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CNN Live Event/Special
CNN Republican Presidential Candidate; CNN Hosts Republican Presidential Debate At Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. Aired 11p- 12a ET
Aired January 13, 2024 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She campaigned for governor saying she was going to do school choice, to be able to give private scholarships, particularly to low-income families. And she was governor and never did it. She caved to the teachers union.
I delivered the biggest school choice expansion in the history of the United States. We beat the teachers union. We've even done paycheck protection so that school unions -- so that teachers aren't force to do dues, and now they're choosing other things. So we've done it right in Florida. And the results speak for themselves.
We have one of the top performing fourth grade reading and math in the country. And if you just took our charter school population, 365,000 kids, disproportionately low income, racial, ethnic minorities, if they were their own state, they'd be in the top five in performance. Everyone can succeed, but you've got to have a leader who's going to fight the teachers unions and is going to deliver school choice.
Governor Kim Reynolds did that here in Iowa, who's endorsed me. Nikki Haley did not.
DESANTIS: She failed. And if she can't do it in the reddest state in the country of South Carolina, how are you going to be able to succeed in Washington, D.C.?
Now, in terms of what we've done, we believe in empowering parents, and there are certain standards about what's age and developmentally appropriate. It's wrong to have pornographic materials in fourth or fifth grade. And you know what's happened? They'll go to school board meetings all around the country. They'll start reading it and they, oh, no, no, it's too graphic. You can't read it here. You can't put it on the 6:00 news.
Well, if it's not appropriate in a school board meeting and you can't put on the 6:00 news, why are you jamming it down the throats of a fourth grader?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Governor, just a point of clarification, do you want to implement Florida's education policies nationwide? DESANTIS: It depends on the policy. School choice universal, yes. I don't want a nationalized curriculum. I think that that's a bottom up thing. I want to get rid of the federal Department of Education, get that weight off the backs of the state and local governments. But we are going to do nationwide scholarships through the tax credits, and that's going to bail out a lot of poor kids throughout this country.
TAPPER: Governor Haley?
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have fought for school choice in my entire career because I think parents know their children best, and I think we should always do that. That's why we passed charter school legislation in our state. That's why we empowered homeschoolers in our state. That's why we changed the funding formula. So, we lifted up challenged areas without bringing down the wealthy areas.
We wanted school choice. I had a Republican legislature that wouldn't do it, but we pushed hard to get that done. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it across the country. But what we have to do is we have to make it state centric. We've got to get these programs down to the state level. We've got to let the focus be on teachers. Teachers right now have to be the guidance counselors, the pastors, the nurses and everything in between. And, oh, by the way, they have to teach to a test. That's not what teachers want. Teachers want to do what they were taught to do. And that means math, science, reading, history, English, arts. That's it.
Schools can't be all things to all kids. They need to let the parents parent. They need to let teachers teach. And we need to go back to the basics in education so we get our kids --
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Thank you. I want to move on.
DESANTIS: That is the problem, though. That word salad is the problem.
BASH: Governor DeSantis --
DESANTIS: She said she's always supported school choice and she failed to deliver. She blames other people. Leadership is about getting things done. Stop making excuses. Make it happen.
HALEY: If leadership is about getting things done, how did you blow through $150 million in your campaign, and you were down in the polls. You are not a man of word. No, I'm going to say --
DESANTIS: I think it's very instructive about what Nikki Haley sees the world.
HALEY: I think I have the floor.
BASH: Governor DeSantis, Governor Haley --
DESANTIS: What is more important here? She's saying somehow that that's not --
BASH: Governor DeSantis, it's Governor Haley's time. Go ahead.
HALEY: I think I hit a nerve. What I will tell you is, look, if you can't manage a campaign -- it's been a revolving door of political people in and out of his campaign. You've heard of campaign people going to blows with each other because they can't all agree. $150 million, and he spent more on private planes than commercials. I flew commercial. I stayed in residence inns. We went and saved our money. We made sure we spent it right because you have to understand, it's not your money, it's other people's money, and you have to know how to handle it. If he can't handle the financial parts of a campaign, how is he going to handle the economy when it comes to the White House?
And he goes, and he has been demeaning me over and over again, telling lies, desantislies.com, because he thinks it makes him look bigger. But in the one basic thing, you've campaigned for president in one state, you're invisible in New Hampshire, you're invisible. In South Carolina, you're in fifth place, you've got $150 million and you've gone down in the polls in Iowa. Why should we think you can manage or do anything in this country?
BASH: Thank you. Governor DeSantis?
DESANTIS: This is a great window into leadership because she focused on a lot of political process stuff, things that no voter cares about, and she couldn't tell you why she failed to deliver school choice to people in her state after she promised it. So, she says somehow that is the indicative of me.
No, leadership is about producing results. We've produced the results in Florida. We did universal school choice. We've cut taxes, we banned sanctuary cities on and on down the line, everything I promised, I delivered. She doesn't have a rationale for why she couldn't get it done. That is poor leadership. You look at me. Everything I promised I would do, I've delivered. And you can expect nothing less when I'm the president of the United States.
BASH: We're going to move on now.
HALEY: I need to respond to that.
BASH: Go ahead.
HALEY: So, you want to talk about leadership, and he wants to go and demean and put down. Let me tell you what leadership is. Leadership is the fact that I went into South Carolina that had 11 percent unemployment rate. Leadership is the fact that we turned it into an economic powerhouse, building planes, building cars, building tires.
We were named the beasts of the southeast. We moved the 11 percent unemployment down to 4 percent. We announced jobs in every county in the state. We moved 35,000 people on welfare to work. We changed our prison system to where we now have the lowest recidivism rate in the country. We passed voter I.D. We passed tort reform. We did pension form. We paid down our debt. We cut taxes. We made sure that people were proud again. We did eVerify in the first six months, not five years, like Ron.
So, don't go and pick on school choice and say that that's leadership. When I got to the U.N., we cut a billion dollars off the top, and we took the kick me sign off of our backs, and America was respected again at the U.N. I know what leadership is.
BASH: We're moving on to a topic, governors, that both of you have made central to your campaigns, and that is China. Governor Haley, American farmers were hurt by former President Trump's trade war with China. As a result, his administration paid out $28 billion in subsidies to farmers. You have vowed to be even tougher than Donald Trump on China. If your trade policies also end up hurting America's farmers, are you prepared to cut a check just like he did?
HALEY: Well, that's why Trump should be here on this debate stage. He should have to defend it. So, first of all, I've said China is our number one national security threat. I fought them every single day at the United Nations. I know what they're capable of. The first thing we have to do is we have to make sure we stop selling them any land and we take back the land they already purchased.
We need to go to our universities and we say, you either take Chinese money or you take American money but the days of taking both are over. We need to stop all of the technologies that are going to China. Biden approved 70 percent of them. Trump approved even more than that. We have to tell them we're going to end all normal trade relations with them until they stop murdering Americans with fentanyl. And we need to make sure we build up our military.
But the biggest thing, I was very attached to China in terms of trade, and the one thing we'll do is we won't wait for the China to pull the rug out from under Iowans. What we'll do is instead, we will move that trade to where we have friends. We will go and build partnerships, India, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia, Israel. We will go and move that trade over.
Right now, you can ask our farmers when they go and they buy from China, China orders, cancels the order, then goes and tries to buy it cheap. That's what China does. Our farmers deserve better than that. We will get them trade deals.
When I was governor in South Carolina, we sold and we exported everything we were making in South Carolina. When I'm president, we will sell and export everything that's being made in Iowa to those that are our friends, not our enemies.
BASH: Thank you. Governor DeSantis, your response?
DESANTIS: The way you deal with China is threefold. One, we need more hard power in the Indo-Pacific. I'm a Navy guy. We need more sea power. We're going to build that up and we're going to have a strategy to deny their ability to invade Taiwan or to get beyond the first island chain. On the current course, they're going to take advantage of Biden and we're going to rue the day when that happens.
Second, we got to decouple our economy, particularly things that are significant to our national survival. And you've got to be methodical, strategic about it. There's a lot of moving parts there. But we're going to do.
Nikki Haley's not going to be able to do that because a lot of her supporters make a lot of money in China. And so she's going to talk tough, but she'll cave on that.
And then also with here in the United States, she's saying they shouldn't be buying land and be in the universities. When she was governor of South Carolina, the state gave China land and they were in the universities. As governor in Florida, I banned China from buying land and we kicked them out of our universities. That's what you want to do.
HALEY: DeSantislies.com, he has an economic development arm. You had an office in Hong Kong. On the website, it said that Florida is a great place for Chinese companies to do business. And then when we called you out on it, you had the website scrubbed. So, we know that that's the case.
What I will tell you is we need to focus on what we're going to do to become less dependent on China, and we need to make sure that we look at it through a national security lens.
When we had COVID, everybody told you to wear a mask. It was made in China. They told you to take a COVID test, you turned it over, it was made in China. If you go down the drugstore aisle, all those medicines are made in China. We need to make sure we're getting medicines made here or we need to get it from our friends so that we're not, in any way, threatened.
But I'll tell you, Ron continues to sit there and talk about China. He has done expansions in China. His biggest donor that is backed by China gave them $340,000. So, don't go and talk about donors and money. Go to desantislies.com and we'll tell you all about it.
DESANTIS: Look, I know your record hurts. I know your record sometimes because you're being -- you're talking the opposite of what you did. You were made a big effort to bring them into the state.
They had land near military base. You were in front of the Chinese flags saying you work for them. You wrote a love letter to the ambassador. That's well-documented. You were the number one Republican governor in the country.
And even people that on the media who are hostile to me, they look, they say they can't find one instance of me as governor recruiting a Chinese company because I haven't done it. It's not been part of that.
HALEY: Desantislies.com is on there. It's on there.
DESANTIS: And the Enterprise Florida, we actually eliminated.
So, here's the thing though. She's backed by companies like BlackRock. She's backed by major companies on Wall Street. They make a lot of money in China. There's a reason why you're in the mess you are in terms of trying to deal with the inflation and everything because the elites in this country have sold out the middle of the country for China. She is part of that now. And she's not going to stand up for you.
BASH: I want to ask about something that you mentioned you've been talking a lot about on the campaign trail, which is decoupling the U.S. economy with China's. China is a top supplier of goods to the United States. The U.S. sells more than $150 billion of goods to China every year. Is it really possible to sever economic ties without inflicting major pain on American business and American consumers?
DESANTIS: Sure it is, and it's something that you've got to be strategic, you've got to be methodical about. You've got to focus on the things that are of national significance. For example, I don't think it's good idea that the pharmaceuticals come from there, things for our military weaponry, all these important things that if we got into a worldwide conflict, we're going to ask China, who may be on the other side of that, to continue doing that.
So, you got to be smart about it. You got to recognize that you're going to have to do some incentives here in this country, tax incentives, regulatory incentives. But I want to make things here again.
You know, I look around the country. There's parts of Iowa that have been hollowed out, particularly in the eastern part. And I've talked to folks and seen what that did for the community. We were sold a bill of goods by a lot of elites in this country that somehow putting China and the WTO and granting a most favorite nation status was going to lead to our manufacturing exporting a bunch of stuff there. Instead, they've gobbled up so much more manufacturing.
I don't think you can be a first rate power unless you have a very strong industrial base. So, we're going to do that here. We're going to work on workforce education. Not everyone needs to do a four-year Brick and Ivy University. That's not the best way or only way for people to succeed. We're going to do skilled trades. We're going to do vocational. We've done that in Florida. It's going to be a really, really big thing.
But I just think the middle of the country has to have those good- paying jobs and we can't put the interest of some of the people on Wall Street over the interests of Americans on Main Street.
TAPPER: Let's move on to Social Security. Let's move on to Social Security. According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security will be unable to pay full benefits in a decade if no action is taken.
Governor DeSantis, you have said that you're not going to, quote, mess with Social Security, unquote. Does that mean you have committed to never raising the retirement age and never cutting benefits?
DESANTIS: So, all seniors out there, promise has been made to you. You've paid into this. Every single paycheck that you've had your entire life they've taken money out of, and that promise needs to be fulfilled.
So, that will happen when I'm president. Of course, I have a lot of seniors in Florida that depend on Social Security. I know many of them. And I think back to my own grandmother who was -- lived until 91. Social Security was her sole source of income. So, promise made, promise kept.
You know, on the retirement age, you know, there used to be people would say, well, life expectancy is going up. Shouldn't it mirror that? Well, the problem now in the last five years is life expectancy is going down. So, I don't see how you can raise the retirement age when our life expectancy is collapsing in this country. That's a huge problem in and of itself.
I'll work with both sides of the aisle. We'll work on something for the long-term strengthening, but I am not going to mess with seniors' benefits. In this high-inflation environment, groceries are going through the roof, rent is going through the roof, all these staples, and you get a cost of living adjustment, but that's not enough to cover the costs that have been increased.
So, seniors are really strapped, particularly those that are on fixed income, and they have to know that we're going to deliver when it comes to their Social Security check.
Now, we're going to get inflation down. We're going to get energy costs down. There's going to be a lot of things that are going to help seniors, but I think seniors should know promise made will be a promise kept.
TAPPER: So just a point of clarification, 15 seconds, removing current seniors from the equation, you're not saying that you're committing to never raising the retirement age or cutting benefits.
DESANTIS: I would never raise the retirement age in the face of a declining life expectancy. I mean, I think that that would be really bad. I mean, just think about it, that hurts blue collar folks. You get taxed your entire life, life expectancy is down. You may not even be recouping very many benefits. And so life expectancy is declining. That's a big problem.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Governor Haley?
HALEY: Three years in a row, he voted to raise life expectancy to 70 years old, three years in a row. Go to desantislies.com and you'll see it. So, now suddenly he's going to tell you because he's running for president and he's not going to do it, you can't trust him.
What I'll tell you is Social Security is going to go bankrupt in ten years. Medicare is going to go bankrupt in eight. He talks about taking care of seniors right now, Florida is the inflation hotspot. It's the highest cost of living of any state in the country. Seniors are having to leave because they can't afford it. It's documented in desantislies.com.
What I'll tell you we have to do is we have to keep our promises to senior years, but we also can't put our head in the sand for those like Ron saying they're not going to touch Social Security. That means they're going to leave after four or eight years and leave it bankrupt. No.
What we do is we go to those in their 20s and say we're going to change the retirement age to reflect life expectancy. Instead of cost of living increases, we do increases based on inflation. We'd limit benefits on the wealthy and we expand Medicare advantage plans with seniors. That's how we'll deal with --
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
DESANTIS: With reducing the benefits, when you do the change in calculation, reducing the benefits, let's just put this in perspective, under her administration, you would have seniors getting less cost of living adjustments while your tax dollars are going to pay the pensions of Ukrainian bureaucrats.
HALEY: That's not true. That's such a lie, Ron.
DESANTIS: You talk about putting Americans last. That is wrong. You've supported all that money going over there. So, let's put our own people first.
HALEY: You're so desperate. You're just so desperate.
TAPPER: Governor Haley, let him speak.
DESANTIS: And she also said -- she said recently that the age of Social Security is way too low, and I criticized that. And then she was called on it. And then she said, she never said it, of course, you're lying. And then, sure enough, you put on the interview where she's there, splitting image, and she says it's way too low.
So, we can play this song and dance. She has a record. She makes statements. And I think part of the problem with her candidacy is now that she's getting scrutiny, she's got this problem with ballistic podiatry, shooting herself in the foot every other day, saying things that now she doesn't even take questions from people.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor DeSantis.
Governor Haley, you want to raise the retirement age for younger Americans, but you have not said what that age should be. Should voters in their 20s plan on working until they're 70?
HALEY: First of all, he hasn't answered the fact that he voted to raise the retirement age to 73 different times. He can call me whatever name and be demeaning as much as he wants. It doesn't change the fact that Ron is lying because Ron is losing. Everybody in the country sees it for what it is.
So, what I'll tell you is, yes, we're going to take on -- we're going to be responsible with it and we're going to go to those in our 20s.
When I said the retirement age was too low, again, where he's lying, it's because if you go, and you can go to desantislies.com, I said it's too low, if we're going to look at those in their 20s. We have to go and start looking at what we can do to get out of this. We want to make sure that everybody who was promised gets it.
But we also want to make sure our kids have something when they get it, too. So, the way we do that is exactly how I laid it out. Then we'll know what we're looking at and then we can start focusing.
The other thing is we need to start cutting spending in D.C. We have to go back to pre-COVID levels. That's why I'll veto any spending bill that doesn't take us back to pre-COVID levels. That will save us trillions. We've got to go into every agency, replace the head of every agency and send people into every agency.
I did that as governor. Pull down old regs, pull down old programs, get rid of any problem children and clean those agencies out and get them mission-focused. There is a lot of waste in D.C. You need an accountant to go in there and clean it up. But we're not going to take away from anyone else and he's yet to answer the fact that he voted three times to raise the retirement age.
TAPPER: Just a clarification, Governor Haley, in 15 seconds, should voters in their 20s plan on having to work until they're 70?
HALEY: They should plan on their retirement age being increased, yes. We're going to change it to reflect more of what life expectancy should be.
DESANTIS: Well, one of the things that I think we disagree on, too, is Governor Haley has said Social Security is an entitlement, but it's not an entitlement. You're paying into it. It's not a welfare program. You're being taxed for this your whole life. And so to expect to have benefits on the backend, I don't think that that's too much.
The other thing I'd point out is Social Security for decades ran massive surpluses. What happened to those surpluses? The Congress spent the surpluses.
HALEY: Yes, when you paid the debt.
DESANTIS: They have a big problem with that. So, number one, we need term limits for members of Congress. Number two, we need a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Number three, we need to give the president a line item veto.
And, number four, when you see all these Congressmen making a killing in the stock market, like Nancy Pelosi, she could run a very lucrative hedge fund, we need a 28th Amendment to the Constitution that says very simply Congress shall make no law respecting the citizens of the United States that does not also apply to members of Congress themselves. BASH: I want to turn now to the topic abortion, which, of course, has been hotly debated in this Republican primary campaign.
Governor Haley, last week Governor DeSantis said that former President Trump is not pro-life. Do you agree?
HALEY: I mean, look, I think that he did some pro-life things when he was president. You'd have to ask him. That's why he should be on this debate stage.
Don't ask me what President Trump thinks. You need to have him on this debate stage and ask him for yourself.
BASH: Governor DeSantis?
DESANTIS: Well, look, I think that we've stood very strongly for a culture of life. Governor Reynolds is here. She has stood strongly for a culture of life and a national life protection. We've done it in the state of Florida. Donald Trump has attacked that.
What they did under Governor Reynolds here in Iowa, he said that that's a, quote, terrible, terrible thing. I don't know how you square that. He was at the March for Life when he was president his last year and he said that life's a gift from God, that the unborn are made in the image of God and that you needed to have protections for that human life. And now saying it's a terrible, terrible thing, he's given a gift to the left to weaponize that against pro-lifers, and that's wrong.
But here's the thing. Republicans need to do a better job of lifting up folks who are having children. It's very difficult to raise kids in this environment. You need the help with medical care. You need the help with affordability, and we need the help with education, choice. You got to be pro-life for the whole life, and you got to have some compassion for what is going on in this country.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Thank you, Governor. Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
BASH: Governor, yesterday in Iowa, you criticized Governor Haley on this issue of abortion. You said she's, quote, indulged in left wing tropes and chastised pro-lifers. Do you believe Governor Haley is sufficiently pro-life?
DESANTIS: I think she's been confused on the issue. I think she's trying to speak to different groups with different things. But when she says things like pro-lifers need to stop talking about throwing women in jail, that's a trope. No one I've ever met thinks that that's something that's appropriate. These women are in vulnerable situations. They don't get any help a lot of times from these fathers who don't want to be there supportive. A lot of times they don't have resources themselves.
So, it's a very difficult situation and we've got to have compassion for those situations. But I think when she starts bringing that in, that's using the language of the left to try to attack pro-lifers. So, I think that that is wrong. But at the end of the day, I do agree with her on this. Donald Trump should be on this stage. He owes it to you here in Iowa to explain this change he's had in his positioning, to explain why he has a tough time saying whether a man can become a woman or not, to explain why he wants to build a billion dollar-plus big, beautiful, new FBI building right in the heart of the swamp in Washington, D.C. He needs to explain why he didn't build the wall and why he added $7.8 trillion to the debt.
Every candidate needs to earn your vote. Nobody is entitled to your vote. And he comes in here every now and then, he does his spiel, and then he leaves. I've shown up to all 99 counties because it's important. You're a servant of the people. You are not a ruler over the people. And that's the type of president that I will be for you.
BASH: Governor Haley, your response?
HALEY: I didn't hear the criticism from Ron about me for being pro- life, but I'm not surprised. It's something that he does all day, every day. I am unapologetically pro-life, not because the Republican Party tells me to be, but because my husband is adopted and I've got my two sweet children sitting in front of me and I had trouble having both of them.
These fellows don't know how to talk about abortion. I have said over and over again, the Democrats put fear in women on abortion and Republicans have used judgment. This is too personal of an issue to put fear or judgment.
Our goal should be how do we save as many babies as possible and support as many moms as possible. That's what we're going to focus on doing. We're not going to demonize this issue anymore. We're not going to play politics with this issue anymore. We're going to treat it like the respectful issue that it is.
And the tropes that you want to talk about, you keep saying, where is anybody talking about putting a woman in jail or giving her the death penalty? South Carolina. There is legislation right now that would put a woman in jail if she got an abortion. That's why I say that.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
So, I do want to remind the viewers at home, both governors have mentioned that they believe that Donald Trump should be here defending his own record. I just want to remind everybody that he did qualify for this debate and he did not accept our invitation.
Both of you talked about how important it is to protect the U.S. Constitution. Two years after losing the 2020 election, Donald Trump wrote on social media about his baseless election lies, quote, a massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution, unquote. On that subject, former Vice President Mike Pence has said that on January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump put himself over the Constitution.
Governor Haley, is there any meaningful difference in how you and Donald Trump view the Constitution?
HALEY: I mean, look, you take an oath to the Constitution, and I think what you're seeing is Donald Trump basically said that the election was stolen. He went on and on talking about the election being stolen.
He said that January 6th was a beautiful day. I think January 6th was a terrible day and we should never want to see that happen again.
And I think we have to always be strong on the fact that, look, we want fair elections and we saw some discrepancies in those elections in 2020 that should be concerning. That's why I passed voter I.D. in South Carolina. That's why I think when absentee ballots go out, you should be able to verify signatures. That's why I think ballots need to be counted on Election Day and you should get results on Election Day.
But that election, Trump lost it. Biden won that election. And the idea that he's gone and carried this out forever to the point that he's going to continue to say these things to scare the American people are wrong. We've seen a lot of states come together and do more election integrity bills. We need to do more than that. We still have three or four states that I'm worried about that don't have that.
But at the end of the day, I will always defend and fight for the Constitution. That's what we should do as Americans. I think what happened on January 6th was a terrible day and I think President Trump will have to answer for it.
TAPPER: So, just a clarification, Governor, is there any meaningful difference in how you and Donald Trump view the Constitution?
HALEY: Well, I mean, I think that he says in January 6th was a beautiful day. I don't think it was a beautiful day. I think you look at that. He thinks that he could go and bring in -- the fact that he wanted to change what the states did, the fact that he wanted to overturn the elections in D.C., those votes happen at the state level. You don't ever allow in D.C. for those votes to be changed at the federal level.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
HALEY: States rights matter.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
Governor DeSantis, is there any meaningful difference in how you and Donald Trump view the Constitution?
DESANTIS: My role model for how to do the Constitution is George Washington. He said, the Constitution is the guide that I will never abandon. And I remember when I took an oath to be an officer in the U.S. Navy. You raise that hand, you put that left hand on the Bible. And it's interesting, the oath doesn't say that you're going to defend the shores of the United States or engage in military conflict.
The oath simply says that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States. As President of the United States, you will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. You can't just terminate the Constitution. I mean, I know he does word vomit from time to time on social media, but, obviously, I will uphold the Constitution.
And I think it's fine to criticize Donald Trump, and I know the media brings it up a lot. But you know who else deserves to be criticized? The people that violated the Constitution during COVID to lock people out of schools, to destroy businesses, to force masks on people, to try to force vaccines. I'm going to bring a reckoning to all these agencies, the CDC, the NIH, the FDA, they harm people in this country. And when Dr. Fauci said there was no learning loss for kids, that's a disgrace.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
DESANTIS: There's a reckoning coming.
TAPPER: So, let's talk about how you view the powers of the presidency because your opponent, Donald Trump, was in court yesterday for a hearing on presidential immunity. And, Governor DeSantis, I'm wondering if you agree with the argument that Donald Trump's lawyer made in court that a president should have immunity for any conduct in office, including, as the judge asked, ordering the assassination of a political rival unless the president gets impeached and convicted by the Senate for the offense first.
DESANTIS: Well, obviously, that attorney gave the case away on that explanation. I think the D.C. Circuit is going to rule against Donald Trump on that issue. I'm not exactly sure what the outer limits are. I don't think it's necessarily been litigated. It's not going to be an issue with me, because I'm always going to follow the Constitution. And we're going to uphold the best traditions of the office. And I'm going to be a president you can be proud of.
I think it's important that people would be able to look to the president and say, hey, that's somebody that's worthy of emulating. And so my wife and I, we just view ourselves to try to do well for our kids and to make sure they're proud of us. And we set a good example. So, that's what we would do in that situation.
But I think there's a larger issue Republicans have got to think of. Donald Trump is going to lose that appeal. He's going to end up going to trial in front of a stacked left-wing D.C. jury of all Democrats. What are the odds that he's going to get through that? And that's even talking about the validity of the charges. I don't think he gets through that.
And so what are we going to do as Republicans in terms of who we nominate for president? If Trump is the nominee, it's going to be about January 6th, legal issues, criminal trials. The Democrats and the media would love to run with that.
I'm not running for my issues. I'm running for your issues. We need to make this election a referendum on the failures of Joe Biden, the failures of the Democratic Party, and how we have the formula to engineer a great comeback for this country. That's what I would do.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Governor Haley, Governor Haley, your response?
HALEY: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the question.
TAPPER: The question was, do you agree with the argument Donald Trump's lawyer made in court that a president should have immunity for any conduct, including ordering the assassination of a political rival unless that president is impeached and convicted by Senate for the defense first?
HALEY: No, that's ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous. I mean, we need to use some common sense here. You can't go and kill a political rival and then claim, you know, immunity from a President.
I think we have to start doing things that are right. And you know, Ron said we should have leaders that we can look up to. Well, then stop lying because nobody's going to want to look up to you if you're lying.
But what I do think we need to look at is what is what has President Trump done? You look at the last few years and our country is completely divided. It's divided over extremes. It's divided over hatred, it's divided over the fact that people think that if someone doesn't agree with you that they're bad.
And now we have leaders in our country that decide who's good and who's bad, who's right and who's wrong. That's not what a leader does. What a leader does is they bring out the best in people and get them to see the way forward.
That's what we need in our country. We don't need this chaos anymore. We need someone who's going to be a new generational leader that brings sanity back to America.
TAPPER: Thank you so much. We'll see you then. Republican Presidential Debate live from Drake University. We'll be back right after this.
BASH: Welcome back to the CNN Presidential Debate live from Iowa, Drake University. Let's start this with health care. Neither of you has released a detailed healthcare plan so we want to give some -- the voters here some insight into specifics of what you might do as President.
Governor Haley, as governor of South Carolina you chose not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Forty states including this one where we are in Iowa did expand Medicaid covering more than 18 million Americans. As President, would you allow those states to keep their expansions in place?
HALEY: Well, the first thing is we have to look at the fact that how can we be the best country in the world with the most expensive health care in the world? And so the way we're going to deal with it is we're going to open it all up from the hospitals to the insurance companies to the doctor's offices to the pharmaceuticals to the PBMs, make them have to show us everything.
Because right now, I can tell you, we take care of my parents. They're 87 and 90. My dad is in the hospital right now. When my mom was in the hospital, a nurse came up to her to give her a couple of Tylenol. And she said, I don't need them. And she said, honey, you might as well take them, because you're going to pay for them anyway. When we got the bill from the hospital, no one talked to us about that.
Right now, you have insurance companies and hospitals deciding what it is for us. We're going to take the patient out of the back seat and put them in the driver's seat. We're going to make sure that just like when you get your car fixed, and you go and they say, we can give you a temporary fix, and it'll cost this much money, or we can give you a permanent fix, and it's going to cost that much money. We're going to go and make it transparent so that we can see everything so that they have to show us their words.
The second thing is we're going to pass Tort Reform around this country. I did that in South Carolina. Doctors don't give you those 10 tests because they want to. It's for the 90 percent chance they'll get sued. And then we're going to go and eliminate Certificate of Need in this country. I did that in South Carolina, as well. That basically says if you have a hospital here, you can't have another hospital for X number of miles.
They do the same thing for surgical centers, for nursing homes. We're going to put competition back in health care so that health care is fighting for the patient. That way, services go up and costs go down.
BASH: Thank you, Governor Haley, just a 15-second point of clarification. Would you allow the states that accepted Medicaid expansion to keep that?
HALEY: So, the problem with Medicaid is, it needs to be sent down as block grants. Governors can best decide how to do that. Whether they need to use it towards mental health, whether they need to use it towards support services.
Right now, I would send all of that down to the states. The problem is they're only sending a small portion of it. They need to send more of that so that states can better take care of it.
BASH: Thank you, Governor Haley. Governor DeSantis, your response on whether you would allow Iowa and the other 39 states who accepted Medicaid expansion to keep it.
DESANTIS: Well, I've spoken with a lot of folks here in Iowa, and we need health care that's accessible, that's affordable, and that's accountable. And particularly an emphasis on mental health. In every corner of this state, everywhere I've traveled in the campaign, people are really concerned about mental health with the kids in schools, people that are coming out of service to our country, with veterans, we're going to put a big emphasis on mental health.
I've actually delivered on some of these things in Florida. We got accountability for the pharmacy benefit middlemen that are causing your drug prices to go up. So, we have transparency and consumers pay less. And I just beat the federal government to allow the state of Florida to buy prescription drugs from Canada, which is 25 cents on the dollar. What are prescription drugs cost? I want seniors to be able to do.
And then finally, we need to upend this COVID and medical authoritarian regime that we saw going around this country during COVID. It's wrong to force vaxes like the COVID shot and say people are going to lose their jobs. That is not going to ever happen on my watch, trust me.
BASH: Governor DeSantis, same. Fifteen-second clarification.
DESANTIS: I think what you do is you block-grant the program and then let states run the way they see fit to do. But I can tell you this, expanding Medicaid leads to less private coverage. It doesn't necessarily increase access to quality care. I want to actually get people good health care. It's not just about a sheet of paper if you don't get any good doctors that get you entitled for that.
BASH: Thank you, Governor. Governor DeSantis mentioned mental health. Let's talk about that. There is a mental health crisis in this country. An estimated 58 million Americans suffer from some type of mental health illness. Governor Haley, you say the mental health crisis is a quote, "cancer that no one has dealt with". What do you think is causing the crisis and what would you do to fix it?
HALEY: Well, I think we saw it exacerbated by COVID. I mean with the school lockdowns and everything else we see young people now with more anxiety, stress and depression than ever before. One in three people right now suffer from mental health issues, but if treated, they can live a perfectly normal life.
The problem is we don't have enough mental health therapists. We don't have enough mental health treatment centers. We don't have enough addiction centers. And if you happen to be lucky enough to get one of those three, insurance doesn't cover it.
We have got to start dealing with this, because it's become a huge issue. And that's why we need to have more Telehealth, so that people can get the mental health care they need right when they need it. We need to have mental health counselors in schools so they can identify when a child has a problem that they can get the help that they need. But right now, we've got to get access to care. And that's, again, why I want to move those federal programs down to the state level, because states know they need more mental health support.
They're not getting the dollars to do it. We don't need D.C. bureaucrats handling that. We need this on the ground so that we can get the mental health centers, get the therapists, and get the help that people need so that they can be healthy again.
BASH: Governor DeSantis, you said right here in Iowa this summer that closing mental health institutions, a policy supported by Ronald Reagan, was a mistake. As President, would you restore federal funding to those mental health institutions?
DESANTIS: Yes, we need more people in institutionalized settings, unfortunately. But, you know, Governor Haley mentioned, I think, correctly, the devastating mental health consequences for these school closures, a lot of things that happened during COVID, I never recalled seeing her out there fighting the fight. I was on the front lines on that. Governor Kim Reynolds was on the front lines on that.
We fought back against the biomedical state. We were attacked by the media. We were attacked by the pharmaceutical companies. We were attacked by the left, attacked by Fauci. We stood and we helped people. And Iowa and Florida had the best schools opening in the entire pandemic because we led. That's what you want to do.
Now, in terms of mental health, I've run into veterans here in Iowa, and I think we have a significant problem with veterans, particularly the post-9-11 veterans, and we know the stats on suicide. It's really, really sad. And as a fellow veteran, as President, I have to put that issue on the front burner.
We can't keep turning a blind eye to what's happening to our vets. It's not going to be done just through the VA. And it can't be done just by pumping people with pharmaceuticals. If a veteran has post- traumatic stress, you need more than just that. So, we're going to use the VA to link veterans with resources that are throughout our country.
For example, in Florida, we have an organization that trains service dogs to be able to be paired with veterans with post-traumatic stress. They understand the symptoms, they mitigate it, and you know what? The suicide rate is close to zero as a result of that. We got to think bigger than these bureaucracies, and we've got to be there for our vets and their mental health.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Turning -- turning to the topic of climate, 2023 was the hottest year ever recorded on Earth, and Americans are already feeling the impact. Just yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the U.S. experienced 28 weather and climate-related disasters that cost at least $1 billion last year -- another record.
Governor DeSantis, here in Florida. I'm sorry, Governor DeSantis, here in Iowa, massive flooding has left farmers underwater. In Florida, rising seas threaten coastal cities. You have taken action in your home state to mitigate the problems of rising seas. But as President, would you do anything to deal with the underlying cause, which scientists agree requires cutting carbon emissions?
DESANTIS: So, on day one as President, we take Biden's Green New Deal. We tear it up and we throw it in the trash can. It is bad for this country. We have to have reliable energy. And here's the thing, you know, they talk about -- Joe Biden has said that global warming is worse than a nuclear war. And I'm just thinking to myself, well, gee, John Kerry hasn't given up his private jet. Obama hasn't given up his Martha's Vineyard seaside mansion. I haven't seen Biden do anything to hold China accountable except making sure that Hunter gets his money.
So, these guys talk out of one side of their mouth and then they behave in another way. And I think that's wrong. But I also think that those policies would devastate communities, particularly here in Iowa. I mean, for example, he wants to mandate electric vehicles. That's going to be more costly.
I think the car companies would go bankrupt, but it's going to hurt liquid fuels, which is very, very important. You're going to end up having rolling blackouts if they kneecap reliable energy production in this country. Florida's had a massive decline in emissions -- wasn't because of a single mandate.
It was because of innovation, because a lot of natural gas has replaced coal. We do have market-based solar, and it's a compliment, but we cannot walk away from reliable energy. And I think about, here's what the left wants to do. They want to take away your freedom, and they want you to pay more for everything.
We need you to pay less for energy. And we need to make sure people can innovate. We cannot have these mandates and they'll be gone the day I'm President.
TAPPER: So, Governor, just a point of clarification -- 15 seconds. A recent research at the University of Iowa ties these floods in Iowa to the rise in greenhouse gases.
DESANTIS: And here's the thing, Jake, I appreciate that.
TAPPER: Let me just ask the question. As President, would you do anything to deal with this underlying cause?
DESANTIS: Innovate, and here's the thing. China is building two coal plants a week. You can do everything Biden wants to do and you're going to have way more of what China's increasing it. So, why would we be cutting off our nose to spite our face? China is the problem here, and so hold them accountable.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor.
DESANTIS: But don't hold the American people to less opportunity.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. Governor Haley, as President, would you do anything to deal with the underlying cause of the floods and other climate disasters, which scientists agree requires cutting carbon emissions?
HALEY: I mean, first of all, regardless of what party, everybody wants to have clean air, clean water. They want a world that they can pass on to their kids that's going to be healthy and all of that. But it's how do we do that? I think the first thing we have to understand is you don't deal in extremes.
When I was at the United Nations, the reason I took us out of the Paris climate agreement was because President Obama had put all these mandates down on our businesses, but they didn't do anything to hold China and India to account. Those are the two countries we have to really go to if we care about the environment, that we go and make them be held accountable.
The second thing is we'll roll back all of Biden's green subsidies because they're misplaced. Rather than putting anything towards innovation on what we can do on nuclear fusion and other things that reduce emissions, which there are things out there, to go and have everybody have to drive an electric car by 2035. That's not even smart.
One, because which, by the way, Ron took Biden's stimulus money and did charging stations all throughout Florida. I wouldn't have taken the stimulus money. But what that does is basically, we don't have the infrastructure. And I'm not just talking about charging stations. Electric vehicles are heavy. Our roads and bridges wouldn't be able to handle that if we did that because they're heavy in weight.
And so we have to be smart about the way we do that. Not to mention 70 percent of the batteries in electric cars are made in China. So, Biden gave this massive windfall to our number one national security threat. If we're going to do it, innovate it, transition and do it the right way, not in extremes.
BASH: Thank you. I want to turn to the issue of crime. The majority of Americans describe crime in the U.S. as either extremely or very serious. Recent data show crime rates falling, but some violent crime rates do remain high. Governor Haley, former President Trump, suggested that he might try to stop violent crime by deploying U.S. troops to democratic-run states and cities, something he could potentially do under the Insurrection Act. Is that something that you would do as President?
HALEY: What I would do is, first of all, defund sanctuary cities. It's hugely important that we do that. That's where we're seeing a lot of crime. But the second thing is, our law enforcement is demoralized right now. Because if they go and they arrest someone for having a stolen gun, it's demoralizing when they go through all that effort, put their lives at risk, and then you turn around and let that criminal go the very next day.
Prosecutors need to prosecute according to the law and we've got to start holding them accountable. When we bring law and order back to our cities, then that's when they'll be safe. You don't do it by defunding the police, and you don't do it by just praising the police. You do it by having their backs, making sure we pass the first Body
Camera Bill in the country in South Carolina, to make sure that law enforcement felt like they could do their job without anyone -- without feeling threatened about them doing their job.
But we have to have prosecutors prosecuting. We have to defund sanctuary cities. We have to get these stolen guns and drugs off the street. And the only way we can do that is when we empower law enforcement.
BASH: Governor DeSantis.
DESANTIS: I just think, I mean, that quote from the President, former president Trump is a little bit rich because he was President during the worst rioting in the modern history of this country, the BLM riots in the summer of 2020. When I saw that happening in Minneapolis, in Florida, I called out the National Guard. We had state law enforcement deployed.
We said, you're not burning down our cities in this state. And you know what? It didn't happen. He sat in the White House and tweeted law and order, but he did nothing to ensure law and order. As your President, I will never let our cities burn. You have every right to stop this runaway rioting as President. In fact, you have a duty.
Now, Nikki Haley and I have a disagreement on the BLM stuff, too, because she tweeted during this period of time that the death of George Floyd should be, quote, "personal and painful for each and every American".
But people in Iowa had nothing to do with that, or Florida or South Carolina, she was virtue signaling to the left, she was accepting the narrative, and she was trying to impress people who were never going to like us.
I never bought in to going after the police, we backed the Blue to the state of Florida, and we're about lower crime as a result of that.
BASH: Thank you. Governor Haley.
HALEY: It's interesting that he did that. He put a tweet that was very similar.
DESANTIS: That's not true.
HALEY: But let me tell you why I did that. First of all, we had one of the worst racial shootings. We had the shooting of Walter Scott who was shot seven times in the back by a dirty cop. We had a horrific shooting at a church where a white supremacist came in and killed nine amazing souls.
BLM, all of that, we never had to deal with riots. We never had to call in the National Guard, Ron, because when we had both of those shootings, we were able to pull people together. We didn't have riots, we had vigils. We didn't have protests, we had prayer. We brought people together.
When I said that about George Floyd, when we turned around and had the worst shooting in a religious place that we had seen in this country, not only did I pass the first Body Camera Bill in the country and keep our state together, not only did I move to bring the Confederate flag down, we came together as a state in prayer --
TAPPER: Thank you Governor.
HALEY: -- and we had no division, no riots, no anything.
TAPPER: Thank you.
HALEY: We didn't need the National Guard because a leader knows how to bring out the best of the people.
TAPPER: Thank you, Governor. So, you have been sparring on the campaign trail for months. We've seen some vicious attack ads going back and forth, and tonight we have had a very lively debate. On a different note, Governor DeSantis, let me ask you, what do you admire about Governor Haley?
DESANTIS: Well, look, I mean, I think that, you know, at the United Nations, I did think that she spoke out strongly on some key issues, and I appreciated that. I also appreciate the state of South Carolina. My wife is a College of Charleston graduate. Her parents lived there for many, many years.
And so, it is a wonderful state. There's a lot of great people there. And I think to be able to have been Governor there is a great achievement. And I really appreciate everyone I've gotten to meet in South Carolina.
TAPPER: Governor Haley, what do you admire about Governor DeSantis? I think he's been a good governor.
TAPPER: Okay. So, we're going to squeeze in another quick break. And we'll be right back with more from the Republican debates here at Drake University.
BASH: We're back live from Des Moines, Iowa in the CNN Republican Presidential Debate. We now have time for closing statements and we begin with Governor Haley.
HALEY: First of all, I want to thank the good people of Iowa. I have campaigned for 11 months, whether it's driving a combine or holding a pig at a produce area or whether it's the fact that we've met owners of bakeries and small businesses.
You know, every one of them knows that we can't go through four more years of chaos. And if it's Donald Trump, there will be four more years of chaos. And we can't be a country in disarray in a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. And we can't go through another nail-biter of an election.
And if you look at the polls right now, going against Joe Biden, in every one of those head-to-head polls, Ron doesn't beat Joe Biden. Trump is head-to-head. On a good day, he might be up by two points. I defeat Biden by 17 points. That's bigger than the presidency.
That's House, that's Senate, that's governorships, that's down to school board. That's a mandate to get our spending under control and get inflation down. That's a mandate to get our kids reading again and go back to the basics in education. That's a mandate to secure our borders with no more excuses. That's a mandate to bring law and order back to our country and that's a mandate for a strong America that we can be proud of.
We can do this. I know we can do this. If you will join with me in this movement, if you join with me in this fight, I promise you our best days are to come. God bless you.
BASH: Governor DeSantis.
DESANTIS: Well, it's been great to visit all 99 counties here in Iowa. I've been able to meet so many friends and really learn about some of the best of America. Iowa's votes do not need to be corrected by any other state. You all know what you're doing. And we have an opportunity on Monday to really change the course of history.
Donald Trump's running for his issues. Nikki Haley's running for her donors' issues. I'm running for your issues, your family's issues, and solely to turn this country around. I'm the only one running that's delivered on 100 percent of my promises. And I'm the only one running that has beaten the left time and time again, from the teachers' unions, to Fauci, to the Democratic Party.
We need to run under the banner of bold colors that are putting the American people first. We can't run under a banner of pale pastels of the warmed-over corporatism, the likes of which is practiced by Nikki Haley. Freedom is on the ballot. Decline is a choice. We have it within our power to fix this country and to turn it around.
I am asking for your support in the Iowa caucus on Monday, January 15th. I'll be a President that you can be proud of and I promise you this, I will get the job done and I will not let you down. Thank you and God bless you all.
TAPPER: Our thanks to Governor DeSantis and Governor Haley. Governor DeSantis and Governor Haley, thank you so much both of you for being here tonight. Thanks to our audience, to our host, Drake University. For Dana Bash and the whole CNN team, I'm Jake Tapper.
Thank you so much for watching. Be sure to join us Monday, January 15th at 4 P.M. Eastern for CNN's coverage of the Iowa caucuses. Anderson Cooper and Kaitlan Collins are going to pick it up right now with more on the debate. See you tomorrow.