Cruz and Rubio clash as Trump defends Muslim ban at GOP debate

LAS VEGAS - In a presidential race reshaped by national security fears, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clashed over U.S.

See Full Article

military intervention, government spying on Americans' communications and immigration Tuesday night, as front-runner Donald Trump defended his provocative call for banning Muslims from the United States.

Struggling former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush found his footing in trying to discredit Trump's qualifications for the White House, chiding the brash billionaire for trying to "insult your way to the presidency."

Tuesday night's debate was the first for Republicans since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, which heightened fears of terrorism in the United States. The attacks have ignited a political debate about President Barack Obama's campaign to defeat the Islamic State in the Middle East and the nation's security posture in preventing attacks in the U.S.

Trump's call for temporarily banning Muslims from the U.S. - a proposal roundly criticized by his rivals - dominated much of the discussion heading into the debate. He said he wasn't seeking to discriminate against Muslims.

"We are not talking about isolation; we're talking about security," he said. "We are not talking about religion, we are talking about security."

Bush dismissed the proposal as unserious, saying "Donald is great at the one-liners, but he's a chaos candidate and he'd be a chaos president."

In a moment that might help ease anxiety among Republican leaders, Trump pledged he would not seek to run as an independent. If he should lose the nomination, some fear he would make such a move, possibly preventing the nominee from defeating the Democratic challenger. "I am totally committed to the Republican Party," Trump said.

He was largely spared from criticism by Cruz and Rubio, who said they understood why Trump had raised the idea of banning Muslims. Instead, they focused on each other, engaging in lengthy debates over their differences on national security and immigration, one of the most contentious issues in the Republican primary.

Rubio, of Florida, defended his support for eventually providing a pathway to citizenship for some people in the U.S. illegally, an unpopular position within the Republican Party. Rubio was a co-author of comprehensive Senate legislation in 2013 that would have created that pathway, but he has since said the nation's immigration crisis must be addressed in piecemeal fashion, with legalization only an option after the U.S.-Mexico border is secured.

Seeking to draw a sharp contrast with Rubio, Cruz went further than he has previously in opposing legalization for people in the U.S. illegally. He declared: "I have never supported legalization and I do not intend to support legalization."

The two senators - both Cuban-Americans in their 40s - have been sparring from afar for weeks, and their rivalry could become one of the dominant forces in the race as the first voting contests in February draw near. The Texas senator is on the rise, particularly in Iowa's kickoff caucuses, and is casting himself as a more electable alternative to Trump, while Rubio is seeking to straddle the divide between his party's establishment and more conservative wings.

Rubio positioned himself as the hawk on national security, defending American efforts to oust dictators like Syria's Bashar Assad from the Middle East. He also accused Cruz of weakening the government's ability to track terrorists because he voted in favour of legislation to eliminate the National Security Agency's bulk phone-records collection program and replace it with a more restrictive effort to keep the records in phone companies' hands.

"We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools," Rubio said. "And that tool we lost, the metadata program, was a valuable tool that we no longer have at our disposal."

Cruz argued that his vote helped "reform how we target bad guys" by allowing the government to search more phone numbers.

"Marco knows what he's saying isn't true," he said. "What he knows is that the old program covered 20 per cent to 30 per cent of phone numbers to search for terrorists. The new program covers nearly 100 per cent."

Beginning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the NSA secretly collected the daily calling records - but not contents of conversations - for most Americans, including people never suspected of any crime.

A new law, called the USA Freedom Act, passed in June with broad, bipartisan support. It ordered the NSA to end bulk collection after a six-month transition that expired last week.

The senators also displayed differences in their strategies for targeting the Islamic State. The extremist group claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, and one of the shooters in California pledged allegiance to the group on Facebook shortly before she and her husband shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party.

Cruz called for using "overwhelming air power" to destroy the Islamic State, while Rubio said airstrikes would have to be supplemented by ground troops, including American special operations forces.

President Obama has largely relied on airstrikes to target the militants in Iraq and Syria. However, he's also sent troops to Iraq to help train and assist local forces and recently approved sending special operations forces into Syria.

New Jersey Sen. Chris Christie, who has been on the rise in New Hampshire, sought to assert himself in the national security discussions. He called for a no-fly zone over Syria and vowed to shoot down a Russian plane if it were to violate that space.

"Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it," he said. "We would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if, in fact, they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now."

The debate's focus on national security was a detriment for Carson, who has struggled on complex international matters. He punted on questions about surveillance and his own qualifications for being commander in chief.

Carson has also raised the prospect of running as a third-party candidate, but like Trump, he ruled that option out in the debate.

Also on the main stage Tuesday night were former business executive Carly Fiorina; Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Four lower-polling candidates appeared at an earlier event: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.


AP writers Lisa Lerer and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.


Latest Canada & World News

  • Landmark transgender rights case before U.S. Supreme Court

    World News CBC News
    For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to rule on transgender rights in a case in which a Virginia public school district is fighting to prevent a female-born transgender high school student from using the boys' bathroom. Source
  • Crossing guard killed by truck may have been shielding child

    World News CTV News
    HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Authorities in New York say a longtime crossing guard has been struck and killed by a tractor-trailer. Police were investigating reports that the Long Island guard might have been trying to shield a child when she was killed Friday. Source
  • Syrian rebels launch offensive to break siege in Aleppo

    World News CBC News
    Syrian rebels launched a broad offensive for Aleppo Friday as the Russian, Syrian, and Iranian foreign ministers vowed to intensify their fight against terrorism in the country. The battlefield allies met in Moscow as the Syrian government looks to cement its authority over the divided northern city and the contested suburbs of the capital, Damascus. Source
  • 1 killed in collapse of Italy overpass after closure sought

    World News CTV News
    A truck lies on a road after an overpass it was traveling on collapsed, between Milan and Lecco, northern Italy, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. (Fabrizio Cusa / ANSA via AP) Source
  • Conrad Black's son, Jonathan, charged with assaulting girlfriend

    Canada News CBC News
    Jonathan Black, the son of Conrad Black, has been arrested and charged after allegedly breaking his girlfriend's wrist, CBC News has learned. Black, 38, was arrested on Thursday afternoon and charged with assault causing bodily harm. Source
  • N.S. picks annual Christmas tree to thank Boston for aid after Halifax Explosion

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- It is by tradition the first Christmas tree to be lit every year on the Boston Common -- a gift from Nova Scotia for the American city's help 99 years ago when the Halifax Explosion killed or injured 11,000 people. Source
  • Russia voted off UN Human Rights Council

    World News CTV News
    The General Assembly voted Russia off the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, a stunning rebuke to the country which is increasingly being accused of war crimes over its actions in Syria. The 193-member General Assembly elected 14 members to 47-nation council, the UN's main body charged with promoting and protecting human rights. Source
  • Jim Prentice state memorial: 'He was everything to our family' [Photos] [Video]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    A state memorial service will be held in Calgary today for former Alberta premier Jim Prentice, who was killed in a plane crash earlier this month in British Columbia. We will be livestreaming the event here. It is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Source
  • Microsoft's Surface computers take aim at Apple's Macbook domain

    World News CBC News
    Is Microsoft the cool kid of computers again? Technology analysts and fans couldn't help but compare this week's press events from the headquarters of both Apple and Microsoft, who — in an unusual move — unveiled major new hardware at events one day apart. Source
  • Four cows die after being chased by vehicle on Alberta ranch

    Canada News CTV News
    OKOTOKS, Alta. - RCMP in southern Alberta are investigating after someone in a vehicle chased four cows on a ranch to the point where they were injured and died. Police say someone opened the gate of a ranch in the De Winton area earlier this month where cattle were grazing. Source