POLITICS

In no-holds-barred debate, GOP candidates spar over immigration, foreign policy

While the 11 candidates on stage debated a number of topics, they all agreed that the main issue in regards to immigration is securing the United States' porous borders.

 

After the top tier Republican candidates finished discussing the effect of Donald Trump and other so-called "outside" candidates on this season's presidential race, the debate Wednesday turned to Trump's favorite topic on the campaign trail: immigration.

While the 11 candidates on stage at the Reagan Library in California debated a number of topics, ranging from border walls to candidates speaking Spanish to birth-right citizenship, they all agreed that the main issue in regards to immigration is securing the United States' porous borders.

"We have an incredible illegal immigration problem," said Ben Carson, who is closing in on front-runner Trump in the polls. "We need to seal the border. Nothing else really matters."

Besides border security, however, there was little else the candidates agreed on. They clashed on immigration for about 20 minutes. The topic even turned personal.

When moderators asked Jeb Bush if he had been offended by Trump's suggestion that Bush is soft on immigration because of his wife, Columba, a Mexican-born American citizen, the former Florida governor not only said he was but he asked Trump for an apology.

If they ask me a question in Spanish, I'm going to show them respect and answer them in Spanish.

- Jeb Bush, Republican presidential candidate

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Trump said he'd heard "phenomenal things" about Columba Bush but wouldn't apologize. He said his words have been misconstrued and he stood by his criticism of Bush for answering some questions from reporters in Spanish. He said people in the United States should speak English.

"To assimilate you have to speak English," Trump said. "This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish."

In response to Trump, Bush said he's showing respect to people who speak both languages, referring to a recent tour of a Florida school where students asked him questions in Spanish.

"If they ask me a question in Spanish, I'm going to show them respect and answer them in Spanish," Bush said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio jumped in and said it's important to speak Spanish to communicate with immigrants who may become Republican voters. He recounted stories of his grandfather, a Cuban immigrant whose English was shaky but who idolized Ronald Reagan.

Rubio added that he wants conservative speakers to hear his words in the language that they understand.

"If they get their news in Spanish, I want them to hear it from me not from a translator on Univision," Rubio added.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who was the only candidate from the second-tier debate back in August, said President Obama and Democrats don't want to solve the problem of illegal immigration.

She said Obama and Democrats want it to continue being an issue so that they can use it against Republicans.

Trump also defended his position that citizenship should not be given automatically to children born in the United States. He says the U.S. is "dumb" and "stupid" for allowing that through the 14th Amendment.

He said, as president, he would end birthright citizenship.

Fiorina says, "You can't just wave your hands and say the 14th Amendment is going to go away."

While immigration took center stage for a good part of the debate, much of the night was concentrated on foreign policy, especially in regards to Syria, Russia and Iran.

The policy debates exposed rifts within the Republican Party, particularly the split between political outsiders and candidates with long resumes in Washington and governor's mansions. Trump and Fiorina emphasized how their business backgrounds would help them negotiate with difficult world leaders, including Russia's president.

"Vladimir Putin would get the message," said Fiorina, who was joining the main debate for the first time after a strong performance in an undercard event last month.

Trump, who has capitalized on his outsider appeal, said the three senators in the field —Rubio, Kentucky's Rand Paul and Texas' Ted Cruz — bore some responsibility for the unabated violence in Syria. He said as president, he would have gone in with "tremendous force" when the Syrian regime used chemical weapons.

On Iran, the candidates were split on whether they would tear up President Barack Obama's nuclear accord with Iran if elected. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich took a measured approach, saying ripping up a deal agreed to not only by the U.S. but also several allies was not a strategy for stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

In an exchange on gay marriage and religious liberty, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued forcefully for the right of Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis to defy the Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage. "I thought that everyone here passed ninth grade civics. The courts can't legislate," he said. "I thought we had three branches of government."

Huckabee declined to criticize Bush for saying Davis did not have the right to deny gays marriage licenses. Bush said he supports defending the rights of religious people to refuse to endorse gay marriage, but he said someone else in Davis' office should sign the certificates since the Supreme Court ruling is the law of the land.

"I think there needs to be accommodation for someone acting on their faith," he said.

Even as Trump faded somewhat in the policy discussions, he was hardly invisible in the debate. He praised himself while deriding and scoring his rivals in the opening minutes of the debate at the Regan Presidential Library in southern California.

Standing at center stage, Trump said he had a "phenomenal temperament" and a record in business that would help him on the world stage. With his signature brashness, he immediately took on his rivals, saying Kentucky Sen. Paul didn't deserve to be on the crowded debate stage.

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