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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Part I: 20:00-20:30, CNN FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Aired January 26, 2012 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR: From the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, this is the Florida Republican presidential debate.

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Tonight, the four Republican candidates are here to tell us why they're the most qualified to take on President Barack Obama. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We also want to thank our co-sponsors, the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network.

Members of the Florida Republican party are here in the audience with us and some of them will have a chance to question the candidates.

In addition, our sister network CNN in Espanol is standing by in Miami with members of the Hispanic Leadership Network who will also have a chance to question the candidates. Viewers can send us 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 now time to welcome the 2012 Republican presidential contenders.

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Joining us on stage, Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

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Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

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The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

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And the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.

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Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.

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Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for our national anthem, performed by the University of North Florida Chamber Singers.

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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.

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Rick Santorum, and I'm thrilled to be here on the campus of North Florida.

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SANTORUM: 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.

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SANTORUM: I better just stop right there.

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

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FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

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REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATEA: 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.

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

(UNKNOWN): 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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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ROMNEY: You know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. Our problem is -- all right.

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ROMNEY: 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.

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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.

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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.

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PAUL: 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.

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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...

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... quickly respond.

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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...

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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...

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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.

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BLITZER: All right, we're going to -- we're going to come back to this.

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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.

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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.