Cruz and Rubio clash in fifth Republican debate

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GOP Debate Begins With Jeb Firing At Trump


LAS VEGAS (AP) — In a presidential race reshaped by national security concerns, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clashed over U.S. military intervention and government spying on Americans' communications Tuesday night, as front-runner Donald Trump defended his provocative call for banning Muslims from the United States.

SEE ALSO:Donald Trump confronts audience after he gets booed at debate

Struggling former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush found his footing in trying to discredit Trump's qualifications for the White House, chiding the brash billionaire for trying to "insult your way to the presidency."

Tuesday night's debate was the first for Republicans since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, which heightened fears of terrorism in the United States. The attacks have ignited a political debate about President Barack Obama's campaign to defeat the Islamic State in the Middle East and the nation's security posture in preventing attacks in the U.S.

Trump's call for temporarily banning Muslims from the U.S. — a proposal roundly criticized by his rivals — dominated much of the discussion heading into the debate. He said he wasn't seeking to discriminate against Muslims.

Images from the GOP debate:

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Cruz and Rubio clash in fifth Republican debate
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina (R) gestures as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio looks on during in the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gestures during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump is seen through the heads of audience members during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ted Cruz, right, speaks as Donald Trump looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (R) speaks as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listens during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Ben Carson speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. Carson said his experience as a pediatric neurosurgeon prepared him to make tough choices as a leader. Asked if he could be "ruthless" as a commander-in-chief and order airstrikes that could kill children, Carson said that when he told children heâd have to take out a brain tumor "they donât like me very much, at that point. But later on they love me." (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, second from left, makes a point as Ben Carson, left, Ted Cruz, second from right, and Jeb Bush look on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stand on stage as they are introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, left, and Donald Trump laugh during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush, right, makes a point as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Marco Rubio listens to debate moderator Wolf Blitzer during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ted Cruz speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich gestures as he speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) waves as he walks onstage during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz stand together during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush, right, speaks as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Carly Fiorina, left, responds to a question from debate moderator Wolf Blitzer during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Marco Rubio speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Chris Christie speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz stand together during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ben Carson speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz shakes hands at the start of the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (L) shakes hands with former Gov. Florida Jeb Bush before the start of the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio greets retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson before the start of the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stand on stage as they are introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
2016 Republican presidential candidates Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, from left, Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon, Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc., Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, listen to the U.S. National Anthem during the Republican presidential candidate debate at The Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. With less than two months remaining before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, middle-of-the-pack candidates hoping for a late surge in the polls have little choice but to come out swinging in tonight's fifth Republican debate. Photographer: Ruth Fremson/Pool via Bloomberg
Republican presidential candidates, from left, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul take the stage during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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"We are not talking about isolation; we're talking about security," he said. "We are not talking about religion, we are talking about security."

Bush dismissed the proposal as unserious, saying "Donald is great at the one-liners, but he's a chaos candidate and he'd be a chaos president."

More coverage from the debate: Trump, Bush exchange turns nasty

Trump, Bush Exchange Turns Nasty

In contrast, Cruz and Rubio said they understood why Trump had raised the idea of banning Muslims and avoided directly criticizing the front-runner. Instead, they focused on each other, engaging in lengthy debates over their differences on national security.

Rubio accused Cruz of weakening the government's ability to track terrorists because he voted in favor of legislation to eliminate the National Security Agency's bulk phone-records collection program and replace it with a more restrictive effort to keep the records in phone companies' hands.

Cruz insisted the new law gives the government more access to cellphones and other technology terrorists are more likely to use — a contention Rubio disputed.

"There is nothing we are allowed to do under this bill that we were not allowed to do before," Rubio said.

Beginning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the NSA secretly collected the daily calling records — but not contents of conversations — for most Americans, including people never suspected of any crime.

A new law, called the USA Freedom Act, passed in June with broad, bipartisan support. It ordered the NSA to end bulk collection after a six-month transition that expired last week.

Cruz and Rubio have been sparring from afar over national security for weeks. The Texas senator is on the rise, particularly in Iowa's kickoff caucuses, where he's challenging Trump's months-long lead.


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The senators — both Cuban-Americans in their 40s — also clashed over whether the U.S. should seek to remove dictators in the Middle East, including Syrian President Bashar Assad. Cruz argued that the governments that replace autocrats can often be worse than the ones opposed by the U.S., while Rubio said of Middle East dictators, "If they go, I will not shed a tear."

The senators also displayed differences in their strategies for targeting the Islamic State. The extremist group claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, and one of the shooters in California pledged allegiance to the group on Facebook shortly before she and her husband shot and killed 14 people at a holiday party.

Cruz called for using "overwhelming air power" to destroy the Islamic State, while Rubio said airstrikes would have to be supplemented by ground troops, including American special operations forces.

See all the highlights from the fifth GOP debate:

All The Highlights From The Fifth GOP Debate

President Obama has largely relied on airstrikes to target the militants in Iraq and Syria. However, he's also sent troops to Iraq to help train and assist local forces and recently approved sending special operations forces into Syria.

The debate's focus on national security was a detriment for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has struggled to show competence on complex international matters. He punted on questions about surveillance and American intervention in the Middle East.

Also on the main stage Tuesday night was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former business executive Carly Fiorina; Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Four lower-polling candidates will appear at an earlier event: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

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