NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Seven Republican candidates met Thursday night for their sixth debate of the campaign — and their first face-off of 2016 — with just 18 days to go until the Iowa caucuses.
The prime-time lineup included Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich. Earlier in the evening, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum met for the undercard debate, which Rand Paul boycotted.
All times are Eastern.
11:19 p.m.: Final statements (finally!)
Kasich says he wants to “give voice” to the kinds of working people he grew up with; he again touts his experience as governor of Ohio.
Bush says you can count on him to keep the nation “safer, stronger, and freer.” He promotes his experience as governor of Florida.
Christie hits President Obama for his State of the Union Address, saying the president is living in “fantasy land” and doesn’t understand people’s pain; he vows to make America “more exceptional” and says he can beat Hillary Clinton.
Carson says too many are angry at how the American Dream seems to be slipping away; he says it won’t be solved by “traditional politics.”
Rubio says rights don’t come from the government, but from God, but President Obama — and Hillary Clinton — only want to expand government; he says he will reclaim the American Dream.
Cruz cites a new film about the 2012 attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya; he says the incident reflects Obama’s lack of seriousness about fighting radical Islam. “This will end” when he is president, Cruz said.
Trump cites the pictures of U.S. troops detained by Iranians. When he is president, Trump says, “we will win on everything we do.”
11:13 p.m.: Bush says the fight between Rubio and Cruz — two “back-bench” senators — illustrates “the mess in Washington, D.C.”
11:07 p.m.: More than two hours in, the immigration issue surfaces — as does another tiff between Rubio and Cruz.
Rubio, who has been attacked on the issue, says the immigration system needs to be reformed, though with an emphasis on security, especially in this era of terrorism.
Cruz says terrorism is not new, and was around when Rubio worked with Democrats on an immigration issue; Rubio says Cruz has flip-flopped on a number of immigration issues (not to mention free-trade deals and farm policy). For good measure, Rubio hits Cruz for opposing counter-terrorism surveillance programs.
Cruz cited 11 attacks Rubio made, many of them false. He again attacks the Florida senator over immigration, saying he wants to give legal status to millions of migrants.
11:05 p.m.: Kasich says America needs healing, both police and the communities they serve. “Protest is fine, but violence is wrong,” he says.
11:03 p.m.: A protest from Rand Paul supporters who start shouting “We Want Rand! We Want Rand!” They are quickly silenced.
11:02 p.m.: Christie attacks President Obama over law enforcement, saying he seems to believe that law enforcement are the “bad guys.”
He added: “This president allows lawlessness throughout this country.”
11:01 p.m.: Trump says if he was elected president, he would turn his business interests over to his children.
“I wouldn’t care about anything but our country,” Trump said. “Anything.”
10:53 p.m.: Like his opponents, Trump says the government needs to work with companies to keep them from moving jobs overseas; the key is the tax system.
Rubio, meanwhile, hits Cruz for pitching a “value added tax” that amounts to a sales tax on average Americans.
Cruz says his flat tax will lower bills for Americans; Rubio counters that Cruz is misrepresenting his plan, and also hit his rival for claiming he would abolish the Internal Revenue Service: “There has to be an agency to collect your VAT tax.”
As Cruz and Rubio argue, Christie jumps in to bash them for holding a Senate-style fight while ignoring the substance of the question: the rising costs of entitlement spending.
When Rubio sought to reply, Christie cut him off: “You already had your chance Marco — you blew it.”
10:49 p.m.: An infrastructure question: How do we fix our roads and bridges?
Christie talks about bringing back corporate money from overseas to finance new infrastructure programs that can also generate jobs.
Carson is also asked about how to prevent companies from moving operations overseas. A fairer tax system, the retired neurosurgeon says.
10:40 p.m.: Cruz seeks to mediate the Trump-Bush dispute over China — “both Donald and Jeb have good points” — and says trade will be improved with a lower, less complicated “flat tax” in the United States.
10:35 p.m.: Trump rips China over trade, currency valuations and North Korea misbehavior — and would consider taxing goods from China if they won’t let their currency rise.
He also rips his news coverage (“It’s The New York Times — they’re always wrong”) as well as “stupid” American leadership.
Kasich jumps in, calling himself a free trader but saying other countries take advantage of the U.S. He advocates “fair trade” as well as free trade.
Rubio draws a contrast, saying the U.S. has to be careful about taxing China.
“China doesn’t pay the tariff,” Rubio says. “The buyer pays the tariff.”
Replies Trump: ”They’re sucking us dry.” He also claims China will stop devaluing its currency before being hit with taxes.
Bush disagrees, saying “there will be retaliation” that will hurt the American economy.
Trump calls Bush “weak.”
10:29 p.m.: Kasich also bashes Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, saying we need help from Muslim countries to fight the Islamic State.
Christie says “you can’t ban all Muslims,” but would-be “jihadists.” He says intelligence on people entering the country needs to be approved.
Rubio agrees and says if we don’t know why people want to come into the United States, they won’t be let in.
Cruz says he would ban refugees from countries controlled by the Islamic State or al Qaeda.
Carson says “we need to get a group of experts” together to discuss new rules for refugees and immigrants.
Bush jumps back in, saying Trump’s idea would ban Muslims from India, Indonesia and other allies.
10:22 p.m.: Trump says he has no intention of changing his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States until the nation can figure out “what’s going on” with terrorism.
“I said temporarily,” he added. “Not permanently.”
Bush tells Trump he should reconsider, because a ban would make it impossible for the U.S. to work with Muslim allies to defeat the Islamic State.
“All Muslims? Seriously?” Bush asked Trump. “What kind of signal does that send?”
Replied Trump: “I want security for this country, OK?”
10:16 p.m.: Should we send ground troops to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq? Carson defers, saying he would rely on his military advisers. He also said military force is only part of an anti-ISIL strategy.
What about removing Bashar al-Assad from leadership in Syria? Christie says President Obama and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton have put the U.S. in a tough spot and that the U.S. should work with allies to remove Assad and defeat the Islamic State.
10:10 p.m.: Kasich talks about his foreign policy experience as a member of the U.S. House, just as he stressed his domestic policy experience as governor of Ohio.
10:08 p.m.: Asked about Iran’s temporary detention of 10 U.S. soldiers, Bush says the American military must be rebuilt.
He also says the U.S. needs to bolster frayed ties with Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
10:05 p.m.: Cruz is called upon to explain one of his attacks on Trump: that he embodies “New York values.”
Cruz says there are great people in New York, but let’s face it: It’s a Democratic state, especially in New York City
“Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan,” Cruz says. “I’m just saying.”
Trump replies that “conservatives actually do come out of Manhattan,” including the late William F. Buckley. He adds that New York values could be seen in the city’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks.
“That was a very insulting statement that Ted made,” Trump said.
9:59 p.m.: Christie is asked: Haven’t you signed gun control legislation in New Jersey?
The governor says he worked with legislators on reasonable rules that preserve gun rights; Obama tries to impose new rules without the consent of Congress and the American people.
“This guy is a petulant child,” Christie says of Obama.
Cruz also rips Obama over gun control — and, for good measure, Hillary Clinton. Says a Democratic president would appoint Supreme Court justices who would rule against gun rights.
9:57 p.m.: A gun control question — catnip for Republican candidates.
Bush says proposed expansions of background checks are redundant and that the current laws should be competently enforced. He does say the government should do more on mental health and keep sick people away from guns. He also says President Obama is only interested in taking away people’s rights.
Trump agrees, declaring himself a Second Amendment supporter. “The guns don’t pull the trigger,” he said. “It’s the people that pull the trigger.”
Rubio says Obama would take away people’s guns if he could, and “The Second Amendment is not an option.” Says Obama’s executive orders would not have prevented the recent mass shootings.
9:47 p.m.: Are Bill Clinton’s indiscretions fair game in the campaign? Yes, the crowd says — and Carson seems to agree.
“Do we still have standards?” Carson said.
9:44 p.m.: For some reason, the Republicans are asked about the popularity of “Democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Relax, says Kasich: ”I know Bernie and I promise you he will never be president of the United States.”
9:42 p.m.: Rubio and Christie mix it up.
Rubio says he likes Christie, but the New Jersey governor has backed too many ideas supported by President Obama, including gun control and Common Core education standards.
Christie replies Rubio has distorted his record, that he did not support Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood — but did win an endorsement from Rubio several years ago. He also says that governors — like him — make better presidents than senators like Rubio.
Bush and Carson both jump, warning Republicans against attacking each other.
9:37 p.m.: Trump is asked about South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s comment that the party should not listen to angry voices like Trump’s — and the businessman acknowledges that he is angry because ”our country is being run horribly.”
As he decried “incompetent leaders,” Trump said: “Yes, I am angry.”
9:35 p.m.: The Republican crowd boos a question to Cruz about his Canadian birth — and Cruz seizes the chance to go after Trump.
After joking “I’m glad we are focused on the important topics of the evening,” Cruz said Trump knew months ago that he was eligible but has changed his tune that he is leading the businessman in Iowa. ”The Constitution hasn’t changed,” Cruz told Trump. “But the poll numbers have.”
Cruz also tweaks Trump because his mother was born overseas but says he won’t hold it against him.
“It wouldn’t work,” Trump replied.
Trump said he leads many polls and lawyers have raised questions about Cruz’s eligibility, and he would likely be sued if he is nominated.
“I don’t care,” Trump said at one point. “I think I’m going to win fair and square.”
Cruz, a lawyer, replied that ”I’m not going to be taking legal advice from Donald Trump.” Notes that Trump is citing lawyers who back Hillary Clinton.
Cruz also jokes he is willing to make Trump the vice president — “and if you happen to be right, you can get the top job at the end of the day.”
The other candidates start to object to the back-and-forth.
“I hate to interrupt this episode of Court TV,” Rubio said.
9:23 p.m.: Cruz is asked about a million-dollar loan he failed to report during his Senate race in 2012. He denounced The New York Times report on the loan as “a hit piece” about a “paperwork error” and said that the loan was disclosed on other forms.
9:20 p.m.: Trump, the last candidate to get a question, defends his opposition to Syrian refugees, saying it is too much of risk of terrorist infiltration. “Our country’s a mess,” he adds.
9:17 p.m.: Carson, who jokes about “waking up” for a question, says President Obama doesn’t understand the threats facing the U.S. He lays out scary scenarios of possible attacks.
9:15 p.m.: Rubio also goes after Hillary Clinton, saying she has disqualified herself for the White House via her handling of national security information and “lying” about Benghazi.
9:14 p.m.: Bush says President Obama is living in an “alternative universe” if he thinks things are better off than when he took office. He cites terrorism and Russian and Chinese adventurism. He says Hillary Clinton would be “a national security mess” and could be facing legal action herself over the email flap.
9:11 p.m.: Christie fields a foreign policy question; says Obama offered “story time” during his State of the Union, ignoring crises throughout the world. Christie says he will improve ties with allies and confront adversaries, and he blasts Hillary Clinton along the way. He says he would take military action ”when it was absolutely” to protect American lives and interests.
9:08 p.m.: After another economic question, Kasich touts his record in Ohio; he calls for a freeze on federal regulations. He also says lower taxes will stimulate job creators. “How do I know it?” he said. “Because I’ve done it.”
9:06 p.m.: First question is about jobs and growth: Is President Obama right that the economy is doing well?
Cruz declines to answer that question but goes after Obama over the 10 U.S. troops captured (and later released) by Iran. The Texas senator vows to confront Iran over similar incidents.
As for the economy, Cruz says the rich are doing well — but working men and women “have been left behind.”
9 p.m.: The Fox Business Network telecast starts.
8:58 p.m.: The candidates have taken the stage.
8:50 p.m.: Greetings! Welcome to North Charleston, S.C. — just above Charleston itself — where we expect Republican presidential candidates to go after each other in the sixth debate of the 2016 cycle.
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