A week before the crucial GOP primary in South Carolina, the Republican presidential candidates met for another debate Saturday night. Gone were Gov. Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who each dropped out following the New Hampshire contest. The debate, hosted by CBS, began with a moment of silence to mark the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Then the candidates, in a series of fiery exchanges, returned to the familiar conflicts that have dominated their previous encounters.
Here are the highlights:
Ted Cruz gets his facts wrong...and the crowd boos the moderator for correcting him.
At the start of the debate, moderator John Dickerson, the Face the Nation host, asked each candidate if he thought President Barack Obama should name a replacement for Justice Scalia during his final year in office. Predictably, several of the candidates pushed the new conservative meme: the GOP-controlled Senate should block Obama from appointing a successor to Scalia. "We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year," Ted Cruz claimed. Not so, said Dickerson, pointing to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was confirmed in February 1988. Cruz tried to argue that Kennedy got his seat in 1987—which was when he was nominated. But when Dickerson tried to make sure viewers were aware of the facts, the South Carolina crowd booed.
Donald Trump invokes Iraq War and 9/11 to attack Jeb Bush.
In 2008, Donald Trump said that George W. Bush should have been impeached over the Iraq War. When Dickerson asked Trump if he still holds this view, an inflamed Trump called the Iraq War "a big fat mistake" that cost the US trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.
A heated exchange followed: Jeb Bush fired back at Trump, calling out the business mogul for his continued attacks on the Bush family. "While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe," Bush said. The back-and-forth grew hotter when Trump interrupted Bush and declared that the Twin Towers came down when George Bush was president.
Rubio disagreed, asserting that September 11 was Bill Clinton’s fault because Clinton failed to kill Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s. Rubio added, "I thank God that it was Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore." In response, Trump again invoked the 9/11 attack: "I lost hundreds of friends, the World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush." He was met by a roar of boos from the audience.
Ted Cruz gets booed over immigration.
It wouldn’t be a GOP debate without a fight between Cruz and Rubio over immigration. But this tussle came with the added twist of a debate crowd that turned on Cruz, booing him when he attacked Rubio’s support for immigration reform. And when Cruz accused Rubio of once supporting amnesty during an appearance on Univision, Rubio fired back: "I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision, because he doesn't speak Spanish." Cruz immediately shot back at Rubio in rapid, but grammatically incorrect, Spanish.
Donald Trump calls Ted Cruz the biggest liar.
When Trump said he considers himself "a common-sense conservative," Cruz protested. Cruz contended that the billionaire has been "very, very liberal" throughout his career, though also "an amazing entertainer." Trump then accused Cruz of putting out robocalls criticizing Trump. He said that Cruz was a "nasty guy" who "will say anything." Trump continued, "You are the single biggest liar."
A few minutes later, while Cruz was trying to respond to another attack from Trump (regarding Cruz's support for the confirmation of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts), Trump began shouting over Cruz: "Why do you lie? Why do you lie?"
"Donald, adults learn not to interrupt each other," Cruz responded. "Yeah, yeah, I know, you're an adult," Trump replied.
Trump says Planned Parenthood does "wonderful things" for women's health, other than abortion.
Cruz accused Trump of supporting taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, hitting Trump for having said, "Planned Parenthood does wonderful things and we should not defund it." Trump responded by saying that he does believe the organization does "wonderful things" having to do with women's health "but not when it comes to abortion." Cruz used Trump's answer to again accuse the tycoon of being a liberal and claimed that Trump would appoint progressive judges to the Supreme Court.
A Donald Trump field organizer who was fired in January has filed a sex discrimination complaint against Trump's campaign.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Elizabeth Mae Davidson, a 26-year-old field organizer for the Trump campaign in Davenport, Iowa, filed the complaint last Thursday with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission alleging that men who were doing the same work earned more money, were given more responsibility, and were treated more leniently in the campaign.
Davidson recruited organizers for most of her region's 63 precincts and also opened the Trump campaign's second field office in Iowa. She was fired on January 14, the day after she was quoted in a different New York Times article about problems with the campaign in Iowa. The quotes attributed to her were about the process of recruiting volunteers and said nothing disparaging about the campaign. Davidson told the Times in an interview for Sunday's storythat she was paid $2,000 a month, while several men with her same title—district representative—were paid between $3,500 and $4,000 per month.
In her complaint, Davidson alleges that male district representatives have been quoted in the media without getting fired, and that her male peers were given the opportunity to organize and speak at rallies while her requests to do this work were ignored. Her complaint also alleges that when she and another female volunteer met Trump at a rally last summer, the presidential hopeful said, in reference to their appearance, "You guys could do a lot of damage."
In an interview with the Times, Trump denied making this comment and did not address the other allegations. He also explained that his staff had told him that Davidson "did a terrible job," and he criticized the paper for publishing this story the day before the Iowa caucuses. "A story like this," he said, "could damage my chances."
On Thursday night, the seventh Republican presidential debate, hosted by Fox News, took place in Des Moines, Iowa, just days before the first votes for the party nomination are cast in the Iowa caucuses on Monday—and the center of attention was the candidate who wasn't on stage.
The "elephant not in the room," as host Megyn Kelly put it, was Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner. He announced on Tuesday that he would boycott the debate due to a dislike for Fox News' questioning style, in particular Kelly's, with whom Trump has clashed since she asked him about his insults to women in an August debate. Trump threw a separate event at Drake University at the same time as the debate, which he billed as a fundraiser for "wounded warriors." (Mother Jones was denied entry.)
Still, the show went on, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is polling in second place in Iowa, taking Trump's customary spot at the center lectern. Here are a few highlights from the debate, which included a generous helping of digs at Trump:
Cruz impersonates Trump: Cruz opened the debate by thanking Iowans for their hospitality and promising to visit frequently should he be elected. Then he channeled his inner (satirical) Trump. "Now, secondly, let me say I'm a maniac and everyone on this stage is stupid, fat, and ugly," he said. "And Ben, you're a terrible surgeon. Now that we've gotten the Donald Trump portion out of the way…"
Chris Wallace vs. Ted Cruz: After Wallace asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a question that mentioned Cruz's vote to curtail the National Security Agency's surveillance program, Cruz tried to interject, asking to respond to Wallace's question as well. Wallace wouldn't allow it and the two scuffled about the debate rules on stage. "I know you like to argue about the rules, but we're going to conduct a debate," Wallace said.
As soon as Wallace gave Cruz a chance to speak after their tiff over the debate's rules, Cruz picked up his critique of the moderators. He complained, "Chris, I would note that the last four questions have been, 'Rand, please attack Ted. Marco, please attack Ted. Chris, please attack Ted. Jeb, please attack Ted.'" Then he again channeled Trump: "Gosh, if you guys ask one more mean question I may have to leave the stage."
Rubio gets hit hard for his inconsistent immigration stance: Kelly and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida got into a heated exchange about his record of supporting "blanket amnesty" for undocumented immigrants. Kelly showed a video clip of Rubio on the campaign trail vehemently opposing amnesty as an immigration solution. She pointed out that he'd previously co-sponsored a bill to help give amnesty to immigrants. "Haven't you already proven that you can't be trusted on this issue?" she asked. Rubio replied that he does not support amnesty and that he has never reversed himself on the issue. Jeb Bush piled on. "I'm kind of confused because he was the sponsor of the Gang of Eight bill that did require a bunch of thresholds but ultimately allowed for citizenship over an extended period of time," Bush said of Rubio. "I mean, that's a fact."
Rubio turns the flip-flopping allegations on Cruz: Piling onto the immigration discussion, Kelly turned to Cruz, asking him about his own divergent statements on citizenship and legalization for undocumented immigrants. In his response, Cruz used a dig at Rubio to affirm his opposition to a path to citizenship for immigrants. Cruz emphasized that while Rubio "chose to stand with Barack Obama" in support of the Senate's 2013 effort at immigration reform, Cruz played a key role in killing the bill entirely. A visibly displeased Rubio responded sharply.
"This is the lie that Ted's campaign is built on," Rubio said. "The truth is, Ted, throughout this campaign, you've been willing to say or do anything in order to get votes." Rubio listed several instances of Cruz's supporting immigration reform, notably in helping design George W. Bush's immigration policy. "Now you want to trump Trump on immigration," Rubio said. "But you can't—we're not going to beat Hillary Clinton with someone who's willing to say or do anything to win an election."
The easy target: Planned Parenthood: When host Bret Baier shifted the discussion to federal spending, he turned to Christie. "You talk a lot about entitlement reform and you say that that's where the federal government can get savings needed to balance the budget," Baier said. "But can you name even one thing that the federal government does now that it should not do at all?"
Christie smirked. "How about one that I've done in New Jersey for the last six years?" he replied. "That's get rid of Planned Parenthood funding from the United States of America." The crowd erupted with applause. Baier pushed Christie to think beyond Planned Parenthood. (The women's health provider gets about $500 million in federal funding annually, a drop in the bucket of the $3.5 trillion federal budget.) "Anything bigger?" Baier asked. Christie continued to hammer away at Planned Parenthood. "Bigger than that?" he said. "Let me tell you something, when you see thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children being murdered in the womb, I can't think of anything better than that."
On Monday, the district attorney in Harris County, Texas, announced that a grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood had instead issued indictmentsagainst two anti-abortion activists, David Daleiden and Susan Merritt, who released a series of doctored Planned Parenthood videos last summer. Since the indictments, district attorney Devon Anderson has faced an onslaught of criticism from the anti-abortion movement about both the severity of the charges—one is a felony—and a department employee's affiliation with Planned Parenthood.
Today, in a video on KHOU, a Houston TV network, Anderson explained why her office indicted David Daleiden and Susan Merritt. Even though the decision goes against her opinions on abortion, she says, it follows the law.
"An inconvenient truth of a criminal investigation is that it doesn't always lead where you want to go," Anderson says at the start of the video. "Anyone who pays attention knows that I'm pro-life. I believe abortion is wrong. But my personal belief does not relieve me of my obligation to follow the law."
Anderson dispels some of the misconceptions that have sprung up about her office's decision. For example, defense attorneys have argued that charging both Daleiden and Merritt with a felony for using fake driver's licenses is too extreme because young people caught with fake IDs often receive a misdemeanor charge. But Anderson explains that in Texas, using a fake ID from another state is a felony. "That's the law," she says.
Anderson also addresses the allegation—repeatedly emphasized by the anti-abortion news site LifeNews—that a prosecutor in her department who is involved with the Planned Parenthood board actively participated in the presentation of this case to the grand jury. "That is simply not true," she says. She noted that soon after the lieutenant governor asked her department to review this case in August, this particular prosecutor made her relationship to Planned Parenthood known, and the department issued a press release saying she would not be involved in the case.
Some defense attorneys have asked for another grand jury to review the case. Anderson says she won't do that because it constitutes "grand jury shopping."
"That violates the integrity of the whole system," she says. "Twelve Harris County citizens have spoken, and I respect their decision."
The Harris County, Texas, grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood announced today that it has cleared the women's health provider of breaking the law. Instead, the grand jury has indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. Last summer, their group released a series of secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue—which would be illegal. Houston Public Media reports on today's grand jury indictment:
David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have been indicted for Tampering with a Governmental Record, which is a felony. Daleidan was also indicted for Prohibition of the Purchase and Sale of Human Organs, meaning he illegally offered to purchase human organs in the video recording. A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
Following the release of the CMP's videos, six states tried to defund Planned Parenthood, 11 states have investigated the women's health provider (none found evidence of fetal tissue sales), and three congressional committees launched their own inquiries.
The grand jury's review was extensive and lasted more than two months, noted Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson in a press release. "We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast," Anderson said in the statement. "As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case."
Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against Daleiden and other activists that worked with the CMP. The lawsuit accuses the CMP of racketeering, illegally creating and using fake identification, and illegally recording Planned Parenthood staff.
"These anti-abortion extremists spent three years creating a fake company, creating fake identities, lying, and breaking the law," said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an emailed statement. "When they couldn't find any improper or illegal activity, they made it up."
This is a breaking story. We are updating this post as the story develops.