Rush Transcript first debate: CNN Facebook Republican Presidential Debate
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WOLF BLITZER: Hello from Las Vegas for the CNN Facebook Republican Presidential Debate. There’s a lot of anticipation here in this theater for the final Republican Presidential debate of 2015, focusing in on the most important job of any president, keeping America safe.We want to welcome our viewers watching on CNN networks here in the United States, and around the world, and listening in on the Salem Radio Network. I’m Wolf Blitzer, I’m the moderator. We want to welcome our viewers watching on CNN networks here in the United States, and around the world, and listening in on the Salem Radio Network. I’m Wolf Blitzer, I’m the moderator.
Tonight, joining me in the questioning, Salem Radio Network talk show host, Hugh Hewitt, and CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash.
We also ask Republicans and Independents nationwide to share their questions for the candidates. We teamed up with Facebook to send a campaign camper around the country over the past several weeks. Thousands of people stepped inside and recorded their questions on video, and millions more have weighed in on Facebook.
Tonight, we’ll hear from 13 Republican candidates. Once again, we’ve divided the large field into two groups based on their rankings in recent polls. The top nine contenders will take the stage later this evening. The other four are ready to join us right now.
Ladies, and gentlemen, let’s welcome Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.
Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee.
And former New York Governor, George Pataki.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome these Republican candidates for President of the United States.
There are news photographers here to take a group picture of these candidates together on the stage. That’s what they’re doing right now.
Now, ladies and gentlemen for, “God Bless America”, performed by Ayla Brown.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Ayla.
I’d now like to ask the candidates to please take your places while I tell you a little bit more about how tonight’s debate will work. As the moderator, I’ll guide the discussion asking questions and follow-ups, as will Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt.
Candidates, I’ll try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of questions. You’ll have a minutes and 15 seconds to answer and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. I’ll give you time to respond if you’re singled out for criticism.
We have timing lights that are visible to the candidates, those lights will warn you when your time is up. And as the candidates requested, a bell will sound like this.
BLITZER: We know you’re all eager to jump in and debate these important issues, but please wait until you’re called on. Now that everyone is this place, it’s time for the candidates to introduce themselves to our audience. You’ll each have one minute.
Senator Graham, you’re first.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much.
I just returned from Iraq two weeks ago. It was my 36th trip to Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. Toward the end, I met a very impressive Special Forces sergeant. It was his job to train Iraqi Kurdish commandos.
He was so proud of what he was doing and so proud of the people he was training. He was the replacement for Master Sergeant Wheeler, a Delta Force member who was killed two months ago in a raid against an ISIL prison to free prisoners.
As I departed, I told this young man, stay safe. He replied, sir, I will do my best to stay safe, but I came here to win. As commander-in-chief, I will do everything in my power to make sure that he can win. As president, we will win.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki.
GEORGE PATAKI (R), FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.
I want to speak to you this evening not as a Republican or a presidential candidate, but as an American. As we saw today in L.A., we are at a crisis in our country. Radical Islam poses a threat to our safety not just overseas, but literally in every community in America.
And yet at a time when we should be united, we have a president who has divided us, who refuses to call radical Islam what it is, let alone have a coherent strategy to defeat it.
The leading Democrat, Hillary Clinton, won’t call ISIS by its name, failed as secretary of state, and has continually lied to the American people.
On the other hand, the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, continually demonizes and demeans millions of Americans, and when confronted about it, laughs it off. Neither is fit to be president of the United States.
Our party, as Republicans, needs to nominate a strong leader who will unite us as Republicans, but more importantly, unite us as Americans, committed to destroying and defeating radical Islam, restoring our confidence in our safety right here, and our belief in freedom, and that the best of America is ahead of us.
Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Senator Santorum.
RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.
It’s great to be here in Las Vegas. And I just want to thank everybody for the opportunity to be here.
This is an important time in our country’s history. We have entered World War III. World War III has begun and we have a leader who refuses to identify it and be truthful to the American people to the stakes that are involved, in part, because his policies have led us here.
RICK SANTORUM, FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR: …who refuses to identify it and be truthful to the American people, to the stakes that are involved. In part because his policies have led us here. His policy toward Iran lit the fuse of a nuclear Iran. Just a few weeks ago the International Atomic Agency reported that Iran has had a nuclear program, but they don’t know if it’s continuing because they refuse to share any information about the current status. And this President marches on, forgiving them hundreds of billions of dollars to allow them to not just reconstitute their robust nuclear program, pursue their missile program, but also to foment terror around the world. And then his policies in the Middle East with Iraq create ISIS. Ladies and gentlemen, we need a President who will be honest with you and identify these problems and defeat them. I hope you will give me the chance to do that. Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER: Governor Huckabee.
GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) ARKANSAS: Wolf, I want to say thanks to you and CNN for giving us the opportunity especially to focus on national security issues at a time when Americans are not only angry — angry at their government that they feel like has failed them, been indifferent to them, cost them their livelihoods — but they’re in addition to angry, they’re just plain scared. They’re scared when they thing that they go to a Christmas party and get shot at by somebody who sat and had lunch with them an hour earlier. They’re scared when they realize that our government, who promises that it can vet people and is begging us to approve bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees into this country, can’t even catch somebody after a third background check, who had posted things on social media clearly indicating she wanted to kill Americans. And we couldn’t catch that. We’ve lost confidence in our government. And when Americans lose confidence in their government, we’re in a dangerous place. We’re in danger because we have an enemy that is out to kill us, and we have a government that we don’t trust any more. This election is about going back to having a government we can trust with leaders who have the courage and conviction to actually lead and not follow.
BLITZER: Let’s begin. The United States just suffered the worst terrorist attack since 9-11, the murder of 14 people by two terrorists, one of whom was an American citizen. In response, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump proposed a temporary ban on all Muslims coming into the United States until the government can figure out what is going on. Senator Graham, the polls show most Republicans do support Mr. Trump. What do you say to them?
GOV. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: You may think this makes us safe, but it doesn’t. The good news for everybody in this room is, after 36 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, most people over there, Wolf, are not buying what ISIL’s selling. This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do. Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just believe in dancing. This is a coup for them, and to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt, I am sorry. He does not represent us. If I am President, we will work together. People in the faith to all over the world destroy this radical ideology. Declaring war on the religion only helps ISIL.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, you say you’d rather lose the election without Trump than try to win with him. Does that mean you’ll be voting for the Democratic nominee if Donald Trump wins the presidential nomination?
GRAHAM: I will support the Republican nominee, whoever he or she may be. Like Bob Dole, I may sleep late that day if it’s Trump. But the bottom line, if it’s Trump, so be it. That’s who I’ll support. Please understand we’re in a war that we can’t afford to lose, and what he said about banning Muslims coming here to America has made us all less safe, and it’s the worst possible thing he could do in this war. He clearly doesn’t understand this war and how to win it. For God’s sakes, pick somebody who is worthy of the sacrifice of those who are fighting this war and who actually knows how to win, and I don’t believe that’s Mr. Trump, and I know it’s not Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki, you mentioned Donald Trump in your opening statement. You’ve also suggested Mr. Trump’s plan is un-American and absurd. Why?
GEORGE PATAKI, FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: Absolutely. It’s one of many absurd things this President has said. To target a religion and say that, regardless of whether you’re an American soldier who’s fought on our side or allies we have overseas, simply because…
BASH: Senator Santorum, you wanted to give the intelligence community more power to collect Americans’ phone data but the government had this ability until just days before the San Bernardino attack. If it couldn’t prevent San Bernardino, why will it protect America?
SANTORUM: Just because it couldn’t have prevented San Bernardino doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have all tools available to us that doesn’t impinge upon people’s privacy. This sort of data collection is not collecting people’s phones calls, their voices; they’re not collecting information that’s personal. There’s no names attached to these numbers. They’re simply numbers and times and relationships that throughout algorithms that computer technology can be able to sort through relationship about what numbers are calling what numbers and be able to track those down to see if there’s any leakage’s between someone who’s potentially a terrorist.
That is to me just fundamental that we have to have this type of data to be able to not impinge upon people’s privacy. In fact, I would make the argument that the more data we can collect that’s anonymous that we can through, through using algorithms, the less we need to involve people in and imposing themselves in people’s privacy.
BASH: Senator Graham, when this program was exposed, you said, ” you have nothing to worry about if you’re not talking to terrorist.” Do you understand why though some Americans are concerned that the government is keeping tabs on them in any way?
GRAHAM: Well, here’s what I’m here to tell you, when I first started this process of running for president., I said, ” if you didn’t realize we need more America boots on the ground in Iraq and eventually in Syria as a part of the regional army – not ready to be commander in chief.” Like nobody said a word, now everybody’s on board except Senator Paul.
Senator Paul and Senator Cruz, are isolationists. They both want to restrict the ability of the NSA to do the following; find out if somebody overseas is calling into America and if somebody is on the other end of the phone, don’t you want to know who their talking to? IF a terrorist is calling into America and we can match up phone numbers we get a get a court order to find out what the content is.
We’re at war folks, they’re not trying to steal your car, they’re trying to kills us all. So yes, I would re-institute this program. There’s four things you need to understand about this war, it’s a religious war, them against the world, if you don’t fight them over there, they’re coming here. If you don’t hit them first, they’re going to hit us. If you’re not determined to fight it as a ware, you’re going to lose it.
So if you’re worried about somebody having your phone in the government, don’t be. The only thing you need to worry about is if you’re talking to terrorist and a judge gives an order to listen to what you’re saying. That’s all you need to worry about.
BASH: Thank you.
Governor Huckabee, you said, “not one terrorist plot has been foiled by the NSA’s collection of American’s phone records. The director of the CIA says,. “not having these programs makes it ability to find terrorists, quote, “much more challenging.”” Are you taking a potential tool to fight terrorists?
HUCKABEE: No. I’m not taking it away, I just want to make sure that everything we use is going to be effective. We’re spending billions of dollars, let’s make sure it’s effective. Let’s use every tool, but let’s also check out the Facebook posts, let’s look at Twitter accounts.
My gosh, we were told we couldn’t do it because it might invade somebody’s privacy. This lady who came over here and shot up San Bernardino was posting things on Facebook, yet, we were restricted from looking. Every college kid who goes to a frat party gets drunk and puts his picture on Facebook is going to have a potential employer looking at that photo before he gets hired.
Why should we have more attention? I mean, for heaven’s sake, towards some college kid who wants to one day ten years from to get a job, then we’re going after who wants to come in with a semi automatic weapon or a pipe bomb and blow up a bunch of Americans. This is what I think a lot of Americans are frustrated with, it’s the duplicity of our policy that is illogical and irrational.
Our goal ought to be, “protect Americans and put Americans first not last,” which is what I think this administration has done.
BASH: Senator Santorum?
SANTORUM: Look, I agree with Governor Huckabee, that we should in fact be looking at people’s social media posts. That’s just common sense.
But we’ve defunded and tied the hands behind the backs of our intelligence agencies because of political correctness. We’re not allowed to ask any questions or really pursue, whether there’s any mosque that they’re attending that could be spreading Jihadism, and we know that in this country there are Imams that are doing that. But we’re not allowed to ask those questions, we’re not allowed to pursue to those things because we have a president who denies the reality of the enemy we confront.
HEWITT: Wait, let’s pursue that in fact Governor Pataki?
HEWITT: You called for following and finding those Imams who are preaching violence in mosques. How exactly would you do that and what Mosques would you shut down? How extensive of a surveillance program are you proposing?
PATAKI: You know, I think it’s very important that we do everything in our power to prevent radicalization of Americans right here. And it is happening, not just overseas, but it’s happening here from Mosques on social media.
HEWITT: …which you shut down. How extensive a surveillance program are you proposing?
PATAKI: You know, I think it’s very important that we do everything in our power to prevent radicalization of Americans right here. And, it is happening, not just overseas, but it’s happening here from mosques, on social media, and truth — interaction and community meetings.
New York police department had a very active group, aggressively monitoring and using intelligence to — in certain Muslim communities, consistent with our constitution, consistent of our civil rights, so they could have the intelligence as to where these sermons are being given, and who is being radicalized. And, they stopped and prevented dozens, and dozens of attacks in New York.
You know, I’m a great believer in the First Amendment, of Freedom of Speech. I wish we had more of it on our college campuses, but you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater. Calling on Americans to engage in violence against their fellow Americans in the name of jihad is crying fire in a crowded theater. It is not constitutionally protected speech, it should be shut down.
And, by the way, the two murders who went to Garland, Texas to massacre many Americans before the Texas police officer courageously killed them, had been radicalized here.
Getting to that metadata question, one of those terrorists, the day before the attacks, had sent…
…109 message to a known terrorist overseas. We could not read those messages, we can not read those today…
HEWITT: …Thank you, Governor…
PATAKI: …We have got to do far better.
HEWITT: Governor Huckabee…
HEWITT: …As Governor Pataki noted earlier, we have a history of religious intoleration in this country. About the American Muslims who would be subject to this kind of surveillance, does it violate their First Amendment rights?
HUCKABEE: No, it does not violate their First Amendment rights to have someone go and listen to the sermons. You can go to any church in America, it’s a public place, you can listen, and — you know, if you go to my church, you’ll probably get a real blessing. Heck, it’ll be a wonderful experience.
You go to some people’s church, you may go to sleep, I don’t know what happens in every church, but, the point is that these are public places, and folks are invited to come.
So, if it’s a public place, and people are invited to come, how does it violate anybody’s First Amendment rights that somebody shows up because they might want to just listen in and see is there something that is a little nefarious? And, if there is, then you take the second step of getting a search warrant, you do whatever you have to do. That’s all protected under the constitution.
So, Huge, I hear people act like there’s something that is terrible about going and sitting in and listening to the sermons of a mosque. If Islam is as wonderful, and peaceful as its adherents say, shouldn’t they be begging us to all come in and listen to these peaceful sermons? Shouldn’t they be begging us all to come, and listen, and bring the FBI so we’d all want to convert to Islam?
HEWITT: Senator Santorum…
HEWITT: …I want to start then, not on the First Amendment, but on the Second Amendment. There is a terror watchlist. You can legally purchase a gun in the United States if you’re on that watchlist. Your old colleague, Peter King in the House, wants to change that law. Do you agree with him?
SANTORUM: I don’t. I don’t think we should be able to deny someone’s constitutional rights based on a list kept by the government that nobody knows how they get on it, or how they get off of it.
If you’re going to make that list public, if you’re going to put criteria out there as to how you’re going to get on it, if you’re going to deny someone’s constitutional right, than I think there has to be more transparency. Let’s just be honest, when someone applies for a gun, you do a background check. And, if you’re on the terrorist watch list, guess what very well may happen? You may get denied that.
That’s a discretion of the people — of the ATF in making that kind of decision. I want to leave that discretion — as long as this list is not well known, as long as it’s not transparent, we have to leave that discretion.
I want to make a comment about what Mike said, and George said, about mus — Islam.
The fact of the matter is, Islam is different. I know this is going to come as a shock to a lot of people, and I mean the sincerely. Islam is not just a religion. It is also a political governing structure. The fact of the matter is, Islam is a religion, but it is also Sharia law, it is also a civil government, it is also a form of government. And, so, the idea that that is protected under the First Amendment is wrong.
And, in fact, that political structure is what is the big problem. The imposition of Sharia law adherence to fundamental Islam as it was practiced in the Seventh Century…
SANTORUM: …There has to be a line drawn.
HEWITT: Governor, back to you. Your response?
HUCKABEE: I don’t disagree. I don’t disagree with anything that the Senator just said because that’s exactly right. But, I just want to go back to the point that when people say we can’t go into the mosque, we can’t listen. That’s utter nonsense. Of course we can. And, if we can’t, if there’s something so secretive going on in there that somebody isn’t allowed to go and hear it, maybe we do need for sure to send somebody in there and gather the intelligence. And, that’s all to the world I’m saying, I think it stands to be true.
GRAHAM: Can I say something?
HEWITT: Senator Graham, are you trying to get in?
GRAHAM: Yeah. There are at least 3,500 American muslims serving in the armed forces. Thank you for your service.
You are not the enemy.
GRAHAM: There are at least 3,500 American Muslims serving in the armed forces. Thank you for your service.
GRAHAM: You are not the enemy. Your religion is not the enemy. Let me make this real to you.
I was at the second presidential election in Afghanistan. The guy guarding me was an American Muslim sergeant in the Army who grew up in Kabul, left when he was — graduated high school, joined the U.S. Army, went back to his high school where they were doing polling, people voting, he took me there and cried like a baby. I cried like a baby.
He is the solution to this problem, folks. He is not the problem. Leave the faith alone. Go after the radicals that kill us all.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki.
PATAKI: Yes, Wolf.
BLITZER: There are a lot of people who have been frustrated, especially Senator Graham, that law enforcement can’t tap into information on terrorist cell phones. Senator Graham has called on companies in Silicon Valley to change their business models.
As president of the United States, would you force these companies to change their models so the government can better monitor the traffic on these cell phones?
PATAKI: I would pass a law requiring them to do that. Let me just give you one example. I mentioned in Garland, Texas, where that murderer, that terrorist, the day before sent 109 messages overseas to a known terrorist.
But they were encrypted. So to this date we don’t know what that said. Companies are entitled to encrypt and protect their knowledge and their intelligence. But what we need is a back door for law enforcement to be able, when they can establish that that communication poses a risk to our safety and engages in terrorism, to get a court order and go in and access those communications.
Allow the companies to continue encryption, provide an entry way for law enforcement when they can prove to a court that there is a sufficient risk of an attack upon us that they have the right to look at those messages.
BLITZER: Senator Graham?
PATAKI: And just one more thing, Wolf. When that murderer came from Pakistan to San Bernardino and committed those atrocious crimes just a few weeks ago, she applied for a visa.
She had posted on social media jihadist messages. Because this administration is so politically correct, they have a rule that they cannot look at social media postings of people applying to come to the United States.
That is utterly absurd. One of the things we must do, the next president must do is get rid of that law and make sure we do everything in our power to find out if someone poses a threat to our existence here.
BLITZER: Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: Thank you. This is why I own a flip phone. You don’t have to worry about all of this stuff.
GRAHAM: The bottom line is, we’re at war. They’re trying to come here to kill us all and it’s up to the government to protect you within constitutional means. Any system that would allow a terrorist to communicate with somebody in our country and we can’t find out what they’re saying is stupid.
If I’m president of the United States, and you join ISIL, you are going to get killed or captured. And the last thing you are going to hear if I’m president is, you’ve got a right to remain silent.
BLITZER: Here is a question we have on the fight against ISIS from Facebook. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNAH DEBELLA, COLLEGE STUDENT: I’m Hannah DeBella. And I go to the University of Florida. People say that we’re fighting an ideological war with ISIS. If you’re president, how would you defeat them both militarily and ideologically, as well?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Governor Huckabee, how would you defeat ISIS ideologically?
HUCKABEE: The way we defeat them ideologically is that we remind people that what their intent is is to kill us, and that it is our intent to use every means possible to get to them before they get to us.
We are pretending that this is a war that is not that significant. We have a president who called it the JV team, said we had contained it. Nine hours after he said we contained it, there was a massacre in Paris.
We’ve got to make it so untenable for somebody to join ISIS. Rather than making it so that teenagers from around the world want to go and be to be a part of this, we need to go after it with significant ground troops, air campaign.
The president boasted we had 9,000 flown sorties, air missions over 18 months. What he failed to tell the American people, we were flying 3,000 air missions per day during Desert Storm.
And the rules of engagement have got to be loosened, because we have to make sure that we are not just going over and setting off some fireworks. We have to kill some terrorists and kill every one of them we can to make it very clear that to take action or threaten action against the United States, and you’ve just signed your death warrant.
We’re coming to get you. And you won’t be coming to our shores. You’re going to be going to your funeral. That’s what we need to do to begin to defeat it ideologically.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, you have an aggressive…
HUCKABEE: …action or threaten action against the United States, and you just signed your death warrant. We’re coming to get you. And you won’t be coming to our shores. You’re going to be going to your funeral. That’s what we need to do to begin to defeat it ideologically.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, you have an aggressive military plan to try to defeat ISIS. The U.S. citizen who killed 14 people in San Bernardino was radicalized right here in the United States. As President, how would you defeat ISIS online?
GRAHAM: Well, what you want to do is you want to knock them off line. How about this idea? If you pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi, you can’t get married in America? The bottom line is you have to go after them everywhere. The key to winning this war is to provide the capacity to those in the faith who reject the ideology. The key to fighting this war is to fight it in their backyard, not ours. Two years ago I came up with a plan that requires more American boots on the ground in Iraq. The first thing out of my mouth running for President was, if you don’t understand we need 10,000 troops in Iraq, rather than 3,500, you’re not ready. What would I do in Syria? I’d form a regional army of Arabs and Turkey. Ninety percent them, 10 percent us. Up to 10,000 U.S. forces to go in on the ground and destroy the caliphate and its roots. Take Raqqah away from ISIL, kill every one of these bastards we could find. Then I would stay. I would hold the hands of those who are willing to live in peace with us. I would build small school houses in remote regions of the world to give a young woman a voice about her children, something that will end radical Islam more than the bomb. I’m all in. Whatever it takes, as long as it takes. To the isolationists in our party, you’re no better than Obama. If you want to win this war, follow me. I am seeking victory, folks, not containment.
BLITZER: Senator Santorum, following up on what we just heard from Senator Graham, at least one U.S. intelligence report from the White House has concluded that, in order to defeat ISIS and to stop its spread worldwide, you have to defeat it on the battlefield. You’ve called for more U.S. troops in Iraq, but you say that sending U.S. troops into Syria would be a mistake. How do you defeat ISIS with no U.S. ground troops in the country where ISIS is headquartered.
SANTORUM: Well, there’s all sorts of theological reasons why we may not want to go into Syria right now to take ISIS. But let me set that aside for a moment and say this. ISIS is a caliphate. They’ve established a caliphate, the first Sunni caliphate since 1924, when Ataturk disbanded the Ottoman Empire. They’ve established a caliphate and, under Islamic law, good Muslims who see them as a legitimate caliphate are required to follow them. That’s why we have people in this country who see them as a legitimate caliphate, which is the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, they are required under their law to follow them. How do we defeat their caliphate? Well, it’s very clear in Islamic law how you do so. You take their land. You have to take land back from the caliphate and in the Islamic world that delegitimizes, that delegitimizes the caliphate. It makes the caliphate unsuccessful. Therefore not blessed by Allah. Therefore, you should not follow it. We need to take back the land in Iraq and we need to use Sunni, not Shiites, not Iranian troops, not Shiite Iraqis, but Sunni Muslims in Iraq and the Kurds, the Peshmerga, and take back Iraqi land. I believe if we did that, you would see ISIS begin to collapse. And then we can look at other ways in which we’re going to deal with it. I have great hesitancy, based on ISIS’ desire to draw us into Syria, and a particular town in Syria, for their own, again, apocalyptic version, to go in with ground troops in Syria at this point.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, you’re shaking your head.
GRAHAM: Yeh, it’s just you’re not going to win that way, Rick. There’s nobody left in Syria to train. Between the Russians and Assad, they have killed all the people we trained, and our President sat on the sidelines and watched people get killed that we enticed into the fight. There is nobody left to train. I would get the Arabs who are threatened by ISIL just as much as we are, along with Turkey. We would use their armies. They have modern armies. Ninety percent them. But some of us have to go, folks. You’re not going to keep the war from here if some of us don’t go over there. Ninety percent them, 10 percent us, and we go in and destroy the caliphate. There must be American boots on the ground in Syria to win. If you don’t understand that, you’re not ready to be Commander in Chief.
SANTORUM: I would have no problem with Sy — with boots on the ground in Syria in a training capacity. I do not want American troops on the front line in Syria because I don’t believe that that would serve to the interest. Again, understanding what ISIS is preaching. You have to learn what they’re telling their people. They want to draw the United States, they want to draw the great Satan into Syria, into a particular town in Syria, because it, it’s consistent with their theology. And you say, well, this sounds like gobbledy gook. It’s what they believe. And if we don’t take seriously what they believe and how they’re able to attract people, then we’re going to make mistakes like invading Syria with a ground force and bringing them into the battle that they so deeply deserve and desire.
BLITZER: I’m going to bring Governor Pataki in a minute, but go ahead and respond, Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: Well, number one, dead men don’t preach anything.
GRAHAM: If you don’t understand we need a ground force to go into Syria, then you’re not ready to destroy ISIL. Rick, there’s nobody left to train inside of Syria. Let the Arabs fight this fight, pay for this war, but they need our help.
The difference between me and you and others is that I see you’ve got two choices. Fight them over there or they’re coming here. They’re planning another 9/11 as I speak. Paris was well planned. They wake up every day in Syria trying to find a way to hit us here. If I’m president, we’re going in with the Arabs in Turkey and we’re gonna destroy them before they hit us here. We’re running out of time, folks.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki, should the U.S. send ground troops into Syria?
PATAKI: Wolf, I think the answer is we have to send troops with allies and supporters. Wherever it is necessary to destroy the training centers, recruitment centers, planning hubs of ISIS.
Two points though. First of all today, Saudi Arabia announced a coalition of 34 states, mostly Arab, but other Muslim states to engage actively in a war against radical Islam. We have to work with them. Not just step back. Let them take the lead but work with them to destroy ISIS.
And the second point, Wolf, I want to make, is this is on the armed forces network. And thank you for doing that. Because I’m sure watching this debate this evening are some of our soldiers deployed all over the world. As the proud father of a son who was a Marine officer in Iraq and another son that was a 10th Mountain Division officer in Afghanistan, I know we produce no finer people than the men and women who put on their uniform to defend our freedom. They are watching overseas now.
God bless you. This isn’t about us. This is about you. Thank you for your service.
BLITZER: Governor Huckabee, you have not put a number of how many U.S. ground troops would be needed to combat ISIS. Is Senator Graham’s proposal sufficient?
HUCKABEE: Wolf, it may be sufficient, but rather than put a number — and I’m comfortable that we say 10,000, 20,000 — look, I think we make a mistake when we start telling the enemy what our limitations are. I think we make a huge mistake when we say we’re gonna do up to this. I think what we say is, we’re gonna do whatever it takes. If it’s 10,000, if it’s 100,000, if it’s 3,000 sorties a day, if it’s 5,000 sorties a day.
We never tell our enemy what our limitations are, what we are willing and what we’re unwilling to do. And that’s one of the mistakes I believe that we’re making militarily. But the biggest mistake we’ve made militarily is letting Barack Obama cut our defense forces by 25 percent and leaving us at the least prepared position we’ve been in since before World War II.
We have to get our Military rebuilt from the ground up. And all over America I hear young people say, would you tell me what you’re going to do? Would you give me free college? Will you make sure that I can have medical marijuana?
You know what we ought to tell young people? We aren’t going to give you anything. We’re give you the opportunity to get off your butt and go serve your country and secure your freedom. Because if you don’t, nobody else is.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, and I just want to remind our viewers, you want 10,000 U.S. ground troops in Iraq, and 10,000 in Syria?
GRAHAM: Yeah. I just don’t make this up, Wolf. I talk to people who are combat trained who have won in Iraq who I trust.
Here’s what I want to tell the Arab world and Turkey. We’re not going to send 100,000 troops. You’re going to do the fighting this time and we’re gonna help you. We paid for the last two wars, you’re gonna pay for this one.
And (inaudible), by the way, they get it because ISIL wants to cut their heads off, too. The point I’m trying to make is, there needs to be a ground component. We need to be smart, and we need to fight the war over there. And to the people in my party who believe you can withdraw from the battlefield like Senator Cruz and Paul and we be safe, you really don’t understand this war.
BLITZER: Governor Huckabee, you have said as president you would tell ISIS, and I’m quoting you now, “we will take you down and we’ll try to get it done in ten days.” Do you really think the U.S. can defeat ISIS in ten days?
HUCKABEE: I’d sure want them to think we would. And I’d want to make sure that we did everything we could. But we can’t do it with our current Military strength. We’ve got to build up and have the most robust, well trained, well equipped, well prepared and ample Military force in the history of the world because we’re not fighting just a known enemy in one place. We’re fighting people all over the world who can go anywhere.
And the reason I say that is because if we tried to win this war on the cheap or we try to do it with the, “light footprint,” we’re making a huge mistake.
When all of us were in grade school, one thing we all knew, the bully never picked on the kid except for the weak one.
HUCKABEE: When all of us were in grade school, one thing we all knew, the bully never picked on the kid, except for the weak one. He never picked on the kid he knew, he’d whip(ph) him. We need to make to sure that we have the kind of military that ISIS recognizes in every radical Islamist in the world recognizes, they may start but we by god will finish the fight. And it will be their rear ends on the ground, not ours when it’s all over whether it takes ten days, ten months, or ten eternities’ we’re going to win this fight and have to make sure they understand that.
BLITZER: Senator Samtorum?
SANTORUM: No look, I’m committed to whatever is necessary understanding the nature of the enemy. The enemy is a theocracy and their allure is their theocracy. It’s their doctrine and so we have to understand that doctrine. That’s why, I love the fact that people are angry and outraged in Washington and want someone new and fresh. But we need someone who understands and has knowledge and experience in these areas.
And I can see that you know, Senator Graham has that experience and we have a little difference of opinion. But frankly, it’s not that big of difference in our opinion, we both want to defeat ISIS. We have elements in our party that don’t and I will use whatever means necessary within the confines of not crossing a tripwire theologically that could turn on us.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki, you support ground troops – deploying grounds troops.
BLITZER: The U.S. Army’s Former Cheif of Staff, General Raymond Odierno said that, and I’m quoting, “now ISIS is a ten to twenty year problem. How long would you be willing to commit U.S. forces to fight ISIS?”
PATAKI: You know, I don’t think it’s a function of years of going after ISIS. They are out in the open and in cities like, Mosul, where we know they have their centers. They have centers that we could bomb. And what we have to do though, is have a commitment from our government, not just for troops on the ground but to do whatever we can to help our allies on the grounds right now,.
The Kurds, the Peshmurga are fighting. If we don’t give them the equipment, the training, and the support they need because our government insists that it all go through Baghdad. Baghdad doesn’t want a strong independent Kurdish army.
There are right now Sunni, Sheikh, and Tribes in the Anbar province, taking on ISIS. In fact, they’re in the process of reclaiming Ramadi, the provincial capital this week. They are on our side and they are Sunni, but we are not arming, supporting, training, and helping them as much as we can because all support goes through Baghdad and they don’t want a strong autonomous Sunni area.
We have to put our interests first. Not the interests of Baghdad or of Iran, we have to support those on the ground fighting on our side. Give them every bit of help that they want and to the extent that it’s necessary, for us to send in Special Ops to destroy those training centers, recruitment hubs, planning hubs, social media centers.
Do that. Destroy them. Protect our freedom and get out.
BLITZER: But how long would you be willing to commit U.S. troops to fight ISIS.
PATAKI: You know, I don’t want to see us occupy a country. I’ve been to Iraq a couple of times and Afghanistan. The first time I went, I had an uneasy feeling that when we went there we were liberators. But as we stayed ,we became occupiers.
I saw American troops move into some of Saddam’s old hideous marble palaces. And I thought that was exactly the wrong message. We do not have to occupy. We do not have to nation build and try to create a democracy where one hasn’t existed. WE have to destroy ISIS, protect our safety and our freedom here, and then get out.
BLITZER: Senator Graham, you called for U.S. ground troops as we know in Iraq and Syria.
GRAHAM: Two years ago.
BLITZER: As you know, there’s a growing ISIS presence right now in Libya.
BLITZER: Are you ready to deploy U.S. troops to Libya to try to defeat ISIS there?
GRAHAM: I think we need to have a military strategy regarding Libya. They’ve just take over Gaddafi’s hometown called Sur(Ph). There’s about 2000 of them.
Here’s what I’ve learned in my 36 visits, you can’t deter these guys, they’re ready to die, bring on the virgins. Dying is first place in their world. What we have to do is work with others over time to destroy to ideology. We have to offer a hopeful life to compete with the glory of this.
Most young people folks want the same thing you do. They don’t want to live in the 11th century. So yes, you have to destroy the caliphate. I want to work with Arabs and Turkey to do it, but here’s the key is to not leave. If we left Germany and Japan only god knows what would’ve happened. If we have 10000 troops left in Iraq, there would be no ISIL and I hate what Obama did. He gave away everything we fought for and I hate what he did.
I begged him not to and I’ve been right more than I’ve been wrong.
BLITZER: Senator? Senator, are you ready to commit U.S. ground troops to Libya?
GRAHAM: I want to talk to General Keane first. I want to find out, what do we need militarily to keep them contained and eventually destroy them in Libya. They’re in nine countries.
BLITZER: …troops to Libya?
GRAHAM: I want to talk to General Keen (ph) first. I want to find out what do we need militarily to keep them contained, and eventually destroy them in Libya.
They’re in nine countries. You want to deal with Libya, go to Iraq and Syria. You want to prevent another 9/11, take the caliphate headquarters away from ISIL. There is no other way to do it without a ground force going into Syria. We have to be part of that ground force, or another 9/11 is coming just as sure as I’m standing here. They’re planning it tonight.
The ISIL leadership wants to hurt you, and your family, and if I’m president, they will not get here ’cause we’re going to kill ’em over them.
BLITZER: Alright, gentleman, standby. The fight against ISIS clearly is sparking new tensions with another super power. How these candidates will handle Vladimir Putin, that’s next.
BLITZER: We’re live here at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Welcome back.
As the U.S. fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria continues, the question remains whether to take out the Syrian dictator, Bashar al Assad. That has become a major policy difference among the Republican candidates.
Governor Huckabee, you said the Middle East was more stable when Bashar al Assad was fully in control of Syria. The Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to keep him in power. As President of the United States, would you join with Putin to do the same thing?
HUCKABEE: Well, I want to be real clear, I don’t trust Putin, I don’t trust Assad. I’m not saying that I would endorse him for his reelection bid. The man is a tyrant, he’s killed lots of people, but he wasn’t killing Americans. And, the thing that I’m concerned about is that we have seen a complete destabilization, not only of Syria, but we’ve seen it in Yemen, that the President pronouncing great shape just before it collapsed. Destabilization of Libya, destabilization of Iraq…
… concerned about is that we have seen a complete destabilization, not only of Syria, but we’ve seen it in Yemen that the president pronounced in great shape just before it collapsed. Dstabilization of Libya, destabilization of Iraq and Afghanistan.
It seems like wherever we try to pick a side under this administration, we always pick the wrong one. We picked the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
So all I’m saying is, let’s be careful to understand who it is that is our direct immediate threat. Do I think that we can hug Putin and have a wonderful relationship with the Russians and go off into the sunset like the end of “Casablanca”? No, I don’t.
But let me tell you what I think we ought to be doing. We ought to be challenging not only Russia but the Iranians and the Saudis on the point of energy. We ought to be drilling every bit of oil, getting all the coal out.
We need to be going after our natural gas and biofuels and become the energy exporter to the world, and take the weaponry out of the hands of the Russians, the Iranians, and the Saudis by taking their money away, and let America become the number one energy exporter to the entire world.
That enriches Americans and it destabilizes our enemies overseas.
BLITZER: Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: It is absolutely imperative that Bashar Assad go. The biggest mistake Obama made was drawing a red line. Assad crossed it. He is still standing.
If I’m president, Assad will not stand. He has murdered 240,000 of his own people. They’re not going to accept him as their leader. The war never ends if he stays in power. You’re giving Damascus to the Iranians.
He’s a puppet of the ayatollah, a proxy of Iran. He is the biggest benefactor of Hezbollah. Weapons flowing from Damascus to Lebanon will continue to flow if Assad stays. For our interests and the stability of the region, he must go.
And if I’m president, he will go. And the Syrians will pick their leader, not the ayatollah.
BLITZER: Governor Huckabee.
HUCKABEE: Well, the only thing I disagree with is that I still believe if you take away their ability to fund their weaponry and fund their terrorism, they don’t have terrorism.
I still say we need to take an offensive approach by using our energy, the one weapon we have, we have hundreds of years of energy under our feet. The president thinks that climate change is the number one enemy.
I think people bombing us is a bigger enemy than the temperature change over several hundred years. So let’s get our energy. Let’s use that as an offensive weapon to change the dynamics of the entire globe, and especially change the dynamics of the Middle East.
BLITZER: I’m going to get to the others in a moment. But you’re once again shaking your head, Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: Well, I agree with that. I would like to become — you know, I’d like to stop sending $350 billion overseas to buy oil from people who hate our guts, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you like to export natural gas to cut Putin’s legs out from under him?
I’m not afraid of a guy riding around on a horse without his shirt.
GRAHAM: The guy has got a pair twos and we’ve got a full house, and he’s walking all over Obama.
Mike, the surge worked. It worked. George W. Bush made mistakes, but he did adjust. I blame Obama for ISIL, not Bush. I’m tired of beating on Bush. I miss George W. Bush. I wish he were president right now. We wouldn’t be in this mess.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
GRAHAM: I’m tired of dictators walking all over us. I’m tired of siding with the Iranians and the Russians.
BLITZER: Thank you.
PATAKI: Lindsey is looking back and defending President Bush, but I want to look forward.
This is about the next president of the United States. And you mentioned Libya and you mentioned Russia. And what they have in common, the disaster they have in common is Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state. Do you remember…
PATAKI Do you remember in Libya where it was Hillary Clinton who went and tried to convince and ultimately did convince Obama that the United States had to go in for humanitarian reasons to protect people from the dictator at the time, Gadhafi?
What has happened? We led from behind. We have chaos. We have ISIS controlling a major city. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of refugees. That’s Hillary’s policy in Libya.
And then Putin, the reset button, you remember who that was? That was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressing the reset button. We can be friends with Russia. Russia is not our friend. They’re friends with the Iranians.
BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.
PATAKI: They are friends with Assad. They are friends with Hezbollah. We have got to stand up with them. And we have got to hold Hillary accountable for her failed time as secretary of state.
BLITZER: Senator Santorum, you’ve suggested that there’s no good options for the United States in Syria. As commander-in-chief, would you be willing to let Russia take the lead in the fight against ISIS there?
SANTORUM: I don’t want Russia taking the lead anywhere, particularly working with Assad, because what that shows, and I think Lindsey is correct in this, is that, you know, we’ve abandoned that region, which we don’t want to do, number one.
Number two, the relationship between Iran and Damascus is one of the reasons that ISIS has the power they have. And the fact that we have a nuclear treaty with the Shiites in Iran…
SANTORUM: And the fact that we have a nuclear treaty with the Shiites in Iran, that we have now partnered with the Russians and appearing to allow Assad to stay, which is a satellite Alawites, very interrelated to the Shiites, this looks to ISIS — and what they’re selling is that we are now lining up with the Shiite world against the Sunni world.
Well the Shiite world is 15 percent of the Muslim world. The Sunni world is 85 percent. We’re — we’re picking the wrong horse here. Not only is the Iranian deal the greatest betrayal of this — of this country in the history of our country by signing that deal, but secondly, we have now lined up to empower ISIS by partnering with the Shiites. So the answer is this. The answer is we have to take them on in Iraq, defeat them in Iraq. Delegitimize their caliphate. Join with legitimate rebel forces which exist in Syria and begin to arm them and train them. But it’s a one-two step. The first step has to be Iraq.
BLITZER: We have a video question from Facebook. Let’s watch.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Adithya Sivakumar. I’m from Vanderbilt University. And I was wondering with U.S. designated state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran and other traditional U.S. enemies fighting ISIL, do you think the United States should ally with these groups or continue with their own separate coalition?
BLITZER: Governor Pataki.
PATAKI: I’m not sure — ally with which groups? I didn’t quite catch that.
BLITZER: He says he was wondering with U.S. designated state sponsors of terrorism like Iran and other traditional U.S. enemies fighting ISIL, do you think the United States should ally with these specific groups?
PATAKI: Not at all. Iran is our enemy. They are the number one sponsor of state terror. The Iranian Deal is a disaster. And by the way, I don’t think the next president has to aggregate it. It was never ratified by the Iranians. They have tested long-range ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. resolutions. They have broken the agreement. It is void. They can never have a nuclear weapon and should not get relief.
With respect to the other groups, like Hezbollah, of course we should not work with them. I’ll tell you who we should work with in Syria. There are two groups. One are the PYD, the — the Kurds in Syria who led the defense of Kobani, and are in northern and eastern Syria and anti-ISIS and anti-Assad.
The second thing I’d do is three years ago, Turkey called for a no-fly zone along the Turkish border. Obama said no. We need to work with the Turks, create that no-fly zone so that Syrian refugees don’t have to flock to Europe or try to get to the United States. They will have a safe haven. Anti-Assad Syrians can group there, train, organize there and let them fight the fight to protect our allies.
BLITZER: Hugh Hewitt and Dana Bash have questions.
Hugh go ahead.
HEWITT: Thank you, Wolf.
Governor Huckabee, ten minutes ago you blasted President Obama for destabilizing Iraq. You hit former Secretary of State Clinton for supporting the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt. But you have said recently you would sanction countries that don’t join the fight aggressively against ISIS. Having had an administration that has effectively undermined our friends and emboldened our foes, why would you start sanctioning those who are not yet on our side against ISIS?
HUCKABEE: Well what we have done, and we created an impossible atmosphere. This administration has put more pressure on Israel to stop building bedrooms in Judea and Samaria than they’ve put on Iranians to stop building a nuclear bomb. And I’m just simply pointing out the obvious, that we need to recognize who our friends are, who our enemies are…
HEWITT: Which country?
HUCKABEE: … but I’m convinced…
HEWITT: Which countries are those, governor, that you would sanction?
HUCKABEE: Well, first of all, it would be the Iranians. I would have never entered into this deal. I don’t know why on God’s earth that the senators gave it so that it was easier for Obama to have the agreement than it would be to make it a treaty.
HEWITT: That’s an easy, give. Are you going to sanction any of our allies who say, no this isn’t our fight we’re gonna let you do this. Are you going to leave our allies alone? For example, Indonesia and Malaysia — other Muslim countries — will you leave them alone?
HUCKABEE: I would make sure that there was economic pressure put on them. Why not? Why should we fund every single battle against radical Islam? Why should we stand back and watch Israel get targeted, the United States get targeted and we watch with people with their hands in their pocket, and their hands in our pocket because we’re getting them a lot of money. And let’s say your hands can be in your pocket, you can stand still, but your hands aren’t going to be in our pockets anymore. We’re not going to give you another dime unless you engage the battle with us. We are not sending our sons and daughters, and grandsons and granddaughters to war to fight for your interest. You either get in with us or be on your own. But we’re not gonna fight the battle for you.
HEWITT: Senator Graham, I just named two Islamic countries…
HEWITT: Senator Graham, I just named two Islamic countries that are allies that he suggested we sanction. Is that the appropriate approach to this war?
GRAHAM: No. What I would do is I would try to make friends throughout the world to destroy a common threat to the world. These people are religious Nazis. Most people in Islam don’t buy what they’re selling. I’ve told you a thousand times that I would partner with the Arabs in Turkey.
GRAHAM: …A common threat to the world. These people are religious Nazi’s. Most people in Islam don’t bite what they’re selling. I’ve told you a thousand times that I would partner with the Arabs in Turkey.
But, the reason they don’t partner with Obama is they just don’t trust him. Do you think they would trust me? I know them all. I’ve been working for a decade to figure out how to win this war.
To my good friend Ted Cruz, please ask him the following question, you say you would keep Assad in power, I will tell you that is the worst possible thing that could come out of an American leaders mouth. It would be disastrous. His favorite movie is, apparently, Princess Bride. Ted, getting in bed with Iran and Russia to save Assad is inconceivable.
HEWITT: Senator Santorum, let me ask you…
GRAHAM: Princess Buttercup would not like this.
HEWITT: Senator Santorum, let me ask you, the opposite of getting into bed is shooting down the prince’s plane. Senator Santorum has — Senator Graham has said he would shoot down Russian planes bombing Syrian fighters on our side. Would you shoot down a Russian plane bombing American allied fighters in Syria (ph)?
SANTORUM: Well, I would establish a no-fly zone. And, I think we just…
HEWITT: What — if they fly into it, would you shoot it down?
SANTORUM: Well — the first thing you have to do is establish a no-fly zone, and you don’t do that by just sort of declaring it. You work through the process of making sure you work with people who, hopefully, have the same objective that you do. And, if they don’t, then you establish the no-fly zone, and you take the consequences of whatever — who violates that law.
HEWITT: The consequences would be war with Russia. Would you risk…
SANTORUM: …I don’t think it’s a war with Russia anymore than Turkey went to war with Russia when Turkey shot down a plane…
HEWITT: Senator Graham, do you agree?
SANTORUM: These are — these are incidents not something that we’re threatening the motherland. This is a tactical decision within an area that we have an obligation for the refugees, for providing stability to the rebels, and an opportunity for the rebels to reconstitute. And, making sure that we stop the flow of refugees into Europe, and into the United States to establish a no-fly zone.
And, Russia either is going to comply with it or not, and if they don’t, I think it can be contained to that region.
HEWITT: OK, we know you agree, Senator Graham. How about you, Governor Pataki, would you shoot down Russian planes?
PATAKI: I could create…
GRAHAM: …I didn’t get to say yes. Yes.
PATAKI: I would create the no-fly zone, and let me tell you, something very simply. Putin is a bully, and the most important and effective thing you can do to a bully is punch him in the face. Create a no-fly zone.
If Russian planes violate that space, either us, or the Turks, should shoot them down to keep our word. And, I guarantee you that Putin would back off. Bullies, when you stand up to them, back down.
We have had, under Obama, and under Hillary as Secretary of State, nothing but weakness in the face of Russia, whether it was in the Crimea, whether it was in Ukraine, or now in the Middle East. I would give the Ukrainians lethal weapons so they could defend themselves. I would create the no-fly zone, and if Russian planes flew into it in violation of what we have declared, yes.
BASH: Senator — Senator Graham…
GRAHAM: Yeah, this is an important discussion. The American president is the strongest voice in the world — until Obama came along. Now, we’re just one of many. When you ask people to help you, when you entice Syrians to join your cause, to take down the dictator they hate to destroy ISIL which will attack our homeland, and you sit on the sidelines and watch the Russian president kill them, it makes it harder for us to get partners in the future.
The point I’m trying to make is we got to mean what we say…
…And, I am begging people to wake up to Syria. The next 9/11 is coming from Syria, it’s coming soon…
BASH: Senator Graham…
GRAHAM: …we’d better do something about it, and I have a plan.
BASH: Senator Graham, we’ve heard here tonight a lot about the fact that you want to send U.S. troops, ground troops, into Iraq, and Syria to defeat ISIS. Would you consider reinstating the draft in order to complete that mission?
GRAHAM: I don’t think it’s necessary. If you don’t want to be there, I don’t want you to be there. I just retired after 33 years in the Air Force, 140 days on the ground as an Air Force Reservist. To those who are watching, thank you for your service.
I’ve had a small walk in your shoes. We have the best military in the world. Obama has put it in a box. Let’s take it out of the box and use it before we get attacked here. We don’t need a draft, we need a commander in chief who knows what the hell they’re doing.
BASH: Governor Huckabee…
GRAHAM: And, I am that guy.
BASH: Governor Huckabee, would you reinstate the draft?
HUCKABEE: I wouldn’t reinstate a draft, but, I think it’s noteworthy that we are fighting all the battles we have with less than one percent of the American population.
HUCKABEE: We have the lowest level of percentage of population participating in the military than ever. And they’re over-deployed, they’re over used, especially among our reserves and Guard troops. Any governor will tell you.
BASH: So what would you do about it?
HUCKABEE: Well, I would say that, if you want a college education, let’s go back and reinstate the full-blown G.I. bill. You give something to your country; your country gives something back to you. We need to ask young people to step up and buy their own freedom because there’s not going to be enough people left at less than one percent. And as my good friend Ken Howard, former Dean of the War College, has often said, we’re fighting all the wars with other people’s kids. And that’s one of the things that’s making us much less safe, is because we don’t have enough Americans truly invested in the process of defeating our enemies. Therefore, I do think without a draft we do need to ask people to recognize we are at war.
GRAHAM: Can, can I…
GRAHAM: This is important. We’re not fighting all the wars with our kids. If you’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan and you made any friends, you’ve lots of bunch. Thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting.
BASH: Thank you, Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: Don’t belittle their sacrifice.
HUCKABEE: I’m not belittling their sacrifice, Lindsey, but I’m just making note that on the part of Americans we have sent National Guard troops over for an 18-month em — 18-month deployment. They come back for five, they go back for another 18. We’re wearing these guys out. They agreed to be citizen soldiers. We turned them into full time soldiers because we’ve not kept up the pace by recruiting enough people in the military to fully fill these forces, and that’s what we need to be doing.
BASH: Senator Graham.
BASH: Senator Graham, quick response.
GRAHAM: To, to those the (well) times in the Army were a bigger problem than they are today. If you want to fix this, you get the Army to 500,000, not 420,000. You want to win this war, grow the Navy to 350 ships, not 275. Sequestration is Latin for doing really dumb things. We’re going to have the smallest Navy since 1915, the smallest Army since 1940. I was yelling and screaming don’t do sequestration. I was right. If I am President of the United States, Commander in Chief, we’re going to rebuild our military without a draft…
BASH: Thank you, Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: …and we’re going to go on the offense and they’re ready to go.
BASH: Thank you, Senator Graham.
GRAHAM: They are ready to go. They just need to be led.
BASH: Senator Santorum, earlier this month the Pentagon opened all U.S. military combat positions to women. You previously opposed allowing women in combat roles. As President, would you change the Pentagon’s new policy?
SANTORUM: I would use the studies that were done that were ignored by this military that there were certain positions that frankly were not suitable. And they pushed a political agenda above what is in the best interest of the safety, security, and effective of our, of our fighting units. So I would go back to using what we should be doing. Which is putting forth people on those front line positions who are best prepared to do the job, survive the job, and come back home safely.
BASH: So, just to be clear, you’re saying, yes, you would change the policy back?
SANTORUM: I would change the policy to reflect what is the best interest of the people that we’re asking. I’ve got a son who’s going, who’s going into the Air Force right now, and I, as a father, I want to make sure that, if he’s out there on the front line — and he may be a pilot flying an airplane — I want to make sure that the person who’s responsible for, for his wing has the ability to do the job they’re doing. And if they don’t have that ability to do the job, if we’re doing a social promotion as opposed to what’s best for the efficacy of our fighting force and for the survivability of our men and women, I’ll change that policy.
BASH: Governor Pataki, as you mentioned earlier, you have two sons who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would you maintain this new policy as President, or do you agree with Senator Santorum.
PATAKI: No, I completely disagree with Rick. This is America. And we’ve made enormous progress. And I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman. I care if you’re good and capable of doing the job. If you can do the job — don’t lower standards, don’t lower the criteria — but if a woman is capable of doing these jobs, there is no reason why we should deny a patriot who wants to serve and help defend our country that right.
BASH: Senator Santorum.
SANTORUM: So what you just said is you agree with me. Because that’s exactly what I said.
PATAKI: It’s not.
SANTORUM: I said if you can’t do the job, you shouldn’t be able to…you shouldn’t have the position.
PATAKI: No, you said you would reverse the policy which excluded women from those jobs whether or not they were able to do that. That is wrong.
SANTORUM: No, I did not say that, George. I mean, you may, you may have heard that, but I didn’t say that. What I said was, if they can in fact do the job that any, any other person can do, I will allow them to do so.
SANTORUM: But if they cannot, I would reverse the policy. And what happened here is there were many studies done, particularly in the Marine Corps, which begged this President not to move forward with this because people are going to get killed as a result of it. The President went forward anyway.
BASH: Now Governor Pataki, do you a final response?
PATAKI: Yes, I think what Rick said is very different from what he said initially which was that, “he would reverse the policy that gave woman not the right but the opportunity to serve in combat.” They can only do it if they’re fit and capable and meet the same standards as men. And so, to reverse that policy and deny a woman who is prepared to risk her life to defend our freedom and is capable of doing everything a man could do is not the right thing for America in the 21st century.
By the way, you see in Iraq, the Peshmerga, the Kurds ,many of their top fighters are women. This is the 21st century. We’re not radical Islam. We want to give women the opportunity to do whatever they are capable of achieving in this country.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki, let me stick with you.
Governor Pataki, a U.S. Army Sargent Bowe Bergdahl now facing a court marshall after leaving his base in Afghanistan, getting captured by the Taliban – Donald Trump, has called for his execution. The former house speak John Boehner says “he’s innocent until proven guilty.” Where do you stand?
PATAKI: Of course he’s innocent until proven guilty. I happen to believe he’s guilty. The military did a very clear and long study as to whether or not he deserted in the face of enemy and they are not court marshalling him. I don’t think he should executed. I do think he will have a fair military trial, not a civilian trial, at which time, assuming he’s found guilty as I think he would, he will be sentenced appropriately.
But there’s a bigger issue here, this administration has failed to protect us because they have treated radical Islamists as Americans who should be tried in civil court. That is ridiculous. They are enemy aliens engaged in terror against Americans. And by the way, the fact that this president is now threatening to close Guantanamo Bay when we know that time after time, terrorists he released are involved in a high level capacity helping ISIS and Al Queda, this is a disgrace.
Ask Hilary Clinton, would she keep Guantanamo Bay open so that Americans can be safe and terrorists kept from going back to the battlefield?
BLITZER: Senator Graham, where do you stand?
GRAHAM: Well I stand unique, having been a military lawyer for 33 years. I’ve been a defense attorney, a prosecutor, and a military judge. Mr. Trump, you don’t have to speak about everything, that’s not required.
I would make sure that everybody had a fair trial. Does that make sense to you?
We’re at war folks and this stuff has to stop. It’s bad for morale to hear somebody wanting to be Commander in Chief that would deny due process to somebody who’s been charged in the military. For God’s sakes Mr. Trump, you’re asking to be the Commander in Chief , the leader of the free world, up your game.
As to women, if you want to kill terrorists, I’m your guy.
BLIZTER: Governor Huckabee? Governor Huckbee, ISIS demanded ransom before killing American hostages, James Foley and Kayla Mueller. Their families wanted to pay even though at the time the U.S. government discouraged them. Since then, U.S. policy has changed.
As president, would you support families of the approximately 30 Americans being held worldwide if they chose to pay ransom?
HUCKABEE: The horrors that those families have to go through, if that were my son, my daughter, I’d give my last drop of blood to get them back. You bet I would. Is it a good policy? No.
It’s a terrible policy because once we do it, we’re only going to invite more and more hostages, more and more ransoms, and the diasters gets even worse. But I don’t blame any of these families. You know who I blame? I blame a policy in our government that has made it so that families are so desperate that they’re willing to pay ransom to terrorists organizations because they don’t believe our government will fight the fight for them and they think they’re out there on their own.
My goodness people, this is America. When did we have to start telling people that you’ve got to bake your own bread in order to fight the battles? That’s what we have a government for, it’s what we pay taxes for. And I believe, those families ought to have a better expectation of what this government will do.
We should never has sat at the table with the Iranians as long Sayed Abadnini is sitting in an Iranian prison. As long as the Washington Post report is over there. Until the four hostages of America were on an airplane safely out of Tehran. We should’ve told them, ” we won’t even walk into the room with you much less sit down and negotiate with you.”
HUCKABEE: That’s what we ought to be doing.
BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.
Governor Pataki, speaking of those four Americans being held in Iran right now. Iran has suggested they might be willing to have a prisoner swap, release Iranian prisoners held in the United States, in exchange for those four Americans.
Would you support that?
PATAKI: You know, again, it comes down to something that, as Mike said, breaks your heart. We clearly want to get them back. But the idea that by taking a journalist, for example, and holding him hostage in Iran, they’re going to be able to get some of their terrorist leaders back, is simply bad policy.
Israel has shown the way on this in rejecting hostage exchanges such as this and then not paying ransom.
But, by the way, Mike is absolutely right. We have to do more to protect our people overseas, but then we also have to do more to help our veterans when they come back here today.
We haven’t talked about that. But more talking about defeating terrorism, one of the things we have to do is give our veterans the support and help that they require. What has happened at the VA is a disgrace.
Give our veterans a medical card that they can use to get the best quality care anywhere, including outside of the VA system.
BLITZER: We have to take a quick break, but, Governor, Israel has exchanged a lot of the prisoners it was holding for Israeli soldiers who were being held by Hamas, for example.
PATAKI: And that — but that was involved in combat, where they were actually involved in a war against each other and exchanged prisoners. We have not been in a war with Iran. They have taken civilians as hostages. It’s a totally different situation. And we cannot encourage them to do any more of that.
BLITZER: Thank you. Let’s take another quick break. The scramble, the scramble to protect Americans after ISIS attacks from the inside, does the country need to tighten its borders to prevent another San Bernardino slaughter?
Where the candidates stand, that’s next.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the Republican Presidential Debate here at the Venetian in Las Vegas.
Gentlemen, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the Obama Administration policy of allowing Syrian refugees to come into the United States has come under fire.
Senator Santorum, you say accepting Syrian refugees is dangerous. You say it just takes one Jihadist to destroy the world.
Do you think there is any way to properly vet refugees coming into the United States?
SANTORUM: Of course there is a proper way to vet refugees coming into the United States. But not from the ISIS-controlled area or Syria. How can you do a background check? Where are you gonna go? Who are you going to call? Call Assad and say, hey, you know, tell me about this guy from Aleppo.
There’s no possibility in these — in these types of war-torn countries to adequately vet someone to allow them to come into this country. It’s impossible.
So you have a physical impossibility here. Secondly, we shouldn’t be taking people out of that region and move them here to the United States. And the reason we shouldn’t is very clear. If you talk to the clerical leaders and particularly those who are religious minorities, they don’t want their people to be relocated so they’re never gonna come back. And let me assure you, if they come to America, they’re not going to come back. They’re not gonna go back to those areas. So who stays? Those who cooperated with ISIS and maybe a few of the refugees who’s come back.
We need to have refugee camps in the region. We need to provide no-fly zones to make sure that don’t even need refugee camps so people can stay in the area. But the last thing we need to do is to relocate moderate Muslims, relocate minorities and Christians out of the region so they’re not going to return and reestablish a — a — a state that can be won, that can be cooperative for us and safe going forward.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki, you have said you wouldn’t accept a single Syrian refugee. What should become of them?
PATAKI: You know, I think what I said earlier is that I would create a no-fly zone in Syria. Turkey just agreed to take 3 million more Syrian refugees. The EU just came up with a funding program to provide camps for Syrian refugees, but I would also create that no-fly zone where refugees can be there.
I have to say I agree with Rick, because this President is talking about taking 10,000 people from Syria, who we cannot vet. This administration, allegedly, vetted the woman who carried out the attacks in San Bernardino and never found out that she had a false address and was on social media talking about radical Jihad.
Coming from Syria, it’s impossible to do that check. And we know, by the way, that ISIS is using this refugee program to send terrorists to the West to engage in attacks. They have said that. That this is an opportunity for them to do that.
So, the answer is no. No Syrian refugees. Whether it’s the 10,000 Obama wants or the 60,000 that Hillary Clinton wants. Think about it, I was governor on September 11th. Those attacks were carried out by only 18 people. We take 60,000 Syrian refugees that we can’t vet. If one in 1,000, 1 in 1,000 is a terrorist, we would have 60 terrorists living amongst us looking to carry out attacks. We cannot let that happen.
BLITZER: Let’s go back to Dana Bash and Hugh Hewitt for more questions. Dana?
BASH: Governor Huckabee, the U.S. has a program that allows visitors from America’s closest allies to travel to the U.S. without obtaining a visa. But new legislation in Congress says that privilege should not apply to those who have visited is hot spots like Iraq and Syria in the last five years. You say that legislation doesn’t go far enough. Why?
HUCKABEE: We just need to take a real pause and all the people that coming here and we don’t know who they are or what their affiliations are. What George just said is right. We can’t take the risk. And why should we take the risk?
And if it’s such a doggone good idea to bring people here that we really don’t know who they are and Obama thinks that we’re being un-Christian to not do it, I’ve got a suggestion. Let’s send the first wave of them to Chappaqua, Martha’s Vineyard and the upper east side of Manhattan and to the south lawn of the White House where we’ll set up a camp.
Let’s see how that works out. And if they behave wonderfully, that’s fine. I want to say, I don’t want someone lecturing me about what it means to be a Christian that I should invite a potential terrorist into my backyard. On one hand, the left says separation of church and state. Let’s not have any discussion of religion, and then the left wants to tell me what it means to be a Christian. They need to figure out if they know more about being a Christian than I do, then tell me…
HUCKABEE: On one hand, the left says separation of church and state. Let’s not have any discussion of religion, and then the left wants to tell me what it means to be a Christian. They need to figure out if they know more about being a Christian than I do — then tell me. They are no longer going to say separation of church and state, but, we have the most fundamental right above everything else — is not to protect the reputation of Islam. It is to protect Americans first and foremost. That is our job.
HEWITT: Senator Graham, in 2013 you were part of the leadership that pushed through immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate of the United States. It died in the House. Many accused you of amnesty, and may have undermined your ability to get your message out on the war.
Would you sign that bill again today? Would you — sponsor that bill again today?
GRAHAM: Well, the first thing I would do is make adjustments to reality. I want to look and see if this was a terrorist arranged marriage between the couple in California. The fact that they met online accidentally is almost zero. So, no, I would have a time-out on Syrian refugees because you’d be crazy if you didn’t after Paris.
But, I’ve been to the refugee camps in Turkey, and Jordan. Trust me with your Christian — and I’m a lousy Christian saved by grace, but — this is important. We’ve got to stop this war. Do you realize that there are more Syrian refugees in Lebanon going to school than Lebanese children? Do you realize if this war goes for another year the King of Jordan could fall?
Let’s have a no-fly zone.
HEWITT: But, Senator, I misunderstand, did you…
GRAHAM: I would — make changes to that bill in light of what I know today.
HEWITT: Senator Santorum, is that sufficient for you?
SANTORUM: Lindsay says this is a real war, until it comes to immigration. And, then, all of a sudden it’s not such a real war. The reality is that we’ve seen since the events of 9/11, the president talks about how he’s worried about discrimination and acts against Muslims. There’s four times as many acts of violence against Jews than there are against Muslims. I never hear the president talk about that.
The reality is that under this president, since 9/11, this anti-Muslim United States of America has doubled the rate of Muslim immigration. Since 9/11.
That’s what we’ve done. So, the idea that we have an immigration system that is working…
HEWITT: Thank you, Senator.
SANTORUM: Is not — and, I’m out of time.
HEWITT: Yep. Governor Huckabee, you have said that children of immigrants who came here illegally should not be punished by their parents actions. As president, would you continue President Obama’s policy, vis-a-vis, the Dreamers?
HUCKABEE: No, because he did it unconstitutionally. Twenty-three times he’s said he couldn’t do it, and then one day he woke up and he found he had a pen in one hand, and a phone in another, and wow. That Constitution didn’t mean much anymore.
Look, President’s can’t just do what they want to do. That’s the purpose of getting elected and working with other people who got elected, is that our system was designed to function with the power of persuasion, it’s really what you elect a president to do.
HUCKABEE: …Let me finish, Hugh. You elect him to lead which means that if you think it’s a good idea to not punish the children for something their parents did, then you go to the members of Congress and you persuade them. And, you persuade the American people.
You don’t just jump up and shove it up the nostrils of Congress, and the American people because you think you have a superior intellect, and a superior will, and a superior theology than everybody else. Our system is not a system of tyranny. We don’t elect kings, we elect servants.
If I’m elected president, I don’t consider myself to be elected to be the king of the country, but the servant of the country to work with other people who are elected to get things done that need to be done.
HEWITT: Senator Santorum, you…
…Your position on that policy, assuming that it was passed constitutionally, would you allow this, would you support such an act?
SANTORUM: Here’s the problem. I was with, in fact, one my guests here today is the Sheriff in Cochise County, down on the border in Arizona. And, he talked with me last night when I was with him about all of the children coming across. All of the children, why?
Because we’ve created a magnet. These children are not coming over, and in great shape, not coming over — and not in harms way, and — going through difficult times. We’re attracting people.
He’s also the Sheriff that caught Syrian’s at the border. We have through the policies supported by almost everybody in this field…
…A policy that says amnesty. The world hears this, and knows that if they can come across this border, by and large, they’re going to be able to stay. That has to change.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator. Gentlemen, standby, we are going to take another very quick break. Coming up, with America on edge, who has what it takes to be the next Commander in Chief? These candidates, they will make their case.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We’re live here at the Venetian Las Vegas.
Gentlemen, it’s time for your closing statements. Each candidate will have 30 seconds.
Senator graham, you’re first.
GRAHAM: The next president is going to be a war-time president, whether they like it or not. I’m ready for that job. Two years ago isolationism led by Senator Paul and Cruz was white hot in our party. Now it is in retreat because events have proven me more right than wrong and has proven them to be wrong.
In the first debate I called for American troops on the ground to protect our homeland. Nobody came forward. Now, most have. We’ve spent a lot of carnage to get them to where I have always been.
Make me president, I will keep you and your family safe.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
PATAKI: Thank you. This debate has been about terrorism and appropriately so. I’m proud to have been governor of New York on September 11th and have led our state through and during the aftermath of that horrible attack.
I vowed then that if I ever had the chance to lead this country, I would do everything in my power to make sure that Americans were safe. But I also saw a positive from that. New Yorkers and the American people came together and vowed that we weren’t just going to defend ourselves.
We were not going to live in fear. We were going to rise to new heights and celebrate our freedom.
Come to Lower Manhattan today. You will see a magnificent tribute to those who died, the memorial and the museum. You will also see a new tower soaring 1,776 feet tall, the Freedom Tower, a symbol of our freedom, a symbol of our belief that as a free people we can soar to new heights.
Give us the chance to unite Americans, not just Republicans. And this country’s future is unlimited.
BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.
SANTORUM: Barack Obama has not kept this country safe. Hillary Clinton will not keep this country safe. We need to nominate someone who America knows will keep this country safe.
Ten years ago I put the sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. Before that, I gave speech after speech, including to President Bush, to identify the enemy and call these radical Islamists who they are.
Ladies and gentlemen, this week ISIS put out a fatwa on disabled children and killed dozens of them because of their disability. Now, I am the father of a disabled child. I know and have known the face of evil. And I, if you give me the opportunity, will defeat it. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
HUCKABEE: The terrorists don’t win just because they kill us. The terrorists win when they make us change everything we do in our daily lives and alter our routines. And they’re doing that, from getting on a plane to going in a building.
And it is high time that we recognize that we have to take them out, not a little bit, but totally, because I want my grandkids to grow up not in fear, but in faith and in freedom.
And if you give me the opportunity to be president of the United States, I will fight for your grandkids as much as I will for mine.
Thank you and God bless you.
BLITZER: Thank you. Thanks to all of the candidates for a very important discussion on critically important issues.
This debate night is just getting started here at the Venetian Las Vegas. The top nine candidates, they are standing by for their turn on this stage in just a little while. I’ll be back as the moderator.