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GOP Candidates Spar on Syria & Immigration, But Agree on One Thing: Don’t Raise the Minimum Wage

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The fourth Republican presidential debate took place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last night with a smaller field of candidates on stage. Eight out of the 14 hopefuls took part in the main event after low poll numbers forced Gov. Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee to the so-called undercard debate. Donald Trump and Ben Carson remained center-stage as the top front-runners despite ongoing controversy over statements by both and new questions over whether Carson has embellished his life story. Trump doubled down on his pledge to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and faced boos for complaining about rival Carly Fiorina. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz delivered the night’s biggest gaffe when he failed to list all five of the government agencies he wants to shut down. As hundreds of people protested outside as part of a nationwide “Fight for 15” day of action, the three front-runners—Trump, Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio—all agreed on opposing a minimum wage increase.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The fourth Republican presidential debate was held in Milwaukee last night with a smaller field gracing the stage. Eight out of the 14 candidates took part in the main event after low poll numbers forced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to be the undercard. Donald Trump and Ben Carson remained center-stage as the top front-runners, despite ongoing controversy over statements by both and new questions over whether Carson has embellished his life story.

Part of the main action Tuesday came not at the podiums, but right outside. Hundreds of people staged a protest as part of a nationwide “Fight for 15” day of action, demanding higher pay and union rights for fast-food and other low-wage workers. Asked about the protests by debate moderator Neil Cavuto of Fox Business, the three top candidates—Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio—all said they oppose a higher minimum wage. Trump said he thinks wages are already too high.

NEIL CAVUTO: Mr. Trump, as the leading presidential candidate on this stage and one whose tax plan exempts couples making up to $50,000 a year from paying any federal income taxes at all, are you sympathetic to the protesters’ cause, since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year?

DONALD TRUMP: I can’t be, Neil. And the reason I can’t be is that we are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. There is nothing that we do now to win. We don’t win anymore. Our taxes are too high. I’ve come up with a tax plan that many, many people like very much. It’s going to be a tremendous plan. I think it will make our country and our economy very dynamic. But taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard, and they have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.

NEIL CAVUTO: So do not raise the minimum wage?

DONALD TRUMP: I would not raise the minimum.

NEIL CAVUTO: Dr. Carson?

DR. BEN CARSON: As far as the minimum wage is concerned, people need to be educated on the minimum wage. Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases. It’s particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, who are looking for one. You know, and that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.

NEIL CAVUTO: Senator Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: If I thought that raising the minimum wage was the best way to help people increase their pay, I would be all for it. But it isn’t. In the 21st century, it’s a disaster. If you raise the minimum wage, you’re going to make people more expensive than a machine. And that means all this automation that’s replacing jobs and people right now is only going to be accelerated.

AMY GOODMAN: In the biggest gaffe of the night, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stumbled and fell short when trying to name the five federal agencies he would cut to fulfill his vow to reduce the size of government. The error recalled the infamous “oops” moment of then Texas Governor Rick Perry during the 2012 campaign.

SEN. TED CRUZ: Five major agencies that I would eliminate—the IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce and HUD—and then 25 specific programs. Again, that’s on our website at TedCruz.org. You want to look at specificity? It’s easy for everyone to say cut spending. It’s much harder and riskier to put out, chapter and verse, specifically the programs you would cut to stop bankrupting our kids and grandkids.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Thank you, Senator.

AMY GOODMAN: On government spending, Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul sparred over the nation’s military budget.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: So I have a child tax credit increase, and I’m proud of it. I am proud that I have a pro-family tax code, because the pro-family tax plan I have will strengthen the most important institution in the country: the family.

SEN. RAND PAUL: Neil, there’s a point I’d like to make here. Neil, a point that I’d like to make about the tax credits. We have to decide what is conservative and what isn’t conservative. Is it fiscally conservative to have a trillion-dollar expenditure? We’re not talking about giving people back their tax money. He’s talking about giving people money they didn’t pay. It’s a welfare transfer payment. So here’s what we have. Is it conservative to have a trillion dollars in transfer payments, a new welfare program that’s a refundable tax credit? Add that to Marco’s plan for a trillion dollars in new military spending, and you get something that looks to me not very conservative.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: I know that Rand is a committed isolationist. I’m not. I believe the world is a stronger and a better place when the United States is the strongest military power in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Paul later criticized several rival candidates for backing a no-fly zone in Syria, which he said could spark a military confrontation with Russia. As Carly Fiorina pushed back, Donald Trump drew boos from the crowd when he complained about Fiorina interrupting.

SEN. RAND PAUL: You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the world. Ronald Reagan—

NEIL CAVUTO: Then how would you respond?

SEN. RAND PAUL: Ronald Reagan was strong, but Ronald Reagan didn’t send troops into the Middle East.

CARLY FIORINA: And Ronald Reagan walked away at Reykjavik. He walked away. He quit talking—

SEN. RAND PAUL: Can I finish with my time?

CARLY FIORINA: —when it was time to quit talking.

SEN. RAND PAUL: Can I finish with my time?

DONALD TRUMP: Why does she keep interrupting everybody?



SEN. RAND PAUL: Yeah, I’d like to finish—I’d like to finish my response, basically.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: You know, if I may respond? You know, this—

SEN. RAND PAUL: This is an important question. This is an incredibly important question. And the question goes to be: Who do we want to be our commander-in-chief? Do you want a commander-in-chief who says something that we never did throughout the entire Cold War, to discontinue having conversations with the Russians?

AMY GOODMAN: That was Rand Paul. Donald Trump and Jeb Bush also sparred over Russia’s military campaign in Syria. Trump said he welcomed it.

DONALD TRUMP: If Putin wants to go in—and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night, but you know that. But if Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it.

JEB BUSH: They’re not doing that.

DONALD TRUMP: They blew up—hold it. They blew up—

JEB BUSH: They’re not doing—

DONALD TRUMP: Wait a minute. They blew up a Russian airplane. He cannot be in love with these people. He’s going in, and we can go in, and everybody should go in. As far as the Ukraine is concerned, we have a group of people and a group of countries, including Germany, tremendous economic behemoth. Why are we always doing the work? We are—I’m all for protecting Ukraine and working, but we have countries that are surrounding the Ukraine that aren’t doing anything. They say, “Keep going, keep going, you dummies, keep going. Protect us.” And we have to get smart. We can’t continue to be the policeman of the world. We owe $19 trillion. We have a country that’s going to hell. We have an infrastructure that’s falling apart—our roads, our bridges, our schools, our airports—and we have to start investing money in our country.

MARIA BARTIROMO: Thank you, sir.

JEB BUSH: Donald—Donald is wrong on this. He is absolutely wrong on this. We’re not going to be the world’s policeman, but we sure as heck better be the world’s leader. That’s a—there’s a huge difference, where, without us leading, voids are filled. And the idea that it’s a good idea for Putin to be in Syria, let ISIS take out Assad, and then Putin will take out ISIS? I mean, that’s like a board game. That’s like playing Monopoly or something. That’s not how the real world works. We have to lead. We have to be involved. We should have a no-fly zone in Syria. There are—they are barrel bombing the innocents in that country. If you’re a Christian, increasingly in Lebanon or Iraq or Syria, you’re going to be beheaded. And if you’re a moderate—a moderate Islamist, you’re not going to be able to survive either. We have to play a role in this, to be able to bring the rest of the world to this—to this issue before it’s too late.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the fourth Republican presidential debate that took place in Milwaukee, we’re joined by—well, we’ll begin with Jamil Smith, the senior editor at The New Republic, also the host of Intersection, a podcast about race, gender and identity. His most recent piece at The New Republic is headlined “The Black Bogeyman Cometh.”

Before we talk about that—


AMY GOODMAN: —let’s talk about what was happening inside and outside the hall. Yes, they sparred on a number of issues, the smaller candidate pool now, the front-runners. But what they agreed on is: Do not increase the minimum wage. You wrote about this.

JAMIL SMITH: Yes. I found it very interesting that, you know, the first debate question was spurred by activists outside the building. I’ve never seen that before. And I strongly doubt that the minimum wage would have come up in the context that it had, had the protesters not, you know, been voicing their concerns. You know, I mean, obviously, the answers were expected. The Republican platform is steadily against raising the minimum wage. President Obama has come out for raising it to $10.10. Obviously, $15 is the goal for a lot of these activists. But I think—

AMY GOODMAN: And achieved in a number of states and cities. Well, cities.

JAMIL SMITH: Exactly, in Seattle and in other places, in other localities. But I think Ben Carson’s answer was most troubling, because he couched it within his own personal narrative, because that’s only—that’s really all he’s got to sell. He doesn’t have any political experience to speak of, so he just goes back to his personal narrative, which is based in this sort of Horatio Alger myth of coming up, you know, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and moving forward into, you know, prominence.

And so, basically, what Ben said is that African-American teenage unemployment is somewhere—you know, at least per his figures—somewhere over 80 percent, because he said only 19.8 percent of teens have jobs, when actually the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 25.6 is the unemployment rate for teenagers, for black teens ages 16 to 19. So, I have no idea where he got that number. And it really served to buttress his very faulty argument about the minimum wage depressing black employment.

Actually, you know, history shows that if you increase the minimum wage, you’re going to not only put more money in the pockets of more African-American families, because per capita African Americans do make up a little bit more of the—you know, of the people below poverty. But I think what you have is Ben Carson trying to say, “Hey, I made it. You can make it, too. And this is how you make it, by taking low-paying jobs or non-paying jobs, like I did, and somehow magically ending up in the top echelon of—you know, of America.” It’s a fantasy more than it is a policy.

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Jamil Smith: After Scapegoating African-Americans for Years, GOP Faces “Black Bogeyman” Ben Carson

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