Andrew Harnik/AP

Here's Everything Feds Need to Know About Thursday's GOP Debates

Candidates hint at how they would mange the federal bureaucracy.

The 10 Republicans atop the polls for the party’s nomination for president in 2016 took to the debate stage in prime time Thursday, where they discussed a variety of issues and traded some pointed barbs. On several occasions, candidates addressed issues related to civil servants and the size of the federal government. Here are the highlights of the two-hour discussion, listed in order in which they occurred.  

  • Donald Trump: Border Patrol agents have told Trump that Mexico is sending its criminals into the United States, according to the real estate mogul.
  • Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor trumpeted his support for bulk collection of phone records by the National Security Agency, and touted his own time as a federal employee when he prosecuted terrorists as a U.S. attorney with the Justice Department.
  • Rand Paul: The senator from Kentucky voiced his well-known opposition to the NSA, saying it violates the 4th Amendment of the Constitution.
  • Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor was posed a question from a Facebook user on what could be done to rein in the Environmental Projection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the Education Department. There are a lot of things happening at the federal level that are in opposition to the Constitution, he said. Huckabee repeated a line that the IRS should be eliminated.
  • Marco Rubio: The Florida senator answered the same question, taking shots at federal overreach. “The Education Department, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied,” he said. He added agencies will turn any opt-in proposal to a mandate. 
  • Ted Cruz: A moderator mentioned the hack of federal employees’ data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management, asking if China and other adversaries carried out that and other cyber attacks. “Of course they have,” the Texas senator responded.
  • Ben Carson: The former neurosurgeon issued a harsh critique of sequestration, focusing on its impact on Defense spending. It’s “cutting the heart out of personnel,” Carson said. “Our generals are retiring because they don’t want to be a part of it anymore.”
  • Huckabee: Asked about the acceptance of transgender individuals into the military, Huckabee said, “The military is not a social experiment. The purpose of the military is kill people and break things.”
  • Rubio: In the biggest nod to civil service issues of the night, Rubio took a shot at the Veterans Affairs Department. He praised a controversial element of a reform law last year that limits the due process rights of the agency’s senior executives. “Unfortunately today we have a VA that does not do enough for [veterans],” Rubio said. “I’m glad we passed a law that gives the VA secretary the ability to fire any executive that isn’t doing their job. And it's outrageous that they have only fired one. When I’m president, we’ll have a VA that’s more about our veterans than our bureaucrats that work at the VA.”
  • Scott Walker: In his closing statement, the Wisconsin governor boasted his efforts to break up the public sector unions in his home state: “We took on the big government union bosses and we won,” he said. 

Prior to the 10 Republican frontrunners taking the stage, Fox News held the “undercard” debate -- or what was less affectionately known as the “kids’ table debate” -- for those who didn’t qualify for the main event. Former Hewlet-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, who has discussed federal workforce issues at great length on the campaign trail, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, were the most vocal in bringing up federal issues.

  • Fiorina: The former private sector CEO said she understands bureaucracies, “how to cut them down to size and hold them accountable.”
  • Jindal: In his first answer, the two-term governor said: “I ran for office to make the generational changes in Louisiana. We've cut 26 percent of our budget. We have 30,000 fewer state bureaucrats than the day I took office. I don't think anybody has cut that much government anywhere, at any time.”
  • Fiorina: She discussed the need to bring the public sector and private sector together to fight cybercrime.
  • Jindal: When discussing women’s health, Jindal made a promise to use the Internal Revenue Service, Justice Department and other tools of the federal government to go after Planned Parenthood.