The Republican presidential field gathered tonight for the first official debate of the 2016 presidential election, and there was no shortage of policy ideas offered in the first debate of the night from the seven Republicans participating.

Dubbed the “happy hour” debate because of its 5 p.m. start time, the seven lower-polling of the 17 Republican presidential candidates met on stage in the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, for the forum.

The seven Republican candidates participating were former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. Pataki, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The candidates first were asked to defend their records from their time as leaders at the state and federal level, as well as in the private sector.

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But the debate quickly turned to questions on the issues that have been dominating the news, including the economy and Iran.

Here’s how the seven GOP candidates in the first debate answered on the issues.

Illegal Immigration

Perry, who served as head of a border state for more than a decade, defended his record on securing the border in Texas, and he criticized politicians in Washington, D.C., for failing to act to secure the borders.

“Americans are tired of hearing this debate,” he said. “[They] want to know, what are you going to do about illegal immigration?”

The former Texas governor called for additional personnel and fencing along the country’s southern border. Perry also advocated for planes to fly above and scan the area along the border to identify instances of illegal activity.

“Then Americans will believe that Washington is up to a conversation to deal with the millions of people that are here illegally,” he said.

Santorum reminded the audience that America is “a country of laws” and advocated for immigration policies that are pro-worker and “in favor of those struggling.”

“The reason America is a great country is because passion is in the law,” Santorum said.

The Economy

When asked to discuss his plan to grow the economy—an issue that worries many Americans—Gilmore laid out a plan to cut taxes and change the tax code, creating three brackets with 10-, 15- and 20-percent tax rates.

“Americans are dying for the opportunity to grow,” Gilmore said.

He also called for a decrease in regulations implemented by the federal government, such as those from the Environmental Protection Agency, and called for the elimination of the death tax.

Such a plan, Gilmore said, will “cause the economy to grow.”

Santorum, meanwhile, said he would deliver a “one-two punch” to boost the economy, which includes creating better-paying jobs, putting Americans back to work in the manufacturing sector and instituting work requirements and time limits for those relying on the government’s safety-net programs.

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Graham agreed that America “is dying to work” and called on policymakers to “give them a chance” to do so.

Specifically, the South Carolina senator pointed to repealing and replacing Obamacare, building the Keystone Pipeline and changing Dodd-Frank as ways to boost the economy.

“Until you change the policies of Barack Obama, you’re never going to change the economy,” Graham said.


When asked what his plan would be to defeat ISIS, the brutal terrorist group also known as ISIL, Pataki stressed the need to shut down the group’s Internet capabilities and destroy ISIS’ training camps and recruiting centers.

Pataki differed from Graham, who repeatedly said he would send U.S. troops to Iraq and Syria to defeat and destroy ISIS.

“If you’re running for president and don’t understand that we need ground forces in Iraq, you’re not ready to be commander in chief and not serious about destroying ISIL,” Graham said.

Pataki said he disagreed with occupying Iraq again, but rather advocated for destroying ISIS’ ability to attack the United States.

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Jindal, when asked what his strategy for defeating ISIS looks like, said he wouldn’t be afraid to “name the enemy we confront … radical Islamic terrorism.”

“How can we beat an enemy if our commander in chief doesn’t have to moral honesty and clarity to say that Islam has a problem, and that problem is radical Islam?” he asked, criticizing President Obama.

Jindal also said his strategy would include arming and training the Kurds, working with Sunni allies and allowing the military to appropriately respond to the terrorist group.

Gilmore, who was governor of Virginia during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, stressed the need for law enforcement nationwide to combine with intelligence agencies to defend the country.

“We have to be prepared to defend the American people, prepare them for a long war, stand up for the defense of this country and stand up for the values of this country,” he said.


With Congress now turned to addressing the deal with Iran, the candidates were asked to discuss the United States’ role in working with either Iran or Middle Eastern allies, who have also funneled money to terrorist organizations.

Fiorina said that if elected, she would make two phone calls on her first day in office: the first to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to tell him the United States stands with Israel, and the second to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran.

The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive said she would warn the ayatollah that unless he opens nuclear and military facilities for inspections, “we’re going to make it as difficult as possible to move money around the global financial system.”

The calls, Fiorina said, would send the message that “America is back in the leadership business.”

Perry, meanwhile, stressed that his first priority would be to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Doing so, he said, includes tearing up the agreement with Iran that Obama negotiated.

The former Texas governor also said the United States needs to develop coalitions in the Middle East and called on Congress to stop the $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets from being returned to the country.

“A hundred fifty billion is fixing to going to a country that killed our Marines in Lebanon, that used their weapons to kill our young men,” he said.


Referring to the release of five videos showing Planned Parenthood executives allegedly discussing the sale of organs from aborted fetuses, Jindal was asked if he believed that shutting down the government to defund Planned Parenthood was the appropriate action to take.

Jindal touted recent actions in Louisiana to terminate the state’s Medicaid contract with the group and encouraged Republicans to fight to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding.

“It’s time for Republicans in D.C. to fight,” he said. “Too often they give up, they negotiate with themselves.”

Pataki stressed the need for a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and the use of federal funds for abortion.

“My heart hasn’t changed,” he said. “I’ve always been appalled by abortion. I’m a Catholic. I believe life begins at conception…When you look at these videos, they are horrific, they show a hideous disrespect for life.”