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GOP debate: A fiery, highly personal clash over Supreme Court vacancy, immigration, Iraq war

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GOP candidates use the words ‘lie’ and ‘liar’ 22 times

GOP candidates used the words “lie,” “liar,” or “lying” 22 times Saturday night.

That’s one higher than the number of times Hillary Clinton used the word “Obama” in the last Democratic debate.

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From the spin room

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One way to put it...

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Their closing statements, in a tweet

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Trumps vows to stop the profanity

Donald Trump, under fire for using a vulgar word that refers to a woman’s body part, said Saturday that he has used profanity in speeches previously, but would not do so again.

“Over the years I’ve made many speeches, big companies have asked me to make speeches…. And on occasion, in order to sort of really highlight something, I use a profanity,” he said during the GOP debate.

On Monday, during a rally in New Hampshire, Trump repeated an obscenity that a woman in the audience screamed out to describe Sen. Ted Cruz. Rivals such as Jeb Bush pounced, arguing that such language in front of an audience that included children was not statesmanlike.

Trump said he would not use profanity again, which would be “very easy.”

“I will not do it at all,” Trump said, while suggesting that the reaction was overblown. “If I say a word that’s a little bit off-color, it ends up being a headline.”

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Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the GOP debate in three words: ‘Liar, liar, liar’

Ted Cruz has made it clear he sees the GOP primary as a battle royale against Donald Trump, and Saturday the feeling appeared mutual.

“I like Donald. He’s an amazing entertainer,” Cruz said. It was a wind-up.

“Thank you very much,” Trump replied.

“For most of his life, his policies have been very, very liberal,” Cruz continued, homing on Trump’s past support for Planned Parenthood.

“You are the single biggest liar,” Trump interrupted. “You are probably worse than Jeb.”

“This guy will say anything,” Trump said. “He’s a nasty guy.”

Trump, though, did acknowledge that he has praised Planned Parenthood, not for abortion services, but for providing women’s healthcare.

Cruz, undeterred, went in for the closing argument.

“Donald has this weird pattern: When you point to his own record, he says, ‘liar, liar, liar,’” Cruz said.

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Fact check: Cruz does have congressional support

Donald Trump accused Sen. Ted Cruz of not having a single endorsement from his congressional colleagues. He’s wrong.

Roll Call is rounding up endorsements here, and Cruz has at least 19 members of the GOP-controlled House.

What Trump might have meant, and what is actually true, is that not a single Senate colleague has joined Team Cruz.

Two of Cruz’s House endorsements are from California.

Check out our handy endorsement tracker.

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Roll tape: Cruz schools Rubio in Spanish

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Trump on flip-flops: ‘You have to have flexibility’

Donald Trump has changed his position on abortion and lauded Democrats in the past, leading his rivals to assail him.

Asked on Saturday night about his “evolving positions,” Trump said it’s a part of life.

“In life, you have flexibility,” said Trump. “When you’re fighting wars you go one way - you have a beautiful plan, you can’t lose, the enemy makes a change and all of sudden you have to change.”

Super PACs with ties to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have hammered Trump in television advertisements for his flip-flops on abortion and his close ties to Hillary and Bill Clinton.

On Saturday, Trump dismissed his critics.

“You have to have flexibility,” he insisted.

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Marco Rubio tests Ted Cruz’s Spanish-language cred

The long-simmering feud over immigration between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio sizzled into new territory when the Floridan jabbed the Texan’s Spanish-language cred.

Cruz launched into his now-familiar attack on Rubio for his work on the Senate’s ill-fated immigration overhaul, and the various amendments they did and did not support.

“Marco has a long record when it comes to amnesty,” Cruz said, noting that during a Spanish-language interview on Univision, Rubio declined to say whether he would repeal President Obama’s immigration executive actions, which protect some immigrants from deportations.

“I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn’t speak Spanish,” Rubio shot back.

And that led Cruz to do something he rarely does: He spoke (broken) Spanish.

Both men are the sons of immigrants from Cuba.

But Cruz, whose American-born mother raised him on her own for some years while his parents were temporarily separated, is not as skilled in Spanish as Rubio, a fluent Spanish speaker who regularly does interviews in both languages.

The entire exchange prompted Jeb Bush, who is also fluent in Spanish, to summon what he called his “inner Chris Christie,” the New Jersey governor who dropped out of the race.

“This is the reason I should be president, listening to two senators talk about arcane amendments to bills that didn’t pass,” Bush said.

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Bilingual battle

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Can’t we get along?

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Who speaks Spanish?

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GOP candidates predict one of them will name the next high court justice

Sen. Ted Cruz seized upon Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing to argue that the outcome of the presidential election will affect American policy for a generation.

“It underscores the stakes of this election,” he said during the opening minutes of the ninth GOP debate. “We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will strike down every restriction on abortion adopted by the states. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will reverse the Heller decision -- one of Justice Scalia’s seminal decisions -- that upheld the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will undermine the religious liberty of millions of Americans.”

He said the Senate must fight any attempt by President Obama to appoint a liberal to the court, which would amount to giving “up the Supreme Court for a generation.”

Cruz added that as voters in South Carolina decide whom to support in next weekend’s primary, they must recognize that that person will have the power to nominate justices.

“Who on this stage has the background, principle, character, judgment and strength of resolve to nominate and confirm a principled constitutionalist to the court?” he asked. “That will be what I will do if I’m elected president.”

Sen. Marco Rubio agreed about the issue’s significance.

“It reminds of this, how important this election is. Someone on this stage will get to choose the balance of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Discussion about the Supreme Court dominated the first 15 minutes of the debate, beginning with a moment of silence for Scalia.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, asked if he would have a litmus test for Supreme Court justices, said he would not. He said it was within the president’s purview to nominate a replacement for Scalia, and he said President Obama ought to nominate someone with a “consensus orientation,” but he doubted he would.

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Here’s a primer on Marco Rubio’s tax plan -- a shift from typical GOP lower-rates fare

Marco Rubio has proposed a hefty child tax break, a shift from GOP tax orthodoxy.

Here’s what we wrote about it earlier:

Ever since 1981, when Ronald Reagan sat outside his California ranch and signed a tax-reform law that reversed half a century of mostly climbing rates, the pursuit of ever-lower income tax brackets has been the prime goal of Republican economic policy.

Altering that party orthodoxy has become a main exhibit for Sen. Marco Rubio’s claim to be a “new generation” Republican.

The 43-year-old Republican senator from Florida has proposed a tax plan that puts less emphasis on lowering the top tax rate and instead offers a large new credit for families with children, which he says will help working households.

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Bush, Trump spar over Iraq war

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush got into a blistering exchange over the legacy of President George W. Bush during Saturday night’s GOP debate, the latest in their running battle throughout the presidential campaign.

Trump called the Iraq war “a big fat mistake,” and mocked Jeb Bush for being unable, earlier in the campaign, to answer a question about whether he would have gone to war knowing what we know now – that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

“It took him five days before his people told him what to say,” Trump said, before turning to Bush.

“George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes, but that one was a beauty,” he said, prompting boos from the audience. “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction…. And they knew there weren’t.”

Bush responded by saying that he “could care less” about Trump’s insults, but “I am sick and tired of him going after my family. My dad is the greatest man alive, in my mind,” he said, as the audience applauded. “When Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe. And I’m proud of what he did.”

Trump interjected that the World Trade Center fell during President Bush’s watch, prompting more boos from the audience. “That’s not keeping us safe,” he said.

Bush ignored the remark and continued by saying that Trump had gone after his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush. “My mom is the strongest woman I know,” Bush said.

Trump tartly responded, “She should be running.”

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Getting personal

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Ted Cruz dings Donald Trump on economics

We have to understand the principles that made America great in the first place.

Sen. Ted Cruz

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Stay away from my mama

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Is South Carolina GOP trying to stop Trump?

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Trump gets booed attacking Bush (and booed again)

It’s said that South Carolina has a special appreciation for the Bush family.

And that became clear when the audience not only booed but double-booed Donald Trump’s attack on Jeb Bush and his brother, President George W. Bush.

“Jeb Bush is so wrong,” Trump said, with what has become a signature slam on the former Florida governor over foreign policy.

The audience was not pleased. And booed.

“That’s Jeb’s special interests and lobbyists talking,” Trump said, to more boos.

Then he dragged home-state Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Bush backer, into the fray.

More boos.

Bush steadied his resolve and shot back: “This is a guy who gets his foreign policy off the Sunday shows.”

Applause.

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Starting well for Ben Carson

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Trump gets booed again

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Trump talks Scalia, urges Republicans to fight Obama on nomination

The death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was at the forefront of Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, with most of the candidates saying no successor should be picked until a new president is elected.

“This is a tremendous blow to conservatism,” said Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

Trump said he’s certain President Obama will nominate a successor, but urged Senate Republicans to push back.

“It’s up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it – it’s called delay, delay, delay, delay,” Trump said to cheers.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich also urged Obama to allow the next president to select Scalia’s replacement, but he was dismayed by the partisanship already emerging on the issue.

“It’s not even two minutes after the death of Judge Scalia. … I wish we hadn’t run so fast into politics,” said Kasich.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said the country needs a conservative like Scalia.

“I do not believe the president should appoint someone,” said Rubio, noting it’s been decades since a lame-duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.

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Stakes are high

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Graham doesn’t trust Trump or Cruz to nominate a justice

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who endorsed Jeb Bush after abandoning his own presidential bid, said in South Carolina before the debate that the Supreme Court vacancy places even more importance on who Republicans nominate this year.

“We lost a conservative icon. Everyone’s going to talk about replacing him with a conservative,” he said, as we report on our live blog with updates about Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

“I hope conservatives will understand this is a wake-up call, that you better nominate someone and get 270 electoral votes. Donald Trump can’t. Ted Cruz can’t, in my view.”

He added that he would not trust Trump to nominate a conservative justice.

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Antonin Scalia death reshapes presidential debate, shifting focus to court’s composition

The unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia promised to put a new focus on Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate, raising the ideological stakes of the 2016 election.

Scalia’s death in Texas was announced just hours before candidates were set to take the stage in Greenville, S.C.

His position as the leading conservative on the court for decades, and one of the most influential intellectual voices on the right, underscores the importance both political parties place on nominating justices, who serve life terms and can greatly influence American life in their rulings.

Supreme Court appointments usually motivate base voters in both parties, the same voters who hold greater sway in presidential primary elections.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz immediately reinforced his image as a conservative warrior, indicating in a Twitter message Saturday that the Republican-controlled Senate should balk at confirming a replacement until next year, after President Obama leaves office.

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GOP candidates, Harry Reid begin fight over whether to replace Antonin Scalia

Minutes after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was announced Saturday afternoon, the political debate over when and how to replace him began.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz started the discussion, suggesting in a tweet that Republicans should block President Obama from nominating a replacement.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio reinforced that view in his statement, suggesting Scalia’s replacement will be named by “the next president.”

“The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia’s unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear,” Rubio said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid weighed in with his own statement, about 36 minutes after Rubio’s went out.

“The president can and should send the Senate a nominee right away,” he said. “Failing to fill this vacancy would be a shameful abdication of one of the Senate’s most essential Constitutional responsibilities.”

He was backed up by the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.

“I hope that no one will use this sad news to suggest that the president or the Senate should not perform its constitutional duty,” he said in a statement. “The Supreme Court of the United States is too important to our democracy for it to be understaffed for partisan reasons.”

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On Snapchat? Follow our team

This election year, we’re starting a politics-focused account on Snapchat. Please follow us there: LATimesPolitics. And while you’re at it, you can follow us on Twitter.

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Debate prep: Listen to our podcast

We’re back with our third edition of Essential Politics: The Podcast, where Cathleen Decker and I tee up Saturday’s GOP debate and outline the road ahead for the contenders in both parties.

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Clinton argues money in politics troubles her, too

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Fighting for votes in hard-hit Nevada, Clinton borrows heavily from Sanders’ economic message

Campaigning in Nevada on Saturday, one week ahead of the state’s Democratic caucus, Hillary Clinton hammered on economic themes more often associated with her rival, Bernie Sanders, whose anti-Wall Street mantra helped him win last week’s New Hampshire primary and has given him considerable momentum here.

At a crowded union hall in a suburb of Las Vegas, Clinton vowed to raise the minimum wage and suggested she would be more effective than Sanders in ending predatory banking practices and getting money out of politics -- two of her rival’s pet causes.

“Nobody wants to get rid of Citizens United ... more than me,” Clinton said, referring to the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited campaign spending by outside groups. Clinton vowed to propose a constitutional amendment changing campaign finance rules “if that’s what it took to get this dark, unaccountable money out of our political system.”

Clinton also emphasized that she would go further in regulating Wall Street than Sanders.

“I have the toughest, most effective, comprehensive plan to go after the bad actors,” Clinton said to considerable cheers. “I’ve taken on Wall Street before and I’ll do it again.”

Such economic arguments may find fertile ground in Nevada, which was among those that suffered most in the home foreclosure crisis during the Great Recession.

“This state was especially hard hit,” Clinton said, evoking that time. “Too many people lost their jobs, too many people lost their homes”

Nevada is a crucial test for Clinton and Sanders, who spent Saturday campaigning in Reno.

Clinton has had an operation on the ground here twice as long as the Sanders campaign, which opened its first Nevada office in November. To win, her advisors say she will have to do well with the state’s large number of African Americans and Latinos, who make up about a third of Democratic caucus-goers.

Sanders is largely untested with minority groups. The early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white, as is Sanders’ home state of Vermont.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders promises ‘surprise’ in Nevada

During a rally at the Reno convention center Saturday morning, Bernie Sanders clearly relished his scrappy campaign’s unlikely rise.

“You know, when we began way back when, about nine months ago, we were at 3% in the polls. A lot has changed in nine months,” he said at the speech’s outset, prompting cheers from the several hundred supporters in attendance.

Sanders’ brief stump speech stuck to familiar campaign themes: condemning the influence of money in politics, railing against Wall Street, promising free tuition at public colleges and universities.

He only mentioned Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, once, wryly noting that her political organization was fabled to be “enormously strong, couldn’t be beaten.”

“Well that turned out not quite to be the case,” he said.

But while Clinton went largely unmentioned, Sanders addressed head on her primary critique, that the Vermont senator was making promises on which he would not be able to deliver.

“I have been criticized for being too ambitious, for thinking too big,” Sanders said. “Well, I reject that.”

Then, he closed as he started, sounding like an improbable upstart: “We surprised them in Iowa. We surprised them in New Hampshire. We’re going to surprise them here in Nevada!”

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The scene around Greenville, S.C., as the GOP field prepares to debate

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Rally in Reno

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Sanders and Clinton hold rallies in Nevada

The Democratic presidential candidates head to Nevada on Saturday for rallies one week ahead of that state’s Democratic caucuses.

The Nevada contest has turned into a major battleground for the two campaigns. It will be the first test of whether Sanders can go beyond his core support among liberal whites and gain backing from minority voters.

Latinos are expected to make up around 3 in 10 voters when the caucuses are held Feb. 20.

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Clinton’s two-pronged strategy for blunting Sanders’ momentum

(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

Without a convincing victory in the first two presidential contests, Hillary Clinton has moved to a two-part strategy to try to knock off-stride the galloping candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

To African American, Latino and intensely loyal Democratic voters, she is casting President Obama as her running mate. She talked about Obama and their shared views 21 times during Thursday night’s two-hour presidential debate in Milwaukee. That was aimed at voters in Nevada and South Carolina, the next two states to vote, and racially diverse states further down the calendar.

At the same time, she is laying the groundwork to attract another key group of voters who will be crucial in later spring contests—white and more moderate Democrats. She hopes to convince them that Sanders’ proposals, if well-intended, would be impossible to achieve and potentially very costly. In her view, neither the Republican Congress nor American voters would accept the massive expansion of government that Sanders’ proposals would require.

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Clinton, Sanders compete for endorsements of black leaders

As the Democratic presidential candidates pivot from the first-in-the-nation contests held in two of the whitest states in the nation, they’re focusing more attention on a different bloc: minority voters.

Both candidates have touted endorsements and support from well-known black leaders and thinkers this week as they look to the long primary season ahead.

Here are a few:

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Horsey: Hillary Clinton is losing the votes of young women to Bernie Sanders

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In latest ad on immigration, Trump highlights L.A. murder

Donald Trump released a new television ad in South Carolina on Friday that focuses on a high-profile Los Angeles murder.

The 30-second spot highlights the death of Jamiel Shaw Jr., a Los Angeles High School football star who was killed in 2008 by an immigrant in the country illegally.

Since Trump announced his candidacy last summer, Jamiel Shaw Sr. has been a staunch supporter of the billionaire businessman because of his vows to crackdown on illegal immigration.

“Trump is the only one saying, ‘You’re going to be dealt with,’” says Shaw Sr. in the ad. “We’re going to enforce that -- that’s a beautiful thing.”

Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, has a strong double-digit lead in South Carolina, based on several polls, and is fresh off a win in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

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