Huffpost Politics

Republican Debate: GOP Presidential Candidates Face Off In Washington (LIVE UPDATES)

Posted: Updated:

On Tuesday night, eight Republican presidential candidates are facing off in the nation's capital in a primary debate.

The forum is expected to focus on national security and foreign policy issues.

The list of GOP contenders taking part in the event includes: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Below, a live blog of the latest developments to unfold in Washington, D.C.

live blog

Oldest Newest

Eric Fehrnstrom, a strategist to Mitt Romney, told reporters after the debate that the campaign stands behind its new controversial ad about President Obama.

The ad features Obama saying, "if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."

But Obama was actually quoting a strategist with Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, who was saying that McCain wanted to avoid discussing the economy.

Fehrnstrom denied that the Romney campaign was trying to mislead voters with the ad.

"We put out all the information about that ad, where the information came from. It was very deliberate," he said. "Nobody caught us doing this. This is something that we proactively disclosed to the press. The whole point of it was to engage the president on an issue that he wanted to avoid: jobs and the economy."

He said that he did not think a disclaimer for viewers -- who did not get the same releases as the press -- was necessary.


-- Amanda Terkel

Share this:

Nearly three years after President George W. Bush exited stage right, a who's who of his former aides and advisers stood to ask questions of the GOP candidates. If Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman were the foreign policy heavyweights on the stage, out in the audience was a veritable kitchen cabinet of hardliners, neoconservatives and all-around hawks. Among those asking questions:

Paul Wolfowitz: The former deputy Secretary of Defense who once said with a straight face that the Iraq war would pay for itself asked about foreign aid.

David Addington: Introduced as just another Heritage Foundation policy wonk, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was once called "the most powerful man you've never heard of."

Frederick Kagan: now at the American Enterprise Institute, he was the man behind the Iraq surge. He belongs to an all-star neoconservative family that includes his father Donald, brother Robert and wife Kimberly, not to mention sister-in-law Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman.

Marc Thiessen: a former speechwriter for President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has argued that torture is morally and legally justified in the fight against terror.

Share this:

Speaking to CNN after the debate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich elaborated on his immigration policy proposal, acknowledging that millions of current undocumented citizens would end up staying in America.

"There are lots of people who will go home, millions will go home," Gingrich told CNN. "They have no ties here, no roots ... but there are also millions who are going to end up saying."

He expanded from there. "I can't imagine any serious person who will walk down the street, see someone they know for 20 years and say, 'You're leaving your family, you're leaving your church, you're leaving the community... and we are kicking you out forcibly.'"

Told that Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaign had accused him of opening the door for amnesty, Gingrich called the attack "totally inaccurate."

"I want to be tough but I'm not willing to kid people," he said.

-- Sam Stein

Share this:

Newt Gingrich broke with many members of the Republican base in Tuesday night's debate, arguing that every undocumented immigrant -- especially ones with strong ties to their communities -- should not be deported:

"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," he said.

"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 three kids, two grandkids, 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 and kick you out. The Krieble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal but you don't get a path to citizenship. 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."

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sharply disagreed with Gingrich, saying, "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."

Gingrich has praised parts of the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for some young people who came to the United States without documentation.

During tonight's debate, he said the part of the legislation he likes is that it allows young people to join the U.S. military to acquire citizenship.

"I don't see any reason to punish someone who came here at 3 years of age but who wants to serve the United States of America," he argued.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney also took issue with Gingrich's approach. When asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer if he believed Gingrich's program would encourage more undocumented immigrants to come to the United States, Romney replied, "There's no question but to say that we're going to say to the people that came 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."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was more open to providing some sort of path to citizenship or residency for some undocumented immigrants, although he said it couldn't be done until the border with Mexico is secured.

"I do think that there is a way that after we secure that border, that you can have a process in place for individuals 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."

Romney replied that he wasn't going to "start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who get to go."

"The point is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people that come here illegally get to stay here for the rest of their life legally," he added.

The progressive Center for American Progress has estimated that it would cost U.S. taxpayers 5 billion to deport the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants in the United States over five years.

-- Amanda Terkel

Share this:

In a huge missed opportunity for a field of candidates that are trying to unseat President Obama, there was no mention made of the "hot-mic moment" that took place between President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at this month's meeting of the G20. There was ample opportunity to make hay out of it, and it's absolute cotton candy for the GOP base, so I'm a little surprised that no one brought it up.

-- Jason Linkins

Share this:

Newt Gingrich raised the possibility of an "EMP" attack toward the end of the debate, a rare discussion of a national security phenomenon that is largely marginalized.

A successful electromagnetic pulse attack would take down electronic communications. As USA Today lays it out:

The sky erupts. Cities darken, food spoils and homes fall silent. Civilization collapses.

End-of-the-world novel? A video game? Or could such a scenario loom in America's future?

There is talk of catastrophe ahead, depending on whom you believe, because of the threat of an electromagnetic pulse triggered by either a supersized solar storm or terrorist A-bomb, both capable of disabling the electric grid that powers modern life.

Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) are oversized outbursts of atmospheric electricity. Whether powered by geomagnetic storms or by nuclear blasts, their resultant intense magnetic fields can induce ground currents strong enough to burn out power lines and electrical equipment across state lines.

Mitt Romney mentioned EMP attacks on page 95 of his 2010 book, "No Apology":

A successful Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack, for example, effectuated by a single ballistic nuclear missile exploded above the United States 'could result in airplanes literally falling from the sky; vehicles could stop functioning, and water, sewer, and electrical networks could all fail – all at once,' according to the Heritage Foundation's Jena McNeill and the Hudson Institute's Richard Weitz. The area affected might be a single region or virtually the entire nation, leaving our military utterly unable to respond because all electronic and communications systems would be inoperable.

-- Ryan Grim

Share this:
@ jbendery : Gingrich on why he's popular among GOP again: "People want substance." #CNNDebate

Share this:

Wow. After twice tossing to commercial with the tease that the discussion would turn to Egypt, Wolf Blitzer finally gets to the issue by pulling a question from Twitter.

So many people view the Arab Spring as a good thing. Given the recent violence in Egypt, do u worry this can go bad?

Unbelievable. This is the the foreign policy story of the day, as renewed demonstrations have swelled in Tahrir Square, and the best CNN can offer the candidates and the viewing audience is an inane question -- "Arab Spring: good or bad?" -- and Blitzer tossing up a bird's eye image of Tahrir Square in darkness, to lend the moment something that masqueraded as gravitas?

This is a real failure of journalism.

-- Jason Linkins

Share this:

The Bachmann campaign was quick out of the gate to hit Newt Gingrich for his stance on immigration reform -- every political reporter in America just got a copy of a release titled "Newt Gingrich's Open Door to Illegal Immigrant Amnesty."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich receives applause when he calls for declaring English the official language of American government, but his immigration policy effectively equates to amnesty for foreigners residing in the United States unlawfully.

In the Reagan Library debate in September, Speaker Gingrich admitted he favored a path other than enforcing existing law regarding illegal immigrants:

"…find a way to deal with folks who are already here, some of whom, frankly, have been here 25 years, are married with kids, live in our local neighborhood, go to our church. It's got to be done in a much more humane way than thinking that to automatically deport millions of people." ("2012 Republican Presidential Candidates Debate," NBC, transcript:, 11/7/2011)

This stance echoed an earlier sentiment Speaker Gingrich expressed at his own forum in December 2010:

"'We are not going to deport 11 million people,' Gingrich said Thursday as he kicked off his first forum on Latino issues. 'There has to be some zone between deportation and amnesty.'" ("Newt: 'We are not Going to Deport 11 Million People',";, 12/2/2010)

When discussing the DREAM Act at the same forum, Speaker Gingrich explained every person living in the United States, regardless of legal status, deserved "the opportunity to grow more prosperous":

"We have to find policies that extend to every American, and that includes people who are not yet legal, every American, the opportunity to pursue happiness, the opportunity to have a work ethic, the opportunity to grow more prosperous." (The Laura Ingraham Show, "In heated exchange, Newt Gingrich clarifies immigration stance",, 12/3/2010)

The Bachmann camp concludes:

America should always welcome, without any trace of discrimination, all legal immigrants. But the emphasis must be on the word "legal." And we must have an equal emphasis on border security and homeland security. The Obama Administration, like previous administrations and Congresses controlled by both parties has failed us on both scores.

The last time our immigration laws were overhauled was in 1986, with amnesty granted to three million illegal immigrants. At the time, Americans voters were led to believe this would solve our immigration problem. However, since then the number of illegal immigrants has quadrupled (by conservative estimates). Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past, we must do everything we can to secure our nation's borders. We need to push for more Border Patrol officers, and stand by them. We need to complete the border fence across the entire US-Mexico frontier, make E-Verify mandatory, and eliminate funding for states and cities that knowingly harbor illegal immigrants.

-- Jason Linkins

Share this:

Ron Paul went out of his way to emphasize his support for medical marijuana, insisting that marijuana laws should be set not by the federal government but by the states.

"You can at least let sick people have marijuana because it's helpful," Paul said. "But the compassionate conservatives say, well we can't do this, we're going to put people who are sick and dying with cancer and are being helped with marijuana if they have multiple sclerosis -- the federal government is going in there and overriding state laws and putting people like that in prison."

The Obama administration had promised a hands-off policy on marijuana laws, saying the issue was best regulated at the state level. But the number of raids has been on the rise, and last month federal prosecutors in California announced a crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, threatening to shutter state-licensed businesses.

"Why don't we handle the drugs like we handle alcohol?" Paul continued. "Alcohol's a deadly drug. The real deadly drugs are the prescription drugs, they kill more people than the illegal drugs."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report earlier this month showing that the number of deaths from overdoses of legal prescription painkillers has more than tripled in the past decade, killing 14,800 people in 2008, up from 4,000 deaths in 1999.

Paul's comments came as part of a larger commentary on drug policy. It's not the first time he's called for an end to the so-called war on drugs.

In June, he teamed up with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to introduce legislation removing marijuana from the list of federally regulated substances. Though essentially dead upon arrival, the bill helps to illuminate Paul's views.

"I think the federal war on drugs is a total failure," said Paul to hearty applause from the audience.

"The drug war is out of control," he added. "I fear the drug war, because it undermines our civil liberties, it magnifies our problems on the borders -- we spent like over the last 40 years a trillion dollars on this war and, believe me, the kids can still get the drugs. It just hasn't worked."

-- Lucia Graves

Share this:

When David Addington, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney and now at the Heritage Foundation, stood to ask a question, the Twittersphere went wild about the man the New Yorker once called "The Hidden Power."

Here's a sampling of the reaction to the controversial veteran of the Bush White House.

-- Andrea Stone

Share this:
@ chucktodd : Um, David Addington is more than just a "VP of the Heritage Foundation" (ex-Cheney CoS)

Share this:
Rick Perry called on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to step down in protest of the super committee lining up sweeping cuts to the Defense Department in January 2013. "If Leon Panetta is an honorable man, he should resign in protest," Perry said. But Perry's tough talk fell flat with the audience, which gave no audible reaction.

The reality is that Panetta enjoys broad bipartisan support and his resignation would do nothing to save the Defense Department from the automatic cuts that will take effect in January 2013, in the event that Congress doesn't pass a major debt reduction plan before then. Nobody actually expects those .2 trillion automatic cuts to take effect anyway; rather, the specter of them kicking in is what is expected to drive Congress to produce something better.

-- Jennifer Bendery

Share this:
@ howardfineman : I know Newt, know he's obsessed with WWII. Wishes he had been a leader in it. He analogizes our problems to it: tonite, energy, immigration.

Share this:

Underscoring his deep connections to a large number of established Washington institutions, Newt Gingrich has longstanding ties with one of the sponsors of tonight's debate.

The debate, held in Washington, D.C., is cosponsored by CNN, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

According to AEI's website, Gingrich is a "former senior fellow" with the conservative think tank. He joined AEI in 1999. From a press release announcing the news:

Mr. Gingrich’s initial project will address health and health care. "The main focus of my work at AEI," he explained, "will be to develop an information-age model for health, wellness, and health care within the rapidly changing world of communications, evolving information technologies, and biological discovery. The increase in access to information in real time through the evolution of the Internet will enable health care services to be dramatically more centered around the patient as the customer. The goal of this project will be to use information and increased personal responsibility and decision-making to empower individual patient-customers in a way that will create opportunities for better health at lower cost with greater patient satisfaction."

Gingrich is also a friend of the Heritage Foundation, speaking at the think tank many times over the past few decades. His most recent appearance there was in August, when he gave a speech on deficit reduction and decried "Washington elites."

-- Amanda Terkel

Share this:

Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer may not have been invited to join tonight's debate, but he's making his voice heard regardless. Through Twitter and the Hampton-North Hampton Patch liveblog, the Republican presidential candidate has been offering his own commentary.

Roemer has called for a bipartisan approach to "rebuilding" the country, while also noting he wants to provide an incentive to cut medical costs and that he believes the current borrowing rate is unsustainable. In terms of immigration, Roemer said he wants to fix the green card system, along with building a fence on the border.

-- John Celock

Share this:

Gingrich may be a newly minted frontrunner, but no one yet seems up to the task of taking him on directly. By now, the rest of the field may be used to giving Newt a pass -- earlier this week, the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics blog published an analysis, saying that Gingrich alone has been immune from internecine attacks:

This analysis does not seem to count the exchange Romney and Gingrich had over the origins of the individual mandate, which I mentioned earlier, as an attack.

[Hat Tip: Katrina Trinko]

-- Jason Linkins

Share this:

Mitt Romney said his first trip, if he is president, will be to Israel, "to show the world we care about that country and that region."

Romney did not say whether he would help Israel launch an attack on Iran to stop Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, because inexplicably he wasn't asked. Romney did say that he favors "crippling sanctions" and indicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations for inciting genocide.

Romney said he knows that further sanctions on Iran would increase the price of energy, but said "there is no price that is worthy of an Iranian nuclear weapon."

Newt Gingrich was asked if he would take military action against Iran, and said he would with one caveat: it would have to lead to regime change.

But Gingrich added: "If my choice was to collaborate with the Israelis on a conventional campaign or force them to use their nuclear weapons, it would 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."

-- Jon Ward

Share this:
@ howardfineman : Having used the debates to leverage himself back into the race, Newt is content now to pipe down: no butt ins, no snide sideswipes at media

Share this:

President Obama took some hits from the GOP candidates on energy independence, with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) saying that "almost every decision that the president has made since he came in has put the United States in a position of unilateral disarmament."

The Democratic National Committee quickly responded, sending reporters research entitled, "PRESIDENT OBAMA IS REDUCING OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL."

They pointed to the fact that in June, the Energy Information Agency reported that U.S. dependence on foreign oil fell for the first time since 1997 (when there was another Democratic president in office).

Additionally, this month, the International Energy Agency announced that oil imports for the United States are expected to decline significantly because of new fuel efficient standards and increased domestic energy production.

-- Amanda Terkel

Share this:

Michele Bachmann mixed up her facts about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would stretch from tar sands in Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast, claiming the president recently ruled to cancel its construction.

Her comment came in the context of a conversation about energy independence, something she accused President Obama of avoiding.

"Almost every decision that the president has made since he came in has been to put the United States in a position of unilateral disarmament, including the most recent decision he made to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline," Bachmann said. "That would have not only have created jobs but it would have helped us with energy independence."

Questions of energy independence and jobs statistics aside, the very premise of her argument is incorrect. After an estimated 10,000 demonstrators gathered outside of the White House earlier this month, calling on Obama to reject the proposed pipeline, the administration said it would delay construction of the pipeline until environmental and routing concerns could be addressed.

The pipeline may very well be built at a later date after minimal rerouting in Nebraska.

-- Lucia Graves

Share this:
@ lucia_graves : Paul: you can at least let sick people have marijuana #cnndbate

Share this:

Ron Paul said the cuts set to take place because of the super committee's failure are meaningless.

"They're not cutting anything out of anything. All this talk is just talk. They're nibbling away at baseline budgeting. It's automatic increases," Paul said. "The people on the hill are nearly hysterical because the budget isn't going up as rapidly as they want it to. It's a road to disaster. We better wake up."

Mitt Romney took issue with that, listing off the things that are going to be cut in the Defense Department.

"What did they cut? They stopped the F22. 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," Romney said.

-- Jon Ward

Share this:
@ samsteinhp : bachmann says she was in the "middle of" the supercommittee fight this summer. she wasn't

Share this:

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a former ambassador to Indonesia and a leading voice in the George W. Bush administration for spreading democracy, asked the candidates their position about the State Department's Millennial Challenge program of sending aid to Africa.

Rick Santorum argued that foreign aid to fight AIDS and malaria were a matter of national security. "Africa is on the brink," Santorum said, noting that the continent was a "fertile ground" where radical Islamists could "get a foothold" -- even though they already have one in the Horn of Africa. He rejected those who "talk of zeroing out foreign aid" and said that such aid "promotes

our values that America is that shining city on the hill."

Cain took his usual cautious stance, saying "it depends on priorities" and said he would -- as in all other things -- look at the program and ask if it has been successful.

Once again, Paul begged to differ. "We take money from poor people in this country and give it to the rich in poor countries," he said. "We should maybe export the principles of free markets and sound money." The biggest threat to national security, he said, is "our financial condition and this is just aggravating it," he said to big applause.

-- Andrea Stone

Share this:

I'm looking forward to how the defense policy wonks treat Huntsman's mantra, "We are facing a counter-terrorism strategy as far as the eye can see." To Huntsman, that goes to determining troop levels and the Department of Defense's budget, which he says "must be tied to a strategy." In between the lines, what I hear is Huntsman coming out against counterinsurgency, and supporting a mix of counter-terrorism strategy and, as he forcefully insisted, smart foreign policy driven primarily by economic policy.

Huntsman is making his most passionate display tonight.

-- Jason Linkins

Share this:
@ howardfineman : Newt supersedes Cain and goes for "The Chilean Model" on Social Security change. Difference is, Newt can explain it, Cain couldn't.

Share this:
@ Rebecca_CBSNJ : Gingrich says he's opposed to bombing Iran unless it will help to replace the regime.

Share this:

Want to compare and contrast the candidate's statements on Iran policy to the current administration's claims? Here is yesterday's "Statement by the President on the Announcement of Additional Sanctions on Iran," from the White House. Here is the White House's "Fact Sheet: U.S. Pressure and Sanctions Against Iran."

-- Jason Linkins

Share this:
@ howardfineman : Newt scores on energy, comparing massive oil, gas and coal development to storming the beaches of Normandy

@ howardfineman : but then, he says that the U.S. should join a conventional war with Israel against Iranians rather than allow Israel to go nuclear on them.

Share this:

Around the Web

Republican Party (United States) presidential debates, 2012 ...

Republican Debate – GOP Debate 2011 - CNBC

Romney, Gingrich at GOP debate: We'd go to war to keep Iran from ...

Saturday Night Live - GOP Debate Cold Opening - Video - http ...

Republican Debate: GOP Presidential Candidates Face Off In ...

GOP presidential rivals to debate each other on foreign policy, condemn ...

Republican Debates: GOP Candidates Try To Play It Safe In YouTube Era