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Rivals Put Rick Perry to the Test in Tea Party Debate

September 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
At Monday night's CNN/Tea Party-sponsored event in Tampa, Fla., eight Republican presidential hopefuls were on stage, but the party's new front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was the one put to the test by many of his rivals. Kwame Holman recaps the debate.
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TRANSCRIPT

There were eight Republican presidential candidates on stage last night, but the party’s new front-runner was the one put to the test.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our recap.

KWAME HOLMAN: Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the main target throughout Monday night’s debate in Tampa hosted by CNN and the Tea Party Express.

Perry’s chief rival for the Republican nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, renewed his attack on the Texas governor’s views about Social Security.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) presidential candidate: But the question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program, as you did six months ago when your book came out, and returned to the states, or do you want to retreat from that?

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas presidential candidate: I think we ought to have a conversation.

MITT ROMNEY: We’re having that right now, Governor.

MITT ROMNEY: We’re running for president.

GOV. RICK PERRY: Yes, sir. If you let me finish, I will finish this conversation.

But the issue is, are there ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or for retirees? We did in it the state of Texas back in the 1980s. I think those types of thoughtful conversations with America, rather than trying to scare seniors, like you’re doing and other people, it’s time to have a legitimate conversation in this country…

KWAME HOLMAN: Romney also questioned how much credit Perry deserved for the relative success of the Texas economy in recent years.

MITT ROMNEY: I think Gov. Perry would agree with me that if you’re dealt four aces, that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player.

And four aces — and the four aces that are terrific aces, the nation should learn from, were the ones I described, zero income tax, low regulation, right-to-work state, oil in the ground and a Republican legislature. Those things are terrific.

And, by the way, there has been great job growth in Texas. Under Ann Richards, job growth was under 2.5 percent a year. Under George Bush, it was 3 percent a year. Under Rick Perry, it’s been 1 percent a year.

Those are all good numbers.

GOV. RICK PERRY: Well, I was going to say Mitt you were doing pretty good until you got to talking poker.

(LAUGHTER)

GOV. RICK PERRY: But the fact is the state of Texas has led the nation. While the current resident of the White House has overseen the loss of 2.5 million jobs, Texas has during my period as the governor created over a million jobs. And we did that during some pretty tough economic period.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: Texas Congressman Ron Paul was asked his opinion of Perry’s job performance.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN anchor: Does your governor deserve all that credit?

REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas presidential candidate: Not quite.

(LAUGHTER)

REP. RON PAUL: I’m a taxpayer there. My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he’s been in office. Our spending has gone up double. Our debt has gone up nearly triple.

So, no. And 170,000 of the jobs were government jobs. So I would put a little damper on this, but I don’t want to offend the governor, because he might raise my taxes or something.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: Perry quickly responded.

GOV. RICK PERRY: While I have been governor, we have cut taxes by $14 billion, 65 different pieces of legislation. You may not have seen them, Rep. Paul, but the fact of the matter is, there are people coming to Texas, for five years in a row, the number-one destination. They’re not coming because we’re overtaxing them.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Perry also got criticism from his opponents on some social conservative issues, which may prove more problematic for him as the campaign develops.

The Tea Party audience appeared less supportive of Perry when the debate turned to an executive order he issued in 2007. It required that unless parents opted out, Texas schoolgirls be vaccinated against HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause cervical cancer.

WOLF BLITZER: Was that a mistake?

GOV. RICK PERRY: It was. And, indeed, I — if I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently. I would have gone to the legislature, worked with them. But what was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people’s lives.

Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die.

KWAME HOLMAN: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum criticized Perry over the order.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) presidential candidate: He’s saying that his policy was right. He believes that what he did was right. He thinks he went about it the wrong way.

I believe your policy is wrong.

KWAME HOLMAN: Perry’s explanation didn’t sit well with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann either.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn. presidential candidate: And to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong. That should never be done. It’s a violation of a liberty interest.

(APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: Bachmann, who has been eclipsed since Perry entered the race, suggested the order might have been motivated by campaign politics.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: The governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?

GOV. RICK PERRY: The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Well, I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice. That’s what I’m offended for.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: Perry again found himself on the defensive when it came to a Texas policy that offers in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants.

GOV. RICK PERRY: The bottom line is it doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way. No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. And that’s what we’ve done in the state of Texas. And I’m proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society, rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole.

KWAME HOLMAN: That gave Romney an opening to join in the challenges to Perry.

MITT ROMNEY: And with regards to illegal immigration, of course we build a fence and of course we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who come here illegally. That only attracts people to come here and take advantage of America’s great beneficence.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KWAME HOLMAN: The Republican hopefuls will meet again in 10 days for a debate in Orlando.