With a slew of primary contests and caucuses coming up in the next couple weeks, the four remaining GOP presidential candidates in Arizona debated for the last time before Super Tuesday, touching on a variety of foreign policy issues ranging from foreign aid and defense policy to Iran and immigration.
Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney agreed that Iran poses a serious nuclear threat. Romney said that it was important to communicate to Iran that the United States is considering military options to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weaponry. “They’re not just on the table. They are in our hand,” Romney said.
Santorum touted his history of trying to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, noting that he had authored a bill in 2008 that addressed sanctions on a nuclear program.
Gingrich said that he would support the Israeli prime minister in dealing with the threat of a nuclear Iran. “I do believe there are moments when you preempt,” Gingrich said. “If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons.”
Ron Paul was a notable exception, and said there was no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon. “If you want to worry about nuclear weapons, worry about the nuclear weapons that were left over from the Soviet Union. They’re still floating around,” Paul said.
The candidates also talked about illegal immigration and border security, hot-button issues in Arizona. Paul argued for redirecting resources currently used on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to the U.S.-Mexico border and increasing the efficiency of immigration services. Gingrich said he would expedite the completion of a border fence by January 1, 2014, by initiating a bill to waive all federal regulations, requirements, and studies, as well as, if necessary, moving half of the 23,000 Department of Homeland Security personnel in Washington to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Romney said that that Arizona’s E-Verify system that requires employers to look up the status of employees could serve as a model. He also said that he would complete the fence and ensure that there were adequate border patrol agents. Santorum, who has said that employers should be sanctioned for hiring illegal immigrants, said that he would not require homeowners to use E-Verify to check the status of workers in private households. “I think that’s one step too far,” he said.
Prior to the debate, Romney released a tax plan that would cut marginal rates by 20 percent for individuals and broaden the tax base. His proposal also would zero out taxes on income from capital gains, interest, and qualified dividends for families with an annual income below $200,000. Romney touted the plan as part of his overall platform to improve the economy and spur job growth.
–Contributing Editor Liriel Higa