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First Major Republican Presidential Debate Focuses on Obama, Jobs, Healthcare, Afghan War and Tea Party

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Seven Republican presidential hopefuls held their first major debate Monday night in New Hampshire. Broadcast nationally on CNN, the debate offered candidates their first major opportunity to convince Republican voters they can beat President Obama in 2012. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul called for end to the war in Afghanistan. Rep. Michele Bachmann vowed to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law. Pizza mogul Herman Cain expounded on his fear of Muslims. We air excerpts from the debate. [includes rush transcript]

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Web ExclusiveSep 28, 2012Third Party Candidates Join in Real Time on Democracy Now!’s Live Coverage of Presidential Debate
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Seven Republican presidential hopefuls held their first debate Monday night in New Hampshire. It was broadcast nationally on CNN. The debate offered candidates their first major opportunity to convince Republican voters they can beat President Obama in 2012. Taking part were former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressmember Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, pizza mogul Herman Cain, and Minnesota Congressmember Michele Bachmann, who confirmed her candidacy for the first time. The candidates touted their right-wing credentials on a number of issues, including economy, job creation, healthcare, public unions, foreign policy and same-sex marriage. President Obama was a repeated target throughout the night.

We begin on the economy, with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, followed by, well, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and former House speaker Newt Gingrich. This is Rick Santorum.

RICK SANTORUM: What we need is an economy that’s unshackled. And what’s happened in this administration is that they have passed oppressive policy and oppressive regulation, after Obamacare being first and foremost. The oppressiveness of that bill on businesses — anybody that wants to invest to get any kind of return, when you see the regulations that are going to be put on business, when you see the taxation, throw on top of that what this president has done on energy — the reason we’re seeing this second dip is because of energy prices. And this president has put a stop sign against oil drilling, against any kind of exploration offshore or in Alaska, and that is depressing. We need to drill. We need to create energy jobs, just like we’re doing, by the way, in Pennsylvania, where we’re drilling 3,000 wells this year for gas, and gas prices are down. Natural gas prices are down as a result.

JOHN KING: I’m going to try to ask all of you to keep the follow-ups to 30 seconds, as we can, so we can get more in. Governor Pawlenty, answer the critics — and as you do so — who say five percent every year is just unrealistic. And as you do so, where is the proof? Where is the proof that just cutting taxes will create jobs? If that were true, why — during the Bush years, after the big tax cut, where were the jobs?

TIM PAWLENTY: Well, John, my plan involves a whole plan, not just cutting taxes. We’re proposing to cut taxes, reduce regulation, speed up this pace of government, and to make sure that we have a pro-growth agenda. This president is a declinist. He views America as one of equals around the world. We’re not the same as Portugal. We’re not the same as Argentina. And this idea that we can’t have five percent growth in America is hogwash. It’s a defeatist attitude. If China can have five percent growth and Brazil can have five percent growth, then the United States of America can have five percent growth. And I don’t accept this notion that we’re going to be average or anemic. So, my proposal has a five percent growth target. It cuts taxes, but it also dramatically cuts spending. We need to fix regulation. We need to have a pro-American energy policy. We need to fix healthcare policy. And if you do those things, as I’ve proposed, including cut spending, you’ll get this economy moving, growing the private economy by shrinking government.

JOHN KING: Governor Romney, I want you to come in on that point. Is five percent overly optimistic? And is it fair to compare the United States economy, a fully developed economy, to the Chinese economy, which is still in many ways developing?

MITT ROMNEY: Look, Tim has the right instincts, which is he recognizes that what this president has done has slowed the economy. He didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse and longer. And now we have more chronic, long-term employment than this country has ever seen before, 20 million people out of work, stopped looking for work or in part-time jobs that need full-time jobs. We’ve got housing prices continuing to decline, and we have foreclosures at record levels. This president has failed. And he’s failed at a time when the American people counted on him to create jobs and get the economy going. And instead of doing that, he delegated the stimulus to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and then he did what he wanted to do: card check, cap and trade, Obamacare, reregulation. I spent my life in the private sector, 25 years. And as I went around the world —

JOHN KING: All right —

MITT ROMNEY: This is an important topic.

JOHN KING: Let’s —

MITT ROMNEY: I went around the world —

JOHN KING: We’ll have a lot of time on the topic. We just —- we won’t get through this -—

MITT ROMNEY: You can tell how to get jobs going in this country, and President Obama has done it wrong. And the ideas Tim described, those are in the right wheelhouse.

JOHN KING: Mr. Speaker, if you look at a poll in the Boston Globe just the other day, 54 percent of Republican voters in this state say they’re willing to have higher taxes on the wealthy to help bring down the deficit. Are they wrong?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, look, the question is, would it in fact increase jobs or kill jobs? The Reagan recovery, which I participated in passing, in seven years created for this current economy the equivalent of 25 million new jobs, raised federal revenue by $800 billion a year in terms of the current economy, and clearly it worked. It’s a historic fact. The Obama administration is an anti-jobs, anti-business, anti-American energy destructive force. And we shouldn’t talk about what we do in 2013. The Congress this year, this next week, ought to repeal the Dodd-Frank bill. They ought to repeal the Sarbanes-Oxley bill. They ought to start creating jobs right now, because for those 14 million Americans, this is a depression now.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former House speaker Newt Gingrich. At least six members of his presidential campaign staff quit last week. The debate in New Hampshire was moderated by John King.

On healthcare, the candidates called for the repeal of President Obama’s signature healthcare law. Mitt Romney was also questioned about the similarities between Obama’s healthcare law and the mandate-based healthcare plan Romney oversaw as governor of Massachusetts. But first, Minnesota Congressmember Michele Bachmann responds.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: I was the very first member of Congress to introduce the full-scale repeal of Obamacare. And I want to make a promise to everyone watching tonight: as president of the United States, I will not rest until I repeal Obamacare. It’s a promise. Take it to the bank. Cash the check. I’ll make sure that that happens.

This is the symbol and the signature issue of President Obama during his entire tenure. And this is a job killer, Sylvia. The CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has said that Obamacare will kill 800,000 jobs. What could the President be thinking by passing a bill like this, knowing full well it will kill 800,000 jobs?

Senior citizens get this more than any other segment of our population, because they know in Obamacare, the President of the United States took away $500 billion, a half-trillion dollars out of Medicare, shifted it to Obamacare to pay for younger people, and it’s senior citizens who have the most to lose in Obamacare.

JOHN KING: Governor Romney, just yesterday, Governor Pawlenty, who is to your left on the stage tonight, called your Massachusetts plan, which you know has become a focal point of the criticism in this campaign from your friends here, “Obamneycare.” Obamneycare. Is that a fair comparison?

MITT ROMNEY: You know, let me say a couple things. First, if I’m elected president, I will repeal Obamacare, just as Michele indicated. And also, on my first day in office, if I’m lucky enough to have that office, I will grant a waiver to all 50 states from Obamacare.

Now, there’s some similarities, and there are some big differences. Obamacare spends a trillion dollars. If it were perfect — and it’s not perfect, it’s terrible — we can’t afford more federal spending. Secondly, it raises $500 billion in taxes. We didn’t raise taxes in Massachusetts. Third, Obamacare takes $500 billion out of Medicare and funds Obamacare. We, of course, didn’t do that. And finally, ours was a state plan, a state solution, and if people don’t like it in our state, they can change it. That’s the nature of why states are the right place for this type of a responsibility. And that’s why I introduced a plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a state-centric program.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. No matter how hard the moderator John King tried, Tim Pawlenty, who had coined the term “Obamneycare” on Fox News on Sunday, would not repeat it in the debate. Well, an audience member asked about the Tea Party, saying it was a potentially divisive issue for mainstream Republicans. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said the Tea Party movement represents the backbone of the Republican Party.

RICK SANTORUM: I think the Tea Party is a great, great backstop for America. I love it when people hold up this Constitution and say we have to live by what our founders laid out for this country. It is absolutely essential that we have that backbone to the Republican Party going into this election.

JOHN KING: I know you agree, Congresswoman, so help the gentleman. Address his concerns that the Tea Party somehow — the influence of the Tea Party somehow pushes him out.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: Terry, what I’ve seen in the Tea Party — I’m the chairman of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. And what I’ve seen is, unlike how the media has tried to wrongly and grossly portray the Tea Party, the Tea Party is really made up of disaffected Democrats, independents, people who have never been political a day in their life, people who are libertarians, Republicans. It’s a wide swath of America coming together. I think that’s why the left fears it so much, because they’re people who simply want to take the country back. They want the country to work again.

And I think there’s no question, Terry, this election will be about economics. It will be about how will we create jobs, how will we turn the economy around, how will we have a pro-growth economy. That’s a great story for Republicans to tell. President Obama can’t tell that story. His report card right now has a big failing grade on it. But Republicans have an awesome story to tell. We need every one of us on a three-legged stool. We need the peace-through-strength Republicans, we need the fiscal conservatives, we need the social conservatives. We need everybody to come together, because we’re going to win. Just make no mistake about it — I want to announce tonight: President Obama is a one-term president. We’ll win.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Congressmember Michele Bachmann. She announced last night she would be soon announcing for president. Pizza mogul Herman Cain is one of the most recent entries into the presidential field, announcing his candidacy late last month. Cain was asked by an audience member about his comments that he would not allow a Muslim to serve in his administration.

JOSH McELVEEN: The next question goes to Mr. Cain. You recently said you would not appoint a Muslim to your cabinet. Then you kind of backed off that a little bit and said that you would first want to know if they are committed to the Constitution. You expressed concern that, quote, “a lot of Muslims are not totally dedicated to this country.” Are American Muslims as a group less committed to the Constitution than, say, Christian or Jews?

HERMAN CAIN: First, the statement was: would I be comfortable with a Muslim in my administration, not that I wouldn’t appoint one. That’s the exact transcript. And I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us. And so, when I said I wouldn’t be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one. […]

When you interview a person for a job, you look at their —- you look at their work record, you look at their resumé, and then you have a one-on-one personal interview. During that personal interview, like in the business world and anywhere else, you are able to get a feeling for how committed that person is to the Constitution, how committed they are to the mission of the organization. You can determine these things -—

JOHN KING: But when I asked — when I asked you this question the other night, though, you said that you would want to ask a Muslim those questions, but you didn’t think you would have to ask them to a Christian or a Jew?

HERMAN CAIN: I would ask certain questions, John. And it’s not a litmus test. It is simply trying to make sure that we have people committed to the Constitution first, in order for them to work effectively in the administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Pizza mogul and Republican presidential contender Herman Cain. During the Republican debate, one of the audience members asked candidates if, after 10 years in Afghanistan, it’s time to bring U.S. combat troops home. Mitt Romney responded first.

MITT ROMNEY: It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes from our generals that we can hand the country over to the Taliban military in a way that they’re able to defend themselves — excuse me, the Afghan military to defend themselves from the Taliban. That’s an important distinction. But I want to say, first of all, thank you to you for the sacrifice of your family and your sons in defending the liberty that we have and our friends around the world. Thank you for what you’ve done.

JOHN KING: Congressman Paul?

MITT ROMNEY: Let me —- let me -—

JOHN KING: Go ahead.

MITT ROMNEY: Let me continue. And that is, I think we’ve learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home, based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban. Thank you.

JOHN KING: Congressman Paul, do you agree with that position?

REP. RON PAUL: Not quite. You know, I served five years in the military. I’ve had a little experience. I’ve spent a little bit of time over in the Pakistan-Afghanistan area, as well as in Iran. But I wouldn’t wait for my generals. I’m the commander-in-chief. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. And I’d bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq, as well. And I wouldn’t start a war in Libya. I’d quit bombing Yemen. And I’d quit bombing Pakistan. I’d start taking care of people here at home, because we could save hundreds of billions of dollars. Our national security is not enhanced by our presence over there. We have no purpose there. We should learn the lessons of history. And the longer we’re there, the worse things are, and the more danger we’re in, as well, because our presence there is not making friends, let me tell you.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Texas Congressmember Ron Paul, and before him, candidate Mitt Romney. Those are some of the excerpts of the first Republican debate, held in New Hampshire and moderated by John King, that was aired on CNN last night.

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