GOP rivals tussle over immigration, the Word and Hitler in YouTube showdown
Mike Aivaz and Jason Rhyne
Published: Wednesday November 28, 2007
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(Video excerpts at bottom)

Frequently using their YouTube-submitted questions as a jumping off place for attacks on rivals, the Republican presidential contenders took on a range of queries -- from silly to serious -- posed by ordinary Americans in Wednesday evening's GOP debate in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The evening's first question touched on illegal immigration, a particularly contentious issue among many in the Republican field. In a YouTube submission addressed to Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor was asked if he would "aid and abet the flight of illegal aliens" into the US. The questioner also accused Giuliani of running a "sanctuary city" for illegals during his time as mayor.

"The reality is, New York City was not a sanctuary city," Giuliani responded, adding that the city had deported illegal immigrants that had "committed a crime or was suspected of a crime." He went on to add that as president, he would stop people crossing the American border by "deploying a fence, by deploying a virtual fence...and just stopping people from coming in."

Asked by moderator Anderson Cooper if New York City was in fact a "sanctuary city," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney responded, "Absolutely."

"It called itself a sanctuary city," he continued, "and as a matter of fact, when the Welfare Reform Act that President Clinton brought forward said that they were going to end the sanctuary policy of New York City, the mayor actually brought a suit to maintain its sanctuary city status."

Giuliani: Romney has 'holier than thou' attitude on immigration

Given an opportunity to respond, Giuliani quickly ratcheted up the intensity of the evening's rhetoric. "It's unfortunate, but Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he's had far the worse record," he said. "In his case there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them. There was even a sanctuary mansion -- at his own home illegal immigrants were being employed, not being turned in to anybody or by I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city."

Romney, standing at a podium adjacent to Giuliani's, shot back that the former mayor knew "better than that," as the two candidates talked over one another. "You did, you did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn't you?" Giuliani interjected.

"No, I did not," said Romney. "If you're a homeowner, and you hire a company to come provide a service at your home...if you hear someone that's working out there -- not that you've employed, but that the company has -- if you hear somebody with a funny accent, you as homeowner are supposed to go out there and say 'I want to see your papers.' Is that what you're suggesting?"

The exchange between the two candidates dominated the first portion of the debate, with Giuliani going on to accuse Romney of having a "holier than thou attitude" about his approach to immigration. "Immigration is not holier than thou, mayor, it's against the law," responded Romney.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN) was the first to respond to another immigration-themed question, which asked whether the candidates would pledge as president "to veto any immigration bill that involves amnesty for those that have come here illegally."

"Yes, I'd pledge that," said Thompson. "A nation that cannot and will not defend its own borders will not forever remain a sovereign nation." Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) responded, "Yes, of course," to the question, but added "and we never proposed amnesty...we need to sit down as Americans and recognize these are God's children as well and they need some protections under the law. And they need some of our love and compassion."

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who has centered much of his campaign on the immigration issue, later joked that the candidates were attempting to "out-Tancredo" him.

Immigration-related disagreements raged on in an exchange between former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) and Romney. Discussing tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants, Huckabee had said that that children should not be "punished because their parent committed a crime."

"Mike, that's not your money. That's the taxpayers' money," Romney responded after saying Huckabee reminded him of "liberals in Massachusetts."

McCain: Paul's kind of isolationism allowed 'Hitler to come to power'

As the evening's focus later shifted to government spending, libertarian-leaning candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) was asked if he could name three federal programs he would cut from the budget.

"I would like to change Washington and we could by cutting three programs such as the Department of Education...the Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security..." He then went on to critique US foreign policy. "And besides, what we can do is we can have a stronger national defense by changing our foreign policy. Our foreign policy is costing us a trillion dollars and we can spend most of that, or a lot of that money home if we would bring our troops home."

Sen. McCain responded to Paul's comments moments later. "I've heard him now in many debates talking about bringing out troops home, and about the war in Iraq and how it's failed. "And I want to tell you," he said, facing Paul, "that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II...we allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement." McCain, who spent Thanksgiving in Iraq, told Paul that the troops' message was "let us win."

"The real question you have to ask is why do I get the most money from active-duty officers -- military personnel," Paul responded. "I'm not an isolationist."

Later in the evening, a series of YouTube video submitters asked a series of questions about abortion. Asked whether he would sign a federal abortion ban passed by Congress -- in the event that the landmark abortion case Roe vs. Wade was overturned -- Giuliani said he would "probably not sign it. I would leave it to the states to make that decision." He added that he didn't believe that abortion should be criminalized.

Gov. Romney said he would "welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country that we said we don't want to have abortion in this country" and would be "delighted to sign that bill." Commenting about his former advocacy of a woman's right to choose, a position he held as governor, Romney said he had been wrong. "If people in this country are looking for someone who's never made a mistake on a policy issue and is not willing to admit they're ever wrong, they're going to have to find somebody else. On abortion, I was wrong."

Asked what those involved in abortions -- both women and doctors -- should be charged with should abortion become illegal, Rep. Paul warned against having a "federal abortion police," adding that issue was best left in the hands of individual states.

In a subsequent YouTube question, a submitter held a Bible in front of the camera and asked the candidates if they believed "every word of this book."

Giuliani said he believed it, "but I don't believe it necessarily literally true in every single respect...I think it's the greatest book ever written, I read it frequently, I read it very frequently when I've gone through the bigger crises in my life."

"Yeah, the Bible is the word of God," said Romney, pressed by Cooper as to whether he believed every word. "I might interpret the word differently than you interpret the Word, but I read the Bible and I believe the Bible is the word of God," he added.

Huckabee, an ordained minister, said he believed the Bible was "exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself." He continued, however, that there were allegorical elements in the scriptures.

'Life is not 24 and Jack Bauer'

As the evening moved into its final segment, which focused on foreign policy, the GOP contenders fielded a question about the controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding.

Asked how Republican candidates could disagree with Sen. McCain's position on the subject given his "first-hand knowledge" as a POW during the Vietnam War, Romney said McCain was an "expert," but added that he didn't believe the presidential candidates should describe acceptable interrogation measures. He added that he opposed torture, but did not directly answer a follow-up question from Cooper pressing him on whether he thought waterboarding met that definition.

"Well, Governor, I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is," McCain replied solemnly, addressing Romney. "I'm astonished you would think such a torture would be inflicted on anyone who we are [holding] captive, and anyone could believe that that's not torture. It's a violation of the Geneva Conventions; it's a violation of existing law."

McCain later said that waterboarding was "clearly the definition of torture," and added that "life is not 24 and Jack Bauer. Life is interrogation techniques which are humane yet effective."

On the subject of gays in the military, a retired brigadier general, who is gay, asked the candidates if military service men and women were "professional" enough to serve with gays and lesbians. Romney and McCain said they believed the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy seemed to be working. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), stated that he felt homosexuals in uniform was a danger to "unit cohesion."

The debate, co-sponsored by CNN and YouTube, was the Republican candidates' eighth major confrontation of the 2008 campaign. People from across the country submitted as many as 5,000 videos.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads in national polls but trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney faces challenges from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Iowa, and from Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire.

(with AP wire reports)

The following video is from CNN's YouTube Republican Debate, broadcast on November 28, 2007

Giuliani and Romney exchange barbs on illegal immigration:

McCain says Paul's brand of isolationism brought on World War II:

Romney and McCain on waterboarding:

Is every word in the Bible true?: