(CN) — Seven Republican presidential hopefuls traded barbs, insults, and swipes at each other and President Joe Biden during the second GOP primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, as they vied for attention in an effort to snag some votes away the absent frontrunner, Donald Trump.
Former President Trump, who is facing multiple criminal indictments, did not attend the debate. Instead, Trump spoke at a non-unionized auto parts supplier company outside of Detroit, Michigan, in an attempt to win over voters in a battleground state during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike. On Tuesday, President Biden spoke to striking union auto workers on a UAW picket line in Van Buren Township, Michigan, becoming the first U.S. president in history to visit a picket line of striking workers.
The candidates who qualified for the debate on Wednesday included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Scott, who pledged with Christie at the last debate to go after teachers unions if elected, got the first question of the night about Biden’s trip to Michigan and whether or not he believed that President Ronald Reagan was right for firing 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, and whether he would, if he could, fire striking auto workers.
“Obviously the president of the United States cannot fire anybody in the private sector. However, we should look back at the first bill in Congress approved by Joe Biden. The bill had $86 billion dollars for the union pensions because they continue to over promise, but under deliver,” Scott said, seemingly referring to a provision in the American Rescue Plan that funded a number of union pension plans for millions of retired truck drivers and other workers.
“One of the current challenges we have with the current negotiations is they want four-day French work weeks, but more money. They want more benefits working fewer hours. That is simply not going to stand,” Scott added.
Scott said that, as president, he would reinstate Title 42 and finish building Trump’s border wall.
“Joe Biden should not be on the picket line, he should be on the southern border,” Scott said.
The southern border with Mexico, and the candidates outdoing themselves to propose harsh measures to deter migrants at the border, was a recurring topic of the debate, even when the question asked by the three panelists from Fox News, Fox Business Network, and Univision, did not mention the border.
When asked about Reagan’s immigration amnesty bill, Haley, the only candidate to declare a belief in climate change at the previous debate, said that she would “defund sanctuary cities,” and hire more border patrol officers. Later on in the night, Haley added that she would bring special operative units to the border to combat cartels and then go after China "because they're the ones sending fentanyl." She added that she'd stop all normal trade with China until the country stops sending fentanyl to the U.S.
Ramaswamy promised to end foreign aid, militarize the border, and end birthright citizenship, a right guaranteed in the 14th Amendment for migrants who cross the border illegally, a position Scott agreed with, saying he interprets the 14th Amendment as only applied to people freed from slavery, not immigrants.
Ramaswamy, a wealthy biotech business owner and co-founder of an “anti-woke” investment firm, went from virtually unknown in the political world to one of the stars of the Republican party during the first debate, where he said he would close down the U.S. Department of Education if elected, praised Trump as the best president of the 21st century, and generally pitched himself as the younger Trump who could take the torch of the former president’s far right ideology into the future. Ramaswamy repeated similar pledges on Wednesday, adding that he, because of his youth, would be the ideal candidate to reach out to younger voters.