Republicans take debate stage in race reshaped by attacks

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)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The 2016 Republican presidential candidates are debating for the last time in 2015, this time in Las Vegas, as they race for advantage seven weeks before the first votes are cast in Iowa.

Here are the latest developments (all times local):

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6:50 p.m.

Ben Carson says 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 says that when he told children he’d have to take out a brain tumor “they don’t like me very much, at that point. But later on they love me.”

Pressed on whether he could order airstrikes that would kill children and civilians, Carson said he was prepared to be “tough, resolute, understanding what the problems are and understanding that the job of the president of the United States is to protect the people of this country.”

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6:44 p.m.

Jeb Bush and Donald Trump are at it again in the Republican debate.

With Trump defending his proposal to target the families of terrorists, Bush is dismissing him as not a “serious” candidate.

Trump retorts that “Jeb is a very nice person.” He says, “We need toughness” or else the U.S. will get “weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.”

Bush answers: “You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That’s not going to happen.”

Bush says: “Leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people. Leadership is about creating a serious strategy to deal with the threat of our time.”

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6:38 p.m.

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are clashing over how best to combat the Islamic State.

Rubio says in Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate that Cruz’s plan “is not to lead at all.”

But Cruz says the Islamic State and radical Islamic terrorism “will face no more determined foe than I will be.”

Cruz says he wants to use “overwhelming air power to utterly and completely destroy ISIS,” but that would not involve leveling cities where innocent civilians could be killed. Cruz says the goal “isn’t to level a city,” it’s to “kill the ISIS terorrists.”

But Rubio says terrorists can’t be defeated only through air strikes. He says a ground force against the Islamic State should be made up “primarily” of “Sunni Arabs that reject them ideologicaly and confront them militarily.”

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6:35 p.m.

Donald Trump says he wants to keep members of the Islamic State from using the Internet to recruit American fighters.

He says the government must work with “brilliant people” in Silicon Valley to keep IS fighters offline, even if it means shutting down parts of the Internet.

Trump is also calling out members of the media to stop calling IS fighters “masterminds” because, in reality, they are thugs and terrible people.

He says, “we should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is.”

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6:29 p.m.

Ben Carson is ducking a question about whether Congress was right to end the National Security Agency’s bulk phone-records collection program.

Carson declined to answer when asked Tuesday whether Sen. Ted Cruz was right to vote to end the program or whether Sen. Marco Rubio was correct in supporting its continuation.

Carson says: “I don’t want to get in between them. Let them fight.”

Carson says he is in favor of monitoring anyplace where people who may be engaging in radical activities are gathered, including mosques, schools, supermarkets and theaters.

Carson says we are at war and “We have to get rid of all this PC stuff.” He says America’s enemies will “take advantage of our PC attitude and get us.”

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6:26 p.m.

Chris Christie is continuing to use the Republican debate to emphasize his experience as a governor and federal prosecutor, this time slamming several senators on the stage.

Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are jousting over Senate votes on the government’s authority to gather intelligence from Americans’ communication. Christie is mocking them, and the Senate in general, for “endlessdebate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

He says he’s had to make decisions about “whether to use actionable intelligence,” and he says New Jersey was constantly under threat after the attacks Sept. 11, 2001. He doesn’t detail just what kind of intelligence he is privy to as governor, but says it’s way more important than what the senators argued about.

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6:24 p.m.

Rand Paul says Marco Rubio is opening the country to more terrorist attacks with attempts to allow more legal immigration.

The Kentucky senator says Rubio tries to portray himself as strong on national security, but is actually the weakest because he promoted a broad immigration reform bill in 2013 and has opposed border security.

Paul says more restrictions on legal immigration might have prevented attacks such as the one in San Bernardino and on Sept. 11, 2011, and says Rubio has more of an allegiance to Democrats on immigration than he does to conservative policies.

The exchange comes as Rubio advocated the collection of phone metadata, which Paul opposes.

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6:23 p.m.

Ted Cruz is defending his bill that eliminated the bulk collection of phone data, saying it allows law enforcement to do more to search cellphones and Internet-based calls versus simply landlines. He says the focus is now on targeting the “bad guys,” not the general populace and covers all phones, versus 20 percent to 30 percent of phones before.

But Marco Rubio isn’t buying the Texas senator’s explanation, saying the situation demands more tools, not less, including the ability to collect metadata. The Florida senator also says a debate being broadcast nationwide in front of millions of people isn’t the place to talk about classified information.

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6:22 p.m.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says fear is the “new normal” in the United States.

During the Republican debate, Christie is stressing his background as a former federal prosecutor and criticizing President Barack Obama. Noting the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Christie says if a “center for the developmentally disabled in San Bernardino is now a target for terrorists, that means everywhere is a target for terrorists.”

Christie says the country needs a president who will “understand what actionable intelligence is going to look like and act on it.”

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6:20 p.m.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says it would have been a better use of time for world leaders to discuss destroying the Islamic State rather than climate change at a recent gathering in Paris.

Kasich says it’s imperative that the United States “get moving” in working with European and Arab allies to take on the Islamic State.

At home, he says the country must give law enforcement, including the FBI and local officials, the tools they need to stop attacks before happen. He says it’s essential to encourage Americans to talk to law enforcement when they see “red flags.”

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6:18 p.m.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says President Barack Obama made the fight against the Islamic State worse with his address from the Oval Office last week following the San Bernardino attacks.

Rubio says the president’s approach to combating the Islamic State is continuing the current approach “and that’s not working.”

Rubio is focusing his criticism on Obama, not any of his Republican rivals sharing the stage with him in Las Vegas in Tuesday’s presidential debate.

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6:17 p.m.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says, “everyone understands” Donald Trump’s proposal to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., temporarily and with exceptions. But he says legislation he introduced suspending refugees from countries with large Islamic State footprints for three years “is more narrowly focused at the actual threat, which is radical Islamic terrorism.”

He quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandfather, saying, “All horse thieves are Democrats, but not all Democrats are horse thieves.” He says there are millions of peaceful Muslims living across the world in peaceful countries like India. He says, “It’s not a war on a faith, it’s a war on a political and theocratic ideology that seeks to murder us.”

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6:15 p.m.

Jeb Bush and Donald Trump are engaging in the first head-to-head battle of the night. Trump is defending his immigration policy — including his proposal to indefinitely ban all Muslims from entering the country. And he’s repeating his plan for a wall at the Mexican border.

He suggests President Barack Obama has welcomed Islamic terrorists into the nation. “They’re gone” under a Trump administration, he says.

Bush retorts that Trump’s proposal is “not serious” and would make the U.S. less safe. “Donald is great at the one-liners, but he’s a chaos candidate, and he’d be a chaos president,” Bush says, noting that Kurds, potential allies in a battle against the Islamic State, “are Muslims.”

Trump’s response: Bush is coming after me only because I’m leading and his campaign has been a “total disaster” and “nobody cares.”

Bush also calls Trump “unhinged.” Trump responds that he’s “the most solid person up here.”

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6:12 p.m.

Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump says in his opening remarks at the GOP debate that he has sparked a “very big discussion that needed to be opened up” on “radical Islamic terrorism.”

The former reality show star did not directly note his proposal to block Muslims from coming into the United States — temporarily, and with exceptions — that has taken a central role in the race. But he says: “People like what I say. People respect what I say.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says that if he’s elected president, the country will have a commander in chief who believes the U.S. is the greatest country in the world.

Rubio says the current president wants the country to be “more like the rest of the world.”

He says that, as a result, “you have millions of Americans that feel left out and out of place in their own country. ”

Ben Carson is applying his experience as a neurosurgeon to foreign policy challenges. He compares his complex patient cases to the battle against Islamic State militants. He says he frequently faced life-and-death situations. Carson is also asking Congress to declare war on the Islamic State.

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6:02 p.m.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is pitching himself as a serious leader who has what it takes to keep the country safe and rebuild the economy. He says “serious times require strong leadership,” including restoring funding cut from national defense and destroying the Islamic State.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pointing to the closure of public schools in Los Angeles Tuesday. He says that’s evidence that President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have not done enough to keep people safe. More than 1,500 school buildings in Los Angeles were shut for a day and searched after an emailed threat of violence. They will reopen Wednesday.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is using his opening statement in the Republican presidential debate not to attack his GOP opponents, but to say any of them would be better than Obama or Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. Cruz says America needs a president who understands the threat of the Islamic State. He promises to “utterly destroy” the militant group and stop terrorist attacks before they occur.

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5:55 p.m.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is opening the Republican presidential debate by going after Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Paul says Trump is wrong in calling for censoring the Internet and Rubio should not advocate taking bulk phone data from Americans. Paul says the way to defeat terrorism is “by showing that we do not fear them.”

John Kasich is playing the role of unifier-in-chief. Before the Ohio governor mentions anything about national security ?— which his rivals are giving top billing —? he says the nation’s priorities are “creating jobs, making sure people can keep their jobs, the need for rising wages.” And he says there’s “too much yelling” in politics to solve those problems. “We’ll never get there if we are divided” along party lines, he says. “Before all of that,” he says, “we’re Americans.”

Carly Fiorina says all of the country’s problems and wounds can be healed by a tested leader such as herself, citing her experiences beating breast cancer, burying a child and climbing the corporate ranks to eventually become CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina says she’s been called “every B-word in the book” and has refused to take no for an answer.

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5:48 p.m.

The prime time Republican presidential debate is underway and the nine candidates are giving opening statements.

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5:39 p.m.

Some Republican Party leaders are increasingly nervous about the prospects of Donald Trump as the party’s standard-bearer. But national GOP Chairman Reince Priebus is sticking with the role of party cheerleader tonight in Las Vegas.

“This is a unifying message,” he tells the audience at The Venetian. He adds, “I think you can agree with me, that every single one of the candidates on this stage would be world better than Hillary Clinton.”

The crowd applauded.

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