The Candidates: Rep. Duncan Hunter

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who says he was elected to Congress as an unknown, says his message will give him the edge in the presidential contest.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who says he was elected to Congress as an unknown, says his message will give him the edge in the presidential contest. (By Denis Poroy -- Associated Press)

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Rep. Duncan Hunter
Republican Candidate for President, U.S. Rep. (R-Calif.)
Friday, October 12, 2007; 8:00 AM

The Concord Monitor, Cedar Rapids Gazette and washingtonpost.com will host a series of live discussions with Republicans and Democrats running for president to give readers the opportunity to share thoughts and questions directly with the candidates.

Rep. Duncan Hunter was online Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 a.m. ET to take your questions on the campaign and his vision for the United States.

The transcript follows.

Submit questions to one of the other primary candidates or read the transcript of their discussion

Hunter is a 13-term U.S. representative from California. Prior to his election he was a lawyer. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter: Thanks to everyone for giving me a chance to talk about my ideas for America.

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Campbell, Calif.: You voted to allow hospitals to refuse treatment to patients if they cannot make their co-payments. Can you explain how this position fits within your Christian values?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: I don't know what particular bill the person is referring to, but every hospital gives care to every patient who walks in, whether here legally or illegally, as a matter of course. No member of Congress ever has told emergency rooms to refuse service to any patient. I would say however that it is not in the interests of this country to provide a magnet of social services that induces people to enter the U.S. illegally. Those who wish to enter this country should apply through legal processes.

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Texas: Some details about that wall in Texas to secure the border, please?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: In the 1990s, when the GOP took control of Congress, I wrote the law that mandated the construction of the border fence between San Diego and Tijuana. At that point the border was out of control and that narrow strip of land was the No. 1 smugglers' corridor in America for illegal immigrants and narcotics. Border gangs roamed the hills, some armed with automatic weapons. Numerous murders occurred on that 14-mile stretch and it got so bad that the San Diego police set up a team to dress like illegal immigrants, waiting to be attacked and then battling and arresting the attackers.

I built the border fence, writing the law that mandated the construction of three layers of border fence with roads for Border Patrol in between. We reduced the arrests in our sector from more than 200,000 in 1990 to 15,000 after the fence was done, reducing the smuggling of people and narcotics by 90 percent.

In 1996 I wrote a law mandating the extension of the fence across the full border, and imposing deadlines for the construction of particular sectors. To date the administration has built only 17 miles of single-layer fence and 5.1 miles of the mandated double-layer fence. As a result, there have been more than 3,500 major narcotics busts this year on the Texas border.

As president of the United States, I'll complete the entire 854 miles of border fence in six months. I'll run construction simultaneously in the Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas sectors. Completion of the border fence is probably the single most important thing this nation can accomplish to advance homeland security. Since Sept. 11, border enforcement has become a security issue even more than an immigration issue.

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Bakersfield, Calif.: If you people in our so-called government care so much for those of us who were military and are now disabled, why are there no scholarships -- federal or state -- for us? If you support us so much why is there nothing for us?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: There are a broad array of scholarships available for Americans, and certainly those scholarships are available for application for veterans as well as non-veterans. With respect to the care of our veterans, I'm especially concerned about that issue. I'm a veteran of Vietnam and my own son volunteered for the U.S. Marines the day after Sept. 11, and he has served two tours in Iraq and is on a tour in Afghanistan now. We have increased funding for veterans by more than 30 percent during this administration. New advances are being made with respect to rehab and job training. And if the writer has a particular interest in a scholarship area, please contact my office and we'll direct you to the appropriate agency to apply for a scholarship.

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Kensington, Md.: I'm actually a Democrat, but a general political junkie as well. I keep looking at this GOP field, then at Rep. Hunter's bio, and have to scratch my head. You've got a son fighting in Iraq, were instrumental in building a border wall (at a time when immigration is supposedly a hot-button issue) and your stances and voting record seem conservative down-the-line (even if I disagree with them). Yet, you are stuck in low single digits behind a pro-choice anti-gun New Yorker, a Massachusetts governor who once tried to out-liberal Ted Kennedy, a version of John McCain to be named later and someone whose main apparent qualification is that he has played the president in a movie. Besides the obvious fundraising hurdles, what gives? Why aren't you getting traction?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: I would just say that as a member of Congress, getting your name and your positions to hundreds of millions of Americans takes a lot of hard work. Right now we are engaged in a very vigorous campaign. We won the Texas Straw Poll by more than two to one a couple of weeks ago, 41 percent points over the next highest contender, Fred Thompson, who had 20 percent. We also won the Arizona straw poll and moved past John McCain into fourth in a Michigan poll. These reflect the substance of and appreciation for my positions, despite the differences in money and name identification. So we're very optimistic and we're campaigning hard and I feel the message has a strong resonance with the American people.

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Washington: During the Oct. 9 debates all the GOP candidates touted "U.S. energy independence." How would you grade efforts on this issue under GOP control for six years when the Congress, Senate and White House were under Republican control? This is not a partisan attack question but instead an inquiry as to why this is now an issue? Do you feel that the GOP handled this issue adequately when they had the opportunity? What grade would you give the GOP on energy independence and why?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: The White House and the Senate and House were controlled by Republicans, but our numbers were not high enough to prevent a filibuster by the Democrats on our initiative to increase oil production in Alaska. Those efforts successfully were stymied by the Democrats, who needed only 41 votes to effectively block the ANWR bill.

Clearly energy independence is going to require bipartisan consensus. We need a broad spectrum of energy development, including wind, geothermal, solar, nuclear, ethanol, coal, biodiesel, increased domestic oil and gas production, as well as further development of the oil sands in Canada and the shale resources of the Rocky Mountain area. A solid energy plan will require compromise by all parties. And the environmental lobby must accomplish something it presently is not noted for -- compromise. Working together, we can achieve energy independence. Bipartisanship and compromise are the two critical elements.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter: Beyond the development of the energy spectrum, the energy independence challenge provides an opportunity for the private sector to join with America's colleges and universities and government research and development laboratories to produce a collaboration with respect to innovative new energy systems, which could result in America's domination of the alternative energy market. New innovations should be licensed to American manufacturers rather than shipped overseas for production. This new industry could provide enormous opportunity for the next generation. We could work together to make sure it happens.

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Somers Point, N.J.: Should a new President be indiscriminate and fire all U.S. Attorneys ... out with the bad and the good? Or, should the new president discriminate and, as a politician, retaining those he selects?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: The new president has the authority to discharge any U.S. Attorney. Personally, I feel that good judgment, a strong adherence to the Constitution, understanding of the law and a history of vigorous but fair prosecution are important qualities for U.S. Attorneys. Specifically I would look for U.S. Attorneys who have extensive criminal trial experience, who are tenacious and who have solid track records in the prosecution of pornographers, drug kingpins and smugglers. If elected I would evaluate the current U.S. Attorneys, and those who fit the criteria that I just mentioned, I would retain.

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Raleigh, N.C.: A recent poll, reported on in The Washington Post, suggested that in the past 12 years people's attitudes on whether or not they are interested in a more activist government helping people out has nearly flip-flopped; from something like 62 percent against to 57 percent for, in only 12 years. Do you think the Republican Party could or should do anything with this change in people's attitudes, or should they stick to their old "pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps" guns? (Disclaimer: I really hope they stick to their principles. Because I want the Democrats to win.)

Rep. Duncan Hunter: I think that the greatest quality of Americans is their spirit of independence, their rugged individualism, and I'd like to see an America more independent of government the day I leave the White House than the day I enter it. I'm reminded that when the Republicans reformed welfare in the 1990s, we found that the average welfare recipient had been on the rolls for 13 years. Today those rolls have been cut by 40 percent. Many of those former wards of the government are now productive citizens. The tragedy of this century would be the sliding of this great nation, full of energy and optimism, into the morass of socialism and dependence.

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Wheaton, Md.: Given that it has been proven that Iran his supporting terrorists in Iraq, do you favor strong military action against the terrorist government of Iran?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: Iran is clearly moving down the path toward developing nuclear weapons. They have emplaced more than 1,000 centrifuges within their weapons complex, and substantial tunneling and dirt-moving is taking place at several locations. My position is that Iran cannot be allowed to build a nuclear device. We've all been hopeful that sanctions would compel Iran to abandon its weapons development. However, to date, it would be fair to say that Iran is not strongly inconvenienced by existing sanctions. Indeed, China and Russia -- both with an appetite for Iranian oil and money -- probably will blunt any effective sanctions recommended to international bodies by the United States. This leaves us with the prospect that preemptive action may be necessary. As president my commitment would be to deny Iran nuclear weapons capability. Preemptive military action has been used in the past to disrupt weapons programs. If necessary, I would use it.

Besides Iran's nuclear program, its missile program and its Shahab-3 missile is capable of reaching Israel and other U.S. allies. This development compels us more than ever to continue, with substantial resources, America's missile defense program. Currently, we continue to develop theater ballistic missile defense systems that can handle the emerging theater threats, such as that represented by the Shahab-3. Additionally we should continue to work with Israel to increase the effectiveness and wide deployment of their own missile defense program, known as Arrow. In the U.S. we presently have the start of a missile defense system with the deployment of a few interceptors in Alaska and on the Pacific Coast. This program should be continued with substantial resources. Lastly, the U.S. should take advantage of the Russian offer to cooperate on missile defense by pursuing a program to station Aegis missile defense warships in the Black Sea. This would place U.S. interceptors in the corridor that must be traveled by Iranian missiles if they are targeted at Western Europe.

Long answer, but it's a big question. The prospect of nuclear weapons development and missile delivery systems by Iran constitutes the emergence of a new era that I would call Terrorists With Technology. Americans will be required to meet this emerging challenge with technology, better intelligence capabilities, increased space assets, and courage.

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Washington: What are your views on getting D.C. citizens represented in Congress?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: I do not support statehood for the District. Washington, D.C., was intended by the Founding Fathers to be the national city, without a local bias, but reflective of the coming together of all the states of the union. Beyond that I've been enormously disappointed in the refusal of the D.C. government to allow its law-abiding citizens to possess guns for the purpose of defending their families and their homes.

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Alexandria, Va.: Good morning Mr. Hunter. I know security is a huge concern on the border, as more drugs and weapons come across every day, but wouldn't it be easier to stop the drugs and guns and human traffickers if all of the migrants coming to work could do so legally?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: Good morning. The answer to a stable, prosperous and secure America is not open borders. In 2005 we detained 155,000 people illegally entering the U.S. from Mexico who were not citizens of Mexico. They came from virtually every country in the world, including 1,100 from Communist China and a few from Iran and North Korea. Clearly an amnesty would result in a further stampede for the U.S. border with disastrous consequences. Presently our federal, state and local penitentiaries and jails house 250,000 criminal aliens who came into the U.S. not to work but to commit crimes and hurt Americans. Some of them are so brutal (MS-13 gang members) that their home countries refuse to take them back. The only way to a secure America is through secure borders.

With respect to allowing illegal aliens to take jobs in this country, presently American citizens are being substantially displaced in high-paying industries like construction. Several weeks ago I talked to a drywall contractor who employs U.S. citizens. He constantly is undercut in his bids by contractors who employ illegal aliens and have much lower wage costs. I believe strongly that America's strength largely is founded in good wages for the middle class -- wages that allow our families to pay mortgages, send kids to college and pursue the American dream. The cheap labor that is represented in the waves of people illegally entering the U.S. threatens the future of these working families. We need a secure border, and we need to enforce the rule of law, including deportation for illegal aliens.

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Sacramento: What will you do to help illegal immigrants who are children or teenagers who were brought to the United States by force because their parents came hoping for a better life for them? Not all illegal immigrants came here by choice -- some are children and teenagers who have lived in the United States all their lives and know nothing else, yet cannot get jobs, licenses or sometimes even college educations. So, I'm asking, what will you do to help?

Rep. Duncan Hunter: Good morning, California. I believe we need to enforce the law. The granting of exceptions for portions of families will then compel the argument that the rest of the family should be admitted.

What many people don't realize is that a great many of these families already have a first home in their native countries. Thus politicians in Mexico support an open border precisely for the reason that illegal aliens working in the U.S. send back billions of dollars each year to their primary homes in Mexico. Thus the implication that the deportation of illegal aliens will render them homeless is to a large degree false.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter: Lastly, the United States has lost more than 600,000 Americans killed in action in battlefields around the world to bring freedom to other nations. Additionally the U.S. government and our financial institutions have poured billions of dollars into economic projects in Mexico and other nations to develop economic opportunity for their citizens. Americans have a strong argument that the citizens of other countries should stay in their native land and develop freedom and prosperity for themselves.

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Rep. Duncan Hunter: Thanks to everyone who has allowed me to express my views this morning. For those who would like to take a look at the border fence and learn more about my background and positions, you'll find my Web site at www.gohunter08.com. Again, thanks for listening.

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