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Rick Perry backs off ‘heartless’ comment

Unable to escape the ire of his party, Rick Perry on Wednesday backed away from a controversial remark that questioned the compassion of people who opposed granting in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants.

At Thursday’s Republican presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., the Texas governor defended his decision to sign into law a policy that allows the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition by suggesting that opponents of the policy “don’t have a heart.”

“I probably chose a poor word to explain that,” Perry said Wednesday in an interview with Newsmax. “For people who don’t want their state to be giving tuition to illegal aliens, illegal immigrants in this country, that’s their call. And I respect that.” (Watch the interview below.)

The offending statement came during a lackluster debate performance.  In addition to alienating opponents of the policy, Perry also fumbled an attempted attack on Mitt Romney and failed to ease concerns about his readiness to take on President Obama in a debate.

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“If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said. “We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society.”

Two days later, Republican businessman Herman Cain delivered a stunning blow to the Perry campaign when he defeated the Republican front-runner in a Florida straw poll. 

“I was, you know, I was probably a bit over-passionate about using that word,” Perry said in the Newsmak interview. “And it was inappropriate.” kim.geiger@latimes.com


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