Thirteen Republican candidates for president debated on Tuesday evening, the fifth of the 2016 cycle. The main event with the top nine contenders included some surprising positive references to the federal workforce. It also contained several mentions of government overreach.
Here is a breakdown of all the discussions involving how the candidates would reform federal agencies and their employees:
Ted Cruz: The Texas senator said the federal government is unable to screen against terrorists entering the country through the refugee relocation program. “The head of FBI has told Congress it cannot vet those refugees,” Cruz said.
Cruz defended his support of the USA Freedom Act, saying it stopped the bulk collection of phone record data by the National Security Agency on “millions of innocent citizens” while it “strengthens the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists.”
Marco Rubio: The Florida senator voiced his opposition to USA Freedom, saying it crippled the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Sen. Rand Paul, Ky., said he does not support metadata collection, while Ben Carson refused to weigh in on the matter.
Rubio cited federal budget cuts as harming our country, but seemed to be referring only to the military. He called for the reversal of those cuts, though they have already been reversed for the next two years.
The first-term senator was the lone candidate in the field to openly call for more civilian federal employees, at least at one agency. Rubio said the Border Patrol should hire 20,000 more agents.
Carly Fiorina: The former Hewlett-Packard executive ripped the government for being “woefully behind the technology curve.” She also said the “bureaucratic procedures are so far behind,” referencing what she called the Homeland Security Department’s inability to scan social media (Cruz also said “Obama’s DHS” was wrong for not looking more at websites like Facebook to confront terrorism). She cited the government for “corruption, ineptitude and lack of accountability.”
“We need a different kind of leader in the White House that knows how to deal with these kinds of bureaucracies,” Fiorina said.
Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor called for a more robust response to the Chinese government for its hacks of databases maintained by the Office of Personnel Management, which affected all current and many former federal workers.
“If they want to come in and attack all the personnel records in the federal government,” Christie said, noting his own information was breached, “the fact is they have to be fought back on.” He went on to decry the Obama administration for allowing the federal workforce to endure the hacks, noting they have “sacrificed” for the American people.
Christie knows about that sacrifice, and made sure everyone watching the debate knew it: the governor mentioned six times he was a U.S. attorney in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department.
Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor referenced OPM specifically, saying it was an example the Obama administration is not serious.
Before the top contenders took the stage, four presidential hopefuls polling in the low single digits participated in the so-called undercard debate. While nearly the entire event focused on foreign policy, there were some discussions on the role of federal government.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator advocated reinstating parts of the National Security Agency’s data collection program that was recently rolled back. “This metadata collection, it’s not collecting their phone calls, their voices,” Santorum said. He also said the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies were tied behind their backs “because of political correctness.”
Santorum also hit the government for its inability to “adequately vet” refugees from Syria, calling it a “physical impossibility.”
Lindsey Graham: The South Carolina senator also said he would reinstitute the NSA program.
“If you’re worried about the government having your phone number, don’t be,” Graham said. “The only thing you need to be worried about is if you’re talking a terrorist and a judge gives an order to listen.”
Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor said under his leadership, the United States would create “a government we can actually trust.” He said the government should rely on reading the social media of its citizens, rather than the collection of phone records, to combat terrorism.