In the first of two consecutive Republican town hall forums, three of the six remaining contenders gathered in the last nationally televised event before South Carolinians head to the polls this Saturday.
Hosted by CNN, the Wednesday primetime event featured retired Neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ted Cruz. Each candidate appeared on stage one-by-one, answering questions from CNN moderator Anderson Cooper and from voters as each hopeful sought to make the case of why they should become the GOP nominee.
Nominating a Justice Replacement
The issue of replacing the late Justice Scalia has dominated the 2016 race with GOP candidates all agreeing that the next president should appoint the replacement and not President Obama.
Ben Carson was first to take the stage and was asked whether he would nominate someone if he were President right now with just a few months left in office. “I probably would,” Carson said. “I probably would take the opportunity to nominate someone but it doesn’t necessarily mean that person is going to be acted on confirmed.”
Carson argued that jurists have become a partisan group that results in overreaching without any checks or balance amongst the three branches of government. On how Carson would pick judges as president, he stated the litmus test would be their life experience. “I would look back at what they have done throughout their lives, what kind of ruling, associations they have had,” Carson said. “I could find out what their opinions are by looking back at their lives. The bible says, by their fruit you will know them.”
Rubio pointed out that there has been an “80 year precedent on the last year of a President’s term the Senate usually doesn’t move forward” on nominations. When asked if he would nominate someone as President right now, Rubio said no and thinks the next president should be the one to fill the vacancy. “The new president should be the person who fills the vacancy,” Rubio said. “I think it’s going to be an issue in this campaign, and the voters are going to be able to weigh in on it in November.”
Cruz was asked whether the nominee the President selects should get a hearing in which he replied “they should not” for the hearing would be a politicized matter. “They should not… I think that hearing would end up very politicized and that wouldn’t be fair to the nominee,” Cruz stated. “During a lame duck period we should not be confirming a Supreme Court nomination given this nomination has the potential to dramatically shift the balance of power of the court.”
“We have an election coming up in November. I think 2016 should be a referendum on the Supreme Court, Cruz said.”
Security vs. Civil Liberties
On the issue of whether Apple should aid in federal investigations to unlock an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino attackers, all three candidates addressed the issue acknowledging both sides of the situation. However, all three candidates believe that Apple has to comply with the court order for this specific case.
Carson: “There’s probably very good reason for people not to trust the government, but we are going to have to get over that because right now we are faced with tremendous threats,” Carson said.
Carson called for a public-private partnership when it comes to cyber-security challenges. “It’s going to be a matter of people learning to trust each other which means that Apple needs to sit down with those trustworthy in the government,” Carson said. “That may have to wait until the next election. I don’t know but we’ll shall see.”
Rubio: “It’s a very complicated issue. It’s about encryption and what it does is it protects your privacy. If you lose your iPad or iPhone, no one can hack into and get your information,” Rubio said. “On the flip-side, there might be valuable information on that phone from the San Bernardino killer that could lead us to preventing future terrorist attacks.”
“I don’t have a magic solution for it today,” Rubio added. “There has to be a way to deal with this issue that continues to protect the privacy of Americas or creates some process by which, law enforcements and intelligence agencies could access encrypted information.”
Rubio concluded that ultimately Apple “needs to follow whatever the court order is.”
Cruz: “Anytime you are dealing with issues of security and civil liberties, you got to balance both,” Cruz said. “We can protect yourself from terrorist, and also protect our civil rights.”
“I think law enforcement has the better argument,” Cruz added. “Nobody has the right to defy a legal search warrant.”
“This concerns the phone of one of the San Bernardino hackers. The Bill of Rights prevents the government from seizing our information without any evidence, but when you have a terrorist, we ought to be doing every tool we can to ascertain who else they might be in contact with.
Will President Rubio or Cruz go to Cuba?
During the town hall event it was reported that President Obama will be making a visit to Cuba in March. Cooper asked both Rubio and Cruz, both who are of Cuban descents if they would follow suit as president.
Rubio said he wouldn’t visit if it’s “not a free Cuba.” He went into details explaining the repressive regime is still going on even after the opening of embassy. “I want the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba to change, but it has to be reciprocal,” Rubio said. “[Obama] didn’t even ask that of the Cuban government. So today after the opening of Cuba, the Cuban government remains as repressive as ever, but now they have access to millions of dollars in resources.”
Cruz said he would not visit the island nation of Cuba as President “as long as the Castros are in power.”
On the President visit to Cuba, Cruz said he wasn’t surprised calling it a “real mistake.”
“What President Obama has shown to our enemies is weakness and appeasement so his policy concerning Cuba is a real mistake,” Cruz said. “The President ought to instead be pushing for a free Cuba.”
“My father has seen firsthand the evil and oppression in Cuba,” Cruz said. “We need to have a president that stands up to our enemies.”
Carson was asked by a voter about his plan to preserve the rights to own a gun, Carson answered, “The second Amendment is there for a very good reason so that people could assist the government in case of an invasion” and importantly for “people could protect themselves in case the government itself ever became tyrannical.”
“We have had guns for hundreds of years, and we have been free for hundreds of years. I think there may be a correlation there,” Carson added. “Taking away your guns makes absolutely no sense. What they should be doing is offering free classes in gun safety to all citizens who want to protect themselves.”
Following up on the question of guns, Cooper asked if he owns and needs a gun. “I don’t know that I felt the need to have a gun, but I like having a gun,” Carson replied.
Carson was asked if he didn’t win the nominee would he consider taking the offer of serving as the Surgeon General. “Well, I got to tell you, I’m not looking for a job,” Carson replied. “I’m definitely not just looking for something to do. I feel that our country is on the precipice and it’s about to go over the edge if we continue with politics as usual.”
“The Bible says without a vision, the people perish,” Carson said. “So, I have a vision that I think I share with a lot of ‘we the people.’ It would be very difficult for me to serve in an administration that didn’t have that same philosophy.”
“Mild-Mannered” Carson Vs. Boisterous Democrat
An undecided voter asked Carson how would he get his message out being mild-mannered against a “boisterous Democrat.” Carson answered by telling a story of a program he was involved in as a neurosurgeon where he had to speak to 800 elementary students. “By speaking softly,” Carson explains how this method would cause the kids to stay quiet because they wanted to hear what he was saying.
“The key is not so much the volume with which you speak, but its the content of what you say,” Carson said. “I think the American people are smart enough to be able to understand bluster, and rhetoric versus truth.”
As for the general election, Carson said he looks forward to such a challenge by counter the issues the Democrats are loudly saying without explain the details. “People who are running around say things life free college for everyone, it will be very easy to counter that by simply educating people on our actual financial conditions of our nation,” he said.
Cooper followed up asking about his boisterous GOP rivals and what does he think of it. “What is going through my mind is will these guys in any way remember what happened in 2012 when they tried to tear each other apart, which was probably the only reason that President Obama was able to win reelection,” Carson said. ”We have to stop finding ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
The momentum is back for Rubio as he snagged a major endorsement before the CNN town hall event from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Scoring this endorsement just three days before the primary is projecting to help the Florida Senator win the Palmetto State due to Haley’s high approval rating of 84%.
“I feel great about it,” Rubio said. “I mean we feel a lot of energy, people coming to our rallies are each getting bigger. We have got a good message and I feel good about what that is going to translate to.”
Marco on Immigration
Rubio was asked to respond to recent comments made from President Obama in regards to his once supporting the Gang of Eight bill and now is running away from it.
“President Obama has no standing to talk about immigration because his party controlled the White House, the House and the Senate for two years and they did nothing,” Rubio responded. “Now he puts in place two unconstitutional executive order, which has made it even harder to move forward on immigration.”
Rubio added that he once sponsored the bill but it couldn’t pass after three attempts because it didn’t have the votes or the support from the people. “I didn’t think the Senate version would pass,” Rubio said, adding he repeatedly said the bill was not strong enough. “The Democrats controlled the Senate and that was the best we could produce. We hoped the House Republicans Conservatives would make it even better but they never took it up.”
“No progress will be made on immigration until we prove to the American people, not by passing just a law but to prove to them that we have built the sufficient walls and fences on the border,” he said. “The only way forward is through a step by step approach that begins by finally securing our border.”
National Security Experience
With no veterans currently running for president, Rubio touted his Senate credentials on being in the intelligence committee has given him better judgment and experience on national security.
“National security and Commander-in-Chief is the most important job of the President. I know I haven’t lived as long as some of the people running for President, but no running especially on the Republican side has more experience on national security or foreign policy than I do,” Rubio said when answering an Army General question on what prepared the Florida Senator to become Commander-in-Chief. “As both a member of the Intelligence Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee over the last five years, I have been dealing with every single major issue that this country confronts.” Rubio described his good judgment call on the issue of Libya and the emerging of ISIS exactly happened as he predicted. “And so over the last five years that I’ve been involved in foreign policy and national security, I have proven time and again that I have both the judgment and the experience to make the right decisions and the right call on these issues.” Rubio said.
Cruz on Trump: “Please Donald File the Lawsuit”
Asked by Cooper his reaction to Trump’s cease-and-desist letter aimed at an attack ad that suggests the real estate mogul is pro-choice, Cruz said he laughed when he received the letter.
“I’ll confess, I laughed out loud,” he said. “This has not been a typically race by any sense. I don’t think anybody is surprised that Donald is threatening to sue people. He’s done that most of his adult life.”
Noting he has been practicing law for over 20 years, Cruz called this letter “the most ridiculous theory I have ever heard.”
“[Trump] was upset over an ad we are running on TV” Cruz said, lambasting his past of being pro-choice. “But most of the words in the ad are his own words on national TV and his argument on the letter is running his own words was defamation.”
“It is quite frankly the most ridiculous theory I have ever heard, that telling voters what Trump’s actual record is deceitful and lying,” Cruz said.
Cruz Addresses Question of Birther from Supporter
A lady in the audience stated she is committed to voting for Cruz but wanted to once and for all on national TV for Cruz to address the question of his natural born-citizenship. “I have never breathed a breath of air on this world not as a U.S. citizen,” Cruz answered. “It was the act of birth that made me a U.S. Citizen.”
“The law is very straightforward,” he added. “The child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen.”
When asked by Cooper about the threat of Donald Trump personally suing him over his eligibility to run for president, Cruz stated with Trump anything is possible. “You can never write off the possibility of Donald Trump suing you,” Cruz said. “He is welcome to file whatever lawsuit he wants. The lawsuit would not succeed.”
Secretary of State John Bolton
Cruz was asked which cabinet position do you think would be most important to fill first in which he stated it’s a “three-way tie”
“It would be a three-way tie between Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Attorney General,” Cruz said. “All three are critically important. When it comes to defense, we have to begin rebuilding our military immediately. When it comes to state, we have abandoned our friends and allies nationally.”
On a Secretary of State, Cruz stated we need “someone strong who defends and represents” this country. For a potential Secretary of State, Cruz named John Bolton. “It would be someone who is strong, who defends this country, stands by our allies and stands up to our enemies.”
On an Attorney General, Cruz didn’t mention potential candidate but declares under his administration the person he picks for this position will be one “blind to party ideology” and not a party position.
Cruz wife Heidi Cruz once told CNN that her husband sings to her on the phone.
“Embarrassingly enough, yes, and I’m a painfully horrible singer,” Cruz said confirming what he wife said. “I’m hoping it’s sincere and endearing.”