TOPICS > Politics

GOP Candidates Talk Immigration, Iraq, Religion

November 29, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT
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Republican presidential candidates went toe-to-toe with one another in Wednesday night's CNN-YouTube debate with field front-runners Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani trading sharp words on immigration policy. Kwame Holman looks at the Florida debate's highlights.
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JIM LEHRER: And next, the Republicans’ debate in Florida. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: The questions for last night’s debate came not from CNN host Anderson Cooper, but from tech-savvy Internet users who submitted their queries through the popular online video-sharing site YouTube.

CNN screened the nearly 5,000 submissions, and about three dozen made the cut. Some were straightforward and personal.

LEEANN ANDERSON, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: These are my kids, Evan and Maya. Maya is from China, and we adopted her to give her a better life. We never dreamed that she’d be exposed to lead after leaving China, and now we find trains like this that are covered with lead in our home.

KWAME HOLMAN: Others were clever and whimsical.

TED FATUROS, Manhattan Beach, California: Mmm, nothing says delicious like a cheap corn subsidized by the American taxpayer.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, it was the first question on immigration that set the tone for the night. Rudy Giuliani was asked whether New York City gave sanctuary to illegal immigrants while he was mayor, which led to a sharp exchange with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), Former Mayor of New York: It’s unfortunate, but Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he’s had far the worst record. For example, in his case, there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them.

There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed, not being turned in to anybody or by anyone. And then when he deputized the police, he did it two weeks before he was going to leave office, and they never seemed to even catch the illegal immigrants who were working at his mansion.

So I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN Anchor: All right, I’ve got to allow Governor Romney to respond, and then we’ll move on.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: Mayor, you know better than that.

RUDY GIULIANI: No…

MITT ROMNEY: Yeah? OK, then listen, all right? Then listen. First of all…

RUDY GIULIANI: You did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn’t you?

MITT ROMNEY: No, I did not, so let’s just talk about that. Are you suggesting, Mayor, that if you have a company that you hired to provide a service…

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), California: Let us jump in here.

MITT ROMNEY: … that you now are responsible for going out and checking the employees of that company, particularly those that might look different or don’t have an accent like yours, and ask for their papers? I don’t think that’s American.

Tuition for immigrant children

KWAME HOLMAN: Romney then challenged Mike Huckabee, who while governor of Arkansas proposed that children of illegal immigrants be allowed to pay the same state college tuition as Arkansas residents.

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), Arkansas: This bill would've said that, if you came here, not because you made the choice, but because your parents did, that we're not going to punish a child because the parent committed a crime. That's not what we typically do in this country.

It accomplished two things that we knew we wanted to do, and that is, number one, bring people from illegal status to legal status. And the second thing, we wanted people to be taxpayers, not tax-takers. And that's what that provision did.

MITT ROMNEY: You know, I like Mike, and I heard what he just said, but he basically said that he fought for giving scholarships to illegal aliens. And he had a great reason for doing so.

It reminds me of what it's like talking to liberals in Massachusetts, all right? They have great reasons for taking taxpayer money and using it for things they think are the right thing to do.

Mike, that's not your money. That's the taxpayers' money.

Attacks on past policies

KWAME HOLMAN: And both Romney and Huckabee were the targets of former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson's 30-second video, which each campaign was asked to submit as part of the YouTube debate theme.

MITT ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I believe that, since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it.

MIKE HUCKABEE: Others have suggested a surcharge on the income tax. That's acceptable; I'm fine with that. Others have suggested, perhaps, a sales tax; that's fine.

ANDERSON COOPER: Senator Thompson, what's up with that?

FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), Tennessee: I just wanted to give my buddies here a little extra airtime.

Listen, I mean, what do you mean what's up with it? These are their words.

ANDERSON COOPER: OK, I should allow time to respond. Governor Romney?

MITT ROMNEY: I'm not sure who that young guy was at the beginning of that film, but I can tell you this, which is I don't know how many times I can tell it. I was wrong, all right? I was effectively pro-choice when I ran for office.

If people in this country are looking for someone who's never made a mistake on a policy issue and is not willing to admit they're ever wrong, well, then they're going to have to find somebody else, because on abortion I was wrong.

ANDERSON COOPER: Governor Huckabee, I want to give you 30 seconds to respond.

MIKE HUCKABEE: Well, I was governor nearly 11 years, and in that time I cut 90 taxes. Over that period of time, the income tax remained exactly what it was. The sales tax is one penny higher.

I have a great record on fiscal conservatism. But one thing I've learned, you know, when you get attacked, it's not always bad. It's like my old pastor used to tell me. When they're kicking you in the rear, it's just proving you're still out front.

Iraq war policy

KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona Senator John McCain criticized Texas Congressman Ron Paul for his repeated calls to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), Arizona: And I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II. We allowed... We allowed...

ANDERSON COOPER: Allow him his answer. Allow him his answer, please.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: We allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement.

And I want to tell you something, sir. I just finished having Thanksgiving with the troops. And their message to you is -- the message of these brave men and women who are serving over there is, "Let us win. Let us win."

ANDERSON COOPER: We will get to Iraq later, but I do have to allow Congressman Paul 30 seconds to respond.

REP. RON PAUL (R), Texas: Absolutely. The real question you have to ask is, why do I get the most money from active-duty officers and military personnel?

So what John is saying is just totally distorted. He doesn't even understand the difference between non-intervention and isolationism. I'm not an isolationism -- isolationist. I want to trade with people, talk with people, travel.

ANDERSON COOPER: Time's up. We're going to talk about this later.

REP. RON PAUL: But I don't want to send troops overseas using force to tell them how to live. We would object to it here, and they're going to object to us over there.

Religious beliefs

KWAME HOLMAN: Some of the YouTube submissions touched on issues of faith and religion, important to the party's base. One asked about the Bible.

JOSEPH DEARING, Dallas, Texas: Do you believe every word of this book, and I mean specifically this book that I am holding in my hand?

RUDY GIULIANI: I believe it, but I don't believe it necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive; I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical; I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context.

So, yes, I believe it. I think it's the greatest book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I've gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define, to a very large extent, my faith.

ANDERSON COOPER: Governor Romney?

MITT ROMNEY: I believe the Bible is the word of God, absolutely. And I try...

... I try to live by it as well as I can, but I miss in a lot of ways. But it's a guide for my life and for hundreds of millions, billions of people around the world. I believe in the Bible.

ANDERSON COOPER: Does that mean you believe every word?

MITT ROMNEY: You know, yeah, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God.

ANDERSON COOPER: Governor Huckabee?

MIKE HUCKABEE: Sure, I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself.

And the fact is that when people ask if we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don't believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says, "Go and pluck out your eye," well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.

But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. "Love your neighbor as yourself." And as much as you've done it to the least of these brethren, you've done it unto me.

Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I'm not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Republican presidential candidates are scheduled to meet two more times before the Iowa caucuses January 3rd.