Leading GOP Candidates Square Off in CNN Debate

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Republican U.S. presidential candidates including (L-R), former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, former New York Governor George Pataki, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former CEO Carly Fiorina, Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pose before the start of the second official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Wednesday. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Eleven leading Republican presidential candidates faced off on Wednesday night in a CNN debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library outside of Los Angeles. Leading the group—and the polls—is Donald Trump, followed by soft-spoken neurosurgeon Ben Carson currently polling second. Also present: Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, New Jersey Governor Chris Christe, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Live coverage:

11:00 p.m. In a final question that includes a nod to Ronald Reagan, candidates are asked what a world would look like under their presidency. Paul says we would go to war only "in a Constitutional way." Huckabee says "abortion would be deemed no more; [it would be] as much of a scourge in our past as slavery is." Rubio says he hopes "my Air Force One will one day land in a free Cuba." Cruz says ISIS would be defeated, we would have a president "willing to utter the words 'radical Islamic terrorism'" and Obamcare would be repealed. Carson promises "real leadership" and Trump repeats past promises to "make this country greater than every before." Bush says he would create a country with "sustained economic growth" and Walker says we need to live in a world with a strong economy and a streamlined federal government, and where "our children are free from the threats of radical Islamic terrorism." Fiorina references "Lady Liberty and Lady Justice," saying Americans need to all be created equal. Kasich says he will make America "a nation that solves problems...by having the nation's elected leaders realize they're Americans before they are Republicans or Democrats." Christie says "a Christie presidency won't be about me; it'll be about you," adding that he won't talk to any country that says "death to us" or "death to Israel."

10:57 p.m. The candidates are asked what their secret service code name would be. Paul: Unit 2. Fiorina: Secretariat. Walker: Harley. Trump: Humble. Carson: One Nation. Cruz: Cohiba. Rubio: Gator. Huckabee: Duckhunter. Paul: Justice Never Sleeps.

10:53 p.m. Paul is asked about the Treasury Department's suggestion that a woman might soon appear on the $10 bill. Paul votes for Susan B. Anthony. Huckabee says, "I'd put my wife on there." Rubio says Rosa Parks. Cruz says he'd boot Jackson from the $20 and put Rosa Parks on it (leaving Alexander Hamilton be). Carson says he'd put his mother on the $10. Trump says his daughter, Ivanka. Bush says Margaret Thatcher. Walker says Clara Barton. Fiorina says she'd leave the bills alone because "women are not a special interest group." Kasich says Mother Teresa. Christie says the Adams family (not to be confused with the Addams family).

10:45 p.m. The candidates are asked about statements—widely disputed by the medical community, but reiterated by Trump—that vaccinations are linked to autism. There is "no correlation between vaccination and autism," Carson says. "Autism has become an epidemic; I am totally in favor of vaccines, but I want smaller doses over longer periods of time," Trump responds. Paul echoes Trump's concerns about how vaccine dosages are "bunched up," and Huckabee says the next president should "declare a war" on cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's."

10:42 p.m. Climate change is brought up. "I am not in favor of any policies that make America a harder place to live, to work or to raise a family," Rubio says. "We're not going to destroy our economy the way the left-wing government wants to do. Every proposal that they've put forward…would make it harder to do business in America." Christie agrees, saying, "We shouldn't be destroying our economy to chase some wild left-wing idea," and touting private-sector energy initiatives in New Jersey.

10:39 p.m. The candidates are asked about entitlements, and Social Security in particular. "I would be willing to check it off and say, 'I will not get Social Security,'" Trump says, adding that he would leave it up to the people whether they want to keep Social Security as a policy. Christie emphasizes entitlements as a pressing issue, saying 71 percent of federal spending is on Social Security and entitlements.

10:37 p.m. The conversation turns to gun control. Bush says gun control initiatives should be passed state by state, and Rubio says the real issues have less to do with the laws—"the only people who follow the law are law-abiding people"—and more with factors like socioeconomic status. "The real issue is not what people are using to commit violence it's why they are committing violence," he says. Cruz touts his record as "strongest supporter of the 2nd Amendment" (as declared by Gun Owners of America).

10:27 p.m. The candidates are asked about marijuana legalization. "There's at least one prominent example of someone the stage and said they smoked pot in high school," Paul says, referring to Bush. "So 40 years ago I smoked marijuana," Bush concedes, adding that his mom isn't happy he just admitted it in front of millions of people. "We have a serious epidemic with drugs that goes way beyond marijuana," he says, adding that what's happening in Colorado with legalization should be a "state decision." Paul counters that Bush fought against legalization in Florida, saying "if you're against people using medical marijuana, you'll actually put them in jail." Christie, who has declined to support recreational marijuana initiatives in New Jersey, says "you need to be pro-life on more than just what goes on in the womb." Fiorina notes that she and her husband lost a child to drug addiction, saying: "We are misleading young people when we tell them that marijuana is just like having beer. It's not. And the marijuana today is not the same marijuana that Jeb Bush smoked 40 years ago."

10:18 p.m. As in the earlier debate, the candidates are asked about George W. Bush's appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts did not have a "proven record" of fairly interpreting the Constitution, Bush says. "It is true that after George W. Bush nominated John Roberts, I supported his nomination," Cruz says, going on to call that support a mistake. "If I'm elected president, every single Supreme Court justice will [uphold] the law and not act like philosopher-kings." Huckabee says his litmus test for Supreme Court justices would include questions on whether they "believe an unborn child is a human being or just a blob of tissue," as well as question on gun rights and the 14th, 5th and 10th amendments.

10:12 p.m. The candidates are asked about ISIS and the possibility of putting American boots on the ground. "If you want boots on the ground and want them to be our sons or daughters, you've got 14 other choices," Paul says. "There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you if you want to go back to Iraq." Kasich circles back to religious values: "You wonder why young people, educated people, rich people have tried to join ISIS…We need to make it clear that our faith in the Jewish and Christian principles force us to live a life bigger than ourselves."

10:06 p.m. Christie is asked to speak on the recent 14th anniversary of September 11. "I believe what the president did at the time was right," saying the country was safe for the subsequent seven years under Bush. "Barack Obama has taken that safety away from us," he says. Carson draws a comparison between the coordinated efforts that led to the moon landing and the United States's lack of effort to become petroleum-independent. "There are smart ways of doing things, and there are muscular ways of doing things." Christie responds: "You do not need to go through subtle diplomacy [in a climate of fear]." Carson replies that aggression is not needed "in every circumstance. You can use your intellect." Rubio chimes in: "Radical terrorism cannot be solved by intellect."

10:04 p.m. The conversation turns more directly to Iraq. "The Iraq War backfired and didn't help us, and we're still paying the repercussions," Paul says, adding that the Iran is "more powerful now because we removed Saddam Hussein." "The belief that...America retreating makes the world safer has been disproven," Rubio says, adding, "The more we disengage, the more Russian airplanes we're going to see flying out of Damascus." Says Bush: "We don't have to be the world's policemen. But we certainly have to be the world's leader."

9:57 p.m. Hewitt asks Bush about his last name, and the seeming disconnect between his claim to be separate from his father and brother and the fact that many of his suggested advisors also advised George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. "If you're looking for Republican advisors," you have to look to the Bush White Houses, Bush replies. "By definition," he says, Republican military advisors with experience come from the previous two administrations. Hewitt turns to Trump, asking when he'll release a list of his own anticipated advisors. "I am the only person on this dais...who fought very, very hard against going into Iraq," Trump says. "It's important, because it's about judgment." Trump adds, to Bush: "Your brother's administration gave us Barack Obama...It was such a disaster those last three months that Abraham Lincoln couldn't have gotten elected." Bush replies: "As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure: He kept us safe."

9:52 p.m. Trump is asked about an interview with moderator and radio host Hugh Hewitt in which he confused the name of Kurdish forces in a discussion about the Middle East. Trump later accused Hewitt of asking "gotcha" questions and said he would know the names of leaders of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah if he were elected. "It was Arab name after Arab name," Trump says at the debate. "There are few people anywhere who would know those names." Rubio counters: "A president better be up to date on those issues on his first day in office, or her first day in office." Trump replies that he's a businessman and "not sitting in the U.S. Senate....I will know more about ...about the problems of this world by the time that I sit. This world is a mess."

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Members of the news media watch on television monitors as candidate Donald Trump speaks during the second Republican presidential debate on September 18. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

9:45 p.m. The focus turns to Hillary Clinton. "Mrs. Clinton is going to have to defend her track record of lying about Benghazi, lying about her emails," Fiorina says, a sentiment echoed by Christie. "It is time to put a formal federal prosecutor on the same stage as Hillary Clinton," he says. "She knows she's wrong and she cannot look in the mirror at herself."

9:42 p.m. Walker is asked about a past comment that raising the federal minimum wage would be "lame." "It's about job creation," he says, before turning the conversation to Obamacare. "We need to get both sides of this issue to sit down…and negotiate a reasonable minimum wage and index that so that we never have to have this conversation again in the history of America." Walker says the solution is to educate more Americans so that they can have jobs that pay more than minimum wage.

9:36 p.m. Candidates are asked about tax rates on hedge fund managers. "I'm the only person on this stage...that led the effort as the chief architect of the last time we balanced the federal budget," Kasich says. "Why should we penalize productivity?... I'm an unabashed supporter of the fair tax," Huckabee says. Carson—asked to address Trump directly on past comments that the wealthy should have a higher tax rate—says, "It's all about America....That guy just put in a billion dollars. Let's create an environment that's even more conducive to his success so that next year he can put in $2 billion." Trump replies: "We've had graduated tax system for many years, so it's not a socialistic thing."

9:30 p.m. The conversation turns to the economy and jobs. Fiorina is asked about her record of layoffs at Hewlett-Packard and says she presided over a damaging recession in the technology sector. "When you challenge the status quo, you make enemies," she says. "Steve Jobs told me that when he called me after I got fired." Trump says he wouldn't let her run his companies, and she counters that she finds it "quite rich" he would comment on her business record. "You ran up mountains of debt using other peoples' money, and you were forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice, but four times," she says. Christie chimes in. "You're both successful people; congratulations," he says. "You know who's not successful? The middle class in this country, [which] is getting plowed over by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton."

9:25 p.m. As in the earlier debate, the candidates are asked about birthright citizenship. "The 14th Amendment says very clearly that it is wrong," Trump says, noting that the United States is the only country "dumb enough, stupid enough" to have birthright citizenship. "I hate to say it but Donald Trump has a bit of a point here," Paul says, adding that the 14th Amendment "hasn't been completely adjudicated." Fiorina says Democrats have failed to solve this issue intentionally: "Obama could have chosen to do anything to solve this problem," she says. "The Democrats don't want this issue solved. They want it to be an issue that they can use." (Actual language of the 14th Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.")

9:22 p.m. The debate turns to amnesty. "I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty," Cruz says. Rubio says having a relative in the United States shouldn't be a basis for legal immigration.

9:18 p.m. Moderators ask about some candidates' emphasis that immigrants speak English. "To assimilate you have to speak English," Trump says. "To have a country, we have to have assimilation [and] this is a country where we speak English, not Spanish." Cruz, whose father is a native Spanish speaker, says he speaks in Spanish so that people watching the news in Spanish get their information directly from him instead of through a translator.

9:15 p.m. Bush is asked about a comment Trump made that Bush might sympathetic to illegal immigrants because his wife is Mexican-American. "To subject my wife to the middle of a raucous political conversation" is irresponsible, Bush says, suggesting that Trump owes his wife, who was sitting in the audience, an apology. "I said nothing wrong," Trump replies, suggesting again that immigration is only a topic of conversation in the 2016 race because of him. "Immigration did not come up in 2016 because Mr. Trump brought it up," Fiorina counters. "We've been talking about it for 25 years."

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Republican U.S. presidential candidates businessman Donald Trump (R) and Dr. Ben Carson (L) arrive for the start of the second official Republican presidential candidates debate Wednesday. Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

9:10 p.m. The candidates are asked about immigration, and suggestions from multiple candidates that a border wall is needed. "Right now we don't have a country, we don't have a border, [but] it can be done with proper management," Trump says. Christie says the U.S. should be using electronics, drones and the FBI to deal with immigration, saying "we need to take the fingerprint of every person who comes over to this country on a visa." Carson defends the border wall concept, saying Yuma County, Arizona, stopped 90 percent of illegal immigration by building "a double fence with a road."

9:06 p.m. Fiorina is asked about Trump's quote to Rolling Stone about her looks, remarking, "Look at that face" when prompted to discuss Fiorina as a presidential candidate. (Trump later backtracked, saying he was talking about Fiorina's persona.) "I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said," Fiorina replies, to applause from the audience. Ever missing the point, Trump says: "I think she's got a beautiful face and I think she's a beautiful woman."

9:04 p.m. Trump asks why so much attention is paid to Iran when North Korea is equally vocal about its nuclear ambitions. "You have somebody in North Korea who has nuclear weapons and is saying every week" that he will use them, Trump says. "We don't even mention him."

9:01 p.m. Fiorina attempts to link the Planned Parenthood debate to the Iran deal as a "defense of our character." "I dare [Obama and Clinton] to watch those videos," she says, adding that on day one in the Oval Office she would make two phone calls. "One to ...Netanyahu, and the second to the Supreme Leader of Iran, saying that if he doesn't allow 'anytime, anywhere' inspections, we will freeze him out of the global financial system."

8:56 p.m. The debate turns to Planned Parenthood and the possibility of a government shutdown over defunding the organization. "There are ways to defund Planned Parenthood without shutting the government down," Kasich says. "I would not be for shutting the government down because I don't think it's going to work out." "We need to stop surrendering and start standing for our principles," Cruz says, referencing a controversial video that surfaced in July showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing about the donation of fetal tissue. Christie references his record vetoeing Planned Parenthood funding eight times in New Jersey. (For what it's worth, a Hart Research Association poll in July showed that 63 percent of registered voters are opposed to defunding Planned Parenthood.)

8:54 p.m. The candidates are asked about Kim Davis, a Kentucky town clerk who was arrested and subsequently released from jail after refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses in Rowan County. "The Supreme court decided out of thin air to redefine marriage," Huckabee says. "I thought that everybody here passed ninth-grade civics." "In a big, tolerant country, we should respect the rule of law," Bush counters. "I was against this decision, but we can't just say 'gay people can't get married now.' If [Davis], based on conscience, can't sign that marriage license, then there should be someone in her office that can."

8:52 p.m. Back to the Iran deal. Cruz says we would have no way of knowing if Iran was "cheating" on the terms of the deal. "This agreement trusts Iranians to inspect themselves."

8:48 p.m. The debate turns to Syria and President Bashar al-Assad. "I think ISIS would be in charge of Syria if we'd bombed Assad," Paul says. "Sometimes both sides of a civil war are evil, and sometimes intervention makes us less safe."

8:39 p.m. The candidates are asked to respond to Kasich's claim that anyone vowing to kill the Iran deal is "inexperienced." "We won an historic victory saying the world's court and the [United Nations] has no power to bind the United States," Cruz says. Kasich continues to avoid openly slamming the deal, saying "just doing it on our own, I don't think is the right policy." Paul says cutting up the agreement without evaluating Iran's compliance would be "absurd," and Walker accuses Obama of "folding on everything when it comes to Iran." "It's not a strategy to tear up an agreement," Bush adds. "A strategy would be: How do we confront Iran?" Huckabee chimes in before moderators can move on: "We cannot treat the Iranian government as if this is some government that would like to have some power. This is a goverment that for 36 years has killed Americans....They threaten the very essence of Western civilization. To give them this agreement that the president treats like the Magna Carta [and] Iranians treat like its toilet paper....We must simply make it very clear that the next president will absolutely not honor that agreement and will destroy it."

8:35 p.m. The candidates are asked about Vladimir Putin's presence in Syria. "We're fighting ISIS. ISIS is fighting Syria. Why don't we let them fight each other and pick up the remnants?" Trump says, adding that he will "get along" with Putin. Rubio says Putin is "exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East" and Fiorina says she wouldn't talk to Putin at all "because the only way he will stop is to sense strength and resolve on the other side."

8:31 p.m. The conversation turns back to Trump, who has said that other candidates' reliance on political donations makes them a puppet to their donors. Trump and Bush spar over Trump's past donations to Bush, which Bush said were part of a (failed) attempt on Trump's part to legalize casino gambling in Florida. "I promise: if I wanted it, I would have gotten it," Trump says. For his part, Trump doubles down on claims that he is not accepting any outside money. "I'm spending all of my money," he says. "I turned down, last week, $5 million from somebody." Carson, also less politically connected than other GOP candidates, says he is "in no way willing to lick the boots of billionaires."

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Republican U.S. presidential candidates Ohio Governor John Kasich, left, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie react during the second Republican presidential debate Wednesday night. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

8:27 p.m. Almost 10 minutes in, the conversation turns away from Trump. The candidates are asked about why the political outsiders in the race—Trump, Carson, Fiorina—are doing better than their career politician competitors, and about a comment Carson made that it is in fact easier for outsiders to run because they're free to tell the truth. "I'm a Republican in New Jersey," Christie counters. "I wake up every morning as an outsider." Fiorina says people in the system have a hard time improving it. "A fish swims in water...it doesn't know it's water," she says. "People know this is about far more than replacing a D with an R."

8:19 p.m. As in the earlier debate, candidates are asked first about Donald Trump—specifically, whether they would feel comfortable with Trump having his fingers on nuclear codes. Fiorina says it's a question to be answered by the American voters and when the question turns to Trump, he notes first that Rand Paul "shouldn't even be on this stage." In general, Trump seems to have it out for Paul early in the evening. After Paul calls Trump out on his history of insults and name-calling, Trump counters: "I never attacked him on his looks and there's plenty of subject matter right there." Says Walker: "We don't need an apprentice in the White House; we have one right now."

8:15 p.m. The candidates are asked to introduce themselves, and Trump wastes no time in touting the "billions and billions" of dollars he's made. Rubio jokes that he brought his own water because of the drought in California and Huckabee says the 11-person group is the "A team" and even has its own Mr. T. Fiorina references her background as a chief executive turned politician and Christie asks how many people in the audience believe their children will have a better future because of Barack Obama (in a brief camera shot, no hands are raised).

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Leading GOP Candidates Square Off in CNN Debate | U.S.