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Watch: Rubio, Cruz Battle on Immigration, Flip-Flops

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Republican presidential candidates Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio sparred over immigration, and accused each other of changing positions during Thursday’s GOP primetime debate on the Fox Business Network.

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Rubio was asked, [relevant exchange begins around 6:14] “The CBO says your 2013 immigration bill would have increased green card holders by another 10 million over 10 years. Why are you so interested in opening up borders to foreigners when American workers have a hard enough time finding work?”

He answered, “Well, first of all, this is an issue that’s been debated now for 30 years, and for 30 years, the issue of immigration has been about someone who’s in this country, maybe they’re here illegally, but they’re looking for a job. This issue is not about that anymore. First and foremost, this issue has to be, now, more than anything else, about keeping America safe. And here’s why, there is a radical jihadist group, that is manipulating our immigration system, and not just green cards, they’re looking — they’re recruiting people to enter this country as doctors, and engineers, and even fiancée. They understand the vulnerabilities we have on the southern border. They’re looking to manipulate our — the visa waiver countries to get people into the United States. So, our number one priority must now become ensuring that ISIS cannot get killers into the United States. So, whether it’s green cards, or any other form of entry into America, when I’m president, if we do not know who you are, or why you are coming, you are not going to get into the United States of America.”

When asked if his thinking has changed, Rubio stated that the issue is “dramatically different” than it was two years ago, and “The entire system of legal immigration must now be re-examined for security first and foremost with an eye on ISIS.”

Cruz then stated, “radical Islamic terrorism was not invented 24 months ago. 24 months ago, we had al Qaeda, we had Boko Haram, we had Hamas, we had Hezbollah, we had Iran putting operatives in South America and Central America, it’s the reason why I stood with [Sen.] Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and [Rep.] Steve King (R-IA) and led the fight to stop the Gang of Eight amnesty bill, because it was clear then, like it’s clear now, that border security is national security.”

He continued, “It is also the case, that that Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill, one of the things it did is it expanded Barack Obama’s power to let in Syrian refugees. It enabled him — the president to certify them en masse, without mandating meaningful background checks. I think that’s a mistake. That’s why I’ve been leading the fight to stop it. And I would note, the senate, just a few weeks ago voted to suspend refugees from Middle Eastern countries. I voted yes to suspend that. Marco voted on the other side. So, you don’t get to say we need to secure the borders, and at the same time, try to give Barack Obama more authority to allow Middle Eastern refugees coming in, when the head of the FBI tells us they cannot vet them to determine if they are ISIS terrorists.”

Rubio responded, “this is an interesting point when you talk about immigration. Ted Cruz, you used to say you supported doubling the number of green cards, now you say that you’re against it. You used to support a 500% increase in the number of guest workers, now you say that you’re against it. You used to support legalizing people that were here illegally. Now, you say you’re against it. You used to say you that were in favor of birthright citizenship. Now, you say that you are against it. And by the way, it’s not just on immigration, you used to support TPA. Now you say you’re against it. I saw you on the Senate floor flip your vote on crop insurance, because they told you it would help you in Iowa. And last week we all saw you flip your vote on ethanol in Iowa, for the same reason. That is not consistent conservatism. That is political calculation. When I am president, I will work consistently, every single day, to keep this country safe, not call Edward Snowden, as you did, a great public servant. Edward Snowden is a traitor. And if I am president, and we get our hands on him, he is standing trial for treason. And one more point, every single time that there has been a defense bill in the Senate, three people team up to vote against it. [Democratic candidate Sen.] Bernie Sanders (I-VT), [GOP candidate Sen.] Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ted Cruz. In fact, the only budget you have ever voted for, Ted, in your entire time in the Senate is a budget from Rand Paul, that brags about how it cuts defense. Here’s the bottom line, and I’ll close with this, if I’m president of the United States, and Congress tries to cut the military, I will veto that in a millisecond.”

Cruz countered, “at least half of the things Marco said are flat-out false. They’re absolutely false. So, let’s start with immigration. Let’s start with immigration, and have a little bit of clarity. Marco stood with Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama on amnesty. I stood with Jeff Sessions and Steve King. Marco stood today, standing on this stage, Marco supports legalization and citizenship for 12 million illegals. I opposed and oppose legalization and citizenship. And by the way, the attack he keeps throwing out on the military budget, Marco knows full well, I voted for his amendment to increase military spending to $697 billion. What he said, and he said it in the last debate, it’s simply not true. And as president, I will rebuild the military, and keep this country safe.”

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett


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