In Debate, Romney and Giuliani Clash on Immigration Issues

By Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 29, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Nov. 28 -- The Republican candidates for president engaged in a two-hour free-for-all Wednesday night, repeatedly confronting one another directly even as they fielded video questions submitted by Internet users in the most spirited debate of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani immediately set the tone for the combative event, using the first question to continue a weeks-long feud they have waged on the campaign trail. Each accused the other of ignoring laws against illegal immigration and distorting one another's record on the issue.

Giuliani accused Romney of having a "sanctuary mansion" by employing illegal immigrants as lawn workers and of being "holier than thou" on the issue. Romney accused Giuliani of ignoring the laws and of welcoming illegal immigrants to New York. "That's the wrong attitude," Romney charged in a lengthy, heated exchange.

The clash between the two was only the start of what resembled a raucous family argument, stoked by sharp questions that touched on the most contentious issues in the Republican contest: immigration policy, abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, race and the Confederate flag.

The exchanges at the debate, sponsored by CNN and YouTube, underscored the concerns of all the leading candidates as they jockey for advantage with five weeks remaining until the Iowa caucuses, with no contender gaining a clear edge in the battle for the GOP nomination. It also provided a public forum for the arguments that the candidates have been waging through news releases and stump speeches.

Giuliani got the opening question in the form of a video submitted by a New Yorker, who challenged him for running, as mayor, a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.

"The reality is, New York was not a sanctuary city," Giuliani responded, noting areas of exception to enforcing the laws on his watch that he said were necessary to maintain the health and safety of city residents.

Giuliani, the GOP front-runner in national polling, was put on the defensive throughout the night as he became the target of his rivals and of several of the questioners. He was booed by some in the audience when he said the government has a right to impose reasonable regulations on gun ownership.

Romney, who leads in surveys testing New Hampshire and Iowa, appeared cautious and unsure in his answers to several tough questions. He struggled to deal with the question whether he still "looked forward to the day" when gays could serve openly in the military. He refused to answer, saying only that "this isn't that time."

But the clash over immigration between Giuliani and Romney quickly engulfed the other candidates. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) defended his support of legislation that many Republicans say amounts to amnesty.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson accused Romney of flip-flopping on immigration and said Giuliani had gone to court seeking to overturn a bill designed to ban sanctuary cities. "I helped pass a bill outlawing sanctuary cities," Thompson said. "The mayor went to court to overturn it. So, if it wasn't a sanctuary city, I'd call that a frivolous lawsuit."

Romney and Huckabee, who are in an increasingly tight battle in Iowa, clashed over whether children of illegal immigrants should receive college scholarships. Romney said Huckabee was wrong to support such a measure in Arkansas, to which Huckabee replied: "In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did."

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