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Cruz, Rubio clash sharply on national security, immigration

  • Ted Cruz, right, spoke as Marco Rubio, left, Ben Carson, second from left, and Donald Trump watched during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS Donald Trump, left, and Jeb Bush, right, both speak as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS » Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clashed sharply over national security and immigration in Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, thrusting their evolving feud to the forefront of the GOP race. Front-runner Donald Trump stood firmly behind his provocative call for banning Muslims from the United States, saying, “We are not talking about religion, we are talking about security.”

For former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the fifth GOP debate was an opportunity to find his footing after months of uneven performances. He appeared more comfortable than in previous debates in taking on Trump, though it’s unclear whether his stronger showing will change the trajectory of his sluggish campaign.

The prime-time debate was the first for Republicans since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, which heightened fears of terrorism in the United States. The attacks have ignited a political debate about President Barack Obama’s campaign to defeat the Islamic State in the Middle East and the nation’s security posture in preventing attacks in the U.S.

Trump’s call for temporarily banning Muslims from the U.S. — a proposal roundly criticized by his rivals — dominated much of the discussion through the debate and into the next morning. “He doesn’t have a plan, he’s not a serious candidate,” Bush said Wednesday, speaking on MSNBC. “The idea that you can just prey on people’s fears is not who we are as a nation, not who we are as a party.”

In a moment that might help ease anxiety among Republican leaders, Trump pledged he would not run as an independent. If he should lose the nomination, some fear he would make such a move, possibly preventing the nominee from defeating the Democratic challenger. “I am totally committed to the Republican Party,” Trump said.

He was largely spared from criticism by Cruz and Rubio, who said they understood why Trump had raised the idea of banning Muslims. Instead, they focused on each other, engaging in lengthy debates over their differences on national security and immigration, among the most contentious issues in the Republican primary.

Rubio, of Florida, defended his support for eventually providing a pathway to citizenship for some people in the U.S. illegally, an unpopular position within the Republican Party. Rubio was a co-author of comprehensive Senate legislation in 2013 that would have created that pathway, but he has since said the nation’s immigration crisis must be addressed in piecemeal fashion, with legalization only an option after the U.S.-Mexico border is secured.

Seeking to draw a sharp contrast with Rubio, Cruz went further than he has previously in opposing legalization for people in the U.S. illegally. He declared, “I have never supported legalization and I do not intend to support legalization.”

The two senators — both Cuban-Americans in their 40s — have been sparring from afar for weeks, and their rivalry could become one of the dominant forces in the race as the first voting contests in February draw near. The Texas senator is on the rise, particularly in Iowa’s kickoff caucuses, and is casting himself as a more electable alternative to Trump, while Rubio is seeking to straddle the divide between his party’s establishment and more conservative wings.

Rubio positioned himself as the hawk on national security, defending American efforts to oust dictators like Syria’s Bashar Assad from the Middle East. He also accused Cruz of weakening the government’s ability to track terrorists because he voted in favor of legislation to eliminate the National Security Agency’s bulk phone-records collection program and replace it with a more restrictive effort to keep the records in phone companies’ hands.

“We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools,” Rubio said. “And that tool we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal.”

Cruz argued that his vote helped “reform how we target bad guys” by allowing the government to search more phone numbers.

“Marco knows what he’s saying isn’t true,” he said. “What he knows is that the old program covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100 percent.”

Beginning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the NSA secretly collected the daily calling records — but not contents of conversations — for most Americans, including people never suspected of any crime.

A new law, called the USA Freedom Act, passed in June with broad, bipartisan support. It ordered the NSA to end bulk collection after a six-month transition that expired last week.

The senators also displayed differences in their strategies for targeting the Islamic State. The extremist group claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, and one of the shooters in California pledged allegiance to the group on Facebook shortly before she and her husband shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party.

Cruz called for using “overwhelming air power” to destroy the Islamic State, while Rubio said airstrikes would have to be supplemented by ground troops, including American special operations forces.

President Barack Obama has largely relied on airstrikes to target the militants in Iraq and Syria. However, he’s also sent troops to Iraq to help train and assist local forces and recently approved sending special operations forces into Syria.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been on the rise in New Hampshire, sought to assert himself in the national security discussions. He called for a no-fly zone over Syria and vowed to shoot down a Russian plane if it were to violate that space.

“Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it,” he said. “We would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if, in fact, they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”

The debate’s focus on national security was a detriment for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has struggled on complex international matters. He punted on questions about surveillance and his own qualifications for being commander in chief.

Also on the main stage Tuesday night were former business executive Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Four lower-polling candidates appeared at an earlier event: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Pace reported from Washington. AP writers Lisa Lerer, Jill Colvin and Sergio Bustos contributed to this report.

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  • While The THREE STOOGES continue their grand-standing performances–Rome continues to burn; and, the BLACK-MUSLIM continues to erode the U.S. CONSTITUTION…

        • And JTACs to paint targets and coordinate air strikes. Which Winston doesn’t understand. Amusingly. Somehow he thinks that weapons just magically find their targets.

          Not that he understands anything really.

          But really, should we be getting into ANOTHER middle eastern war with ground forces of sizable numbers?

      • I believe that Cruz argued that dictators who commit genocide against their own people should be left in place. Obama, on the other hand, realizing that the Syrian conflict is not a simplistic, binary war with good guys and bad guys, has resisted the neo-con’s call to arm the Assad’s opposition for a couple of reasons. First, the Iraq war is an example of how US arms end up in the wrong hands; ISIS is well-armed with US military equipment. Second, even though the Obama-led effort to remove Assad’s chemical weapons was largely successful, no one wants to see the chaotic outcome of Assad’s overthrow and the dispersal of all of his weapons that would follow. Obama is pushing a multi-national plan for an orderly, to the degree that that is possible, exit for Assad. In order to avoid a disastrous outcome, a multi-nationally supported plan for what happens next would have to be in place, the Iraq War being the ultimate example of what happens when a dictator is overthrown and there is no plan in place for what follows. It was very interesting to hear in the debate how many Republicans have finally acknowledged what a disaster the Iraq War was, and continues to be, and that it is responsible for the destabilization of the Middle East and the creation of ISIS. I think 4 of the candidates expressed variations of this truth, including Trump, who was finally right about something.

        • Greetings, BS, you could be right about the Iraq War being a disaster and being responsible for the destabilization of the Middle East and the creation of ISIS. However, there are many who believe the destabilization of the Middle East and the creation of ISIS was caused by Obama ordering a precipitous retreat from Iraq before our military gains could be consolidated, thus throwing Iraq into chaos, and by Obama/Clinton failed foreign policy which led to the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Khadafy in Libya, who were key allies in the fight against Islamic terrorists. Yes, they need not meet our human rights standards, but neither do the Islamic terrorists who now control most of these two now chaotic countries.

        • Ronin is still ignoring Al-Maliki and how Bush came to the same failed SOFA understanding as Obama. Still refuses to blame anyone but Obama and the Democrats.

  • Probably not a coincidence that Trump said that he would not run a third party campaign on the same day that the Ohio AG said that Ohio law would not allow Trump on the ballot as a third party candidate because of his participation so far in the Republican primary process.

  • Even with an attack on Trump that he had obviously rehearsed, Jeb! couldn’t effectively make his point. He was trying to point out that in late September and early October Trump, who now is going to go all out bombing Syria without regard for innocent citizens, was saying, “Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why are we — why do we care? Let ISIS and Syria fight. And let Russia, they’re in Syria already, let them fight ISIS.” But Jeb! muffed it like a peewee baseball player swinging and missing a ball on a tee.

  • It was surreal to watch Christie and Fiorina describe their foreign policy by frothing at the mouth and advocating actions against Russia that would guarantee WWIII.

    • Well, Fiorina suggested that we enact a no fly zone. Which would require us to shoot down Russian planes. We almost got into WWIII during Kosovo doing that. Memories are short for politicians, if not completely fabricated to suit their agendas.

  • Most of these candidates seem to think the world’s problems will be solved if we just bomb some innocent civilians half a world away. And the audience eats it up!

  • We need more GOP debates, just for the entertainment value alone. Cruz and Rubio, what a comical pair! Rafael Cruz, better known from his nickname, “Ted,” whose dad fought on the side of Communist Castro before fleeing Cuba, obtained asylum in the U.S. with a student visa, went to Canada when the visa expired, and there married an American woman, who gave birth to Rafael, I mean, Ted, in Canada. Oh, but his mom being American gave U.S. citizenship to Ted. He’s also said he’s denounced Canada. Whatever. But, it’s good he uses his nickname, Ted, because Tea Party folks are skittish around unfamiliar white bread names (For 8 years, they’ve been all crazy about a Barack Obama). Marco Rubio, son of Cuban immigrants who applied for naturalization citizenship in the U.S., before Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government. Rubio uses his first name, as it brings up happy childhood memories for Tea Party members, of when they played “Marco-Polo” in the swimming pool. Two candidates for President, both with immigrant parentage, with Cruz proposing securing our country’s borders, and Rubio supporting comprehensive immigration reform. LOLOL. Donald Trump went on a whiny baby tirade about himself being treated unfairly, was a true sign of weakness. And lastly, I can’t figure out why Carly Fiorina, Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Rand Paul were there, as they brought nothing to the forum. The greatest moment was after the show was over, and they all piled into the tiny clown car and drove away. Another GOP Presidential debate won by Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, take your pick.

  • Ahhhhhh…… a righteously riveting repast of raw red meat.

    The red ties (think “Redcoats tunics”) deftly concealed the strings of bloody drool.

    The carnivores have gorged.

  • Christie highlight: “When I stand across from King Hussein of Jordan, I say to him, ‘You have a friend again, sir, who will stand with you to fight this fight,’ he’ll change his mind.” Too bad for Christies that King Hussein can’t change his mind; he’s been dead for 16 years.

  • One of Ted Cruz’s bigger exaggerations: “Do you know how many illegal aliens George W. Bush deported? 10 million.” This statement is wildly inaccurate. Actually, Bush deported 1.8 million. (Obama, so far, has deported 2 million).

    • Isn’t it funny how the GOP says that Obama doesn’t deport enough, but decries him as the Deporter in chief breaking up families? There is literally nothing Obama can do or not do that they won’t criticize. He gets criticized by the same people for deporting too many and deporting too few. Obama could wear a new red shirt and the GOP would criticize him for it not being red enough and being too red in the same sentence.

  • Another Fiorina whopper: General Petraeus was “retired early because [he] told President Obama things that he didn’t want to hear.” No, he was forced to retire because he was caught passing TOP SECRET information to his mistress—that’s the part that Obama didn’t want to hear.

  • This article states, “one of the shooters in California pledged allegiance to the group on Facebook shortly before she and her husband shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party,” however the FBI director said the perpetrators of the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino, California – Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 29 – had expressed support for “jihad and martyrdom” in private communications, they never did so on social media.

  • Was there an elephant in the room? How can there be an entire GOP debate about terrorism and not a single question about the shooting at Colorado Springs? That’s not an oversight; it’s a blatant coverup how GOP candidate’s overheated rhetoric contributed to an act of terrorism. The fact that they ignored it so completely is an indication of how afraid they were to expose their complicity. Ted Cruz, for one, has proudly announced that he has been endorsed by someone who advocates the execution of abortion providers. In light of their tacit endorsement for the Colorado slaughter, conservatives, who are now upset (really!) that Starbuck’s polar bear holiday cookies have red scarves (they look like blood), might re-think their red neckties because they remind me of blood.

  • Can someone explain why it is rational to rapidly expand Big Brother in light of very infrequent terrorist attacks as well as potentially violating the first amendment, but we should do literally nothing against the nearly daily mass shootings by born in America, Americans killing Americans?

  • Although the delivery could have been better, the best line of the night came when Jeb!, referring’s to Trump statement that he gets his military advice from watching “the shows,” said “I won’t get my information from ‘the shows,’ I don’t know if that’s Saturday morning or Sunday morning. I don’t know which one.”

  • Carly caught in another lie: STUART VARNEY (HOST): You heard it. Carly Fiorina, last night, mentioned General Jack Keane by name and guess who is here: Gen. Jack Keane. Alive and alert, and with us this morning. Did you in fact, general, give advice to President Obama, which he didn’t want to hear and didn’t take?

    JACK KEANE: No, I have never spoken to the president.That’s not accurate, and I never served this administration. I served the previous administration.

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