t need to, when we have been attacked, and our national security has not been at threat. And I worry a lot about people never have come around to understanding who the Taliban is and why they are motivated.

Taliban doesn’t mean they want to come here and kill us. The Taliban means they want to kill us over there because all they want to do is get people who occupy their country out of their country, just like we would if anybody tried to occupy us.

BLITZER: Governor Perry? [applause]

PERRY: I think, obviously, the big issue out there, and we’ve talked about it before, but I happen to think it’s China and how we’re — we’re going to deal with China.

And Communist China — when I think back about Ronald Reagan, and he said that the Soviet Union was destined for the ash heap of history, and he was correct, and I happen to think that Communist China is destined for the ash heap of history because they are not a country of virtues.

When you have 35,000 forced abortions a day in that country; when you have the cybersecurity that the PLA has been involved with, those are great and — and major issues, both morally and security-wise that we’ve got to deal with now.

BLITZER: All right. We’ve got to keep it brief. But, go ahead…[applause]… Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: Rick, in my view, is right with regards to long-term security interests, and that’s — and that’s China, although that’s very much on our agenda.

Immediately, the most significant threat is, of course, Iran becoming nuclear.

But I happen to think Senator Santorum is right with regards to the issue that doesn’t get enough attention. That’s the one that may come up that we haven’t thought about, which is Latin America. Because, in fact, Congressman, we have been attacked. We were attacked on 9/11. There have been dozens of attacks that have been thwarted by our — by our security forces. And we have, right now, Hezbollah, which is working throughout Latin America, in Venezuela, in Mexico, throughout Latin America, which poses a very significant and imminent threat to the United States of America.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor. Mr. Cain? [applause]

CAIN: Having been — having been a ballistics analyst and a computer scientist early in my career, cyber attacks: that’s something that we do not talk enough about, and I happen to believe that that is a national security area that we do need to be concerned about.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich? [applause]

GINGRICH: I — I helped create the Hart-Rudman Commission with President Clinton, and they came back after three years and said the greatest threat to the United States was the weapon of mass destruction in an American city, probably from a terrorist. That was before 9/11.

That’s one of the three great threats. The second is an electromagnetic pulse attack which would literally destroy the country’s capacity to function.

And the third, as Herman just said, is a cyber attack. All three of those are outside the current capacity of our system to deal with.

BLITZER: Thank you. Congresswoman?

BACHMANN: Well, I would agree with what my colleagues said up here on the stage. And also, we need to remember, we won the peace in Iraq. And now President Obama is intentionally choosing to give that peace away.

This is a significant issue because we’re taking the terrorist threat away from the Middle East, bringing it to the United States.

We talked about Al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab is real. In my home state of Minnesota, we’ve just had two convictions of two women that are financing terror with Al-Shabaab. This threat, I believe, now is in the United States and now the threat has come home and that’s what we have to deal with.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: I guess I could say China because I know a little bit about the subject matter, but they’re in for real trouble ahead.

So I have to say that our biggest problem is right here at home. And you can see it on every street corner. It’s called joblessness. It’s called lack of opportunity. It’s called debt, that has become a national security problem in this country. And it’s also called a trust deficit, a Congress that nobody believes in anymore, an executive branch that has no leadership, institutions of power that we no longer believe in.

How can we have any effect on foreign policy abroad when we are so weak at home? We have no choice. We’ve got to get on our feet here domestically.

BLITZER: Thank you to…[applause]… all of you. And thanks to all of you as well. We have to leave it right there. We want to thank our partners, the American Enterprise Institute. We want to thank the Heritage Foundation. Thanks very much for watching. I’m Wolf Blitzer here at Constitution Hall. [applause]

September 12, 2011: CNN /  Tea Party Express Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Tampa, Florida September 12, 2011

PARTICIPANTS:
Representative Michele Bachmann (MN);
Herman Cain (GA);
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Former Governor Jon Huntsman (UT);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Governor Rick Perry (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
Wolf Blitzer (CNN);

BLITZER: And welcome to the Florida State Fairgrounds here in Tampa, the site of the first ever Tea Party/Republican presidential debate.

One year from now, right here in Tampa, the Republican National Convention will nominate the Republican candidate for president of the United States.

Tonight, eight contenders will be on this stage to try to convince voters he or she is the best choice to hold the highest office in the country. And joining them inside this hall, Tea Party activists from Florida and across the nation.

I’m Wolf Blitzer.

I’d like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, including U.S. troops and their families watching overseas.

Tonight’s debate is airing on CNN, CNN International, CNN en Espanol, and the American Forces Network seen on U.S. military bases in 175 countries and aboard Navy ships at sea around the globe.

We also want to welcome our co-sponsors, the Tea Party Express, and more than 100 state and local Tea Party groups from across the United States.

Members of the Tea Party movement will play an active role in this debate. We’ll take questions from here in Florida, one of the most critical battleground states in the nation. We’ll also take questions from Tea Party activists in three other key states.

Watch parties are under way right now in Portsmouth, Virginia, an historic Navy port and a 2012 election battleground. In Phoenix, Arizona, the western states shaping the national debate over immigration. And in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Midwestern swing state that has been decisive in so many elections.

BLITZER: It’s time now to meet the 2012 Republican presidential contenders.

[applause]

Joining us now on stage, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.

[applause]

BLITZER: The former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

[applause]

BLITZER: Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

[applause]

BLITZER: Texas Governor Rick Perry.

[applause]

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

[applause]

ROMNEY: Hey, guys. Hi.

BLITZER: Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

[applause]

The former president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain.

[applause]

And the former governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman.

[applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.

[applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, please rise now and join recording artist Diana Nagy as she leads us in the national anthem.

DIANA NAGY, RECORDING ARTIST: [Sings “The Star Spangled Banner”]

BLITZER: Diana Nagy, thanks very, very much.

Candidates, please take your podiums. And while you do, I want to tell all of our viewers, everyone here a little bit more about how this debate will work.

I, obviously, will be the moderator. I’ll ask questions and follow-ups, and I’ll work to try my best to make sure that each candidate is getting his or her fair share of the questions and the answer time. And as I mentioned, the tea party activists will be asking questions here in the hall, as well as from our remote sites. And, viewers, you, too, can participate. We’re accepting questions for the candidates on Twitter — make sure to include #cnnteaparty — on Facebook and, of course, on cnnpolitics.com. Each candidate will have about one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. I’ll make sure that each candidate gets the time to respond if they are singled out for specific criticism.

It’s important that the American public knows where the candidates agree on the substantive issues and where they disagree. We want everyone watching to emerge from this debate more informed about these eight people, who each want to become the president of the United States.

Now that the candidates are all in place, it’s time for the candidates to introduce themselves to our audience. I’m asking them all to keep it very, very short. Here’s an example of what I have in mind.

I’m Wolf Blitzer, and I’m usually in “The Situation Room,” but tonight I’m thrilled to be at the Tea Party Republican presidential debate.

[applause]

Governor Huntsman, we’ll begin with you.

HUNTSMAN: Wolf, delighted to be here. Yesterday, we were reminded how extraordinary this country is when we pull together during a time of need. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are deeply divided. I believe I have the experience and the leadership necessary to move this country forward.

CAIN: I’m Herman Cain. I am the only non-politician on this stage tonight, and I believe that America has become a nation of crises. That’s why I want to be president of the United States of America.

BACHMANN: My name is Michele Bachmann. I know we can do so much better in this country. That’s why I’m the chief author of the bill to repeal Dodd-Frank, the bill to repeal Obamacare. And that’s why I brought the voice of the Tea Party to the United States Congress as the founder of the Tea Party Caucus.

[applause]

ROMNEY: My name is Mitt Romney. And like you, I recognize that America’s economy is in crisis. Got a lot of people without work, and a lot of people wonder whether the future is going to be brighter for their kids. I spent my life in the private sector. I understand how jobs come to America and why they go. And I want to use that experience to get America growing again, adding jobs, and assuring every citizen that they know that their kid and their grandkid will have a brighter future. Thank you.

[applause]

PERRY: I’m Governor Rick Perry. And I’m proud to be here today with the Tea Party Express. And I simply want to get America working again and make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.

[applause]

PAUL: I’m Congressman Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas. I’ve been in the Congress for 20 years. My goal has always been to promote the cause of liberty and to obey the Constitution. I plan to do that as president, as well.

GINGRICH: I’m Newt Gingrich. I think it is totally appropriate that we’re having this particular debate on 9/12. And in the spirit of 9/12, I hope to work with you to fundamentally, profoundly change Washington in what will be a long and difficult struggle against the forces of reaction and special interests.

[applause]

SANTORUM: I’m Rick Santorum. I’m a former two-term senator from a state that has over a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, and I won two elections there without having to change my policies or my party to win.

[applause]

BLITZER: Ladies and gentlemen, the eight Republican presidential candidates.

[applause]

All right. Let’s — let’s start off here in Tampa. We have a Tea Party activist. Please identify yourself and ask your question.

QUESTION: [off-mike] Tea Party, Jacksonville, Florida. My question: How will you convince senior citizens that Social Security and Medicare need to be changed and get their vote?

BLITZER: Good question. Let me begin with Michele Bachmann. Congresswoman, how do you do that? How do you go ahead and change, reform Social Security, Medicare, while at the same time getting votes?

BACHMANN: Well, one thing that we need to let senior citizens know is, for those who are currently on the Social Security system, the United States government made a promise to senior citizens, and we have to keep that promise to them.

But we also need to know that for those who are not yet on the system, the system simply has to be reformed in order for it to work. The same goes with Medicare. We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare. We also know that Medicare hospital trust fund will be bankrupt within nine years. These are programs that need to be saved to serve people, and in their current form, they can’t.

So we need to have someone who understands these programs, who — who understands the solutions to these programs. I’m a person that’s had feet in the private sector and a foot in the federal government. I’ve been there long enough to know the problems, but not long enough to become a part of the system. I know what to do, and I have the core of conviction to be able to make the changes that senior citizens can count on.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, speaking of Social Security, you’ve said in the past it’s a Ponzi scheme, an absolute failure, unconstitutional, but today you wrote an article in USA Today saying it must be saved and reformed, very different tone. Why?

PERRY: Well, first off, the people who are on Social Security today need to understand something. Slam-dunk guaranteed, that program is going to be there in place for those. Those individuals that are moving towards being on Social Security, that program’s going to be there for them when they arrive there.

But the idea that we have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face, young mid-career professionals or kids that are my children’s age and look them in the eye and said, listen, this is a broken system. It has been called a ponzi scheme by many people long before me. But no one’s had the courage to stand up and say, here is how we’re going to reform it.

We’re going to transform it for those in those mid-career ages, but we’re going to fix it so that our young Americans that are going out into the workforce today will know without a doubt that there were some people who came along that didn’t lie to them, that didn’t try to go around the edges and told them the truth.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, you said that Governor Perry’s position on Social Security is, quote, unacceptable and could even obliterate the Republican Party. Are you saying he could not, as Republican nominee, beat Barack Obama?

ROMNEY: No, what I’m saying is that what he just said, I think most people agree with, although the term ponzi scheme I think is over the top and unnecessary and frightful to many people. But the real issue is in writing his book, Governor Perry pointed out that in his view that Social Security is unconstitutional, that this is not something the federal government ought to be involved in, that instead it should be given back to the states.

And I think that view, and the view that somehow Social Security has been forced on us over the past 70 years that by any measure, again quoting book, by any measure Social Security has been a failure, this is after 70 years of tens of millions of people relying on Social Security, that’s a very different matter.

So the financing of Social Security, we’ve all talked about at great length. In the last campaign four years around, John McCain said it was bankrupt. I put in my book a series of proposals on how to get it on sound financial footing so that our kids can count on it not just our current seniors.

But the real question is does Governor Perry continue to believe that Social Security should not be a federal program, that it’s unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states or is he going to retreat from that view?

BLITZER: Let’s let Governor Perry respond. You have 30 seconds.

PERRY: If what you’re trying to say is that back in the ’30s and the ’40s that the federal government made all the right decision, I disagree with you. And it’s time for us to get back to the constitution and a program that’s been there 70 or 80 years, obviously we’re not going to take that program away. But for people to stand up and support what they did in the ’30s or what they’re doing in the 2010s is not appropriate for America.

ROMNEY: But the question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out and returned to the states or do you want to retreat from taht?

PERRY: I think we ought to have a conversation.

ROMNEY: We’re having that right now, governor. We’re running for president.

PERRY: And I’ll finish this conversation. But the issue is, are there ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or for retirees? We did in the state of Texas back in the 1980s. I think those types of thoughtful conversations with America, rather than trying to scare seniors like you’re doing and other people, it’s time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix that program where it’s not bankrupt and our children actually know that there’s going to be a retirement program there for them.

ROMNEY: Governor, the term ponzi scheme is what scared seniors, number one. And number two, suggesting that Social Security should no longer be a federal program and returned to the states and unconstitutional is likewise frightening.

Look, there are a lot of bright people who agree with you. And that’s your view. I happen to have a different one. I think that Social Security is an essential program that we should change the way we’re funding it. You called it a criminal…

PERRY: You said if people did it in the private sector it would be called criminal. That’s in your book.

ROMNEY: Yeah, what I said was…

[applause]

ROMNEY: Governor Perry you’ve got to quote me correctly. You said it’s criminal. What I said was congress taking money out of the Social Security trust fund is like criminal and that is and it’s wrong.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, let me expand this conversation. Do you agree with Governor Perry that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme?

PAUL: Well, I agree that Social Security is broke. We spent all the money and it’s on its last legs unless we do something. One bill that I had in congress never got passed was to prevent the congress from spending any of that money on the wars and all the nonsense that we do around the world.

Now the other thing that I would like to see done is a transition. I think it’s terrible that the Social Security system is in the — the problems it has, but if people wouldn’t have spent the money we would be OK.

Now, what I would like to do is to allow all the young people to get out of Social Security and go on their own. Now, the big question is, is how would the funding occur?

BLITZER: All right. Hold that thought for a minute, because I want Herman Cain to get involved.

Are you with Governor Perry that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme?

CAIN: I don’t care what you call it, it’s broken. And here’s my solution.

[applause]

CAIN: Start with optional personal retirement accounts. In 1981, the Galveston County employees, they opted out because that was a very short window of opportunity. They took it. Today, when people retire in Galveston County, Texas, they retire making at least 50 percent more than they would ever get out of Social Security.

[applause]

Secondly, allow younger workers to have personal retirement accounts as an option.

Now, to answer this gentleman’s question, current seniors will not be affected. It’s to give the option to the younger workers.

The Galveston County model worked, and it also worked in the small country of Chile. Instead of giving it to the states, let’s give it back to the workers. That’s what personal retirement accounts will do.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, when it comes to reforming Social Security, is anything from your perspective off the table?

HUNTSMAN: I don’t think anything should be off the table except maybe some of the drama that’s playing out here on this floor today. I mean, to hear these two go at it over here, it’s almost incredible.

You’ve got Governor Romney, who called it a fraud in his book “No Apology.” I don’t know if that was written by Kurt Cobain or not. And then you’ve got Governor Perry, who is calling this a Ponzi scheme.

All I know, Wolf, is that we’re frightening the American people who just want solutions. And this party isn’t going to win in 2012 unless we get our act together and fix the problem.

We all know that we’ve got entitlement problems, we’ve got Medicare, we’ve got Social — the fixes are there. I mean, the Ryan plan is there, for heaven’s sake.

We’ve got the answers. We don’t have leadership. That’s the problem.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, would you raise the retirement age for Social Security recipients?

GINGRICH: No, not necessarily, but let me start with — I’m not particularly worried about Governor Perry and Governor Romney frightening the American people when President Obama scares them every single day.

[applause]

GINGRICH: This is eating into my time.

Let me just say to all of you —

BLITZER: Let me just pinpoint the question. What would you do to fix Social Security?

GINGRICH: OK. But can I also expand for a second? Because that was not a rhetorical joke.

President Obama twice said recently he couldn’t guarantee delivering the checks to Social Security recipients. Now, why should young people who are 16 to 25 years old have politicians have the power for the rest of their life to threaten to take away their Social Security?

[applause]

GINGRICH: Now, I just want to make two simple points about Social Security and how you save it.

The first is, you get back to a full employment economy, and at four percent unemployment you have such a huge increase in funding, that you change every single out year (ph) of projection in a positive way.

The second is you say precisely as several folks here have said it, if you are younger — everybody who is older and wants to be totally protected, fine, no change. So don’t let anybody lie to you, starting with the president. No change. But if you’re younger and you would like a personal account, you would control instead of the politicians. And you know you’ll have more money at the end of your lifetime if you control it than the politicians.

Why shouldn’t you have the right to choose?

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

[applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, when it comes to Social Security, are you with Governor Romney or Governor Perry?

SANTORUM: Well, the question is who is with me? Because I’ve been out here talking about — you want to talk about courage to tell the truth, Governor? I was out in 1994 running against a Democratic incumbent in a campaign managed by James Carville, and I went out and talked about Social Security reform.

Why? Because I knew this day was coming. And I had the courage to go out and say Social Security is in trouble. And I told a group of young people at La Salle University that we needed to do something like raising the retirement age.

They ran that on TV for three weeks prior to the election, in the second oldest per capita state in the country. And I still won the election. Why? Because the people of Pennsylvania wanted someone who had the courage to tell them the truth.

[applause]

SANTORUM: And I had the courage to tell them the truth.

And what I’ve done since I was in the United States Senate is every year I proposed — I went, in fact, with Bill Clinton in 1997 on the first bipartisan Social Security town hall meeting, and I was the spokesperson, a Republican conservative from a blue state out there leading the charge on Social Security.

You folks want someone with courage? I’ve got a track record of courage and a track record of concrete proposals on how to fix this, among some of the things that have been discussed here tonight.

BLITZER: Senator, thank you.

Let’s go to another question. We have a question now from the audience.

Go ahead. Identify yourself.

DR. BRIDGET MELSON, PLEASANTON TEA PARTY: Hi. My name is Dr. Bridget Melson with the Pleasanton Tea Party. Good to be here.

My question for you is, what is your plan to balance the budget and get this spending under control so that my children’s share of the debt is erased without compromising my retired mother’s already tenuous financial future?

BLITZER: Good question. Let me ask Speaker Gingrich to respond, and I’ll sort of paraphrase it.

How do you do that? How do you protected seniors, balance the budget? So much of the budget goes to defense and entitlements like Social Security, Medicare.

GINGRICH: But that’s just a Washington mythology. And anybody who knows anything about the federal government knows that there’s such an enormous volume of waste, that if you simply had a serious all-all effort to modernize the federal government, you would have hundreds of billions of dollars of savings falling off.

Let me say, I helped balance the budget for four straight years. This is not a theory. Rick and I were working together on this. This is not a theory. You voted for it. So we can balance the federal budget.

But let me start with — all of you should go to Strong America Now, which is a group that believes if you modernize the federal government, you save $500 billion a year. Now, check and see whether the super committee of 12 in their august power is willing to sit down with that group and actually learn how to be smart rather than cheap, and actually modernize the federal government.

One example, the federal government is such a bad manager of money, that somewhere between $70 billion and $120 billion a year in Medicare and Medicaid is paid to crooks. We wrote a book several years ago called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” I thought it was pretty obvious even for Washington. So I would start to balance the budget by stop paying the crooks, not by cheating honest Americans.

[applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, staying on the issue of spending, budget deficits, you voted for the prescription drug benefits for seniors when you were in the United States Senate costing about $1 trillion. If you had to do it over again, you wouldn’t vote for that, but if you were president of the United States, would you repeal prescription drug benefits for seniors under Medicare?

SANTORUM: I think we have to keep a prescription drug component, but we have to pay for it. In other words, we have to have a program that is funded.

Now, the reason that that program has actually worked well is it’s come in 40 percent under budget because it’s a program that uses private sector insurance, not government-run, one-size-fits-all health care. If we do that for the rest of Medicare, which is what the Ryan proposal suggests, and something that I proposed, again, years ago, had the courage to go out and lead on this issue, then we would be able to have a prescription drug program and we’d be able to have Medicare that you choose.

The idea that unless we have a government-run, one-size-fits-all Medicare program, that that’s throwing grandma off a cliff, is Washington think — is people who think in Washington this president, who believes that they know better than you how to run your life and how to purchase your health care. I trust you, I trust the American people. That is the greatness of our country.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Governor Perry, it was President Bush who pushed for prescription drug benefits for senior, not President Obama. It was President Bush who pushed for prescription drug benefits for seniors. The question to you: If you were president — it’s not a difficult question — would you vote to eliminate, to repeal those prescription drug benefits for seniors under Medicare?

PERRY: No. It’s a $17 trillion hole that we have in our budget we’ve got to deal with. And I think that’s the issue of, how do you find the savings and still deliver the services?

For instance, in the state of Texas, we combined a substantial amount of our health and human services from 10 down to five agencies. We put an Office of Inspector General into place, and we saved over $5.3 billion, Newt, just by finding the waste and the fraud in Texas state government. I’m thinking there might be more waste and fraud in the federal government than even there is in the Texas government.

BLITZER: But, Governor, just to be precise, if you were president, you wouldn’t repeal prescription drug benefits for seniors under Medicare?

PERRY: That’s what I said when I started the conversation.

BLITZER: OK. Just want to be precise on that, Governor.

Governor Romney, what about you?

ROMNEY: I wouldn’t repeal it. I’d reform Medicare and reform Medicaid and reform Social Security to get them on a sustainable basis, not for current retirees, but for those in their 20s and 30s and early 50s.

But the key to balancing the budget — and we talk about all the waste in government and the inefficiency. And having spent 25 years in business, I know something about taking waste out of enterprises. I’d love to do that to the federal government. And there is massive waste.

But we’re not going to balance the budget just by pretending that all — all we have to do is take out the waste. We’re going to have to cut spending. And I’m in favor of cutting spending, capping federal spending as a percentage of GDP, at 20 percent or less, and having a balanced budget amendment. That’s essential to rein in the scale of the federal government.

And there’s a second part to balancing the budget, and that’s growing the economy again. And that’s why I laid out a plan to restructure the foundation of America’s economy to start creating jobs again so people are paying taxes, businesses are paying taxes, not because we’re raising the rates, but because we’re growing the economy.

The right answer for America is to stop the growth of the federal government and to start the growth of the private sector.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, what about you? Would you repeal it?

PAUL: Well, we shouldn’t have never started it. I voted against it. But that sure wouldn’t be on my high list. I would find a lot of cuts a lot of other places. As a matter of fact, on Social Security, it is already being reformed, because the cost of living increases aren’t there, so the value is going down.

So, no, there’s places we should cut. And we cut — we spend — and I’m not sure I can get anybody to agree with me on here — on this panel, but we spend $1.5 trillion overseas in wars that we don’t need to be in and we need to cut there…

[applause]

… and then put this money back into our economy here. And that is the only way to achieve it. Then it still wouldn’t be enough in order to get some people out. What we need to do is cut the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and all these departments, and get rid of them.

[applause]

Then we can do it.

BLITZER: We’re going to get to national security. Don’t worry.

Congresswoman Bachmann, what about you?

BACHMANN: I think that the principle has to change, because for years, politicians have run on the idea that government is going to buy people more stuff and that the federal government would be taking care of people’s prescription drugs, their retirement, their health care, their housing, their food.

We’re the everybody else that’s paying for the freight for all of these things. That’s the principle that has to change, because we have to now recognize that, going forward…

[applause]

… this isn’t going to work anymore. We have to be an ownership society, where individual responsibility, personal responsibility once again becomes the animating American principle. And we can’t be ashamed of that.

BLITZER: All right, we’ve got a lot more to discuss. We’re only just beginning. I want to take a quick break. I want our viewers out there to know they can weigh in, they can respond. Go to Twitter, Facebook, cnn.com. We want to hear from you if you have questions for these eight Republican presidential candidates. You’ll have an opportunity to get some questions to them. We’re going to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs when we come back.

[applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. We’ve got a question from Portsmouth, Virginia. Please identify yourself. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Sandra Jones (ph) from Yorktown, Virginia. My question is, what would you do to get the economy moving forward? Do you have a plan? And, if so, what is it?

BLITZER: All right, good question. Let’s ask Governor Huntsman. The first thing you would do as president of the United States, knowing, of course, that President Obama today formally gave legislation to Congress with his jobs plan?

HUNTSMAN: Let us recognize, first and foremost, that what we’re seeing playing out in America is a human tragedy. We have millions and millions who are unemployed, millions beyond who are so dispirited they’ve completely given up trying to find a job. We’ve got moms and dads and families that have been economically shipwrecked. And it’s a great American tragedy that we’re watching play out.

I have put forward a program that I want all of you to understand is basically patterned after what I did as governor. I think when you look at everybody on the stage here, all you have to do is say, where have they been and what have they done?

First and foremost, I want to reform this tax code. I put forward a program that the Wall Street Journal has come out and endorsed. It basically calls for stripping out the loopholes and the deductions and lowering the rates for individuals, cleaning out corporate welfare and subsidies on the corporate side and lowering the rate, leaving us a whole lot more competitive for the 21st century. That’s the first item of business I’d drop on the doorstep of Congress.

Second is regulatory reform, because we cannot go forward with Obamacare.

[applause]

We cannot go forward with Dodd-Frank, because businesses in this country are saying there’s no predictability, there’s no ability to see around the bend, we don’t know what costs are going to be, we’re not hiring and bringing new people on.

Third, this country needs to wean itself from its heroin-like addiction to foreign oil. We need energy independence desperately in this country.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.

Governor Perry, the president in his new plan has a lot of tax cuts, payroll tax cuts, middle-class tax cuts, tax credits for hiring veterans, tax credits for hiring long-term unemployed people. Are those things you would support?

PERRY: And he’s going to pay for them all with raising your taxes. That is the issue. He had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs, $400-plus billion dollars in this package. And I can do the math on that one. Half of zero jobs is going to be zero jobs.

[laughter]

This president does not understand how to free up the small businessmen and women or, for that matter, Wall Street. You give people the opportunity to risk their capital by lowering the tax burden on them, by lowering the regulatory climate, and you will see an American economy that takes off like a rocket ship.

And that’s what we need to be focusing on in this country, freeing up the small businessmen and women to do what they know how to do, which is risk their capital and give them half a chance to have an opportunity to have a return on that investment, and they will go risk their capital. That’s what the president of the United States needs to do: Quit the spending. Give clear regulatory relief and reform the tax code.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, Governor, whenever the president supports tax cuts, that has to be balanced with spending cuts?

PERRY: I would suggest to you that people are tired of spending money we don’t have on programs we don’t want.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, I’m going to bring Mr. Cain in, in a moment, but the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, which went across the board, were not offset with spending cuts, and as a result, potentially, a lot of economists think, the deficit went up and up and up.

BACHMANN: Well, there’s a reason why the deficit went up and up and up. When you have a trillion dollars worth of spending that you don’t pay for, it’s going to go up. And now we’re seeing again that the president wants to do more of the same.

I was the leading voice in the wilderness of Washington all summer. I was one of the only people in Washington that said do not raise the debt ceiling. Don’t give the president of the United States another $2.4 trillion blank check. You’ve got to draw the line in the sand somewhere and say no more out of control spending.

The president wanted to borrow money from countries like China to pay it back for a stimulus. We’ve got $1.2 trillion already that’s been earned by American countries overseas. If we have a 0 percent tax rate, Wolf, we can bring that 1.2 trillion — it’s called repatriation — bring that in. You’d have 1.2 trillion flooded into the system, then pass the free trade agreements so that we can move the economy, permanently lower the tax code. I’m a federal tax lawyer. I know how to do that. Repeal Dodd-Frank, repeal Obamacare.

It really isn’t that tough if you try. It is easy to turn around this economy, just have the backbone to do it.

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: Yes.

This economy is on life support. I don’t want – we need a bold solution, not one that tinkers around the edges, not one that allows politicians to continue to pick winners and losers. I believe we throw out the entire tax code and put in my nine nine nine plan. nine nine nine. A 9 percent business flat tax, a 9 percent personal income tax and a 9 national sales tax. Now I’ve been told by some people, well, you can’t get that done. I say why? Well, because you don’t know how Washington works. Yes, I do. It doesn’t.

The American people are ready to do something bold. We need a bold solution in order to get this economy growing at the maximum rate.

I agree with many of the others up here who say, you get the government out of the way. American entrepreneurship, American businesses, they will create the jobs if we provide some certainty.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, you know Governor Perry as governor of Texas created more jobs in Texas than any other state.

ROMNEY: Terrific state, no question about that. Some wonderful things that Texas has going for it that the nation could learn from. zero income tax. That’s a pretty good thing. Right to work state. Republican legislature, Republican supreme court.

By the way, a lot of oil as well.

We’re an energy rich nation. We’re living like an energy poor nation.

I spent my life in the private sector. I’ve competed with companies around the world. I’ve learned something about how it is that economies grow. It’s not just simple wave a wand and everything gets better. No, you have to make some structural changes. The world has changed.

What’s happened over the last 20, 30 years is we’ve gone from a pay phone world to a smartphone world and President Obama keeps jamming quarters into the pay phone thinking things are going to get better. It’s not connected, Mr. President.

And if we’re going to get this economy going, we’ve got seven, one, make our tax code competitive with the world. Two, get regulations to work to encourage enterprise. Three, to make sure we have trade policies that work for us not just for the other guys. Four is to have energy security in this country by developing our energy resources. Five so execute the rule of law, which is to stop the Boeing decision that the NLRB put in place. Six is to make sure that we have institutions that create fantastic human capital. And finally number seven is to balance the budget. People won’t invest here unless they have confidence here. And that’s what I’ll do.

BLITZER: And just to get back to the question. So does Governor Perry deserve any credit for all those jobs that were created in Texas?

ROMNEY: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: Go ahead and tell him how much credit he deserves.

[laughter]

ROMNEY: Well, look, I think Governor Perry would agree with me that if you’re dealt four aces that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player. And four aces — and the four aces that are terrific aces are the ones the nation should learn from, the ones I described, zero income tax, low regulation, right to work state, oil in the ground and a Republican legislature. Those things are terrific.

And by the way, there has been great growth in Texas. Under Ann Richards, job growth was under 2.5 percent a year, under George Bush was 3 percent a year, under Rick Perry it’s been 1 percent a year.

Those are all good numbers. Those are all good numbers. But Texas is a great state. And I’ll tell you, if you think that the country is like Texas going swimmingly well, then somebody who has done that is just terrific. But if you think the the country needs a turnaround, that’s what I do.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Perry, you were dealt four aces.

PERRY: Well, I was going to say Mitt you were doing pretty good until you got to talking poker. But the fact is the state of Texas has led the nation. While the current resident of the White House is overseeing the loss of 2.5 million jobs, Texas during my period of governor has created over a million jobs. And we did that during some pretty tough economic period.

[applause]

PERRY: One of the things that’s really important, one of the things that the Fed Reserve chairman said was the most powerful — one of the most powerful things that happened, was tort reform that we passed in that state. And you want to talk about some powerful job creation? Tell the trial lawyers to get out of your state and to quit costing businessmen and women.

[applause]

PERRY: That’s what needs to happen in the states, and it’s also what needs to happen at the federal level, passing federal tort reform at those federal levels.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you’re from Texas. Does your governor deserve all that credit?

PAUL: Not quite.

[laughter]

PAUL: I’m a taxpayer there. My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he’s been in office. Our spending has gone up double. Our debt has gone up nearly triple.

So, no. And 170,000 of the jobs were government jobs. So I would put a little damper on this, but I don’t want to offend the governor, because he might raise my taxes or something.

[applause]

PAUL: But I would like to mention something that we said earlier about a tax cut and can you — how do you pay for a tax cut? I think that’s the wrong principle, because when you give people their money back, it’s their money.

You don’t have to pay for it. That means that the government owns all of our money if you look that way.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right.

PAUL: So we have to cut the spending, and a good way to start, there’s a little embassy we built over in Baghdad that cost us a billion dollars. It’s bigger than the Vatican. That’s what’s bankrupting this country, and that’s the easy place to cut. That’s where we should be cutting.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Perry, you have 30 seconds to tell Congressman Paul whether you’re going to raise his taxes.

PERRY: While I’ve been governor, we have cut taxes by $14 billion, 65 different pieces of legislation. You may not have seen them, Representative Paul, but the fact of the matter is, there are people coming to Texas for five years in a row, the number one destination. They’re not coming because we’re overtaxing them.

They’re coming to Texas because they know there’s still a land of freedom in America, freedom from over-taxation, freedom from over- litigation and freedom from over-regulation, and it’s called Texas. We need to do the same thing for America.

[applause]

BLITZER: Let me bring Speaker Gingrich into this conversation.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. All of us who covered you when you were Speaker — and you worked with President Clinton at the time — you compromised, he compromised, you got things done. There was a budget surplus for as far as the eye could see.

If you were president, would you work with the Democrats, assuming they were the majority in the House or the Senate? Would you compromise with them on some of these gut issues?

GINGRICH: Well, you know, after the last debate, when Governor Huntsman and Governor Perry and Governor Romney each explained how their state was the best at job creation, Brady Castis (ph), who works with me, went back and checked. In the four years I was Speaker, we created — the American people, not me — created more jobs in Utah than under Governor Huntsman, more jobs in Massachusetts than under Governor Romney, and more jobs in Texas than in the 11 years of Governor Perry.

Now, I don’t claim credit for that because it was done by investors and done — in fact, Mitt, at that time, as the private sector, was part of the job creation. But I just want to point out, the American people create jobs, not government. OK?

[applause]

GINGRICH: Now, Ronald Reagan — when I was a very young congressman, Ronald Reagan taught me a great lesson if you have Democrat in charge. And that is to go to the American people on principle, have the American people educate their congressmen.

He used to say, “I try to turn up the light for the people so they will turn up the heat on Congress.” When we passed welfare reform, half the Democrats voted yes because they couldn’t go home having voted no. And on a principle basis, I’d be glad to work with Democrats in any office, but I’d do it on principle, not on compromising principle.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right. We have a question via CNNPolitics.com. “All of you profess to be pro-business candidates for president. Can you be pro-worker at the same time?”

Mr. Cain?

CAIN: The answer is absolutely yes, because I was a worker before I was an executive and before I was a business owner. Absolutely.

And when I ran the National Restaurant Association, it is a collection of small businesses. Godfather’s Pizza is the same way, when I ran the region for Burger King. One restaurant is the basic fundamental business unit in this country. And so, yes, I know how to be pro-worker because I came from a pro-worker family. My mother was a domestic worker, my father was a barber, a janitor, and a chauffeur, all at the same time. I understand work because that’s how I came up. So the answer is, absolutely yes.

The two are not mutually exclusive, but what we need is the right leadership, starting with, are we working on the right problems? If we keep tinkering around the edges on the tax code or tinkering around the edges on Social Security, we’re not going to solve the right problem.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Cain.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, you have experience in the business community, in government. Why would you be more effective in creating jobs than any of your rivals on this stage?

HUNTSMAN: Well, let me just say about workers, this country needs more workers. Can we say that?

This country needs more workers, and we’re not going to get more workers until we actually have an economic plan led by someone who has actually done it before, presumably as a governor, to create the environment in which the private sector can then work its magic. That’s how we’re going to get from point A to point B.

But let me just say that we have put forward a plan, Wolf. And I want people to take a serious look at this, because you can come up with a spin on everything — any way to describe your plan, come up with fancy language, but I just want you to take a look at what we have done where we have been in terms of proposing job creation measures under tax reform in our state that is totally applicable to what this country needs: looking at regulatory reform; creating the most business-friendly environment in the entire United States; creating health care reform without a mandate.

I know that everything’s bigger in Texas, and Rick likes to talk that way. And I know all the smart people reside in Massachusetts. But let me just tell you, Utah, the great state of Utah, was number one in job creation at 5.9 percent during my years as governor.

We were the best managed state in America. We were the best place in America for business.

I’m the only person on this stage, Wolf, who can actually lay claim to all of that. And you know why it’s important? It’s because it’s exactly what this country needs at this point in his history.

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to let everybody respond. We’ve got a lot more to talk about, including national security — it’s a critical issue — taxes, Federal Reserve, health care, many more subjects coming up.

Stay with us. Remember, go to Twitter or Facebook, CNNPolitics.com. We want to hear from you as well.

Our special coverage of this historic CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate will continue after this.

[applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN/Tea Party presidential debate. We’re here in Tampa.

Let’s go right to a question from the audience.

Please give us your name.

STEVE ROUTSZONG, GREATER GASTON COUNTY TEA PARTY: Good evening. I’m Steve Routszong with the Tea Party of Greater Gaston County, from Gastonia, North Carolina.

My question tonight is: What is your position on the Federal Reserve? Should it indeed be audited and be held accountable by the American people?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: I agree with an audit on the Federal Reserve. I believe that what we should do with the Fed is to make it a single charter instead of a dual charter.

I think the second charter that was instituted that had it be responsible for increasing employment and dealing with that leads to a fundamental distrust among the American people that they are taking their eye off the ball, which is sound money. They should be a sound money Federal Reserve. That should be their single charter, and that is it.

With respect to some of the questions that were asked in the last segment on the economy, I would just say this. Some people say that Barack Obama’s economy is a disaster. My feeling is it would have to make a dramatic improvement just to be a disaster. The…

[laughter]

[applause]

What we need to do is have a pro-growth plan that can pass the Congress with Democratic support and, as Newt mentioned, be able to rally the American people. What the American people want is a policy that’s going to get people the opportunity to rise in society, to fill that great middle of America, and that is manufacturing jobs.

That’s why my plan takes the corporate tax, which is 35 percent, cuts it to zero, and says, if you manufacture in America, you aren’t going to pay any taxes. We want you to come back here. We want you to have “Made in America” stamped on your — your product.

[applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: You were once with the Kansas City Federal Reserve. Should it be audited?

CAIN: Yes, it can — it should be audited. And, secondly, I believe that its focus needs to be narrowed. I don’t believe in ending the Fed; I believe in fixing the Fed.

For many, many decades, the Fed did its job when it was singularly focused on sound money. When we wake up in the morning, we expect 60 minutes to be in an hour. Now when we wake up, because of some of the actions of the current Fed, we don’t know what the value of the dollar is going to be.

In 1988, it took 1.2 dollars in order to be able to convert from Canadian to U.S. It is now totally reversed because of the current policies of the Fed.

BLITZER: Thank you. Congresswoman Bachmann, you know that Governor Perry has suggested that Ben Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, potentially should be tried for treason for what he’s doing.

[applause]

Do you agree?

BACHMANN: Well, as president of the United States, I would not be reappointing Ben Bernanke, but I want to say this. During the bailout, the $700 billion bailout, I worked behind the scenes against the bailout, because one of the things that I saw from the Federal Reserve, the enabling act legislation is written so broadly that, quite literally, Congress has given the Federal Reserve almost unlimited power over the economy.

That has to change. They can no longer have that power. Why? Because what we saw, with all of the $700 billion bailout, is that the Federal Reserve opened its discount window and was making loans to private American businesses. And not only that, they’re making loans to foreign governments.

This cannot be. The Federal Reserve has a lot to answer for. And that’s why it’s important that they’re not only audited, but they have got be shrunk back down to such a tight leash that they’re going to squeak.

BLITZER: It’s one thing to say you wouldn’t reappoint him, Ben Bernanke…

[applause]

… to be head of the Federal Reserve. It’s another thing — do you agree or disagree with Governor Perry that potentially he’s engaged in treason?

BACHMANN: Well, that’s for — that’s for Governor Perry to make that decision. My — my opinion is, I would not reappoint Ben Bernanke.

BLITZER: You stand by those remarks, Governor?

PERRY: I — I said that, if you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes, that it would be almost treasonous. I think that is a very clear statement of fact.

[applause]

I am not a fan of the current chairman allowing that Federal Reserve to be used to cover up bad fiscal policy by this administration. And that, I will suggest to you, is what we have seen.

It is a travesty that young people in America are seeing their dollars devalued in what — we don’t know if it was political or not because of the transparency issue. But I stand by this, that we need to have a Fed that is working towards sound monetary policy, that creates a strong dollar in America, and we do not have that today.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney, is there anything you disagree with — with — with Governor Perry on that point?

ROMNEY: Well, my own view is that, quite simply, that the Federal Reserve has a responsibility to preserve the value of our currency, to have a strong American currency, such that investors and people who are thinking about bringing enterprises to this country have confidence in the future of America and in our currency. People will not invest in this country and create jobs in this country for the American people if they don’t have belief in our currency.

Of course we should see what the Fed is doing. There should be some oversight to make sure that it’s — it’s acting properly.

But at the same time, we recognize that we need to have a Fed. Why — why do I say that? Because if we don’t have a Fed, who’s going to run the currency? Congress? I’m not in favor of that. I’d rather have an agency that is being overseen rather than have the United States Congress try and manage our currency.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s take another question from the hall. Go ahead. And please identify yourself.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Tyler Hensley (ph). I’m from Napa, California. My — well, first of all, thank you guys for coming out tonight. My question is, out of every dollar that I earn, how much do you think that I deserve to keep?

BACHMANN: Oh, I love that question. I love that question.

[applause] [crosstalk]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I’ve come out with a tax program that basically simplifies, lowers, flattens the rate, why? Because I did it as governor in the state of Utah; I believe that that experience means something.

And I look at people who are earning, you in the workplace, trying to make ends meet. You ought to be given a competitive tax code. We need to clear out the cobwebs. We need to clear out the deductions, the loopholes, the corporate welfare, and all the subsidies. And for you, you know, we leave it at 8 percent, 14 percent, 24 percent. Those are the three rates that I think would work on the individual income side. On the corporate side, I think we recognize the reality that a whole lot of companies can afford to have lobbyists and lawyers on Capitol Hill working their magic. Let’s recognize the reality that they’re all paying 35 percent. We need to lower that to 25 percent. So let’s phase out the corporate subsidies and clean out the cobwebs and leave it more competitive for the 21st century.

I can tell you, by doing that with our tax code — and I know, because we did it in a state that took us to the number-one job creator in this country — it will leave you and your generation a whole lot better off.

But the thing that you all need to be worried about is the debt that is coming your way, because we have a cancer that is eating away at the core of this country called debt. And it’s going to eat — eat — eat alive this country until your generation gets active in the 2012 election cycle and finds a leader who can address debt and growth.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.

Speaker Gingrich, some of the biggest companies in the United States, the oil companies, they got — I guess some would call government handouts in the form of tax breaks, tax exemptions, loopholes. They’re making billions and billions of dollars. Is that fair?

GINGRICH: You know, I thought for a second, you were going to refer to General Electric, which has paid no taxes.

[applause]

You know, I — I was — I was astonished the other night to have the president there in the joint session with the head of G.E. sitting up there and the president talking about taking care of loopholes. And I thought to myself, doesn’t he realize that every green tax credit is a loophole…

[applause]

… that everything he wants — everything General Electric is doing is a loophole? Now, why did we get to breaks for ethanol, breaks for oil and gas, et cetera? We got to them because of this idea, which the young man just represented. If we make you — if we make it possible for you to keep more of your own money, you will do more of it.

We have a simple choice. We can depend on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, or we can encourage development in the United States of manufacturing, as Rick said. We can encourage development of oil and gas. We can do it by saying we’re going to let you keep more of your money if you create more of what we want. I’m for an energy- independent America, and that means I favor people who create energy.

[applause]

BLITZER: But I just want to follow up, Mr. Speaker. If you eliminate some of those loopholes, those exemptions, whether for ExxonMobil or G.E. or some other companies, there are those who argue that is, in effect, a tax increase and it would violate a pledge that so many Republicans have made not to raise taxes.

GINGRICH: Yes, a lot of people argue that. They’re — they’re technically right, which is why I’m — look, I’m cheerfully opposed to raising taxes. This government — we have a problem of overspending. We don’t have a problem of undertaxing.

And I think that it would be good for us to say, we’re not going to raise any — which is why I’m also in favor of keeping the current tax cut for people who are working on Social Security and Medicare. I think trying to raise the tax on working Americans in the middle of the Obama depression is a destructive policy. So I don’t want to have any tax increase at any level for anyone. I want to shrink government to fit income, not raise income to try to catch up with government.

BLITZER: All right, let’s go to Cincinnati.

[applause]

We’ve got a question from Cincinnati. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. My question is, would any of you be willing to support the fair tax?

BLITZER: Governor Romney? A fair tax basically is a national sales tax.

ROMNEY: Yeah. Yeah. The — the idea of a national sales tax or a consumption tax has a lot to go for it. One, it would make us more competitive globally, as we send products around the world, because under the provisions of the World Trade Organization, you can reimburse that to an exporter. We can’t reimburse our taxes right now. It also would level the playing field in the country, making sure everybody is paying some part of their fair share. But the way the fair tax has been structured, it has a real problem and that is it lowers the burden on the very highest income folks and the very lowest and raises it on middle income people. And the people who have been hurt most by the Obama-economy are the middle class.

And so my plan is to take the middle class individuals and dramatically reduce their taxes by the following measure. And that is for middle income Americans, no tax on interest, dividends or capital gains. Let people save their money as the way they think is best for them, for their kids, for their future, for their retirement. We’re taxing too much, we’re spending too much and middle income Americans need a break and I’ll give it to them.

BLITZER: All right. We have another question from Portsmouth, Virginia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Linda Gunn (ph). I’m from Portsmouth, Virginia. I’m part of the Virginia Taxpayers Alliance. My question has to do with executive orders, under what circumstances should a president sign an executive order? And how frequently should such an order be signed?

BLITZER: Congressman Paul.

PAUL: The executive orders have been grossly abused by all administrations for a lot of years. If you can’t — some executive orders are legal. When the president executes proper function of the presidency like moving troops and other things, yes, it’s done with an executive order. But the executive order should never be used to legislate. That is what is so bad.

So the executive order should be taken under control. And I have made a promise that as president I would never use the executive order to legislate.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, as you well know, you signed an executive order requiring little girls 11 and 12-year-old girls to get a vaccine to deal with a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer. Was that a mistake?

PERRY: It was. And indeed, if I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently. I would have gone to the legislature, worked with them. But what was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people’s lives.

Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die. And I happen to think that what we were trying to do was to clearly send a message that we’re going to give moms and dads the opportunity to make that decision with parental opt-out.

Parental rights are very important in state of Texas. We do it on a long list of vaccines that are made, but on that particular issue, I will tell you that I made a mistake by not going to the legislature first. Let me address Ron Paul just a minute by saying I will use an executive order to get rid of as much of Obamacare as I can on day one.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, do you have anything to say about what Governor Perry just said. You’re a mom.

BACHMANN: I’m a mom. And I’m a mom of three children. And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It’s a violation of a liberty interest.

That’s — little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don’t get a mulligan. They don’t get a do- over. The parents don’t get a do-over. That’s why I fought so hard in Washington, D.C., against President Obama and Obamacare.

President Obama in a stunning, shocking level of power now just recently told all private insurance companies, you must offer the morning-after abortion pill, because I said so. And it must be free of charge. That same level coming through executive orders and through government dictates is wrong. And that’s why again we have to have someone who is absolutely committed to the repeal of Obamacare and I am. I won’t rest until it’s appealed.

BLITZER: Let’s let Governor Perry respond. Was what you signed into law, that vaccine for 11 and 12-year-old girls, was that,as some of your critics have suggested, a mandate?

PERRY: No, sir it wasn’t. It was very clear. It had an opt- out. And at the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer and giving the parental option to opt out of that. And at the end of the day, you may criticize me about the way that I went about it, but at the end of the day, I am always going to err on the side of life. And that’s what this was really all about for me.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum — go ahead.

BACHMANN: Can i ad to that, Wolf? Can I add to that?

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Hold on a second. First Congresswoman Bachmann, then Senator Santorum.

BACHMANN: I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can’t deny that…

[applause]

BLITZER: What are you suggesting?

BACHMANN: What I’m saying is that it’s wrong for a drug company, because the governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?

BLITZER: All right. I’ll let Senator Santorum hold off for a second.

You’ve got to response to that.

PERRY: Yes, sir. The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.

[applause]

BACHMANN: Well, I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice. That’s what I’m offended for.

[applause]

SANTORUM: I think we need to hear what Governor Perry’s saying. He’s saying that his policy was right. He believes that what he did was right. He thinks he went about it the wrong way.

I believe your policy is wrong. Why — ladies and gentlemen, why do we inoculate people with vaccines in public schools? Because we’re afraid of those diseases being communicable between people at school. And therefore, to protect the rest of the people at school, we have vaccinations to protect those children.

Unless Texas has a very progressive way of communicating diseases in their school by way of their curriculum, then there is no government purpose served for having little girls inoculated at the force and compulsion of the government. This is big government run amok. It is bad policy, and it should not have been done.

[applause]

BLITZER: I’m going to move on, Governor Perry, unless you want to say anything else.

PERRY: Look, I think we made decisions in Texas. We put a $3 billion effort in to find the cure for cancer. There are a lot of different cancers out there. Texas, I think, day in and day out, is a place that protects life.

I passed parental notification piece of legislation. I’ve been the most pro-life governor in the state of Texas. And what we were all about was trying to save young people’s lives in Texas.

SANTORUM: Then give the parents the opt-in, as opposed to — teach them, let them opt in, but do not force them to have this inoculation.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right. Let’s take a question from the audience.

Give us your name please.

QUESTION: I’m Caroline Taylor. I’m from Orange Park, Florida, with the Peoples Tea Party.

My question is, health insurance is expensive because health care is expensive. What is your plan to reduce the cost of health care so that our insurance premiums and other related costs can also be reduced?

BLITZER: All right.

Mr. Cain?

CAIN: First, repeal Obamacare in its entirety.

[applause]

SANTORUM: Amen.

CAIN: Secondly, pass market-driven, patient-centered reforms such as, under the current code, deductibility of health insurance premiums regardless of who pays for it. But as you know, I want to throw that out and put in my 999 plan. Secondly, the other thing that we can do in order to help bring down the costs is pass loser pay laws. Doctors will tell you that one of their biggest expenses is medical liability insurance because of frivolous lawsuits.

Secondly, restructure Medicare, another big cost that’s passed on to us as consumers related to all the bureaucracy associated with that.

Another market-driven idea, allow association health plans. When I ran the National Restaurant Association, which today has 14 million employees, we wanted to design a system for health insurance that was going to be customized for our industry. We could not do that. We need to be allowed to do that, and so should other organizations and other associations.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Cain.

Governor Romney, a lot of the Tea Party supporters here and around the country have a real serious problem with the health care mandate that you got through in Massachusetts. Is there anything you want to say to them to revise or amend? Do you stand by what you did?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. And let me come back and just mention something that — Herman Cain is right, and let’s get back to getting the cost of health care down. I happen to think that’s an enormous issue. And I agree with almost everything you said, Herman, but the reason health care is so expensive, I think you hit the nail on head. You said it’s not just because of insurance, it’s because of the cost of providing care. And one reason for that is the person who receives care in America generally doesn’t care how much it costs, because once they’ve paid their deductible, it’s free. And the provider, the more they do, the more they get paid.

We have something that’s not working like a market. It’s working like a government utility. And so what we have to do is make sure that individuals have a concern and care about how much something costs. And for that to happen, health savings accounts.

Give people a stake in what the cost of insurance is going to be, what the cost of it is going to be. Co-insurance, where people pay a share of the bill, that makes a difference.

And with regards to Massachusetts care, I’m not running for governor. I’m running for president. And if I’m president, on day one I’ll direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states.

It’s a problem that’s bad law, it’s not constitutional. I’ll get rid of it.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right.

Governor Perry, you’re a firm believer in states’ rights. Can a state like Massachusetts go ahead and pass health care reform, including mandates? Is that a good idea, if Massachusetts wants to do it?

PERRY: Well, that’s what Governor Romney wanted to do, so that’s fine. But the fact of the matter is, that was the plan that President Obama has said himself was the model for Obamacare. And I think any of us who know that that piece of legislation will draw a line between the doctor/patient relationship, that will cost untold billions of dollars, is not right for this country. And frankly, I don’t think it was right for Massachusetts when you look at what it’s costing the people of Massachusetts today. But at the end of the day, that was their call.

So, from a just purely states get to decide what they want to do, I agree with that. And in the state of Texas, we don’t think that’s the way we want to go.

BLITZER: All right.

BACHMANN: Wolf, can I —

BLITZER: I’m going to let you respond, but I want Governor Romney to respond first.

ROMNEY: First, I’d be careful about trusting what President Obama says as to what the source was of his plan, number one. But number two, if you think what we did in Massachusetts and what President Obama did are the same, boy, take a closer look, because, number one, he raised taxes $500 billion, and helped slow down the U.S. economy by doing it. We didn’t raise taxes.

He cut Medicare by $500 billion. This is a Democrat president. The liberal, so to speak, cut Medicare. Not Republicans, the Democrat.

We dealt with the people in our state that were uninsured, some nine percent. His bill deals with 100 percent of the people.

He puts in place a panel that ultimately is going to tell people what kind of care they’re going to have. We didn’t do anything like that.

What the president did was simply wrong. It is the wrong course for America. It is not what we did in Massachusetts.

The people of Massachusetts favored our plan by three to one. And states can make their own choices. I’m happy to stand up for what he did. But I’ll tell you one thing, what he did is wrong for America, and I’ll stop it.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor. Before I get to Michele Bachmann, I want to just — you’re a physician, Ron Paul, so you’re a doctor. You know something about this subject. Let me ask you this hypothetical question.

A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it.

Who’s going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

PAUL: Well, in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.

BLITZER: Well, what do you want?

PAUL: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not be forced —

BLITZER: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

PAUL: That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody —

[applause]

BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

PAUL: No. I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid, in the early 1960s, when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, and the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals.

[applause]

PAUL: And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. This whole idea, that’s the reason the cost is so high.

The cost is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy. It becomes special interests. It kowtows to the insurance companies and the drug companies, and then on top of that, you have the inflation. The inflation devalues the dollar, we have lack of competition.

PAUL: There’s no competition in medicine. Everybody is protected by licensing. And we should actually legalize alternative health care, allow people to practice what they want.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, go ahead and weigh in on this hypothetical 30-year-old who needs six months of intensive care, has no insurance.

BACHMANN: Well, first of all, what I want to say, with all due respect to the governors, I’ve read this health care bill, I’ve been fighting this fight the last couple of years.

BLITZER: Which health care bill?

BACHMANN: President Obama’s Obamacare bill. And waivers and executive orders won’t cut it. If you could solve Obamacare with an executive order, any president could do it and any president could undo it. That’s not — not how it can be done.

Plus, no state has the constitutional right to force a person as a condition of citizenship to buy a product or service against their will. It’s unconstitutional…

[applause]

… whether it’s the state government or whether it’s the federal government. The only way to eradicate Obamacare is to pull it out by the root and branch to fully repeal it. It’s the only way we’re going to get rid of it.

And this is why I’m running for the presidency of the United States, because 2012 is it. This is the election that’s going to decide if we have socialized medicine in this country or not. This is it.

Why? I just have to say this. It’s because President Obama embedded $105,464,000,000 in Obamacare in post-dated checks to implement this bill. We are never going to get rid of it unless we have a president committed to getting rid of it. And if you believe that states can have it and that it’s constitutional, you’re not committed. If you’ve implemented this in your state, you’re not committed. I’m committed to repealing Obamacare.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you.

There is much, much more in this Republican presidential debate, the CNN Tea Party debate. Stand by. We’re taking another quick break. When we come back, national security, immigration, and a lot more. We’ll be right back.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: I’m Wolf Blitzer in Tampa at the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. Thousands of you are watching and commenting online on Twitter, Facebook, and cnn.com. We’ve seen the candidates strongly disagree on several issues already. When we come back, three especially bitter divides: the staggering cost of the war in Afghanistan; how to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon; and illegal immigration. We’ll be right back.

[applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. We’re here in Tampa. But we’re taking questions from across the country.

Let’s go to Cincinnati. Please identify yourself and ask the question.

QUESTION: Yes, what — what would you do — what would you do to remove the illegal immigrants from our country?

[applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, maybe 11 million, 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. What would you do?

SANTORUM: I’ve said this from the very beginning. What — I’m the son of an Italian immigrant. I believe in immigration. I believe that immigration is an important part of the lifeblood of this country.

But what we have is a problem of an unsecure border. Unlike Governor Perry, I believe we need to build more fence. I need — I believe that we need to secure the border using technology and more personnel. And until we build that border, we should neither have storm troopers come in and throw people out of the country nor should we provide amnesty.

What we should do is enforce the laws in this country with respect to employers, and we should secure the border. And then after the border is secured, then we can deal with the problem that are in this country. But I — I think it’s very important that we understand and we explain to folks that immigration is an important lifeblood of this country, something that I strongly support and something that we have to do legally if we’re going to have — have respect for the law.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, he mentioned you, so go ahead.

PERRY: Yes, sir. There’s not anybody on this stage that’s had to deal with the issue of border security more than I have, with 1,200 miles of — of Texas and Mexico. And our federal government has been an abject failure at securing our border.

[applause]

We’ve had to spend some $400 million of Texas taxpayer dollars to send Texas Ranger recon teams down there. Strategic fencing in the metropolitan areas absolutely has a role to play.

But the idea that you’re going to build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and go left for another 800 miles to Tijuana is just not reality. What you have to have is boots on the ground. You’ve got to have 450 Border Patrol agents trained up, 1,500 National Guard troops. You’ve got to have the aviation assets in the air putting real-time information down to the law enforcement.

We understand and know how to secure that border, but we can’t do it alone. And the federal government has to step up and do what their constitutional duty is, and that is to secure the border with Mexico.

[applause]

BLITZER: Let me just take this quick question from Twitter, and then I want to stay on this subject. What are the candidates doing to attract the Latino voters? Go ahead, Senator Santorum.

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, what Governor Perry’s done is he provided in-state tuition for — for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote — I mean, the Latino voters.

But you track Latino voters by talking about the importance of immigration in this country. You talk about the importance of — as — as Newt has talked about for many years, having English as the — as the official language of this country.

[applause]

And I say that…

[applause]

I say that as, again, my — my father and grandfather came to this country not speaking a word of English, but it was the greatest gift to my father to have to learn English so he could assimilate into this society.

We’re a melting pot, not a salad bowl. And we need to continue that tradition.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, I’m going to move on to Governor Huntsman in a second, but you did sign legislation giving some illegal immigrants in Texas the opportunity to have in-state tuition at universities in Texas, explain what that…

PERRY: In the state of Texas, if you’ve been in the state of Texas for three years, if you’re working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there.

And the bottom line is it doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way. No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. And that’s what we’ve done in the state of Texas. And I’m proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole.

BLITZER: You heard some boos there. But go ahead, Congresswoman Bachmann, is that basically the DREAM Act that President Obama wants as well?

BACHMANN: Yes, it’s very similar. And I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way. Because the immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws.

What works is to have people come into the United States with a little bit of money in their pocket legally with sponsors so that if anything happens to them, they don’t fall back on the taxpayers to take care of them. And then they also have to agree to learn the speak the English language, learn American history and our constitution. That’s the American way.

BLITZER: I’m going to bring Governor Huntsman here. But go ahead, Governor Perry.

PERRY: I’m not for the DREAM Act that they are talking about in Washington D.C. that is amnesty. What we did in the state of Texas was clearly a states right issue. And the legislature passed with only four dissenting votes in the House and the Senate to allow this to occur.

We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. That if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship, that we’re going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state.

BLITZER: Hold on a second, Governor Huntsman, you also signed legislation in Utah that gave driving privileges to illegal immigrants. Was that a good idea?

HUNTSMAN: Well, first of all, let me say for Rick to say that you can’t secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment.

MALE: I didn’t hear that.

HUNTSMAN: Rick, we can secure the border. We can secure the border through means of fences, through technology, through the deployment of our National Guard troops, we can get it done. In fact, when the elected president of the United States, I would work with you and the other three border governors to ensure that through your law enforcement officials you can verify that that border is secure.

But I will tell you before Wolf here directs a question, they were given a driver’s license before and they were using that for identification purposes. And I thought that was wrong. Instead we issued a driver privilege card, which in our state allowed our economy to continue to function. And it said in very bold letters, not to be used for identification purposes. It was a pragmatic local government driven fix and it proved that the tenth amendment works.

We believe in local fixes and solutions.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Romney, do you have a problem with either what Governor Huntsman did in Utah or Governor Perry did in Texas?

ROMNEY: yeah with both, actually. The question began by saying how do we attract Latino voters. And the answer is by telling them what they know in their heart, which is they or their ancestors did not come here for a handout. If they came here for a handout, they’d be voting for Democrats. They came here for opportunity and freedom. And that’s what we represent. And that’s why we’ll win collecting support from Latinos across the country.

With regards to illegal immigration, of course we build a fence and of course we do not give instate tuition credits to people who come here illegally. That only attracts people to come here and take advantage of America’s great beneficence.

And with regards to giving driver’s licenses to people that are here illegally, that creates a patina of legal status. There are sanctuary cities in some parts of the country.

One of the things I did in my state was to say, look, I’m going to get my state police authorized to be able to enforce immigration laws and make sure those people who we arrest are put in jail, to find out they’re here illegally, we’re going to get them out of here.

We have to recognize that this is the party that believes in supporting the law. We’re going to enforce the law. We’re the party of opportunity, we’re also the party of legal law abiding citizens. And that’s something we’re going to attract people of all backgrounds.

PERRY: As I said it earlier, we basically had a decision to make. Are we going to give people an incentive to be contributing members of this society or are we going to tell them no, we’re going to put you on the government dole? In the state of Texas, and this is a states right issue, if in Massachusetts you didn’t want to do that or Utah you didn’t want to do this, that’s fine. But in the state of Texas where Mexico has a clear and a long relationship with this state, we decided it was in the best interest of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity. They’re pursuing citizenship in this country rather than saying, you know, we’re going to put you over here and put you on the government dole for the rest of your life. We don’t think that was the right thing to do. And it’s working. And it’s working well in the state of Texas.

BLITZER: I know you want to respond, too, because he said that what you did in Utah was a mistake giving driving privileges to illegal immigrants.

HUNTSMAN: I think we can spend all night talking about where Mitt’s been on all the issues of the day. And that would take forever. But let me just say that all the Latino voters, Hispanic voters want is opportunity, can we say that? The greatest thing that we can do for the people in this country is — on illegal immigration is fix homeland security.

I mean, when are we going to have an honest conversation in this country about the root causes. We can’t process people. The H1B visa process is broken. We need to bring in brain power to this country to shore up our economic might. We need to bring in foreign capital to raise real estate prices as well.

We need a fixed Department of Homeland Security.

BLITZER: Thank you, governor.

All right. Let’s take a question from Phoenix. Go ahead, Phoenix. Give us your name.

[applause]

QUESTION: The United States has an abundance of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium. The American people have been told for decades that energy independence is a top priority. What will you do in your first 100 days in office to assure the American people that energy independence will finally become reality.

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: The first thing that I would do in order to assure that we get on the road to energy independence, and I do believe that we can because we do have the natural resources to do so, we’ve got to remove some of those barriers out of the way that are being created by the federal government. I would start with an EPA that’s gone wild. That’s where we start.

I would put together a regulatory reduction commission for every agency starting with the EPA. This regulatory reduction commission — one of my guiding principles is if you want to solve a problem go to the source closest to the problem. So the people that I would appoint to that commission will be people who have been abused by the EPA. That would be the commission that would straighten out the regulatory burden.

BLITZER: Let’s take a question from Twitter. Do you plan to decrease defense spending to balance spending? Or do you believe high spending is essential to security? Speaker Gingrinch?

GINGRICH: I think we are at the edge of an enormous crisis in national security. I think that we are greatly underestimating the threat to this country. And I think that the day after we celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 we should be reminded exactly what is at stake if a foreign terrorist gets a nuclear weapon into this country.

We have failed for a decade to deal with North Korea. We have failed for a decade to deal with Iran. The developments in Egypt and Turkey are much more dangerous than anybody is looking at in this country. And I think we need, frankly, to ask for a very serious national dialogue.

I’d like to see both the House and Senate right now holding hearings on three levels of security. What do you do in Mexico where there’s a civil war underway next door to us? What do you do in the Middle East where we have totally underestimated the scale of the threat? And what do you do about our national domestic industrial base which is crucial if we’re going to be competitive with China?

All three of those are a major threat to us.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul.

[applause]

PAUL: First thing I would like to do is make sure that you understand there’s a difference between military spending and defense spending. I’m tired of all the militarism that we are involved in. And we’re wasting this money in getting us involved. And I agree, we are still in danger, but most of the danger comes by our lack of wisdom on how we run our foreign policy.

So I would say there’s a lot of room to cut on the military, but not on the defense. You can slash the military spending. We don’t need to be building airplanes that were used in World War II — we’re always fighting the last war.

But we’re under great threat, because we occupy so many countries.

We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.

The purpose of al Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there, where they can target us. And they have been doing it. They have more attacks against us and the American interests per month than occurred in all the years before 9/11, but we’re there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?

[applause]

PAUL: So I would say a policy — a foreign policy that takes care of our national defense, that we’re willing to get along with people and trade with people, as the founders advised, there’s no authority in the Constitution to be the policeman of the world, and no nation-building. Just remember, George Bush won the presidency on that platform in the year 2000. And I still think it’s a good platform.

BLITZER: All right.

[applause]

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Santorum respond, because I know you strongly disagree.

SANTORUM: On your Web site on 9/11, you had a blog post that basically blamed the United States for 9/11. On your Web site, yesterday, you said that it was our actions that brought about the actions of 9/11.

Now, Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible. The president of the United States — someone who is running for the president of the United States in the Republican Party should not be parroting what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11.

[applause]

SANTORUM: We should have — we are not being attacked and we were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked, as Newt talked about, because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists. And they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for. And we stand for American exceptionalism, we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world, and I am not ashamed to do that.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thirty second, Mr. Paul.

PAUL: As long as this country follows that idea, we’re going to be under a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true.

Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit — they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing —

[booing]

PAUL: I didn’t say that. I’m trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing, at the same time we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for 10 years.

Would you be annoyed? If you’re not annoyed, then there’s some problem.

BLITZER: Thank you, Congressman.

All right. We’re going to say on this subject. We have a question from the audience.

Go ahead. Please identify yourself.

SAHAR HEKMATI, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Hi. My name is Sahar Hekmati. I was brought here from Ronald Reagan. I am from Afghanistan. And my question to you is, as the next president of the United States, what will you do to secure safety and protection for the women and the children of Afghanistan from the radicals?

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: We are 10 years into this war, Sahar. America has given its all in Afghanistan.

We have families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. And it’s to them that we offer our heartfelt salute and a deep sense of gratitude. But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan.

[applause]

HUNTSMAN: We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation- building at a time when this nation needs to be built. We are of no value to the rest of the world if our core is crumbling, which it is in this country.

I like those days when Ronald Reagan — you talked about — when Ronald Reagan would ensure that the light of this country would shine brightly for liberty, democracy, human rights, and free markets. We’re not shining like we used to shine. We need to shine again.

And I’m here to tell you, Sahar, when we start shining again, it’s going to help the women of Afghanistan, along with any other NGO work that can be done there and the collaborative efforts of great volunteer efforts here in the United States. We can get it done, but we have to make sure that the Afghan people increasingly take responsibility for their security going forward.

[applause]

BLITZER: Very quickly, to Governor Perry, $2 billion a week, is that money well spent by U.S. taxpayers in Afghanistan?

PERRY: Well, I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it’s time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it’s also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don’t think so at this particular point in time.

I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country’s military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home, and continue to help them build the infrastructure that we need, whether it’s schools for young women like yourself or otherwise.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.

All right. We’re going to take another quick break.

When we come back, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to get to know these candidates a little bit better. When we come back, what would they add to the White House if they were to move in?

We’ll be right back.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Eight Republican presidential candidates on the stage.

You know, Americans are looking at you. They also want to know a little bit more about you.

I’m going to start with Senator Santorum. I want to go down and get your thoughts on something you would bring to the White House if you were the next president of the United States.

An example, President George H. W. Bush put in a horseshoe pit. President Clinton put in a jogging track. President Obama added a vegetable garden.

Senator Santorum, if you’re president, what would you bring to the White House?

SANTORUM: Well, mine is pretty obvious. Karen and I have seven children, so we’d add a bedroom or — and some beds to the White House.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I would reduce the White House by kicking out all the White House czars the first day, creating a lot more space.

[applause]

And then, because of Callista’s interest, we’d have a lot more music, because of my granddaughter, Maggie, we’d have ballet, and because of my grandson, Robert, we’d have a very large chess set. So it’ll all come together.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: I’d bring a bushel basket full of common sense. And I would also bring a course in Austrian economics to teach the people…

[applause]

… the business cycle and why the Fed creates inflation and depressions and all our unemployment problems.

BLITZER: Governor Perry?

PERRY: It’s simple. I’m going to bring the most beautiful, most thoughtful, incredible first lady that this country’s ever seen, Anita.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: You know, one of — one of my heroes was a man who had an extraordinary turn of phrase. He once said about us, he said, you know, you can count on the Americans to get things right after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives. And now and then we’ve made a couple of mistakes. We’re quite a nation. And this man, Winston Churchill, used to have his bust in the Oval Office. And if I’m president of the United States, it’ll be there again.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Bachmann?

BACHMANN: I would bring a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, and that’s it.

[applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: I would bring a sense of humor to the White House, because America’s too uptight.

[laughter]

[applause]

BLITZER: And Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: And to play to that theme — my wife’s going to kill me for saying this — but I would bring my — as a 40-year motorcycle rider, I would bring my Harley-Davidson and my motocross bike.

BLITZER: Ladies and gentlemen, the eight Republican presidential candidates.

[applause] And that’s all the time we have. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand to our candidates for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

[applause]

We want to thank our partners, the Tea Party Express, and 150 Tea Party groups from around the country. Thanks also to our host, the Florida State Fairgrounds. Our next debate here on CNN, in Las Vegas, October 18th with the Western Republican Leadership Conference. We look forward to seeing the candidates and all of you there. The conversation continues online right now on Twitter, Facebook, and cnnpolitics.com. More coverage of this debate with “Anderson Cooper 360” right now