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CPAC 2011: Speeches, Video & More (LIVE UPDATES & VIDEO)

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The 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference is kicking-off in Washington, DC on Thursday.

According to the CPAC website, confirmed speakers for this year's event include Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), among other big conservative names.

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) was tapped to deliver the keynote address at the conference. Sarah Palin was offered the coveted speaking opportunity; however, declined to accept the invitation.

Check back here for updates on CPAC 2011 and the latest news to come out on the conservative conference.

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In an interview with The Huffington Post today, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) explained that "big government is alive and well."

See what else he had to say by checking out the full story here.

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Rick Perry attacked the health care bill in his speech, saying, "that bill will bankrupt our states, and in turn bankrupt our country." He explained, "it is wrong for the federal government to force you to buy health insurance." Perry had a message for what he called "this activist federal government": "Enough! Enough! Enough!"

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Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas) just spoke about the EPA. He said that the EPA is punishing Texas, which he said already has an effective clean air policy. Perry stated that the federal government should be praising Texas' program, not punishing it.

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The Washington Post reports on a birther-related joke that Tim Pawlenty made during his speech:

Pawlenty, like Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) yesterday, also cracked a birther joke: "Now, I'm not one who questions the existence of the president's birth certificate. But when you listen to his policies, don't you at least wonder what planet he's from?"

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Ron Paul, who won the Straw Poll at last year's CPAC convention, has been getting a huge response from the crowd during his speech this year. The crowd excitedly cheered as he bucked party orthodoxy on many issues, especially regarding foreign policy. Paul expressed his dismay about the amount of troops we have stationed around the world, stated his opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and went after the "military industrial complex." He also expressed his desire to end the Federal Reserve.

Regarding the current state of government, he said we have "too much" bipartisanship as both parties are complicit in pushing bad policies.

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Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) just went after the Patriot Act. The crowd booed the law when he initially mentioned it. And when Paul went on the attack against the legislation, calling it the "destruction of the Fourth Amendment," the crowd erupted in applause.

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Tim Pawlenty aggressively attacked what he views as President Obama's foreign policy failures. "Bullies respect strength, they don't respect weakness. So when the United States of America projects its national security interests here and around the world, we need to do it with strength," said Pawlenty. He continued, "Mr. President, with bullies, might makes right." Finally, he echoed a theme that has been very popular with conservatives of late when he said, "Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country." The former Minnesota Governor's speech was filled with passionate rhetoric opposing the policies of President Obama, and the crowd seemed to respond well to it.

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel:

There was a rush of excitement when Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) arrived at CPAC on Friday, with a huge crowd of people trying to push in and meet the prominent libertarian. When asked by The Huffington Post if he sensed increased conservative dissatisfaction with the war in Afghanistan, he replied, "Hopefully there will be more."

In the mimosa reception Friday morning with freshmen Republicans, Reps. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) and Bill Flores (R-Tex.) also offered their thoughts on the war:

-- NUGENT: I think if you've looked back at the success we've had with more troops in Iraq, there's a hopeful sign that that will be the case in Afghanistan. But you're looking at a different country totally. Afghanistan really doesn't have any infrastructure. My older son did 15 months in combat in Afghanistan, and is going to Iraq in May. My younger son is going to Iraq in March. From my standpoint, I want to make sure that if we're putting our kids in harm's way, we have a clear definable mission, and we have a very definable way to get out. I think that when you talk to the kids who are serving, they're doing it for their buddies; they're not doing it for the President. They're doing it because they took an oath to defend the Constitution and obey the commander-in-chief. [...]

Here's the one thing that I will say: If you're going to be in two wars, you've got to allow the military to prosecute the wars. It's not any good when you have, whoever the President is, to sit there and second-guess what the military would like to do in regard to the number of troops. ... Not necessarily how they prosecute, but the number of troops. If I'm the commanding general -- and I was a sheriff -- I know how many troops I have to put in to handle a certain situation. To have other elected officials tell me no, instead of 100,000 troops you only need 40,000, that's absolutely wrong. That's the wrong direction to go.

-- FLORES: The President's strategy is fine with one exception: You never give your enemy a hard date as to when you're going to pull yourself off the battlefield. I support the surge, I support putting more troops in there. I especially support the fact that he kept Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense, but I am absolutely opposed to setting firm deadlines for withdrawal. The deadline will be set based on battlefield conditions. Luckily we've got a strong leader in the Secretary of Defense, and I think he'll do the right thing. ... We don't can't leave an environment where the Taliban can reform, strengthen itself back up, and become another threat to this country. We've spent too many lives, we've spent too much money, to ever leave it in a position where it will be a safe haven for terrorists to come back and attack us. That would absolutely be the wrong decision to make.

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Tim Pawlenty's latest: "We need more common sense, and less Obama nonsense."

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Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is currently speaking at CPAC. Pawlenty said about President Obama, "he's been really good at duping the mainstream media." He said that the media has been fooled into thinking that Obama is behaving like Ronald Reagan. "Ronald Reagan knew how to stare down our enemies. Ronald Reagan understood the price of freedom." He continued, "Barack Obama is not behaving like Ronald Reagan. He's behaving like Jimmy Carter."

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Beth Reinhard of National Journal tweets that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) expressed regret for his TARP vote:

@ bethreinhard : With a target on his back, Orrin Hatch says he "probably made a mistake" voting for TARP.

Apparently, Hatch was booed over his support for the measure.

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Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson talked to CBS News today. He said, "I advocate legalizing marijuana. Control it. Regulate it. Tax it." He also discussed his support for same sex marriage, saying that it fits well with Republican ideals of liberty and personal responsibility.

WATCH the video below:

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Matt Kibbe, President & CEO of FreedomWorks, just told the crowd during his CPAC speech that he hopes the 2012 election will be a "firestorm" for conservatives that will make the 2010 election look like a "genteel tea party." Tibbe also stressed the need for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

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Mitt Romney didn't pull any punches against President Obama in his speech today. Per CBS News:

Romney called the current economic situation a "moral tragedy of epic proportions," arguing that "liberals should be ashamed that they and their policies have failed these good and decent Americans." He criticized the Obama administration for seeking a "European-style solution to an American problem."

"President Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history. And that, my friends, is one inconvenient truth that will haunt this president throughout history," Romney said. He called the administration's response to the economic crisis the "most expensive failed social experiment in modern history."

The full story here.

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Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) gave his two cents on today's Egypt developments. He told TPM today at CPAC that he thinks "it's right he [Hosni Mubarak] stepped down."

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CPAC could be a turning point in Senator John Thune's (R-S.D.) decision-making process as he mulls a Presidential run. He spoke to HuffPost's Sam Stein about the significance of the event:

"This is, as you know, the largest gathering of conservatives across the country," Thune told The Huffington Post while walking through the crowded halls with throngs of onlookers seeking autographs, some of whom were chanting, "Run, John, run" even before he started speaking. "So we want to get here and get our message out there, hopefully get people inspired, engaged and energized to go out to help us win elections in 2012."

Added Thune: "Our thinking is, we have been in a process for a long time and have given a lot of analysis to this, and at some point this becomes a gut-level decision. But, certainly, this is an event that is important in testing out whether or not the things you are saying connect with the audience."

Here's the full story.

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In addition to eliciting some boos yesterday during their speeches, one audience member yelled "war criminal" at Dick Cheney. CNN reports that event organizers have expressed some concern about these reactions:

Asked on Friday whether the reception the two men were given did cross a line, the chairman of the event, David Keene, told CNN "I personally think it did, but it didn't bother either of them. They played off of it and it worked fine."

"We were concerned it had crossed the line, but the affected parties" didn't seem to mind, said Al Cardenas, who is succeeding Keene as chairman of the American Conservative Union, the main sponsor of CPAC.

As controversial as Rumseld and Cheney both are, CPAC is probably the last place one expects to see them heckled.

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Speaking to former RNC Chairman Michael Steele at a CPAC party, singer Sophie B. Hawkins had some interesting things to say about Sarah Palin. "I'm not a conservative," said Hawkins, "but I'd like to [expletive] Sarah Palin."

Wow.

Check out the full story here.

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If Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is looking for support in his upcoming primary battle, he won't find it from fellow Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee. TPM reports:

Lee said that he could endorse Hatch -- if he wins the Republican nomination. But would Lee make an endorsement in that contest, [Chuck] Todd asked?

"It's not my intention to support any candidate, until the democratic process has had a chance to play itself out in Utah," said Lee. "I think that's the way it ought to operate."

WATCH the video below:

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Sam Stein reports that Mitt Romney could find value as a candidate in being something of an "anti-Palin":

"Intelligence versus not-so-intelligent," was the pitch by Ken Merritt, a Virginia-based Romney supporter with roots in Palin's home state of Alaska. "Fluff versus not about fluff ... [Palin] does a great show on TV, though."

Swipes like these have been common during this year's gathering of conservative activists. A no-show at CPAC for several years running, Palin has been a popular subject among the convention crowd, her absence interpreted either as an innocent scheduling conflict or, more often, evidence that she doesn't feel the need to placate conservative voters.

The full story here.

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel:

A handful of freshmen House Republicans stopped by CPAC Friday morning for a mimosa reception with attendees, sponsored by the Institute for Policy Innovation. They all largely stayed on message when interviewed by The Huffington Post, unwilling to talk about any rift between Tea Party freshmen and the leadership.

"The only differences you really see is you have individuals coming here from many different areas," said Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), whose comment really didn't highlight any differences but rather just reiterated the definition of the U.S. House of Representatives. "We all understand what the outcome has to be, which is cutting spending, getting our debt in line, and turning out government back to what it should be: serving the people."

"I think this class seems to me more about people or politics than a party," said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), despite the fact that the freshmen class is overwhelmingly made up of one party. "I'm encouraged by the welcomness that we've had. ... I haven't had anybody twisting my arm and saying, 'You'd better do this or you'd better do that.' That hasn't happened to me."

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TPM reports:

Maine moderate Olympia Snowe, whose Senate seat has long been considered vulnerable in a Republican primary, has a new Tea Party challenger: Andrew Ian Dodge.

The state coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots in Maine, Dodge told TPM he will announce his entrance into the race Friday at a press conference at CPAC. He'll be the second to jump into the GOP primary against Snowe after businessman Scott D'amboise declared his run last year.

Benjy Sarlin, who authored that report, explains in a tweet that Dodge has some viewpoints one might not expect from a Tea Partier:
@ BenjySarlin : Andrew Ian Dodge, running against Snowe, is pro-choice pro-gay marriage and has authored petitions calling on GOP to sideline social cons.

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In his CPAC speech yesterday, Donald Trump made a comment that was not well received by Ron Paul supporters. Regarding a potential Ron Paul Presidency, Trump stated that Paul "has zero chance of being elected." CNN spoke to Paul's son, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who when asked about Trump's own chances of winning a Presidential campaign, responded, "I think his chances are less than my father's."

More of CNN's interview with Rand Paul here.

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The Atlantic quotes Trump's CPAC speech from yesterday:

"While I am not at this time a candidate for the presidency, I will decide by June," the wealthy New York businessman said, declaring himself fed up with the way America has become "a whipping post for the world."

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Mitt Romney's CPAC speech contained multiple hints that he was readying a 2012 Presidential run. His wife even gave a choice quote about the matter. The Daily Caller reports:

“If I were to decide to run for president,” Romney said, “it sure wouldn’t take me two years to wake up to what’s going on around the country.”

Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, who introduced him to CPAC’s crowd, said she’d like her husband to be president.

“I, for one, would like to see him lead the country as president of the United States,” Ann Romney said.

Full story here.

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) had some harsh words for Net Neutrality policies that are intended to provide all data on the Internet equal access. She made an unsubstantiated claim that blogs and vibrant online commentary would be stifled by a government agency that would have to approve online speech. Blackburn claimed that she would "block the FCC's ability" to implement Net Neutrality rules.

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Michelle Bachmann used her CPAC speech yesterday as an opportunity to rally against the Health Care bill. She spouted various pieces of data regarding taxes relating to the bill and came to the conclusion that "if you add all of this up, you college students that are here today, you are looking at 70 to 75 percent of your income taken away by the government in taxes in your peak earning years."

Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post fact-checked Bachmann's claims, and came to a much different conclusion:

The bottom line, when you "get out your calculator" and add all this up: total taxes of about 25 percent, rather than the 75 percent in Bachmann's telling.

We presented this math to Bachmann's spokesman and are still waiting for a response.

Great breakdown of the numbers in Kessler's entry here.

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It looks like the flare-up between the American Conservative Union and GOProud may be worse than initially reported. The Hill reports:

The new president of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas, said Thursday that it will be difficult for CPAC to continue its relationship with GOProud, a conservative gay-rights group.

Cardenas made the comments in an interview with Frum Forum, saying he has been "disappointed with their website and their quotes in the media, taunting organizations that are respected in our movement."

Given these developments, it will be interesting to see whether GOProud is invited back to CPAC next year.

The Hill's full story here.

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Mitt Romney made President Obama a central figure in his CPAC speech today. The text was full of attacks, such as a line about how the "cause of liberty" is in danger if Obama wins reelection in 2012. Romney said, "Obama's underlying liberalism remains and he's still reliant on Chicago insiders and academics" despite an image of centrism coming out of the White House.

More info on the speech can be found here.

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CPAC 2011: Speeches, Video & More (LIVE UPDATES & VIDEO)