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CNN Live Event/Special

Gov. DeSantis On Drug Smugglers & Fentanyl Crisis; DeSantis On Health Care; Gov. DeSantis On His Position On Fracking. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 12, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: A lot, riding on his ability, to connect with Iowa voters, in these final four weeks, and six days, until the caucuses. Turnout, he says, will be key.

One more programming note. Nikki Haley, and Chris Sununu, the New Hampshire governor, who just endorsed her, sit down, for an interview, tomorrow, with our Dana Bash. You can see it at Noon Eastern Time, on "INSIDE POLITICS."

But first, the CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with Governor Ron DeSantis, it starts now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. And welcome to Iowa, where in just 34 days, caucusgoers here will cast the very first votes, of the 2024 presidential race.

We're live at Grand View University, in Des Moines, for CNN's Town Hall, with Florida governor, Ron DeSantis.

I'm Jake Tapper.

And right now, the presidential-hopefuls are furiously campaigning to win over Republicans, here in Iowa. It's a state that can make or break presidential candidates. Governor DeSantis has visited all 99 of Iowa's counties. And he won the endorsement of the state's popular governor, Kim Reynolds.

But he is facing steep competition, from his rivals, including the Republican front-runner, former President Donald Trump.

Tonight's event is about the voters. Governor DeSantis will have the opportunity, to answer questions, directly, from the Iowans, in this room, on the issues that will help them determine who wins the Republican nomination.

I will have some questions of my own. But this is not an interview. This is a Town Hall. And the audience, are voters, who say they plan to participate in the Iowa Republican caucuses, both registered Republicans, and those who plan to register, as Republicans, by the time of the caucus. To find tonight's questioners, we reached out to Republican-affiliated groups, as well as business groups, farm associations, parent groups, young professional organizations, religious groups, and conservative advocacy organizations.

Guests of the DeSantis campaign, and Grand View University, are also in the audience, tonight. But they're not going to get to ask any questions.

We have asked everyone here to be respectful to each other, and to Governor DeSantis, so that voters in the room and you, at home, have a chance to hear, from the candidate.

Now, please welcome Governor Ron DeSantis.




DESANTIS: Thank you. Thanks.

Hey, Jake.

TAPPER: Good to see you. Thank you so much.



DESANTIS: Thank you.


TAPPER: So, let's get straight to the voters if we can.

Our first question comes from Tim Bianco, from West Des Moines. He owns a manufacturing business. And he's on the Board of Directors for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. He says he's a Republican, and is currently undecided.


TIM BIANCO, MANUFACTURING BUSINESS OWNER: Welcome, Governor. And first of all, thank you for your service, as a veteran. It's important to recognize your service, as an American. So, thank you very much.

DESANTIS: Thank you.

BIANCO: Why should my employees trust you, to return us, to the prosperity that they enjoyed under President Trump?

DESANTIS: Well, Tim, thanks for the question. I hope your business is doing well. I know things are tough, right now, with a lot of things. I think you'd trust me, for a couple reasons. One, if you look at what we've done, in Florida, our economy's ranked number one, of all 50 states. We've boomed, like we've never had, even in the face of all the inflation, and the interest rates, which we have to obviously struggle with too. But our unemployment rate is 60 percent lower than states like California, which are Peer States.

I'd also say this. I think the first three years of the Trump administration, the economy is better than it has been. But that last year with COVID, I think was mishandled dramatically.

Shutting down the country was a huge mistake. Printing trillions and trillions of dollars was a huge mistake. That set the foundation, for the inflation that we see, granted, Biden came in and poured gas on the fire. It was reckless, that he did trillions. But if you look, you have trillions and trillions of dollars. Of course, you're paying more for that. You're going to have inflation when that happens.

So, I'm going to come in, we're going to get the inflation down. We're going to open up energy, so that you pay less for gas. And we're going to get the interest rates down, so you can actually do things like afford a home. So, I think your hard-working employees are going to have a friend in the White House. And I think we're going to be able to turn this country around.

TAPPER: So, Governor?


TAPPER: Tim's question does get to a challenge you have. You've been on the campaign trail, here in Iowa, for months. You've visited all 99 counties. Nobody can accuse you of not working for it.

But former President Trump still holds a commanding lead in the state, at least according to The Des Moines Register poll.

What is your strategy, to convince Iowans, like Tim, to pick you, and not Trump?

DESANTIS: Well, first of all, Iowa voters will choose. Not pundits and polls. I'm sick of these polls. Haven't we learned as Republicans?

We were supposed to have a red wave in November of 2022. What happened to that?

The polls were telling us, Hillary Clinton had a 99 percent chance to win the presidency, 2016. That didn't happen.


I look at my own reelection. Lot of these polls they'd put out, they'd say I was going to win by 4 percent or 5 percent. I won by 20 percent. So, they're using the polls, for a narrative.

The reality is we've got the best organization anyone's ever had in Iowa. We've got tens of thousands of Iowans, who've already committed to caucus for us.

You have the opportunity to make this decision. Do not let the media choose your candidate. Do not let a pundit choose your candidate. Choose the candidate that's best going to represent your values, and is going to give this country the leadership that it deserves. I'm confident that I'm that guy.

I'm grateful that we already have a huge number of Iowans, who've already signed up, to support us. And we ask all the Iowans, who are undecided, come join our team. I will not let you down.

TAPPER: So, just a few hours ago, Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was in Washington, D.C., in Congress, and in the White House, trying to make the case for more us support for Ukraine's war against Russia.

On that topic, I'd like to bring in Dawn Mann. She's from Urbandale. She works in sales. And she's a Republican, who says she's currently undecided as well.


DAWN MANN, WORKS IN SALES: Welcome to Des Moines.

If you had to pick one, which current conflict, Ukraine or Israel, is more critical, for the American people, to support, with tax dollars and why?

DESANTIS: Well, thanks for the question, Dawn.

Well, for me that's an easy answer. It's the State of Israel, because they are our strongest ally, in the Middle East. We have a relationship with them that's like no other. And they have the whole world against us. They require the United States, to be there, to stand with them, as the friend.

Ukraine has all of Europe. These European countries need to start pulling their weight. They don't meet their NATO dues. I mean, some of them have done, Poland, Finland. But a lot of them are not doing that. They have all these people. Russia is a threat to Europe. They need to rise to the occasion, rev up their industrial bases, and start arming themselves, so that they can help Ukraine, and keep Russia in a box.

But Israel is a unique country, in terms of our relationship. And as Governor of Florida, it's something that when the attacks happened, against them? That impacted my state, because I had so many people that go back and forth.

You had people that were stranded in Israel, they couldn't get back. The State Department wasn't helping them. The embassy wasn't helping them. So, I did an Executive order. We scrambled planes. And we rescued over 700 people, from Israel, and brought them back to the United States of America.

You need -- when you're in an Executive position, you need to be able to lead, particularly in crisis situations. We stepped up and helped our friends, who were in Israel. And we would do that as President of the United States.


TAPPER: So, just to follow, on these important wars. Earlier today, Zelenskyy stressed that Ukraine needs continued U.S. support, as never before.

Iowa Republican senator, Joni Ernst, has previously said there's quote, "No doubt," we need to support the Ukrainians.

Would you send support to Ukraine, as president?

DESANTIS: I think what the Republicans, in the Congress are doing, I think is the right thing. What they are saying is, you've got to defend our own country's borders, before you start sending money all across this world.

And for example, I've supported in the past defensive weapons under Trump, because I figured, try to keep Russia out. I think that that's in our interest.

But they have spent tens of billions of your tax dollars, to subsidize farming, in Ukraine, to subsidize small business, in Ukraine, to pay salaries for bureaucrats, and pensions for Ukrainian bureaucrats. How is that something that's more important to this country than our veterans, than some of the other problems we have?

And from a national security perspective, that, open border threatens our country. We have people from all over the world that have gone in there. And so, I think what these Republicans are saying is, "Let's get this done." And Biden's going to have to compromise on that and he's not going to do it.

Look, as President, I'll do the border on day one. Day one, we're going to declare it a national emergency.


DESANTIS: I'm sending the military, to the southern border. We're going to stop the invasion.

When people are here, illegally, they have to be sent back. You have to do that. We have people that have come from Iran, other parts of the Middle East, China, Russia, you name it. They've come from all over the world, illegally. These people don't have our best interests at heart. This is a security threat to us. So, that is something we have to do.

And I think that most people that I talk to, who are frustrated with some of the money going overseas, they want Ukraine to beat Russia. We don't like Russia. But here's the thing. You got to take care of your own house first. And the D.C. elites, they ignore the problems, affecting the American people. You know why? Because it doesn't affect them. And that is wrong.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE) TAPPER: So, we're going to get to the border, because there's some questions about it here.

But on the topic of Israel's war, against Hamas, and the worsening humanitarian crisis, in Gaza, President Biden said, behind closed doors today, that Israel is losing support for the war, globally, because of its, quote, "Indiscriminate bombing" of Gaza.


And President Biden also voiced concerns, over members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, who he says don't support a two-state solution, which Biden says is the natural peaceful end, of what needs to happen, here.

Do you share President Biden's concerns at all? What's your view?

DESANTIS: So, I think it's true that the world's coming after Israel. But it's because of anti-Semitism. It's because you have these people, at the U.N., who were disgraceful, who were trying to blame Israel. They wouldn't even condemn the Hamas attack, at the United Nations.

So, Israel gets targeted, and singled out, more than any other country, in the world. They're the only Jewish state, in this world. And everyone's come gunning for them.

The morning of the attack, I was actually in Iowa. And I said, we stand with Israel, we can all do that.

But here's what's going to happen. Weeks, months in the future, you're going to start to see them blaming Israel, for all this.

So, you look at what may be happening, in the Gaza Strip, if there's civilian casualties? That is Hamas' fault. Hamas should release the hostages. Hamas should unconditionally surrender. Israel cannot possibly live with a terrorist group that wants to annihilate their entire country, and kill every Jew, and usher in a second holocaust. So, they have every right to defend themselves.

Now, in terms of the two-state solution, I don't think you can have a quote, "Two-state solution," when the Arabs will view it, the Palestinian Arabs will view it, as a stepping stone, to the destruction of Israel.

Why have you not had a solution there? Because they've never recognized Israel's right to exist, as a Jewish state. And until they're willing to do that, anything that would be done would just weaken Israel. And so, I think Bibi and a lot of people in his cabinet know, they've offered massive concessions, in the past, and it's been rejected. And that's the problem.

The people in the Gaza Strip as well as in Fatah, they want to destroy Israel, more than they want their own state. And that is wrong. And we cannot stand for that.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE) TAPPER: Let's bring in Davis Witt. He works for a minor league hockey team. He will be sworn into the Iowa National Guard, next week. Congratulations. That's wonderful.


TAPPER: He's a Republican, who says he's deciding between you and Donald Trump.


WITT: Thank you for your service, by the way. Welcome to Des Moines.


WITT: My question is sort of a two-part question. What are some things different you can do, to prevent illegal immigrants, from crossing the border, as well as what actions can the Border Patrol take that are new?

DESANTIS: OK. Well, David, thanks for joining the National Guard. It's important. We've got a lot of great people, in Florida. And I think it's going to be very rewarding service for you.

What can you do? Well, one, you can change the policy. Remain in Mexico. You have people that are abusing the asylum. They come, make a bogus asylum claim, and then they get a sheet of paper, say, "Go ahead into the interior of our country, and come back in two years for a court date." That is not a deterrent.

So, we will not entertain those claims. They can wait. I think we need to reform the law, so that the claims don't even happen. But we're not letting people in. No way.

We're going to also empower states, to enforce immigration law. People are coming, across the Rio Grande? Texas should be able to deport and send them back. That's a force multiplier for us.

I am going to build the border wall. And I remember, in 2016, I went to the rallies, with Donald Trump. He said he was going to build the wall, and have Mexico pay for it. And that didn't happen. And why didn't it happen? Well, one, I think he got distracted. And he didn't do it on day one. But two, he didn't utilize the levers of power that he had.

So how do you get Mexico to pay for? Well, they're not just going to give us money. Although Trump said at the time, they would do that, because people like Jake would say, "Wait a minute, how are you going to be able to do this?" "Oh, they're going to pay for it. They're going to pay for it." They didn't do it.

Here's what you do. You impose fees on the remittances that workers send back, to foreign countries, Mexico, Central America, really all over the world. You'd raise billions of dollars. We'll put it into constructing the border wall. And here's the thing. We, as Republicans, probably 99 percent blame Biden, for 8 million people coming in illegally. It's been bad for the country. And I do too.

But here's the thing. If Trump had built the border wall, it would have been very difficult, for Biden, to bring in all those many people. That's why you want a wall. It's a physical fact of life that even an open-border president would not be able to get around.

So, I will get the job done. The talk is cheap. And I'm sick of Republicans always using this issue, every election cycle, to try to get donations, and to try to tell the people they could do it. We are going to bring the issue to a conclusion.

TAPPER: So, one of the questions I have for you.


TAPPER: Obviously, the fentanyl crisis is huge and disastrous. And it hits people in Florida, D.C., Iowa.

As a way to stop the flow of fentanyl to the U.S., you have promised to shoot drug smugglers, quote, "Stone cold dead" at the border.

How is that legal? And how can you ensure that you're not going to end up shooting innocent people?


DESANTIS: So, one, they are invading our -- the drug cartels are invading our country, and they're poisoning our people, and killing them by the tens of thousands. So, not only do we have a right, as president, you have a responsibility, to fight back, on behalf of the people, of this country.

And what that means is we're going to designate the cartels, as foreign terrorist organizations. So, it's not just willy-nilly saying, we're going to shoot anyone. How do you know?

Just like when I was serving in Iraq. When I was in Iraq, and anyone that knows that served there, the Al-Qaeda did not wear a uniform that said "Al-Qaeda." They all dressed the same. So, someone could be walking down the street, you don't know if they're a civilian, or if they had an IED strapped to their body. And so, you had to make judgments about hostile intent, hostile action. You positively identified people.

We're going to have intelligence, we're going to have a lot of things operating, in ways that we've never done before.

But for those, who complain about me wanting to lean in on this, are you fine with letting all these people die?

And one of the things that I've done, just as governor, and as a candidate, I've met a lot of these Angel parents. These are parents, who've lost kids, to fentanyl overdose. Really, they're getting poisoned, high school, college, in their 20s.

And what you find is most of these cases, they're not drug addicts. They are may be stressed out. Someone tells them to take this pill. So, they take it, not thinking it would be fatal. But it's laced with fentanyl. It poisons them, and then they die.

We actually had a case in Florida. Family rented an Airbnb unit. 18- month-old baby was crawling on the carpet. There happened to be residue, from fentanyl, on the carpet that killed the baby. Can you imagine losing an 18-month-old?

This is happening all across the country.

And I met a fella, a couple months ago. And he told me, he lost his son, from a fentanyl overdose. And he's like, "You know? What really is the salt in the wounds is that these people, in D.C., they don't care about what's going on. They're not viewing this as a sense of urgency. They're not doing what it does."

I can tell you this. I care. I think this is a sense of urgency. I think we need to fight this scourge. And it's not just the supply. It's also demand. And in Florida, we've actually done an Opioid Recovery Network. That's reduced overdose deaths. We're one of the only large states, in the country, where we can say we actually had a year-over-year reduction.

So, I do think you fight demand, you do treatment and you do supply. But I am not going to let these drug cartels ruin the lives of the American people any longer.



TAPPER: This is an issue we care a lot about on my show, too.

And former congressman, from Florida, Ted Deutch, his nephew died of this. And it was exactly as you described. He was taking an herbal supplement, completely legal, and it just happened to be poisoned, with fentanyl.

One of the problems with trying to crack down on this, as you know, I'm sure, is that according to U.S. government data, the overwhelming majority of fentanyl is smuggled into this country, by American citizens, and through the legal ports of entry. That's how it's getting in.

DESANTIS: Well that's what we know about.


DESANTIS: I mean, I know they do that. But when you have a wide open border, we don't even know what's coming across the wide open border. There's so many people that don't even get interdicted. So, I think it's a combination of both. I think not only do we have to worry about the land ports of entry.

I'm going to do a Maritime Task Force to try to interdict the precursor chemicals that are being brought into Mexico. Because it used to be China would make it, and then they'd send it. Now, China's sending the precursor chemicals, and then the cartels are making the final products, and doing.

They'll put the fentanyl, in candy, to try to market it to very young kids. This is really sick stuff. So, I think we have to have all options on the table.

But here's the thing. When they see we're willing to fight back, that's going to make a difference. Because they've been running all over us. They've been eating our lunch at the border. That changes on January 20th, 2025.


TAPPER: So, I want to bring in Jeanne Lubavs. Did I pronounce that correctly?


TAPPER: All right, good. So, a retired engineer, and Republican, from West Des Moines. She's currently an undecided voter.


LUBAVS: Hi. Older Americans have worked hard to pay into Social Security. They've earned it and are counting on it to be around for many years to come. How will you protect Social Security for future generations?

DESANTIS: Well, thanks for the question.

And it's, as Governor of Florida, I know a few people, on Social Security, believe me.


DESANTIS: And here's the thing. When some people try to say it's an entitlement, it's not an entitlement. You've been taxed to pay into it your whole life. And people have paid into the Social Security for decades.

And so, seniors can know promise made is promise kept. We understand the importance of making sure that you have the benefits, especially when prices are going up so much. And you'd get a cost-of-living adjustment. But it's not enough, to cover what's actually happening. The groceries have gone up way more than 10 percent. They've gone up 50 percent, 75 percent, maybe 100 percent. So promise made promise kept.


Congress has taken money, out of the Social Security fund, for decades. Used to have surpluses there. Congress needed more money to do its spending? So they take it, and they'd spend it, and then they'd write IOUs. That's the main reason why Social Security is having fiscal challenges.

I also think if we go in and reduce inflation, and interest rates, that is going to make a big difference. Cost-of-living adjustments will actually go down, but your benefit will go farther, if prices are stable.

And also, on the overall budget, we're doing, going to be a trillion dollars, on interest, on the national debt. That is unsustainable. We've got to get the interest rates down. And we've got to get that debt situation better, because that could overwhelm everything that we're doing, in this country.

TAPPER: So, just a quick follow on that. So, I hear what you're saying about current seniors, Jeanne Lubavs. But what about for younger people? I guess, I shouldn't even point at myself anymore. But for younger people?

Your rival, Ambassador Haley, says that you and President Trump aren't being fully honest, in this issue. She says, without any reforms being made to Social Security, the program ultimately will not have enough money, to pay young people, like that one right there, their full benefits.

And isn't she right? I mean, doesn't Social Security need some reform?

DESANTIS: So, what she has said, Nikki Haley, she has claimed that the retirement age is way, way, way too low. That's what she said.

So, you got a lot of people that have worked hard their whole life. Life expectancy is declining in this country. It's tragic. But it's true. So, to look at those demographic trends, and say that, you would jack it up, so that people are not going to be able to have benefits? I mean, I don't know why she's saying that. You got to look at the trends.

But yes, overall, in the long-term, how do you strengthen the program? You got to have bipartisan agreement.

President Reagan, in the early 80s, he did a commission, with Alan Greenspan. He had Republicans and Democrats. They worked through the issues. They agreed, and then they moved forward.

I think it's the only way you can do it. You can't do this stuff on a party-line vote. You're just not going to be able to get it done. So, I'm willing to work with both sides. And we got to come up with the solution for the long-term.

But in the short-term, just know, seniors, this is a priority for me, to make sure that you have your benefits. My grandmother lived till 91. Social Security was her sole source of income. So, I understand what a lot of people are going through.

TAPPER: So, your service has come up a couple times, tonight. You're the only veteran, running in the Republican primary. You served, for those who don't know, as a Navy JAG officer, in Iraq.

How did your service shape your foreign policy views, in particular, how you might approach sending men and women, into harm's way?

DESANTIS: Well, I think it's a great question.

So, having been there, and seeing what a lot of our Marines are going through, our Special Operators, our soldiers, as Commander-in-Chief, I hope to never have to put our service members, in harm's way.

But look, I believe in peace through strength. I think if you build up American strength, we will deter conflict, in this country. But you never know what's going to happen.

But my pledge to all the active-duty, all the veterans, all the family members of active-duty is this. I will never put people in harm's way, willy-nilly. If we're going to do it, there needs to be a clear objective that we're trying to fulfill.

We need to send people. When you send people, they need to have everything they need, to be able to accomplish that objective. That objective has got to be something that's in the vital national security interests, of our country. And then, when they achieve the objective, we got to bring them home.

We can't have these situations, where people are toiling for years and years, in these foreign countries, with no concrete example of victory. So, I hope to never do it. But if we ever need to, we are going to win.

And I think the lesson of the post 9/11 era was we got into conflicts, and we weren't achieving any clear-cut victories. You got to know, what are the limits of what the military can do?

When I was in Iraq, part of what we were trying to do was create a democracy, in the Middle East. Well, nation-building doesn't work. Social engineering, in foreign countries, doesn't work. When you have to go to defend this country, you go, you do the job, and you bring our people back home.


TAPPER: Over the weekend, Donald Trump compared the bravery, of those who have served, in the military, with his decision, to debate Hillary Clinton, in 2016, after the Access Hollywood tape came out.

And you tweeted about it. You seemed offended by it.

DESANTIS: So, Donald Trump, so he's -- when he gets off the teleprompter now, you don't know what he's going to say. It's a different Donald Trump than 2015 and 2016. Back then, he was colorful. But it was really America First, about the policies. Now, a lot of it's about him.

And when he's doing this, and says that debating Hillary Clinton, after Access Hollywood, was like an example of bravery, that some general told him, was more significant than soldiers, who fight and die, in war? That is offensive, and that is wrong.


Debating is the bare minimum that a political candidate should do. And I would note, Donald Trump has refused to debate, throughout this campaign. He doesn't think he owes it to Iowans. He doesn't think he owes it to Granite Staters, to show up and debate, and answer questions.

He doesn't think he should come and have to answer questions, from voters. Lot of times, he'll come and give a speech and leave. He's not going to visit all 99 counties.

Nobody is entitled to this nomination. You've got to earn this nomination. And part of the way you do it is you show up. You answer people's questions. You shake their hands. And you show them that you care about the future of their communities.

I care about the future of these communities. I care about the future of this country. I am not running for me. This is not about my issues. It's about your issues, your family's issues, and the future of this country.


TAPPER: We'll be right back with more, from Republican presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis. Stay with us.




TAPPER: Welcome back to Iowa and CNN's Presidential Town Hall with Governor Ron DeSantis.

I have some questions for you, about health care that people in the audience have.


But before we get to them, I want to ask you about your family's health situation. Because as many of you probably already know, you and your wife, Casey, who's with us here, tonight, have talked on the campaign trail, about her breast cancer diagnosis, in 2021.

Thankfully, she is in remission. She's all good now. But--



DESANTIS: Absolutely.

TAPPER: What was that experience like for your family? DESANTIS: Well, at the time of the diagnosis, we had a 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a 1-year-old. And obviously, any of these diagnoses are tough. But I think when you're talking about breast cancer, with a mother of young kids, it's especially devastating, because you're thinking about these kids may not have a mother.

It was also a situation, where my wife, she just has a sense, she felt something. She went to see the doctor. Doctor cleared her. And then, she came back to me, and she said, "You know? I don't know." And I was like, "You're fine." Because like for me, if a doctor told me, I'm fine, I would never think twice. I'd be off to the races. I know.

But she had a sense. So, she really fought for herself, to be able to get a mammogram. And then, when she got it, it came back, unfortunately, with bad news. But had she not been willing to do that, who knows what would have ended up happening?

And so, it's when you see somebody that you love, go through the chemo? And it just sucks the life out of you. And everything she had to go through, as a husband, I'm there doing what I can, to be the helping hand, and to help with the family and everything. But you almost wish like I could do a chemo for her, so she didn't have to do it all this time.

But it was not fun. But I'd say she's better than ever now with her health. So, that's really all that matters.


TAPPER: That's great news.

DESANTIS: And our prayers, people's prayers were answered.


TAPPER: Let's turn now to Chelsea Czerniewski, a graduate student, here at Grand View. She's studying mental health counseling. She's a Republican, from Urbandale, who says she's supporting you.


CHELSEA CZERNIEWSKI, GRADUATE STUDENT IN MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING: Hi. First of all, I would like to thank you for your service. That's much appreciated.

And I want to know, what is your stance, on the right to life and abortion? And what will you do as President to protecting that right in all 50 states?

DESANTIS: Well, thanks so much for the question. And thanks for your support. I appreciate you're doing that.

I'm pro-life. I believe in creating a culture of life. I've been able to follow that up, in Florida, by enacting pro-life protections, to protect unborn that have a heartbeat, a detectable heartbeat. And that's something that the Legislature passed, and we signed earlier this year.

I think though, one thing in this race that I think is important to point out is Donald Trump flip-flopping, on the right to life.

So, if you look in January of 2020, when he was president, he stood in the March for Life, and he gave a speech. And if you read that speech, he said that all life is a gift from God. He compared the unborn child, in the mother's womb, to being the image of God. He said it was important that we had protections in law. And that's what he was saying in January of 2020.

Now, he has attacked states that have enacted protections, like heartbeat bills, as being a terrible, terrible thing. So, how do you square that March for Life speech, with now trashing states that have advanced protections that he claimed to cover? Was he not being honest in January of 2020? Or has he just flipped his position to now, what he's saying in 2023? I think that's a huge problem.

Because we know people come at this from different angles. It's a big, diverse country. There's a lot of division about it. But you should be consistent, in your beliefs, especially on something that's very fundamental.

And he has not been consistent. And I think there's a lot of voters, in Iowa, who really care about this, who need to know how he's changed his position.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about a big story, dealing with abortion that's in the news.

Yesterday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a pregnant woman in Texas could not obtain an abortion, after her fetus was diagnosed with a genetic disorder, called Trisomy 18. It's almost always a fatal condition.

Now, her lawyers said that carrying the fetus to term could compromise her future fertility, and also put her life in danger. Do you think the law should require a woman, in that kind of difficult position, to carry the baby to term?

DESANTIS: We got to approach these issues with compassion, because these are very difficult issues, and nobody would wish this to happen on anybody. If you're in that situation, as a mother, that's an incredibly difficult thing, to have to deal with.

What I can tell you is in Florida, the Florida Legislature passed a heartbeat bill that contained exceptions, for things like rape, incest, life of the mother, fatal fetal defect and victim of human trafficking. And so, I signed that bill.

Those are very difficult cases. And they made a prudential judgment, that having those exceptions were things that made sense. So, I have signed legislation that included that. And I understand they're very difficult. And these things get a lot of press attention, I understand.


But that's a very small percentage that those exceptions cover. There's a lot of other situations, where we have an opportunity, to realize really good human potential. And we've worked to protect as many lives as we could in Florida.


TAPPER: Staying on the topic of health care. You recently said you're going to have a quote, "Better plan" to, in your words, supersede and transcend Obamacare.

Some of the key provisions of Obamacare include protecting people with pre-existing conditions, and allowing for the expansion of Medicaid, for lower-income individuals.

Will your Obamacare replacement include those provisions?

DESANTIS: So, in Florida, I've signed legislation, for pre-existing conditions. And I know a lot of other states have done it. Obviously, it's a significant thing that you want to do.

What we're going to do? And this was a big promise, of course, when Donald Trump ran in 2016 that he was going to repeal and replace Obamacare, because he did correctly -- and I've always said Obamacare is not making health care more affordable. It's made it more expensive. That was the central claim. And it hasn't worked. It's more expensive than ever.

But I think they failed, because they didn't have anything to replace it with. The American people, at the time, were telling him, and telling Congress, "Yes, we know Obamacare is flawed. But you got to produce something that's going to be a replacement." So, what we're going to focus on is accessibility. We want good health

care to be accessible to people. We want affordability. It's got to be affordable. And we want accountability in the system.

And there's going to be a lot that we're going to do. We'll roll out a bigger plan as we get deeper in the election season, because we're working with a lot of experts, in Congress, and all this stuff.

But if you look, the patient in this system now is at the back of the bus. The doctor is now at the back of the bus. Who's at the front of the bus? Big insurance companies, big pharmaceutical companies, big government bureaucracies. It's an iron triangle that really is a system rather than something that's an individual care.

So, we want to make sure that people are protected. I think your insurance should be portable. The whole reason the pre-existing condition came is because it was tied to people's jobs. So, if you lost your job, while you were sick, then all of a sudden, in the past, you wouldn't do. That insurance should be able to go with you. So, we're going to work on all those things.

But the number one thing is affordability and costs. And to do that you're going to have to upset the applecart on some of these really big entrenched interests.

TAPPER: When can the voters expect to see your plan?

DESANTIS: We'll roll it out. I mean, we're working on it. It's the type of thing, where we're putting out the broad strokes. You kind of campaign in poetry, then you'd govern in prose with that.

But we are absolutely going to be dealing with insurance. We're going to be dealing with -- we're dealing with pharmaceuticals, we're going to be dealing with all those things.

Another thing we're going to deal with, because health care, the biggest health care issue we've had in this country, in the last four or five years, is COVID-19. I am going to bring a reckoning to those agencies that lied to this country.


DESANTIS: The CDC, NIH, FDA, people like Fauci, all those things that really harmed this country. And yet nobody's been held accountable. So, we're going to go up there, we're going to clean house.

But for example, here's thing. FDA, they will approve a COVID mRNA vax, for 6-month-old babies. There is no data to support such a thing, for emergency use. So the question is, is why are they doing that? Well, pharmaceutical companies are going to make money.

Where did the people from the FDA go to work, when they're done in the FDA? They go to work for Big Pharma. We're going to stop the revolving door from the FDA to the pharmaceutical companies.


TAPPER: I want to bring in Robb Ewoldt. He's a farmer, livestock producer, representative of the Iowa Soybean Association, a Republican from Davenport, who is undecided.


ROBB EWOLDT, FARMER AND LIVESTOCK PRODUCER: Governor, thank you for taking the time. And undecided, I'm learning quite a bit about you. So, I appreciate that.

Just want to talk a little bit of trade. China remains a vital market, for the U.S. soybeans. How do you plan to approach trade relations, with China, to ensure access, to the significant market, for our soybean exports, while also addressing trade-related challenges, and ensuring fair competition for American farmers?

DESANTIS: Well, Robb, thanks for the question. And thanks for what you do, man. You're the backbone of this country. And I've learned that being in Iowa? We're a Big Ag state in Florida. But the way it really permeates the culture here, I mean, it's the bread and butter, and you guys are really the salt of the earth. They're patriotic, God-fearing folks. So, God bless you. So, we're going to do a couple things. One, there's other markets, in Asia, apart from China that we don't have adequate access to. I'm going to use leverage to be able to get it. And it may not even require a trade deal. I mean, we have levers, over some of these countries that we can pull. So, we're going to work to do that to get you more access to that.

Now, with respect to China, we are going to reevaluate, and change the relationship, because what's happened is they don't follow the rules. They've eaten our lunch, on so many things.


And we've allowed critical things, to migrate to China that we need for our national survival, pharmaceuticals, things involving military weaponry. On and on, down the line, if we had a crisis, a World War, we're going to ask China to give us all this stuff?

So, we need to repatriate and reassure some of these very key things. And that'll involve pulling certain levers. It will involve, for example, isolating the different areas that we want to bring back. We're also going to have to do tax and regulatory things, here, to make it viable to be able to do here.

But yes, we're going to work to expand markets, for our agriculture. We know it's important. We know you guys can feed the world. And we're going to be doing that in a variety of ways.

TAPPER: Thanks, Robb.

We're going to be -- take a quick break. We'll be right back with more, from Republican presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis.




TAPPER: Welcome back. We are in Des Moines. And you are watching CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with Governor Ron DeSantis.

Governor, I would like to introduce you to Jessica Dunker, President and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, and the Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association. She's a Republican, a mother of five. She says she's supporting, and has volunteered for Nikki Haley.




[21:45:00] DUNKER: Do you think it's possible, for the four candidates, who made last Wednesday's debate stage, to come together and throw your support, behind one of you, in an effort, to create an actual competitor, for President Trump?

DESANTIS: Well, I appreciate that sentiment, Jessica.

Well, look, I think that's what the Iowa caucus is. I think you guys choose who that person is.

And I think I'm confident it's going to be me, because here's the thing. I'm the only one running that can beat Trump one-on-one. Why? Because the other candidates cannot get enough support, from core Republicans, and traditional conservatives, to be able to go. You can't just win with a slice of the party. You got to have broad support. We'll be able to do that going forward.

And also, I think the reason why I think I should be the guy? We need a change agent in Washington. We don't want somebody that's just going to go up there, be part of the Establishment, rearrange the deck chairs, on the Titanic.

I want real serious structural change. I want to see term limits for members of Congress. I want to see a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. I want to see a line item veto for the President. I want to see agencies moved out of Washington, D.C., into other parts of the country.


DESANTIS: I want to see a reduction in the scope of government.

And that's going to take a leader that has backbone that's going to be willing to fight for you, and has a record of actually delivering big victories. I'm the only one running, who's done 100 percent of my promises fulfilled, in Florida.

I'm also the only one running -- if you look at the folks that are doing the bad policies, on the left, that's causing the problems in the country? I'm the only one running, who's beat these people. We beat the Teachers' union with School Choice. We beat Fauci on COVID. I beat Soros on the prosecutors, the left prosecutors that we removed. We beat the Dems on election integrity.

So, we have delivered victory after victory. That's what you deserve as the next President of the United States.


TAPPER: So, earlier this evening, in New Hampshire, Republican governor, Chris Sununu, endorsed your opponent, Ambassador Nikki Haley. I'm wondering how much harder you think that's going to make your path to victory, in New Hampshire?

DESANTIS: Well, unlike some people running, if someone doesn't endorse me, I'm not going to go trash them. Chris is a good guy. He's done a good job. And I'm going to continue

to say he's good. He's a really good campaigner. I mean, excellent campaigner. So in that sense, I think it's a benefit for her.

But here's the problem. Even a campaigner, as good as Chris, is not going to be able to paper over Nikki being an Establishment candidate. I mean, she's getting funded, by liberal Democrats, from California, like the Founder of LinkedIn, people on Wall Street, like the head of JP Morgan. She's getting all these folks that are going to her. Guess what, guys? Those folks do not want to see conservative change, in this country. So, why are they gravitating to her?

And I think her positions on things like saying her first day in office, she's going to demand that everyone produce their name on social media? She said, "I want your name." What, you're going to doxx the whole country? Conservatives have been singled out for expressing opinions, on social media. People have been canceled. They've lost jobs over this. Why would she want to put our own people under there?

So, I think there's so many problems, with her policy positions. She's really reflective of the old-failed Republican establishment of yesteryear. We do not need to go back to that.

But I will say this. Chris is a great -- he's done a great job as governor. He's a great campaigner. And I look forward to campaigning with him, next fall, in New Hampshire, as the Republican nominee.


TAPPER: I want to bring in Tom Moreland. He's the Area Director at a health care company, from Urbandale. He's a Republican, who says he is supporting your campaign.

DESANTIS: Is it Tom, you said?

TAPPER: Yes, Tom.


TAPPER: Tom Moreland


Ads continue to run in Iowa, showing you were saying you're going to ban fracking, while also showing a debate performance, where you said you were for fracking. Can you please tell us your position? And why you told the woman, on the video, you would ban fracking?

DESANTIS: Yes, so that is a -- that ad has been debunked, by even liberal media. You have to frack to be able to get the energy, Marcellus, the Permian Basin. I did a huge energy rollout, in September. We're opening it all up. Federal lands, we're going to get the permitting going, we're going to do all that. You have to frack.

What she's talking about, in clipping, is the State of Florida, voters, in our constitution, said no drilling offshore, on our beaches.

A lot of people in Iowa will go to Marco Island, and all these places. And I think the voters, it wasn't for anything with global warming. It was because they didn't want to see a spill that would then hurt the tourism. And they made that saying (ph). So, as governor, of course I've done that.

But that doesn't mean that we're not going to frack throughout this country. You have to frack to be able to get this done. I also think local control, in terms of states. Look, if New York City doesn't have to drill, in Central Park, you guys don't have to drill in places that you -- that may not -- you don't -- want to.

But yes, we are going to do it. We are going to have an energy boom, in this country. We're going to be independent. We're going to be dominant. We're going to lower your gas prices. And we're going to lower energy costs, all throughout.


And here's the thing, because what Biden wants to do, with the Green New Deal, what they're doing in California? They want to increase demand, for electrical, like by forcing electric vehicles, which I oppose. But at the same time, they're kneecapping reliable energy, oil, gas and the like. That has blackouts in California. That will lead to blackouts all throughout this country.

We need reliable energy. When I respond to a hurricane in Florida, I can't get the lights back on with windmills and with solar. I need oil and gas.

TAPPER: We'll be right back with more, from Republican presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis.



TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall, with Governor Ron DeSantis. We're here in beautiful Des Moines.

I want to talk to you about a topic. I don't know how much people out there, outside of Iowa, know about this. But it is dominating the local news, here in Iowa.

Republicans are divided over a new Satanic Temple holiday display, in the State Capitol building. Governor Kim Reynolds, who has endorsed you, she says it is quote, "Absolutely objectionable," but quote, "In a free society, the best response to objectionable speech is more speech," unquote.


Some Republicans are calling for it to come down.

What do you think? Should that display be allowed in the Capitol? DESANTIS: So, it's interesting. I heard this. And then, I was like, "Well how did it get there? Is that even a religion?" And lo and behold, the Trump administration gave them approval, to be under the IRS, as a religion. So, that gave them the legal ability to potentially do it.

So, I don't know what the Legislature, what they had. They analyzed it. But it very well may be because of that ruling, under Donald Trump, that they may have had a legal leg, to stand on.

My view would be that that's not a religion that the Founding Fathers were trying to create. But I do think that IRS ruling, I was really surprised to see that they did that.

TAPPER: So, just not correcting you.

But just, the context of that is the Satanic Temple applied for tax- exempt status, and the IRS did grant it in 2019. That doesn't necessarily mean the government supports it. But they did grant it.


DESANTIS: No, no, no. Yes, exactly. But they recognized it as a religion.


DESANTIS: Because otherwise you wouldn't have been able to do it. I don't think that was the right decision. Satanic (ph) as a religion? That's wrong.

TAPPER: But you think they should take it down in the Capitol?

DESANTIS: Yes, I mean, look, I think if they're going to get sued on it, I think, yes, I think you fight that fight. But I think it may be? And I don't know how the Legislature analyzed it. It very well may be because of that ruling, they feel that they may lose. So, I don't know what they did to do it.

But yes, I don't -- in Florida, I don't think we probably would have had it up.

TAPPER: Let's bring in Brooks Reynolds. He is the Co-founder of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. And he brought enough for here, for everybody here, tonight.


TAPPER: I'm just joking. He didn't.

He's the CEO of JR's SouthPork Ranch. He's a Republican, from Des Moines, currently undecided.


BROOKS REYNOLDS, CO-FOUNDER, BLUE RIBBON BACON FESTIVAL: Governor, again, thank you so much, for your service, and for spending so much quality time, here in Iowa.

I think this is a very important question for all Iowans. What was your favorite food item, at the Iowa State Fair, this year?


DESANTIS: You know, it's funny. Pork on a stick. But I did not do it in public, because they said if you get a picture of it, it's a really bad thing.

But I'd tell you one thing, though, just on a policy thing. This Prop 12, what it's doing to the pork producers? Help is on the way, my friend. We're going to take care of that. California should not be dictating how you're raising hogs and producing pork.


TAPPER: I want you to meet Grant Boesen, from West Des Moines. He's a Republican, who voted for Joe Biden, in 2022. He's currently undecided, in the primary, or the caucus here.


GRANT BOESEN, WEST DES MOINES RESIDENT: Governor DeSantis, I'm 27- years-old. And I never remember the country being so deeply divided, and in a worse position, mentally, than ever before.

My question for you, tonight, is how will you specifically help reunite this amazing country?

DESANTIS: Well, thanks, Grant. I appreciate that.

And you're right. Look, I think what we've seen is we've seen fighting, polarization, for no reason. So look, there's important issues. You can count on me. I'm going to take strong stance. I'm going to deliver big results.

As a leader, when you make decisions, not everyone's going to like it. That just goes with the territory. What I'm not going to do is go out of my way to alienate people for no reason. If there's a substantive disagreement, let the chips fall where they may.

But I think if you look at like, like, Trump tweeting and attacking people, I think that created division that we didn't need.

I think, Biden when he gives that speech, in front of the thing, where his fists are there, saying that MAGA is -- are like, almost anti- American? That creates division. We don't need to be doing that.

We need to be focusing on principle. We need to aim higher. And we need to deliver results for people.

If you disagree with me 50 percent of the time? OK, we'll hash that out. But I want to work with you on the other 50 percent. Heck, if someone agrees (ph) with me 20 percent of the time, we can fight on the 80 percent. But you got to be willing, when the next issue comes up, to be willing to work on the 20 percent. That's just how I am as a leader.

And in Florida, we had some tough fights. But I've also done some of my policies that got unanimous support. Some of the things we've done for conservation, some of the things we've done to raise teacher salaries, some of the things we've done, to support police officers.

So, it can be done. But I do think it requires a leader that's going to appeal to the better angels of our nature.


TAPPER: Who is your favorite Democrat in Florida? Democratic official? Not just like, guy you know.



TAPPER: But who's your favorite Democratic official, in Florida?

DESANTIS: Oh, man, the minute I do that, then they're -- they're all of a sudden--

TAPPER: Well, I mean, give me--

DESANTIS: --going to have--

TAPPER: Give me one who's in the top 10.

DESANTIS: I mean, so I appointed a fella, down to the Sheriff of Broward to replace Scott Israel--


DESANTIS: --who was, he had a great life story. We put him in there, Greg Tony.

We also had that -- we actually just had a Sheriff, who was a Democrat, from St. Lucie County, who we worked very closely with. Ric Bradshaw, Sheriff of Palm Beach County, great guy.

It shows you, there really isn't that much difference, in some of these issues, when you're dealing with it. So yes, we do that.


I think what happened is the minute like I've started to go a little national, it was tougher for some of the Dems, to want to work, because they get blowback from their base. And that's just the situation that we find ourselves in.

But we do have some good ones, in Florida.

TAPPER: We want to thank Governor DeSantis, obviously Casey DeSantis, as well.

Thanks to our host here, at Grand View University.

And thanks to you, all of you, who make a Town Hall what it is. Really appreciate it.

Join us, tomorrow, at 9 PM Eastern, for our Town Hall with GOP Presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy.


Thanks, again, everyone.

DESANTIS: All right.