Gaffes reminiscent of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s infamous 2012 presidential debate “oops” moment dominated the New Hampshire forum of GOP candidates at Saint Anselm college in Manchester on Monday evening, perhaps even more prevalent in the room than the absence of frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump.
Right out of the gate, moderator Jack Heath noted that the two most important issues to voters surveyed before the forum were immigration and the economy—so he kicked off his line of questioning to Perry, the first candidate to face his questions, about immigration.
“Governor, what would your administration’s policy be toward illegal immigrants already in the U.S.,” Heath asked Perry.
“Well the real issue for us in our country today is what’s happening to us all across our great land and that is the cost that illegal immigration is having on this state,” Perry responded—not making it clear which “state” he was referring to, Texas, New Hampshire or some other state.
Perry then continued delivering an impassioned plan on how we would work to stop illegal immigration.
“Until we get that border secure, it’s not going to stop,” Perry continued. “It’s like a serious wound. You want to staunch the flow. That’s not what’s happening in this country now. For 30 years we heard people talk about ‘well if we’ll deal with this immigration—this illegal immigration issue, if we’ll reform it, then we’ll secure the border.’ Now we’re in plus 30 years of that. The American people don’t trust Washington, D.C., to deal with this issue of immigration reform until we secure the border. I know a little something about securing the border—as a matter of fact, last summer, I looked in the president’s eye when he came to Dallas, Texas, and I said ‘Mr. President, if you don’t secure the border, Texas will.’ That’s exactly what we did. We sent our Department of Public Safety, our Texas rangers, our Texas Wildlife, putting them literally in the river. And we also deployed our Texas National Guard. And because of that effort we saw a 74 decrease in the number of apprehensions that were occurring on that part of the border. You can secure the border. It takes boots on the ground. It takes the security fencing in the metropolitan areas and then you have the aviation assets. I’m talking about from Tijuana to El Paso to Brownsville flying 24-7 looking down with the technology to be able to see what’s going on and identifying where there are activities that are obviously illegal or suspicious and then have a fast response team. That’s what you have to do. I know how to secure that border. If you elect me president of the United States, I will promise you one thing: The will to secure that border will reside in the oval office.”
At that point, however, moderator Heath cut to the heart of the immigration debate by asking about legal immigration levels into the United States.
“Governor, I want to stick with immigration, as many of our voters are concerned,” Heath followed up. “So much is made of illegal immigration. Until we get a handle on that, should we reduce the number of green cards granted legally each year to folks who want to get into this country through the legal process? Should we cut down that number? What should that number be each year?”
It’s here where Perry—like much of the rest of the field, which hasn’t discussed this issue much despite it being on the forefront of voters’ minds—truly struggled.
“Well I think we need to be smart about our immigration, and the agencies today can’t even keep up with the people that come into the country when you give them a visa and they overstay it and they don’t know where they are?” Perry said before turning to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. “I mean, Bobby, we know that they can find a package halfway around the world with UPS and we can’t keep up with the people that overstayed their visas, for crying out loud. That agency is broken. You need to fix that agency of government that deals with these individuals that are coming in here, be thoughtful about what is the workforce that we need, allow the people in this country that we need in this country and those that have overstayed their visas you go find them, you pick them up and you send them back wherever they’re from.”
Since Perry dodged the initial question from Heath, Heath asked it again: “But should we reduce the number temporarily of legal [immigration]?”
“I don’t know if we need to reduce the number or not until we find out who these people are that are in the country illegally,” Perry ducked the question again. “That’s the real challenge. If we get that taken care of first, then we can make a smart decision about whether we do or we don’t need to have more visas being handed out.”
Later, in the second round, Perry was asked directly a question on the exact same topic on which he made his “oops” gaffe in 2012. He made another gaffe on this.
“Governor Perry, in the past you’ve mentioned cutting federal agencies,” Heath asked. “We’ve talked a lot tonight about the debt, size of government not working for the rest of America. What specifically—what agencies would you either eliminate or cut?”
“I’ve heard this question before,” Perry joked to laughter from the audience, alluding to the 2012 incident. But after that, Perry didn’t even answer it clearly—instead making yet another gaffe and mixed up state and federal government yet again.
“Listen, I think it’s really—when you look at the federal government, obviously, when we talk about the size of it and the concept of being about to shrink the size of state government—if anybody gets up on the stage, whether it’s any of these capable candidates here or anybody on the left that says there’s any way to go forward in this country without cutting and without growing…” Perry said, without completing that sentence before moving on to his next thought. “Those are the two things that we must do in this country. And we have to cut spending and I know a little bit about cutting spending. We had a $10 billion budget shortfall in my home state in 2003, Jeb [it’s unclear if he was addressing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at this time] and we went in there and we made those cuts and we told people we would do that because we realize that’s exactly how you have to live your life. The government has to learn to do that as well, and the states that have been successful—governors have done that, they’ve gone in there and made those cuts. We cut that $10 billion out of our budget, and then we cut our regulatory climate down, we made it fair, we made it predictable, we passed the most sweeping tort reform in the nation, Joe [it’s entirely unclear who he was talking to here—the moderator’s name is Jack, not Joe, and no candidates’ first names were Joe] and the result of that was healthcare that exploded across the state of Texas. We had the access to healthcare, and two years later we came back into session—because we only meet every other year for 140 days—we had an $8 billion budget surplus. I believe in this country and I believe if you put those principles into place that the greatest days of America are in front of us.”
Moderator Heath moved on to a new question without pressing Perry further after Perry completely dodged answering which federal agencies he’d eliminate or cut four years after that “oops” moment.