Transcript of Republican debate in Miami, full text

(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.
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    Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
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    Real estate developer and businessman Donald Trump.
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    Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
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    Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.
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    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.
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    Now, please rise for our national anthem performed by the Frost Singers from the University of Miami. (STAR SPANGLED BANNER)
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    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.
    (BELL SOUND)
    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.