Opening Round Of CNN Republican Debate Focuses On Free Trade: "Most Important Issue" To Republicans


CNN's Jake Tapper asks all four Republican candidates pointed, insightful questions about their positions on controversial new free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and how American jobs are impacted. All four candidates deliver substantive serious answers on what Jake Tapper calls "the most important issue" to conservative Republicans.

"Mr. Trump's signature issue is ending what he calls 'disastrous trade deals,' in order to bring jobs back to America," Tapper said. "Governor Kasich, I'd like to start with you. You've been a strong advocate for these strong deals. 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 boardrooms at the expense of the middle class?"

"I grew up in a blue collar family," Kasich said. "The simple fact of the matter is, of course, we're sensitive about trade. 1 out of 5 Americans work 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," he explained.

"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. 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," he concluded, echoing what Donald Trump said earlier this week following his victory in the Michigan primaries. Michigan, next to Kasich's home state of Ohio is a state particularly affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by President Clinton.

Earlier today, the president criticized Donald Trump's strong opposition to the international deals currently under negotiation. "We cannot put up walls around a global economy," Obama said.

Next, Donald Trump is asked about why his companies produce products in countries like Mexico and China: "Why should voters trust that you'll run the country differently from how you run your businesses?"

"I'm a businessman. These are laws," Trump said. "It's very, very hard for our companies in this country, in our country to compete. So I take advantage of it. They are the laws, but I'm the one that knows how to change it. Nobody else on this stage knows how to change it like I do. Believe me."

Senators Marco Rubio and Cruz are both asked about changing their positions on the deals. Originally they both voted to give President Obama trade promotion authority, but they now oppose specific deals.

Marco Rubio is ready with a new plan to reform guest worker visa enforcement.

"We're 5% of the world's population," said Rubio. "If all we do is sell things do each other, we can only sell to 5% 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."

"Number one," said Cruz. "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 will tax imports and that will bring millions of high-paying jobs back to America."

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