GOP Debate: Newt Gingrich Clarifies Illegal Immigration Policy

Nov 23, 2011, 08:40 by R.E. Christian

Eight rivals for the Republican U.S. presidential nomination sparred on immigration, national security and foreign policy issues in their debate Tuesday.

Comments by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on illegal immigration largely dominated post-debate analysis and commentary. Gingrich came under scrutiny for saying at one point during the debate that the Republican Party should not advocate a policy that "destroys families" by deporting family members who have been in the United States for a long time, paying taxes and becoming part of the fabric of communities.

"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter-century, who have children and grandchildren � separate them from their families and expel them," he said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was critical of Gingrich's stand, warning leniency will "only encourage" more illegal immigration, Politico reported. The campaign of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann issued a statement saying Gingrich's "immigration policy effectively equates to amnesty for foreigners residing in the United States unlawfully."

The first question during the debate was about the Patriot Act, passed following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, allowing wider latitude for federal authorities to gather intelligence.

Gingrich said the law should be strengthened.

"All of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives," the former Georgia congressman said.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said the Patriot Act "undermines liberty."

"You can prevent crimes by becoming a police state," Paul said. "But the crime then will be against the American people."

Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman called for a "balancing act between our individual liberties and security" and Romney said the Patriot Act is warranted because "terror is a tool of war, not a crime."

Paul responded by noting he doesn't "remember voting on a declaration of war."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said President Barack Obama has been "an absolute failure" in supporting military intelligence around the world and drew applause when he said he would privatize the Transportation Security Administration "as soon as I could and get rid of those unions."

Gingrich tops Romney and other GOP White House hopefuls, a U.S. poll indicated ahead of the Tuesday debate.

Gingrich received the support of 24 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, while Romney got 20 percent, a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey of 1,019 adult Americans indicated.

The poll -- taken Friday through Sunday and released late Monday -- has a sampling error of 5 percentage points for Republican-primary questions.

Former Godfather's Pizza Chief Executive Officer Herman Cain -- who reached front-runner status three weeks ago only to be beset by accusations he sexually harassed female employees when he headed the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s -- got the support of 17 percent. Perry, whose inconsistent debate performances and difficulty reconciling his positions on immigration and the HPV vaccine disillusioned many Republicans, came in at 11 percent, the poll indicated.

Paul earned 9 percent, while Bachmann got 5 percent. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Huntsman both got 3 percent.

Twenty-seven percent of those polled said they had made up their minds.

Gingrich's campaign, which began in March, stumbled in May and June, after a number of gaffes and controversies that spurred some top advisers and staffers to quit. But he performed well in 10 major GOP presidential debates since then, taking on the role of elder statesman while many of his rivals attacked each other, surveys and analysts indicated.

Tuesday's debate in Washington's historic DAR Constitution Hall, across from the circular Ellipse park in front of the White House, was televised by CNN, which co-sponsored the session with the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, two conservative think tanks.

Gingrich spent the past 12 years as an AEI senior fellow and left just before announcing his candidacy. Romney drew three Heritage Foundation scholars and one from AEI for his foreign-policy team.

Perry has been advised by senior AEI fellow John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, The Washington Post reported.

AEI Vice President Danielle Pletka told the Post CNN was "absolutely scrupulous" in making sure there would be no conflicts of interest between the campaigns and the debate's production.

Source: UPI