CNN  — 

TAPPER: Live from the Bank United Center on the campus of the University of Miami, this is the CNN Republican Presidential debate. For our viewers in the United States and around the world, welcome to Miami Florida, I’m Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: In just five days voters will go to the polls here in this state as well as in Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri. The race for the Republican nomination for president could change dramatically.

Florida and Ohio each have a large number of delegates at stake and they award all of them to the candidate who wins. They’re a winner-take-all state. So that’s the first time that will happen in this primary season and this is the last debate before that critical round of voting.

We hope tonight the candidates will give the voters specifics on their visions for America.

So now let’s welcome the candidates.

Ohio Governor John Kasich.


Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.


Real estate developer and businessman Donald Trump.


Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.


Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.


Before we begin this evening, we want to remember former first lady Nancy Reagan, who passed away this week. Her funeral will be held tomorrow and we would like to take a moment of silence to remember Nancy Reagan.


Now, please rise for our national anthem performed by the Frost Singers from the University of Miami. (STAR SPANGLED BANNER)


TAPPER: Thanks to the Frost Singers from the University of Miami.

Candidates, you can now take your positions behind the podiums while I briefly explain the rules. As moderator, I will attempt to guide the discussion, asking questions and followups. Joining me in the questioning this evening will be Washington Times reporter Stephen Dinan, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, and Salem Radio’s Hugh Hewitt.

Candidates, you have one minute and 15 seconds to answer each question, and 45 seconds to respond to followups or for rebuttals if your name is invoked. That’s longer than you’ve had in previous debates.

Timing lights will be visible. Those lights will warn you when time is up. And as you requested, a bell will also sound, like this.


We know that each of you wants to debate these important issues, but please wait until you are called upon and please do not talk over one another. These are the rules to which all of you agreed.

Our goal this evening is a serious debate on the issues.

It’s time now for opening statements. You’ll each have 30 seconds.

Governor Kasich, we will start with you.

KASICH: Well, thank you. You know, I look in the faces of people all across this country, and I know they want to be hopeful. And many are hopeful. Look, I can take conservative policies to the White House, to Washington, to restore the strength of our economy. But I also want to transfer power, money and influence to where you live, because I believe the strength in this country rests in the neighborhoods, the families, the communities and our states.

And I believe it’s a new partnership - a partnership that can allow us to restore the spirit of America and strengthen America for the best century we’ve ever had.

Thank you.


TAPPER: Senator Rubio?

RUBIO: Every election is important. I believe this is the most important election in a generation. Because what’s at stake in this election is not simply what party is going to be in charge or which candidate wins. What’s at stake is our identity as a nation and as a people.

RUBIO: For over two centuries, America has been an exceptional nation. And now the time has come for this generation to do what it must do to keep it that way. If we make the right choice in this election, our children are going to be the freest and most prosperous Americans that have ever lived. And the 21st century is going to be a new American century.


TAPPER: Senator Cruz?

CRUZ: Fifty-nine years ago, Florida welcomed my father to America as he stepped off the ferry boat from Cuba onto Key West. He was 18. He was filled with hopes and dreams, and yet he was in the freest land on the face of the earth.

This election, this debate is not about insults. It’s not about attacks. It’s not about any of the individuals on this stage. This election is about you and your children. It’s about the freedom America has always had and making sure that that freedom is there for the next generation, that we stop Washington from standing in the way of the hard-working taxpayers of America.


TAPPER: Mr. Trump?

TRUMP: One of the biggest political events anywhere in the world is happening right now with the Republican Party. Millions and millions of people are going out to the polls and they’re voting. They’re voting out of enthusiasm. They’re voting out of love. Some of these people, frankly, have never voted before - 50 years old, 60 years old, 70 years old - never voted before.

We’re taking people from the Democrat Party. We’re taking people as independents, and they’re all coming out and the whole world is talking about it. It’s very exciting. I think, frankly, the Republican establishment, or whatever you want to call it, should embrace what’s happening.

We’re having millions of extra people join. We are going to beat the Democrats. We are going to beat Hillary or whoever it may be. And we’re going to beat them soundly.


TAPPER: Thank you. Thank you.

Let’s begin with jobs and the economy, which Republican voters say is the most important issue to them in this election. There have been some real differences expressed in - on this stage on whether trade deals have been good for the American workers. One of Mr. Trump’s, the front runner’s, signature issues is ending what he calls “disastrous trade deals” in order to bring jobs back to America.

Governor Kasich, I’d like to start with you. You’ve been a strong advocate for these trade deals over the years. Critics say these deals are great for corporate America’s bottom line, but have cost the U.S. at least 1 million jobs. How do you respond to the criticism that you’ve been catering to board rooms at the expense of the American middle class?

KASICH: Well, Jake, I grew up in a blue collar family. And the simple fact of the matter is that of course we’re sensitive about trade. One out of five Americans works in a job connected to trade; 38 million Americans are connected to it.

But my position has always been we want to have free trade, but fair trade. And I’ve been arguing all along that it is absolutely critical that when other countries break those agreements, we don’t turn the process over to some international bureaucrat who comes back a couple years later and says, “Oh, America was right,” and people are out of work.

The fact of the matter is we have to have an expedited process. When people cheat, when countries cheat and they take advantage of us, we need to blow the whistle. And as president of the United States, I absolutely will blow the whistle and begin to stand up for the American worker.

But we don’t want to lock the doors and pull down the blinds and leave the world. Because frankly, if we do that, prices will go up. People will buy less. Other people will be out of work. And we don’t want to see that happen.

Trade, though, has to be balanced and we have to make sure that when we see a violation, like some country dumping their products into this country, believe me as president, I will stand up and I will shut down those imports because they’re a violation of the agreement we have and the American worker expects us to stand up.

And Jake, my family worked in the steel industry, not with a white collar. I understand their plight.


TAPPER: Mr. Trump, your critics say your campaign platform is inconsistent with how you run your businesses, noting that you’ve brought in foreign workers instead of hiring Americans, and your companies manufacture clothing in China and Mexico.

Why should voters trust that you will run the country differently from how you run your businesses? TRUMP: Because nobody knows the system better than me. I know the H1B. I know the H2B. Nobody knows it better than me. I’m a businessman. These are laws. These are regulations. These are rules. We’re allowed to do it. And frankly, because of the devaluations that other countries - the monetary devaluations that other countries are constantly doing and brilliantly doing against us, it’s very, very hard for our companies in this country, in our country, to compete.

So I will take advantage of it; they’re the laws. But I’m the one that knows how to change it. Nobody else on this dais knows how to change it like I do, believe me.

TAPPER: Senator Rubio, last October, you said that you’re, quote, “generally very much in favor of free trade.” More recently, you backed a away from your support of some trade deals. If elected, will you support free trade deals even if it means the inevitable loss of U.S. jobs?

RUBIO: No, I support free trade deals that are good for America. We’re 5 percent of the world’s population. If all we do is sell things to each other, we can only sell to 5 percent of the people on earth. We have to have access to the hundreds of millions of people in the world today who can afford to buy things.

The problem is we’re a low-tariff country. To import something into the United States is not very expensive, but many of these countries we can’t export to because their tariffs are too high. And so I am in favor of deals that allow us to bring down those tariffs so that America can sell things to all these people around the world.

There are good trade deals and there are bad ones. So for example, here in Florida, we have benefited from the free trade deal with Colombia. It’s allowed flower exporters to come into the United States but it’s created jobs for hundreds of people who are now delivering those flowers and working in that industry. We have a surplus with Colombia.

On the other hand, you’ve seen trade deals like in Mexico that have been less than promising in some aspects, better in others. Bottom line is I believe that America, if given access to foreign markets, our workers are the most productive in the world, our people are the most innovative on this planet. If it is a free and fair trade deal, we can compete against anyone in the world, and we need to in the 21st century.


TAPPER: Senator Cruz, you were a supporter of the Pacific trade deal, but after taking some heat from conservatives, you changed your position. Why should these voters who don’t like these trade deals trust that you will fight for them all the time and not just in election years?

CRUZ: Actually that’s incorrect. There are two different agreements. There’s TPA and TPP. I opposed TPP and have always opposed TPP, which is what you asked about. And when it comes to trade, look, free trade, when we open up foreign markets, helps Americans. But we’re getting killed in international trade right now. And we’re getting killed because we have an administration that’s doesn’t look out for American workers and jobs are going overseas. We’re driving jobs overseas.

And the people who are losing out are in manufacturing jobs, or the steel industry or the auto industry. But I’ll tell you who else is going to be losing out, which is the service industry. This Obama administration is negotiating the Trade in Services Agreement which is another treaty to allow services to come in and take jobs from Americans as well.

And you’ve got to understand. Trade and immigration are interwoven, and they are hurting the working men and women of this country. So the question is, what’s the solution? It’s easy to talk about the problems. But do you have a solution to fix it? And I think the solution is several things.

Number one, we need to negotiate trade deals protecting American workers first, not the corporate board room. Number two, we need to lift the regulations on American businesses here so we see jobs coming back. And number three, we need a tax plan like the tax plan I’ve introduced that will not tax exports and that will tax imports, and that will bring millions of high-paying jobs back to America.


TAPPER: Let’s talk more about how American jobs are impacted by foreign workers. Let’s go to Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times. Stephen.

DINAN: Senator Rubio in late 2014, Disney laid off 250 tech workers in Orlando, replacing many of them with foreign workers. Some of the Americans even had to train their own replacements. You support increasing the H-1B visa program that made it possible to bring in these foreign workers. Doesn’t this program take jobs away from Americans?

RUBIO: If it’s being abused the way Disney did. Understand that program, it is illegal now under that program to use it to replace American workers. Under that program, you have to prove not only that you’re not replacing Americans, but that you’ve tried to hire Americans. And if a company is caught abusing that process, they should never be allowed to use it again.

The second problem with the current structure of the program that people perhaps don’t understand is a lot of these companies are not directly hiring employees from abroad. They are hiring a consulting company like Tata, for example, out of India. That company then hoards up all of these visas. They hire workers. You hire - Disney or some other company hires this company.

What they’re basically doing is they are insourcing and outsourcing. They are bringing in workers from abroad that are not direct employees of a Disney or someone else, they’re employees of this consulting business. And what I argue is that no consulting business such as that should be allowed to hoard up all of these visas, that the visas should only be available for companies to use to directly hire workers and that we should be stricter in how he enforce it.

It is illegal now, it is a violation of the law now to use that program to replace Americans. And if a company is caught doing that, whether it be Disney or anyone else, they should be barred from using the program in the future.

DINAN: Senator Rubio, real quick follow-up on this.


You’ve - in the - in the context of illegal immigration, you’ve called for basically putting off any legalization process until we get the border secured.

RUBIO: Correct.

DINAN: Why not call for a pause on H1Bs until those abuses you’ve talked about are solved.

RUBIO: Well first, I think - well, I’d be open to it if it takes a pause. But I don’t think it takes a pause to enforce the law. What they are doing is they are in fact using that program to replace an American.

If there’s an American working at Disney and they bring someone from another country using H1B to replace their direct job, that’s in violation of the law. And what I’m explaining to you is, what they are doing now is they are not - what they are doing is they are eliminating the job.

They are outsourcing the entire tech division to a consulting company. They are making the argument that we didn’t replace you. We just replaced the whole unit by hiring a company to do it instead. And that company that they’re hiring is bringing their workers from abroad. It’s a loophole they’ve figured out that we need to close so they can no longer continue to do it that way.


DINAN: Governor Kasich, I want to come to you next. Mr. Trump says that legal immigration is producing quote, “lower wages and higher unemployment for U.S. workers”. He’s calling for a pause on green cards issued to foreign workers. Wouldn’t that help workers in the U.S.?

KAISCH: Well look, I believe in immigration, but it has to be controlled. The simple fact of the matter is I wouldn’t be standing here. I’d be maybe running for president of Croatia if we didn’t have immigration.

Immigration is something that brings youth and vibrance and energy to our country. But we clearly have to control our borders. We can’t have people just walking in. Look, we lock our doors at night in our homes. The country has to be able to lock its doors as well. So, we - I have a comprehensive plan to deal with this problem of immigration.

I would say we have to absolutely finish the wall and guard the border. And if anybody were to come in after that, they are going to have to go back. No excuses because we can’t continue this problem. I think we ought to have a guest worker program, where people come in, work and go home.

And I think at the same time, for the 11 and a half million who are here, then in my view if they have not committed a crime since they’ve been here, they get a path to legalization. Not to citizenship. I believe that program can pass the Congress in the first 100 days.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the whole key to the future of America is strong economic growth with common sense regulation, lower taxes and a balanced budget.

We can have a rising tide that lifts all the workers in America, all the people who are citizens of America, if we’ll just follow the formula that works, that I used in Washington. And guess what, I’ve used it in Ohio to grow over 400 private sector jobs since I’ve been governor

DINAN: Mr. Trump, I do want to come to you. Will you also in your answer, address how long you think that pause would be and what that pause would look like.

TRUMP: I will. First of all, I think and I know the H1B very well. And it’s something that I frankly use and I shouldn’t be allowed to use it. We shouldn’t have it. Very, very bad for workers. And second of all, I think it’s very important to say, well, I’m a businessman and I have to do what I have to do.

When it’s sitting there waiting for you, but it’s very bad. It’s very bad for business in terms of - and it’s very bad for our workers and it’s unfair for our workers. And we should end it. Very importantly, the Disney workers endorsed me, as you probably read.

And I got a full endorsement because they are the ones that said, and they had a news conference, and they said, he’s the only one that’s going to be able to fix it. Because it is a mess. I think for a period of a year to two years we have to look back and we have to see, just to answer the second part of your question, where we are, where we stand, what’s going on.

We have to sort of take a strong, good, hard look and come up with plans that work. And we’re rushing into things, and we’re just - we’re leading with the chin.


We’re leading with people that don’t know what they are doing in terms of our leadership. I’d say a minimum of one year, maybe two years.

DINAN: Senator Cruz, I want to bring you in very quickly on this.


DINAN: The United States averages about a million new permanent legal immigrants a year and hundreds of thousands more guest workers. What should the right level be?

CRUZ: Well, we need to redefine our legal immigration system so that it meets the needs of the American economy. Right now, we’re bringing in far too many low skilled workers. What that is doing is driving down the wages of hard-working Americans. Our system isn’t working. And then on top of that, we’ve got a system that’s allowing in millions of people to be here illegally.

And the answer to that, I’ve laid out a very, very detailed immigration plan on my website. We’re going to build a wall, triple the border patrol. We’re going to end sanctuary cities. And let me tell you how we’re going to do that.

We’re going to cut off federal taxpayer funds to any city that defies federal immigration laws.


CRUZ: We’re going to end welfare benefits for anyone who is here illegally. And the thing to understand, Stephen, we can solve these problems. It’s not that we don’t know how to do it. It’s that we’re lacking the political will. Neither of the parties in Washington wants to do this.

The Democrats support illegal immigration because they view those illegal immigrants as potential voters and far too many of the Republicans are doing the bidding of Wall Street and the special interest and they view it as cheap labor.

CRUZ: We need instead leadership that works for the working men and women of this country. We need an immigration system that takes care of the jobs of the working men and women of this country.


TAPPER: Senator Rubio, did you want to weigh in?

RUBIO: Well, I would add when you talk about the millions of green cards that are coming in, those aren’t actually workers at all. They are just coming in primarily based on family connection. And ;let me tell you, when my parents came in 1956, I acknowledge that my parents came to the U.S. on a family-based system.

The problem is nothing looks like it did 60 years ago. The 21st Century economy simply is not creating enough jobs for people that don’t have skills. When my parents came, they had a very limited education. My father stopped going to school when he was 9 years old because his mother died and he had to work. And he would work the next 70 years of his life and never go back to school. And I’m grateful every day that America welcomed them.

But today in the 21st Century, 60 years later, finding jobs when you don’t have skills is very difficult. We need to move to a merit- based system of immigration, not just on H-1B, particularly on green cards. The primary criteria for bringing someone from abroad in the 21st Century should be, what skills do you have? What business are you going to open? What investment are you going to make? What job are you going to be able to do when you arrive in the United States?


TAPPER: Education obviously plays a large role when it comes to jobs and the economy. The United States has long been falling behind others in the industrialized world. American students currently rank 27th out of 34 countries in math and 17th in reading.

Mr. Trump, you’ve called the education standards known as Common Core a disaster. What are your specific objections to Common Core?

TRUMP: Education through Washington, D.C. I don’t want that. I want local education. I want the parents, and I want all of the teachers, and I want everybody to get together around a school and to make education great.

And it was very interesting, I was with Dr. Ben Carson today, who is endorsing me, by the way, tomorrow morning, and he is…


TRUMP: We were talking. We spoke for over an hour on education. And he has such a great handle on it. He wants competitive schools. He wants a lot of different things that are terrific, including charter schools, by the way, that the unions are fighting like crazy. But charter schools work and they work very well.

So there are a lot of things. But I’m going to have Ben very involved with education, something that’s an expertise of his.

TAPPER: OK. But just to clarify, the Common Core standards were developed by the states, states and localities voluntarily adopt them, and they come up with their own curricula to meet those standards. So when you say “education by Washington, D.C.,” what do you mean?

TRUMP: You’re right, Jake. But it has been taken over by the federal government. I