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Live blog: Republicans square off in CNN/Telemundo debate

February 25, 2016
Rubio, Trump and Cruz argue at the deabate. (David J. Phillip/AP)

Rubio, Trump and Cruz argue at the deabate. (David J. Phillip/AP)

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson have wrapped up their last debate before the Super Tuesday primaries next week, when 11 states and 595 Republican delegates will be at stake.

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

SOCIAL STUDIES | Lindsey Graham is a featured speaker tonight at the 72nd Annual Congressional Dinner in Washington, D.C. And as part of his comedy routine, he joked about someone murdering Ted Cruz on the Senate floor:

Presumably this is about the fact that Cruz is not well-liked by Senate colleagues. The truth is, Graham probably would have  eventually said something like this on a debate stage, if he had continued in the Republican presidential primary.

  • Michelle Ye Hee Lee
  • ·

“If you look at the eight members of the Gang of Eight, Donald gave over $50,000 to three Democrats and two Republicans. And when you’re funding open border politicians, you shouldn’t be surprised when they fight for open borders.”

–Ted Cruz

THE FACT CHECKER | Cruz continues to suggest that Trump financed the Gang of Eight. But it’s a misleading argument; the majority of donations was made long before the 2013 Gang of Eight support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Campaign finance records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics via show Trump directly donated to five of the eight members of the Gang of Eight. These direct donations were made for the senators’ federal elections, and add up to $30,900, not $50,000.

The donations:

-$9,000 to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in 1996-2010

-$2,000 to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.Y.) in 2006-2007

-$1,500 to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) in 1996 and 2007

-$15,800 to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2005-2008

-$2,600 to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in 2014

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

SOCIAL STUDIES | Donald Trump is refusing to say exactly when he will release his tax returns. During the debate, he seemed to suggest he can’t release them while he’s being audited.

There’s one person who wants you to know that’s not true. And that is — drumroll, please — Mitt Romney:

Romney has been trolling Trump on the tax-return issue since this morning:

As a bonus, here is Trump with a stack of papers that is presumably some of his tax forms:

Lightweight losing candidate Mitt Romney asks about my tax returns. I have a store that is worth more than him.

A photo posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

  • Philip Bump
  • ·

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio laughs at rival Donald Trump during the CNN debate in Houston, Texas, on Thursday. (REUTERS/Mike Stone)

THE CONTENDERS | Between 8:45 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Thursday night, Marco Rubio learned how to box.

In the first few minutes, after Wolf Blitzer rang the bell to start the fight at the GOP debate in Houston, Rubio threw punch after punch after punch at Donald Trump, barely letting one land before he moved on to the next one. Campaigns put together portfolios of attacks that plan to use, called “oppo books.” Marco Rubio pulled every sheet out of that book and then tossed the empty cover at Trump, too, for good measure.

That was nerves. Less than an hour later, Rubio was landing strategic, gleeful blows, and Trump was flustered. Rubio’s best line was the one about how if Trump hadn’t gotten an inheritance, he’d be selling watches. But the one that grated on Trump the most was when he noted Trump’s habit of repeating himself. Over that hour, it was like Rubio leveled up.

During that first flurry, it was clear which point Rubio thought would be the most effective. He repeatedly told viewers to Google “Trump Polish workers” or “Donald Trump Polish workers,” so that people would read the details of a suit filed against the developer involving the construction of Trump Tower. That suit, which was eventually settled, accused Trump of knowingly employing and abusing illegal Polish immigrants to work on building the structure.

People went to Google. But what they were searching for was one of the other little punches Marco Rubio tossed into the mix: Trump University.

You can see the spike on the Google search chart here. It came during that first fight.


But you can see it more clearly below. When Ted Cruz mentioned it later in the debate — more clearly landing his blows — searches spiked even higher.


(The Polish workers didn’t move the needle at all.)

The issue at hand is a lawsuit filed against Trump in regard to a “university” that carried his name. The Post’s Emma Brown covered the story last year. Brown wrote:

Never licensed as a school, Trump University was in reality a series of real estate workshops in hotel ballrooms around the country, not unlike many other for-profit self-help or motivational seminars. Though short-lived, it remains a thorn in Trump’s side nearly five years after its operations ceased: In three pending lawsuits, including one in which the New York attorney general is seeking $40 million in restitution, former students allege that the enterprise bilked them out of their money with misleading advertisements.

As Cruz noted, Trump may be a witness when the case comes to court later this year.

Rubio’s initial flurry was rushed and anxious, but it appears to have been a spaghetti-on-the-wall moment. What stuck? Trump University.

  • Emily Guskin
  • ·

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ted Cruz challenges rival Donald Trump (L) about releasing his tax returns during the debate sponsored by CNN for the 2016 Republican U.S. presidential candidates in Houston, Texas, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Stone

BY THE NUMBERS | In tonight’s Republican debate, Ted Cruz argued Donald Trump’s past policies and associations with Democrats would make it more difficult for him to defeat Hillary Clinton in November. Which of the candidates is winning the argument on electability?

In January’s Washington Post-ABC News poll , a 56 percent majority of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents said Trump has the best chance of being elected president in November, up from 47 percent in December. Just 17 percent said Cruz would have the best chance at winning, while only 9 percent said the same of Rubio.

Confidence in Trump comes despite polls showing he has a more negative image with the public overall. The same Post-ABC poll found 69 percent of Americans say they are “anxious” about the idea of Trump becoming president, compared with just under half who said they were anxious about Cruz (49 percent) or Rubio (48 percent).

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

SOCIAL STUDIES | Marco Rubio’s team is working hard to troll Donald Trump tonight.

In the middle of the debate, members of the press received an email linking to this listing at Rubio’s campaign store:


The joke is meant to follow up on Rubio’s comment that Trump would be “selling watches like these in Manhattan” if he “hadn’t inherited $200 million.” It was one of the burns Rubio used earlier tonight to try to knock Trump off his game.

Rubio’s campaign is not letting up on the rapid-response front, either. Here’s a shot of some of the messages they sent to the press tonight:


  • Katie Zezima
  • ·

ON THE ISSUES | The candidates who want to run the government also want to take it apart.

Donald Trump has said he wants to get rid of the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. It wouldn’t, as moderator Wolf Blitzer pointed out, get rid of the deficit. How would Trump make up for it?

Cutting out “waste, fraud and abuse, all over the place,” he said.

“We will cut so much your head will spin,” he said.

He’s not the only one who wants to get rid of federal agencies if elected president. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have called for abolishing the Department of Education.

And Cruz wants to go even farther, eliminating a number of federal agencies and departments, including the Internal Revenue Service, Housing and Urban Development, the Commerce Department and more, which he claims would save $500 billion over 10 years.

  • David Weigel
  • ·

THE CONTENDERS | Forty-eight hours ago, Glenn Beck spoke at a Las Vegas caucus site to sway votes for Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who he has called a “new George Washington.” After Cruz placed third, Beck arrived at his victory party to rally supporters in a curious way — telling them they were there not for a candidate, but “for the Constitution.”

Tonight, Beck revealed a new admiration for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), as he repeatedly gone after Trump in the ways he previewed for donors in Houston last night.

Previously, Beck had warned that failing to elect Beck would send America into a cataclysm.

  • Michelle Ye Hee Lee
  • ·

Ted Cruz “has been criticizing my sister for signing a certain bill. You know who else signed that bill? Justice Samuel Alito, a very conservative member of the Supreme Court, with my sister, signed that bill.”

–Donald Trump

THE FACT CHECKER |  Trump is referring to a partial-birth abortion ban against which his sister and Alito ruled against in 2000 while on the United State Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cruz has been attacking Trump for floating the name of his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, to be a justice. Cruz has called Barry a “hardcore pro-abortion liberal,” particularly over the 2000 ruling. (PolitiFact has written about this Cruz talking point.) /

In 2000, Barry wrote the majority opinion that overturned a New Jersey ban on partial-birth abortions. Alito was, as Trump says, a Third Circuit judge at the time. He agreed with Barry on the ruling.

Alito made the decision based on precedent, NPR reported:

Alito voted to overturn the ban based on the fact that the Supreme Court had struck down a similar law in Nebraska just weeks before. Alito’s deference to the Supreme Court’s precedence is notable, said Kathy Cleaver-Ruse. “In this case, we have Judge Alito showing more restraint than the majority judges, by saying ‘Look, we need to follow Supreme Court precedent,'” she said. “It’s not proper for us to go off on our own, write our own opinion about the law.”

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

ON THE ISSUES| Donald Trump might support repealing Obamacare. He might support defunding Planned Parenthood.

But, compared with his Republican rivals, Trump is willing to show a more openly compassionate streak on health care issues. This was evident Thursday night when he essentially noted that the government can (and sometimes should) help connect vulnerable people with medical care.

Under a counterattack from Ted Cruz, who argued Trump doesn’t have a solid Obamacare replacement plan, Trump repeated that he supports repealing the 2010 federal law.

“But,” he said, “we are not going to let people die on the streets and the sidewalk. We are going to take those people and those people are going to be serviced by doctors and we’re going to make great deals on it but we’re not going to let them die on the street … Call it what you want, people are not going to be dying on the street.”

Taken together with his comments about Planned Parenthood helping “millions of women,” Trump is certainly blazing a different path than either Cruz or Marco Rubio.

  • Rebecca Sinderbrand
  • ·

THE CONTENDERS | At tonight’s debate, Ben Carson was asked how he would evaluate a potential Supreme Court appointee’s record. “The fruit salad of their life, is what I would look at,” he responded.

Twitter ate that answer right up.

  • Scott Clement
  • ·

BY THE NUMBERS | Telemundo moderator Maria Celeste Arrarás confronted Donald Trump – a huge fan of polls – with some uncomfortable poll numbers showing the vast majority of Hispanic Americans see him negatively. Indeed, a brand new Washington Post-Univision News poll found a fairly stark result:


Today, 8 in 10 Hispanic voters have an unfavorable view of Trump. That includes more than 7 in 10 who have a “very unfavorable” impression of him, which is more than double the percentage of any other major candidate.

Those findings compare with a Univision survey taken around the time of Trump’s announcement last summer, when just more than 7 in 10 had a negative view of him and fewer than 6 in 10 said they had a “very unfavorable” impression.

As Arrarás noted, this result was no outlier – 67 percent of Hispanic Americans reported a negative opinion of Trump in a December Telemundo/MSNBC/Marist poll.

While it’s not surprising a Republican might be unpopular with Hispanics, a Democratic-leaning group, Trump draws extra criticism, as the Post-Univision poll found:

“Trump’s chief Republican competitors, Rubio and Cruz, both of Cuban descent, receive mixed reviews from Hispanics. Rubio has a net positive image, by 45 to 37 percent. Cruz’s is net negative, 44 to 39 percent. Kasich still is not known to about 4 in 10 Hispanics.”

Trump was correct to point out that in Nevada, the Republican caucus entrance poll found he led among Hispanics voters in the contest. Of course, claiming a lead among the roughly 6,000 Hispanic Republican caucus-goers to represents popularity with the Democratic-leaning demographic nationally is a huge stretch.

  • David Weigel
  • ·

THE CONTENDERS | On the trail, and in two debates now, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has insisted that voters can “trust” him — and only him — to appoint a replacement for the late Antonin Scalia. Like a few of Cruz’s hardcore issues, it has not yet gained from repetition. In South Carolina, asked who could “best handle Supreme Court nominations,” 28 percent of voters backed Cruz, and 28 percent backed Donald Trump. In Nevada, just 18 percent of voters said the Supreme Court nomination was the “most important factor” in their votes. Trump won them, too, 47-28 percent over Cruz.

In both cases, Cruz vaulted over Rubio for second place, something he couldn’t do in the overall vote. In his question to unite every “lane” of the Republican Party, the Supreme Court issue has done him better than advocating the return to federal land to Nevada. But it has not yet broken him out.

  • Glenn Kessler
  • ·

“I don’t mind trade wars when we’re losing $58 billion a year [to Mexico], you want to know the truth. We’re losing so much. We’re losing so much with Mexico and China — with China, we’re losing $500 billion a year.”

–Donald Trump

THE FACT CHECKER | Trump has the numbers right on the trade deficit with Mexico and overstates it with China–but he gets the economics very wrong in both cases. A trade deficit means that people in one country are buying more goods from another country than people in the second country are buying from the first country.

So in Mexico’s case, Americans purchased $294 billion in goods from Mexico, while Mexico purchased $236 billion in goods from the United States. That results in a trade deficit of $58 billion in 2015. In the case of China, Americans bought $482 billion in goods from China, while Chinese purchased $116 billion from the U.S., for a trade deficit of $366 billion.

But that money is not “lost.” Americans wanted to buy those products. If Trump sparked a trade war and tariffs were increased on those Chinese goods, then it would raise the cost of those goods to Americans. Perhaps that would reduce the purchases of those goods, and thus reduce the trade deficit—but that would not mean the United States would “gain” money that had been lost.

(Trump frequently suggests, as he did in the debate, that Mexico could pay for the wall out of the $58 billion trade deficit. But that is nonsensical. The trade deficit does not go to the government; it just indicates that Americans are buying more goods from Mexico than the other way around.)

  • Jose A. DelReal
  • ·

THE CONTENDERS | Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio are the two first serious Hispanic contenders for the White House. The GOP will need to draw Hispanics to remain competitive in upcoming elections. But both have faced persistent questions about their ability to draw Hispanics into the GOP electorate.

There has been a steady growth in the number of eligible Hispanic voters since the 2012 presidential election, with 4 million more Hispanics eligible to vote in the coming election. Those voters could be a crucial general election voting bloc in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, three important battleground states — and reaching them is a priority for party leadership.

Yet Cruz and Rubio have had difficulty making inroads with Hispanics. (The winner of the GOP Hispanic vote in Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses? Donald Trump.) That is, in part, because of their staunch opposition to immigration reform.

It’s worth noting there are also cultural distinctions within the “Hispanic” voting bloc that are frequently glossed over.

My colleague Mary Jordan went deeper last month:

“[I]n several key swing states — Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Virginia — most Latinos are not Cuban. Most lean Democratic — and identify more with their country of origin than with the broader terms, Hispanic or Latino, for those from Spanish-speaking countries. 

Part of the friction between Mexicans and Cubans comes from the starkly different reception they get when they arrive in the United States. Cubans who reach U.S. shores are almost automatically granted residency and eligibility for food stamps and other welfare benefits because of a special policy for those coming from the communist island — many arriving through Mexico. Mexicans who enter without legal papers live under the threat of deportation.”

Read more here.

More: The number of eligible Hispanic voters is at an all-time high. But will they vote?

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

SOCIAL STUDIES | Telemundo news anchor Maria Celeste Arraras, making her first GOP debate appearance, got praise on Twitter for her queries on immigration, the Hispanic vote and the diversity of the Republican Party:

  • Michelle Ye Hee Lee
  • ·

The ethanol mandate is “phasing out now. By 2022, that program expires, by virtue of the existing law. It will go away.”

–Marco Rubio

THE FACT CHECKER | Rubio must not have read our fact-check on this very point: The ethanol mandate is not phasing out under the current law, and politicians keep getting it wrong.

The federal renewable-fuel mandate sets the minimum amount of corn-based ethanol to be mixed into gasoline to reduce or replace the amount of fossil fuel. Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, and set the minimum required volume of renewable fuel to be mixed into the U.S. gasoline supply each year.

Currently, the law lists the minimum volume of renewable fuel through 2022. That’s what most people refer to when they say the mandate will “expire” or “phase out” after 2022.

But that’s not correct. The mandate doesn’t go away at all. The program is set to go on indefinitely unless repealed by legislation. In fact, statutes require after 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency set the minimum levels through regulations. The EPA administrator must use six criteria to set the new standard beyond 2022, such as the impact of renewable fuels on the energy security in the United States and on the cost of gasoline for consumers.

  • Glenn Kessler
  • ·

“The wall with cost $10-12 billion if I do it.”

–Donald Trump 

THE FACT CHECKER | Trump used to say that a 1,000-mile wall with Mexico would cost $8 billion but now he says it would cost $10-12 billion. But that’s also a dubious estimate, according to experts in the construction industry, based on Trump’s previous comments that the wall would made of precast concrete slabs, rising 35 to 40 feet in the air.

Under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the United States has already spent $2.4 billion for fencing across nearly one-third of the border (670 miles). The General Accountability Office in 2009 said the cost to build a mile of the fence initially averaged between $2.8 million and $3.9 million. But that was in the easiest areas, near metropolitan centers; other areas in the desert or mountains could cost as much as $16 million a mile.

Israel has spent $2.6 billion on 325-mile-long barrier with Palestinian territories. But only one-tenth (33 miles) of the Israeli barrier is an eight-meter (25-foot) concrete wall. The other 90 percent is a two-meter (six-foot) high electronic fence.

A retired construction estimator said a wall of this type would cost at least $25 billion — and that is not counting a video system to keep watch on the border. Building the wall would also require at least 40,000 workers a year for at least four years, but he doubted it could be built so quickly.

The concrete panels would need to be at least 8 inches thick and be 40 feet tall (35 feet above ground and five feet under ground). He estimated that it would cost about $10 billion for the concrete panels and $5-6 billion for steel columns to hold the panels, including labor. Concrete footing for the columns and a concrete foundation would add another $1 billion. A road would need to be built so 20-ton trucks could deliver the materials; that’s another $2 billion. Then you need to add another 30 percent for engineering, design, management and so forth.

Some of the calculations are staggering. The foundations would require nearly 2.5 to 3 million cubic yards of concrete, which requires poured-in-place concrete delivered in concrete trucks. “That’s 250,000 to 300,000 truckloads, 20-ton each of concrete,” he said. Then the excavated earth would need to be hauled somewhere and disposed–nearly 3 million cubic yards, or enough soil to cover 17 acres 100 feet deep. That’s 90,000 truckloads of 40 tons each.

  • Elise Viebeck
  • ·

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump react during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

THE CONTENDERS | Tonight’s debate led off with fireworks between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio — and things only got more heated from there.

Discussing immigration, Rubio criticized Trump for hiring people from outside the United States to fill part-time and seasonal jobs. Later, he said Trump is the only presidential candidate who has been fined for “hiring people to work under projects illegally.”

Trump pushed back.

“I’m the only one on stage that’s hired people,” he said. “You haven’t hired people. I’ve hired tens of thousands of people. You’ve done nothing … I’ve hired tens of thousands of people.”

As our colleague Sean Sullivan reports, Rubio was already showing signs of a more aggressive posture toward Trump ahead of the debate:

In remarks in Houston on Wednesday, Rubio took the rare step of attacking Trump by name at a campaign rally. And on Thursday morning, his campaign distributed to reporters a New York Times story about Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., filling hundreds of positions with guest workers, even as he has espoused hard-line views on immigration …

Rubio usually takes indirect shots at Trump during campaign events. For example, he has said routinely on the campaign trail that “anger is not a plan.” In two different states  Tuesday, Rubio said the election cannot be about “making a point.”

Asked on his campaign plane Tuesday why he does not tend to mention Trump’s name to his crowds, Rubio responded: “That’s how I speak and that’s how my campaign’s going continue to be.”

  • David Weigel
  • ·

ON THE ISSUES | It was a well-designed zinger, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) agreeing with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), insisting that Donald Trump had discovered the immigration issue for political purposes. When Cruz was opposing the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, Trump was “firing Dennis Rodman on ‘Celebrity Apprentice.'”

Yet it might be the rarest thing in this campaign: Someone giving Trump short shrift. In June 2013, when the immigration bill gained momentum, Trump told Breitbart News — a highly favorable news source — that he opposed the bill.

“If you have a country, you have borders,” said Trump. “And you either live with the fact that you have borders, or you don’t. Congress is going at jet speed to try and get something passed and the Republicans better be careful because anything that’s passed, as they [illegal immigrants] become voting citizens, they will only vote for Democrats.”

Yet this is not the first time that Cruz has insisted Trump was absent during the immigration fight. Trump’s media omnipresence put him on the record against it.

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