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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Part IV: 21:30-22:00, CNN FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
Aired January 26, 2012 - 21:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's increasingly interesting to watch the Romney attack machine coordinate things. And all of a sudden, today, there are like four different articles by four different people that randomly show up.
The fact is, I'm thrilled that Michael Reagan has endorsed me and will be campaigning with me here in Florida. I remember very fondly, in 1995, when we were at the Goldwater Institute and Nancy Reagan said, you know, "Barry gave Ronnie the torch, and now Ronny's passing the torch to Newt and his team in Congress. So I think it's reasonable to say, and I think the governor said it fairly, I am vastly closer to Reagan. In that period the governor was an independent business person. In '92 he was donating to the Democrats for Congress and voted for Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primary. In '94 running against Teddy Kennedy, he said flatly, I don't want to go back to the Reagan-Bush era, I was an independent.
So there's a pretty wide gap. Now, he's more mature. He's more conservative, I accept that. I think it's a good thing. But those of us who were in the trenches fighting in the '80's, it would be nice to be recognized for what we actually did and not to have orchestrated attacks to try to distort the history of that period.
WOLF BLITZER, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR: Governor Romney, you can respond please.
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just a -- just a short clarification. I -- I've never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot. And -- and in my state of Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in which -- either primary happens to be very interesting. And any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took. And so I -- I'm...
ROMNEY: ...I have voted -- I have always voted for a Republican any time there was a Republican on the ballot. With regards to the Speaker's involvement in the Reagan years, he can speak for himself. The Reagan Diaries and the other histories that were written at that time can lay that out as well. I -- I -- I think, I think what he said speaks for itself and I'm proud of the things I was able to accomplish.
BLITZER: Let's take another question from the audience. Go ahead. Please stand up and give us your name?
QUESTION: Hi, my name is George Miatus (ph), I live here in Jacksonville and when I was 3-years-old I was very blessed that my parents brought me here from Cuba. They brought me here so that I could be raised in freedom and in liberty. President Obama has recently announced that he is liberalizing trade and travel policies. What would be your position as president toward the island of Cuba?
BLITZER: Senator Santorum?
FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would oppose it. I've been 100 percent in support of the Cuban people and their right to have a free Cuba and the United States should stand on the side of the Cuban people against these despots who are not just reigning terror, continuing reign of terror in Cuba. But now have their -- their -- their puppet, Chavez in -- in Venezuela and Noriega and Morales and it keeps -- it keeps like a cancer growing. So the idea that a president of the United States would take the heart of the cancer that is in Central and South America, and begin to reward behavior that has spread this cancer because of our dilly-dallying and our inattentiveness to the problems in Central and South America.
Now, we're going to reward the secret police. We're going to (inaudible) president of Venezuela as they are in Cuba. We're going to reward this type of thuggery, this type of Marxism in our region. We're going to reward a country that is now working with these other countries to harbor and bring in Iran and the terrorist -- the Jihadist's who want to set up missile sites and to set up training camps. And so we're going to reward this behavior by opening up and liberalizing. This is the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time.
BLITZER: Congressman Paul...
BLITZER: ...you said the U.S. should talk to everyone. Imagine you're in the Oval Office, you speak to Raul Castro. What would you say to him?
REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'd ask him what he called about, you know?
PAUL: What was the purpose of his call? No, I would ask him what can -- what can we do to improve relations? Because I wouldn't see them as likely to attack us. When I was drafted in October of '62, that was a different world. I mean there were nuclear weapons in Cuba. That was a different story. But -- but today to -- not to talk to them and take the call and see what you can work out, helps -- helps Castro. It hurts the people, the dissidents, the people who want to overthrow him have always had to be, you know, nationalistic and unified behind the leader.
So as well intended as these sanctions are, they almost inevitably backfire and they help the dictators and hurt the people.
PAUL: So it's time to change. The Cold -- the Cold War -- the Cold War is over. They're not going to invade us and I just think that a better relationship and trade relationship, so many people -- I think -- I've noticed already since I've been talking about this issue the last four of five years, I think the people have changed their mind. It's very -- the American people are getting much more open. Not nearly as frightened. And people -- I don't think they see a Jihadist under the bed every night...
PAUL: ...and we have to worry about that. I think there's -- I -- I worry about overreaction, over concern and lack of ability to talk to them when they call you.
BLITZER: I want both of you to weigh in, Governor Romney first?
ROMNEY: Two -- two major flaws with President Obama's foreign policy.
BLITZER: Well what about Ron Paul's policy?
ROMNEY: Well, I'm talking about President Obama right now. We can get back to Ron Paul in a moment.
ROMNEY: First of all, I think the president has largely ignored Latin America, Cuba in particular, Venezuela, and other nations. I think we have to change that dramatically.
I think we have to have economic initiatives to build trade throughout Latin America, particularly with Colombia and Panama, now part of free trade agreements. I want more of that throughout Latin America. But that's the first flaw, ignoring Latin America.
And number two is reaching out with accommodations to some of the world's worst actors, whether it was Putin in Russia, giving him what he wanted, or Castro, saying we're going to let you have remittances coming from the U.S. to fund your future, or relaxed trade restrictions. Throughout the world, with Ahmadinejad opening an open hand, tyrants look for weakness to take advantage. That's the wrong course.
The right course for Cuba is to continue to honor Helms-Burton. And if I'm president of the United States, I will use every resource we have, short of invasion and military action, Congressman Paul. I'll use every resource we can to make sure that when Fidel Castro finally leaves this planet, that we are able to help the people of Cuba enjoy freedom.
They want it. It's a God-given right. And it is our responsibility to help share the gift of freedom with people throughout the world that are seeking it.
BLITZER: Are you open -- Mr. Speaker, are you open to improving relations with Cuba?
GINGRICH: Well, let me start with where the governor correctly pointed out. I was very proud as Speaker to be able to make sure that the Helms-Burton Act passed, and I'm delighted that Congressman Dan Burton is here tonight and is campaigning with me, because it was a very important step towards isolating the Castro regime.
I think it's amazing that Barack Obama is worried about an Arab Spring, he's worried about Tunisia, he's worried about Libya, he's worried about Egypt, he's worried about Syria, and he cannot bring himself to look south and imagine a Cuban Spring. And I would argue that we should have, as a stated explicit policy, that we want to facilitate the transition from the dictatorship to freedom. We want to bring together every non-military asset we have, exactly as President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher and Pope John Paul II did in Poland and in Eastern Europe.
They broke up the Soviet empire without a general war by using a wide range of things, one of which is just psychological, saying to the next generation of people in Cuba, the dictatorship is not going to survive. You need to bet to moving to freedom in order to have prosperity in Cuba, and we will help you get to that freedom.
BLITZER: Let's take another question from the audience.
Please give us your name and tell us where you are from.
(UNKNOWN): Abraham Hassel (ph) from Jacksonville, Florida.
How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian-American Republican, I'm here to tell you we do exist.
BLITZER: All right. Let's ask Governor Romney, first of all.
What would you say to Abraham?
ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there's not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is -- in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it's in school books that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it's in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.
There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.
And I believe America must say -- and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.
This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw --
ROMNEY: I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the '67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend, Israel.
BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.
BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, you got into a little hot water when you said the Palestinians were an invented people.
GINGRICH: It was technically an invention of the late 1970s, and it was clearly so. Prior to that, they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese, or Egyptian, or Jordanian.
There are a couple of simple things here. There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war.
You have leadership unequivocally, and Governor Romney is exactly right, the leadership of Hamas says, not a single Jew will remain. We aren't having a peace negotiation then. This is war by another form.
My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom. and they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side, now let's work together to create mutual prosperity.
And you could in five years dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian. But the political leadership would never tolerate that. And that's why we're in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis.
On the first day that I'm president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we're with Israel.
BLITZER: Let's go to Miami. Let's take another question from Miami. Juan Carlos, go ahead?
LOPEZ: Thank you, Wolf. I'm joined now by Elizabeth Cuevas- Neunder. She is the CEO and founder of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce in Florida. She is based out of Tampa.
And I'm pretty sure, Elizabeth, your question has to do with the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.
ELIZABETH CUEVAS-NEUNDER, FOUNDER/CEO, PUERTO RICAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IN FLORIDA: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH). Good evening. (SPEAKING IN SPANISH). I am bilingual, proud of it. My question to the candidates, we have 4 million Puerto Ricans in the United States, voters, 3.8 in Puerto Rico.
We have been treated as second class citizen and just now our governor's name was not mentioned as a V.P. possibility, a great governor. My question to you is, where do you stand for Puerto Rico to become a state? And secondly, how do you -- where do you stand on domestic trade between Florida and Puerto Rico, between Tampa Bay and Ponce ports which have been neglected? Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Santorum, let's throw that question to you. The question about, do you support Puerto Rico potentially as the 51st state?
SANTORUM: Well, first, I will give a shout-out to Governor Luis Fortuno, who is a good friend of mine, and someone -- I know him and his family, we have known each other for many years, we actually used to go to church together.
And so I spoke to Luis this week. And I've been to Puerto Rico many times. And actually, when I was a United States senator, we did a lot of work with Puerto Rico. Because of my relationship with many friends down there, I was made aware of problems, for example, in the Medicaid program.
We went down and we actually passed things to help with reimbursement rates, which were deplorably low in Puerto Rico. We also worked on hurricane relief and a whole lost of other things as a result of my relationship with many Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania, and developed those relationships on the island.
I believe that -- I believe in self-determination. That, you know, the Puerto Rican people should have the opportunity to be able to be able to speak on this. I have supported that. I don't take a position one way or the other on statehood, commonwealth, independence, that's for the people of Puerto Rico to decide.
But I also supported a lot of things to help the Puerto Rican economy. Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, and the poverty, the unemployment rates simply are -- are simply not something that we as Americans should allow to occur in our country.
And we need to make sure that there are pro-growth, supply side economics to make sure that Puerto Rico can be successful as an economy on that island, and I believe they can. And under my administration, that's something that I would work towards.
BLITZER: I'll take that as a maybe. Statehood, not statehood.
SANTORUM: No, I take no position on that. That's -- I would -- I've supported, you know, the opportunity for them to make that decision.
BLITZER: Let's take another question from the audience here. Go ahead, please. What is your name?
SUZANNE BASS, JACKSONVILLE RESIDENT: Suzanne Bass, I'm an attorney in Jacksonville. Welcome to the great city of Jacksonville.
My question, how would your religious beliefs, if you're elected, impact the decisions that you make in the office of the presidency?
BLITZER: Congressman Paul?
PAUL: Well, my religious beliefs wouldn't affect it. My religious beliefs affect my character in the way I treat people and the way I live. The only thing it would affect...
PAUL: The only thing that would affect me in the way I operate as a president or a congressman is my oath of office and my promises that I've made to the people.
ROMNEY: Ron Paul makes very good point. I concur with that. I would also seek the guidance of -- of providence in making critical decisions.
And of course, ours is a nation which is based upon Judeo- Christian values and ethics. Our law is based upon those values and ethics. And in some cases, our law doesn't encompass -- encompass all of the issues that we face around the world.
The conviction that the founders, when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, were writing a document that was not just temporary and not just for one small locale but really something which described the relationship between God and man -- that's something which I think a president would carry in his heart. So when they said, for instance, that the creator had "endowed us with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," I would seek to assure that those principles and values remain in America and that we help share them with other people in the world, not by conquering them, but by helping them through our trade, through our various forms of soft power, to help bring people the joy and -- and -- and opportunity that exists in this great land.
BLITZER: Mr. Speaker?
GINGRICH: I would say that there are three ways in which religion would affect me.
The first is, I agree with Governor Romney. I think anyone who is president is faced with decisions so enormous that they should go to God. They should seek guidance. Because these are decisions beyond the ability of mere mortals to truly decide without some sense of what it is we should be doing.
I would say, second, that we have a real obligation to recognize that, if you're truly faithful, it's not just an hour on Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays. It's in fact something that should suffuse your life, to be a part of who you are. And in that sense, it is inextricably tied in with how you behave.
But I would say, third, one of the reasons I am running is there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity in this country, largely by...
... largely by a secular elite and the academic news media and judicial areas. And I frankly believe it's important to have some leadership that stands up and says, enough; we are truly guaranteed the right of religious freedom, not religious suppression by the state.
SANTORUM: Faith is a very, very important part of my life, but it's a very, very important part of this country. The foundational documents of our country -- everybody talks about the Constitution, very, very important. But the Constitution is the "how" of America. It's the operator's manual.
The "why" of America, who we are as a people, is in the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights."
The Constitution is there to do one thing: protect God-given rights. That's what makes America different than every other country in the world. No other country in the world has its rights -- rights based in God-given rights, not government-given rights.
And so when you say, well, faith has nothing to do with it, faith has everything to do with it. If rights come...
If our president believes that rights come to us from the state, everything government gives you, it can take away. The role of the government is to protect rights that cannot be taken away.
And so the answer to that question is, I believe in faith and reason and approaching the problems of this country but understand where those rights come from, who we are as Americans and the foundational principles by which we have changed the world.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
We have one more break to take, but we have a lot more to discuss. Don't go too far away. Coming up, the final debate question before Florida votes.
BLITZER: All right. We're in the last few minutes of the last question to these four presidential candidates before the Florida primary on Tuesday in this debate format.
Here is the question, and it involves the president of the United States. I want you to tell voters who are watching or are here on this campus right now why you are the one person on this stage that is most likely to beat Barack Obama.
PAUL: Well, you know, so far, we have some pretty good evidence that I'll do quite well and have a better chance than the rest to beat him, because if you do a national poll, I do very, very well against Obama. But one of the reasons is, is that the freedom message in the Constitution is very appealing to everybody in all political beliefs because it includes free markets, which conservatives endorse, but it also protects civil liberties, the way people run their lives.
If it is a God-given life, and it's your life, you should have the right to run your life as you so choose as long as you don't harm other people. This means a lot more tolerance that some would like to give. So that brings people in who are concerned about civil liberties, and all of a sudden, my position undermines Obama completely and totally because the foreign policy is different.
He promises to end the wars, but the wars expand. A constitutional foreign policy will end the wars. And if you want somebody to talk about peace and prosperity, it has to be somebody who understands money and a foreign policy and free markets.
BLITZER: Governor Romney, why are you the one person on this stage most likely to beat President Obama?
ROMNEY: The people of America recognize that this is a critical time. This is not just an average election.
This is a time where we're going to decide whether America will remain the great hope of the 21st century, whether this will be an American century, or, instead, whether we'll continue to go down a path to become more and more like Europe, a social welfare state. That's where we're headed.
Our economy is becoming weaker. The foundation of our future economy is being eroded. Government has become too large. We're headed in a very dangerous direction.
I believe to get America back on track, we're going to have to have dramatic, fundamental, extraordinary change in Washington to be able to allow our private sector to once again reemerge competitively, to scale back the size of government and to maintain our strength abroad in our military capacities.
I believe that, to change Washington in such a dramatic way, you cannot do it by people who have been there their entire careers.
I believe, if you just elect the same people to change chairs in Washington, not much happen. I think, if you want to change Washington, you're going to have to bring someone in who has been on the outside.
I have lived in the private sector. I know how it works. I've competed with businesses around the world. I know how to win.
I know what it takes to keep America strong. I know how to work in government. I've had experience for -- four years, rather, working as the governor of Massachusetts.
I will use the experience of my life to get America right. And I will be able to convince the American people that someone with my experience is very different than Barack Obama. And that experience is how I'll beat him.
BLITZER: Mr. Speaker...
... why are you the one person on this stage most likely to beat President Obama? GINGRICH: You know, I have participated in the two largest Republican sweeps in modern time, 1980, in the Reagan campaign, and 1994, with the Contract with America, which had the largest one-party increase in American history, 9 million extra votes.
I believe that what we need this fall is a big-choice election that goes to the heart of who we are. I'm running more than anything for my two grandchildren, Maggie and Robert. I'd like them to be able to look back 50 years from now and say that what we did, what we the American people did, the choice we made in 2012 to unleash the American people, to rebuild our country based on the core values, to pose for the American people a simple choice: Do you want freedom and independence and a paycheck and a job, or do you want dependence and big government and food stamps and a lack of future?
And I believe, if we have a big election with truly historic big choices, that we can defeat Barack Obama by a huge margin. But it won't be by running just as a Republican. It will be an American campaign open to every American who prefers a paycheck to food stamps, who prefers the Declaration of Independence to Saul Alinsky and who prefers a strong national security to trying to appease our enemies.
I'll repeat the question for you. Why do you think you're the best, most qualified person on this stage to beat President Obama?
SANTORUM: I agree with the previous two speakers that this is a big election. This is an election about fundamental freedom. It's about who America is going to be.
Are we a country that's going to be built great from the bottom up, as our founders intended, or from the top down?
I just think I'm a lot better than the previous two speakers to be able to make that case to the American people. I'm not for a top- down government-run health care system. I wasn't for the Wall Street bailouts like these two gentlemen were.
Governor Romney talks about the private sector and how he's going to bring private sector. When the private sector was in trouble, he voted for government to come in and take over the private sector and be able to -- and to bail them out.
Cap-and-trade -- both of them bought into the global warming hoax, bought into the cap-and-trade, top-down control of our energy and manufacturing sector.
If you look at President Obama's speech the other night, what did he lead with? He lead with manufacturing. He led with manufacturing why? Because the base of his party, the ones that are always the ones -- not the base -- the swing vote in his party, the ones that Ronald Reagan was able to get -- we call them Reagan Democrats up in Pennsylvania. Those are the blue-collar working people of America who know that this president has left them behind. He has a plan for them, and it's more dependency, not work, not opportunity.
So he went out and tried to make a play for manufacturing. That's been the center point of my campaign. The center point of my campaign is to be able to win the industrial heartland, get those Reagan Democrats back, talking about manufacturing, talking about building that ladder of success all the way down so people can climb all the way up.
That's why I'm the best person to be able to go out and win the states that are necessary to win this presidency and govern with the mandate that Newt just talked about.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
And thank you to the four presidential candidates.
I also want to thank our partners in this debate, the Republican Party of Florida, the Hispanic Leadership Network. Thank you very much to them.
We'd also like to thank our hosts here on the campus of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.