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GOP Debate Live Blog: Donald Trump Meets Rivals in Florida Showdown

In the past 24 hours, Donald Trump has grabbed headlines for declaring, on CNN, that “Islam hates us.” His campaign has pushed back on claims that its campaign manager grabbed a Breitbart News reporter after Trump’s Tuesday press conference. And there’s still a debate left in the day…

Coming off his victories in a series of primaries on Tuesday, Trump will undoubtedly face attacks from rivals, with a lot of attention on Marco Rubio. Predicting that he would win next Tuesday’s Florida primary, Rubio has also acknowledged that his down-in-the-gutter strategy didn’t work.

Something else to watch for: whether Trump softens his rhetoric, after referring to his penis in the gathering a week ago and setting a new first for a presidential debate.

The debate tonight is sponsored by CNN and will air from the University of Miami.

Follow along for updates:

8:35 pm. Hurry up and wait. The debate was billed as starting at 8:30 pm ET, but it’s actually more pre-show. The debate really starts at 9 pm ET. In the meantime are reports that Ben Carson will endorse Trump on Friday.

8:56 pm. Nancy Reagan. The debate starts with a moment of silence for Nancy Reagan, who died on Sunday. Her funeral is on Friday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley (which, by the way, hosted the second GOP debate in September).

8:58 pm. Handshake. Trump shakes hands with Ted Cruz as he takes the stage. When Rubio comes on stage after him, Trump does not even acknowledge him.

9:00 pm. ‘Most important’. With a hopeful, forward-looking opener, Rubio says that this is the “most important election in a generation.” That’s a common phrase from candidates just about every cycle, but actually may be true this time.

9:03 pm. Trade. Jake Tapper opens with a question about free trade which, given the victories of Trump and the upset of Bernie Sanders, is getting an increasing media focus. John Kasich gets the first question, who is asked about his support for free trade agreements given concerns that they are costing Americans jobs. He says that he “absolutely will blow the whistle for the American worker,” but warns against isolation.

Trump says that he’s the only candidate who knows how to negotiate a deal.

“There are good trade deals and there are bad ones,” Rubio says, citing a deal with Colombia as a good one and a Mexican trade deal (perhaps NAFTA?) as one that is mixed.

Cruz says that “we have an administration that isn’t looking out for American workers,” and jobs are going overseas, while arguing that trade and immigration are interwoven.

9:12 pm. Disney workers. The Walt Disney Co. is the focus of a debate question — a 2014 case where IT workers were told their jobs were being replaced with those from a contracting firm that enlists foreign H-1B visa workers, a guest worker program. The story got particular attention when some of the workers said that they had to train their foreign replacements as a condition of collecting severance. One of the workers testified before a Congressional committee and then appeared at a Trump rally.

Rubio co-sponsored legislation to expand the H-1B visa program, but he makes a distinction in cases where the program “if it is being abused the way Disney did.”

“If a company is doing that, they should be barred from doing that in the future,” he says.

Trump says that he used the H-1B visa program but that it “shouldn’t be allowed.” “It is very very bad for workers,” he says, while adding that the “Disney workers endorsed me.”

9:30 pm. Social Security. Rubio says that the retirement age has to be raised to deal with the longterm fiscal health of Social Security. Trump, however, says he won’t touch it — that it needed to be left “as is” — while cutting “waste, fraud and abuse.” Yet Rubio says that “fraud is not enough.”

Kasich says he a plan to means test those on Social Security. He says that entitlement programs need to be cut, not eliminated. “It means who have to innovate them.”

9:43 pm. 45%. Trump defends previous suggestions that he would impose a stiff tariff on China — specifically, a 45% tax on foreign goods, particularly in trade with China. He says that the tax is a “threat.” “It will be a tax if they don’t behave,” he says.

Cruz, however, criticizes Trump for what he says are shifting policy positions.

“We have got to get beyond rhetoric of ‘China bad,” and actually get to, ‘How do you solve the problem?'”

But Trump says that “our country is in serious, serious trouble. It’s a bubble and it’s about to explode.”

9:48 pm. ‘Islam hates us.’ Trump is asked about his comment, in a CNN interview, that “Islam hataes us.” Tapper asks Trump whether that means all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. “I mean a lot of them,” Trump says.

Rubio is asked what he thinks of Trump’s comment. “He says what people wish they would say. The problem is that presidents can’t just say what they want.” But he warns of generalizations.

Trump warns that they U.S. can’t afford to be “politically correct” given Islamic radicalization. “We better solve the problem before it is too late,”

Rubio’s reply: “I am not interested in being politically correct. I am interested in being correct.” He notes that the U.S. will have to work with Muslim countries as the religion struggles with the radicalization within it.

9:54 pm. Terrorists families. Trump is asked about a comment he once made about targeting the families of terrorists. “We have to obey the laws. We have to obey the laws. But we have to expand the laws.”

9:57 pm. Israel. Trump is challenged on his comment that he would be “neutral” when it comes to resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. That has drawn attacks from rivals that such a position is actually anti-Israel or naive.

Trump, though, insists that “there’s nobody on this stage that’s more pro-Israel than I am,” but says that trying to reach a peace deal would be “a priority if I become president.”

Cruz attacks Trump, saying that “we need  a president who understands the national security interests of this country,” noting that the Palestinian Authority is aligned with Hamas. Rubio says that it’s not even possible to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority.

10:09 pm. Civility. Trump says that he “cannot believe how civil it’s been up here.” The tone is a big contrast to last week, when candidate body parts and Trump Steaks were getting play. Instead, it is trade, immigration, the VA. Even with a lower key, Trump is still garnering the lion’s share of Twitter conversation, at 66%.

10:13 pm. Cuba. Rubio gets a lot of applause for his opposition to the Obama administration’s opening of relations with Cuba, noting the country’s civil rights record. Trump says that he is in the “middle” on the issue, once again saying that the problem is that the U.S. negotiated a bad deal and that there is a “much better deal to be made.”

Rubio practically mocks Trump’s answer. “I don’t know where Cuba is going to sue us, but if Cuba sues us in Miami, they are going to lose.” The crowd cheers.

10:24 pm. Climate change. At last, the candidates are asked about climate change. It’s particularly relevant in Florida, where the coastal areas of the state are threatened by rising sea levels. But Rubio, the state’s senator, doesn’t seem to buy in to the scientific consensus that climate change is man-made. “One of the reasons the climate is changing is the climate is always changing,” he says, while arguing that the solution to rising sea levels is mitigation. Another problem: Much of Florida is on land that was “once a swamp.”

“As far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there is no such thing,” he says. He says that he doesn’t want to pass a law that doesn’t do anything to solve a problem.

Kasich, however, says that he does think that humans contribute to climate change, while arguing that the government can have a strong environmental policy and also strong economic growth.

10:33 pm. Rally violence. Hillary Clinton called a recent violent incident at a Trump rally “repugnant.” Trump is asked whether he has created a tone where violence is condoned at rallies. “I hope not. I truly hope not,” he says. He says that people come to his events with “a tremendous passion for the country.”

Cruz responds by citing anger at the Obama administration, while criticizing Trump for a rally in which he asked attendees to raise their hands and pledge their support.

“I got to say, I think it is exactly backwards. This is a job interview We got to pledge our support to you, not the other way around,” he says.

Trump slams NBC’s “Today” show for a segment that equated the incident to Nazi Germany, calling it a “disgrace.” Instead, he characterizes the pledge as a point of levity, just part of the “good time” of rallies.

10:46 pm. Delegate math. The debate gets more biting. Cruz says that “if we nominate Donald Trump, Hillary wins,” after suggesting that he is “welcome to be president of the Smithsonian.”

The candidates are asked what they would do if no candidate has a majority of delegates by the time of the convention. Trump says that “whoever gets the most delegates should win,” while Cruz says that it is a two-man race.

10:50 pm. Self funding. Trump acknowledges that he’s been getting small dollar contributions, even though he still insists that he is “self funding” his campaign. He claims that he has turned down $275 million in potential campaign funds, but he hasn’t made a decision on whether he will take contributions for the general election.

10:58 pm. Closing statements. Kasich says that he’s been running an “unwavering, positive campaign.” Rubio repeats his campaign biography. Cruz turns his attention to Hillary Clinton.

Trump tries a message of unity. He says the GOP should “seize the opportunity,” i.e. those he’s drawn to the polls so far. “Embrace these millions of people that for the first time ever love the Republican party — and unify.”

11:05 pm. That’s it. They got the memo: Less sniping, more substance. Trump tells CNN, “We needed this kind of debate. We needed this kind of tone.” He calls it “elegant.”

Via CNN, here is the transcript on the H-1B visa question and the Disney workers.

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. 

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