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The candidates went after Biden - and Trump - at the second GOP debate. Follow live updates

The seven candidates on stage for Wednesday night's second presidential debate went after President Joe Biden, one another and the absent GOP front-runner.
Republican presidential candidates, from left, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and former Vice President Mike Pence, before the start of a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX Business Network and Univision, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark Terrill)

The seven candidates on stage for Wednesday night's second presidential debate went after President Joe Biden, one another and the absent GOP front-runner.

The at-times chaotic event featured staple questions about immigration, economics and abortion but also spawned a new nickname for Donald Trump, included some cringey sexual references and kept our fact-checkers busy.

Here's what to know

— An overview of tonight’s debate, where candidates went after Biden — and Trump. — Christie calls Trump “Donald Duck,” DeSantis knocks former president and other debate highlights. — Trump again skipped the debate. Here’s what he was doing instead. — See more of our 2024 coverage.

Who would you vote off the GOP island?

As the debate neared its end, moderator Dana Perino asked the candidates to write down which of their on-stage competitors should be voted off the 2024 GOP island.

But they didn’t bite. “With all due respect, I think that that’s disrespectful,” DeSantis said in response to the “Survivor”-style question.

Christie said Trump should be booted given his decision to skip the debate, and he accused him of dividing the country.

Ramaswamy slipped in the last word, praising Trump’s legacy but saying he was the better candidate to push forward an “America first” agenda.

And with that, the second Republican primary debate was over.

Ramaswamy levels criticism toward Ukraine

Ramaswamy is leveling criticism toward Ukraine in answer to a question about continuing U.S. support for the country.

“Just because Putin is an evil dictator does not mean Ukraine is good,” Ramaswamy says.

He also says China, not Russia, is the United States’ real enemy, and argues that the hard U.S. line toward Russia “is driving Russia further into China’s arms.”

DeSantis rejects idea that anti-abortion stance costs GOP elections

DeSantis is rejecting the idea that Republicans have been losing elections because of their opposition to abortion, and he says his reelection as Florida governor last year is proof he’s right.

Democrats have leaned into the debate over abortion rights since a conservative majority on the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. Voters have repeatedly supported abortion rights, and Democrats and even Trump have said it’s a big reason for the party’s better-than-expected performance in the midterms and in other elections since then.

DeSantis signed into law a ban on abortions at six weeks of pregnancy, before some women know they’re pregnant. He signed the ban after winning reelection.

Asked about the possibility that swing state Arizona will have an abortion question on its ballot next year, making it tougher for Republicans to win there, DeSantis dismissed the idea. He also called out Trump, who said it was a “terrible mistake” for DeSantis to sign the ban.

DeSantis said Republicans must go on the offensive and hit Democrats for their “extremism” on the issue.

Scott's job goals would be extremely difficult to meet

Scott floated some ambitiously lofty job goals at the GOP debate, suggesting his policies could create 10 million jobs in a year and drive growth at 5%.

That would be an unusually large and unlikely set of hiring. More than 7 million jobs were created in 2021 under President Joe Biden, as the economy recovered from the pandemic. But deficit spending and inflation accompanied those gains — both points of attack by the Republican candidate.

Scott said he could create 3.5 million jobs “if we unleashed all our energy resources.” That would be impressive as oil and gas extraction account for just 118,700 jobs right now, according to the Labor Department.

Secondly, Scott said he could create jobs by bringing back factory jobs. Manufacturing work has rebounded under Biden to nearly 13 million jobs, the most since 2008. But few economists see manufacturing work as returning to its 1979 peak of more than 19 million jobs.

South Carolina family feud

They’ve long had an intertwined political history, and even shared political consultants, but Haley and Scott’s differences took center stage on Wednesday.

The two South Carolinians sparred on stage after being asked why one should be elected president over the other.

Scott touted his work on 2017 tax cuts legislation, said he’d “love to have an opportunity to have this country pass a balanced budget amendment” and promoted his plans to “bring jobs back to America.”

“I appreciate Tim, we’ve known each other a long time,” Haley said, “but he’s been there 12 years and he hasn’t done any of that.”

Scott shot back, pointing out that Haley - who has called for an end to the federal gas tax as part of her campaign - “actually asked for a gas tax increase in South Carolina.”

“We’ve waited, and nothing has happened,” Haley said, turning back to her critique of Scott’s time in the Senate. It was Haley as governor in 2012 who appointed Scott to the seat in the first place.

Haley pivots debate conversation to China again and again

Warning about the threats she perceived are posed by China is key to Haley’s stump, and it’s on full display in the debate.

Several times, Haley has pivoted her part in the conversation by noting that some U.S. supplies of amoxicillin come from China. Several times, she has pointed to Ramaswamy’s ties to the country, from business deals to his presence on TikTok, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd.

Haley also went after Trump’s China policy, saying that she feels the former president was too focused on the U.S.-China trade relationship and did too little about possible threats from the country.

Haley defends sendi

ng special ops to deal with Mexican cartels

Mexico has been a critical partner on border enforcement with the Trump and Biden administrations, but Haley defends sending special operations to deal with Mexican drug cartels, a common position among those on the debate stage.

It’s a nonstarter for Mexico’s leaders.

Mexico has deployed thousands of troops to its southern border to stop U.S.-bound migrants.

In January, it agreed to take back people from Cuban, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela if they enter the United States illegally, a major concession to deal with populations that are difficult to deport.

Going against medical professionals, Ramaswamy calls being transgender a ‘mental health disorder’

Ramaswamy called being transgender a “mental health disorder” and “confusion” in response to a question about parental notification about their children’s gender identities. That's in direct contrast to guidance from the American Psychiatric Association, which says diverse gender expressions “ are not indications of a mental disorder.”

To make his point, Ramaswamy noted that he recently met two young women who later regretted their gender-affirming surgeries.

While it’s possible, regret after a gender transition is rare. In a review of 27 studies involving almost 8,000 teens and adults who had transgender surgeries, mostly in Europe, the U.S and Canada, 1% on average expressed regret.

Haley tells Ramaswamy: ‘We can’t trust you'

For a moment, it was Haley vs. Ramaswamy, round two.

As they did in last month’s debut debate, Haley and Ramaswamy had a split-screen sparring back-and-forth in which Haley went after the political newcomer for inexperience and, she alleged, dangerous ideas.

Asked about his recent conversation with a TikTok influencer, Ramaswamy defended his use of the platform.

“I’m the new guy here, and so I know I have to earn your trust,” Ramaswamy said. “I’m here to tell you, no, I don’t know at all. I will listen.” Interjecting by calling TikTok “dangerous,” Haley went on to address Ramaswamy directly — and personally.

“Every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say,” Haley said. “We can’t trust you.”

Ramaswamy responded by saying that “I think we would be better served as a Republican Party if we’re not sitting here hurling personal insults,” before the moderators moved on to another topic.

Moderator threatens to cut Burgum's mic

The debate is getting chaotic at times, with candidates shouting over one another and the moderators scolding them for not waiting their turns.

At one point, moderator Dana Perino warned Burgum, who was trying to interrupt the questioning, that they would have to cut off his microphone if he didn’t stop interjecting. “I don’t want to do that,” she said, pleadingly “I don’t.”

Moderators also told candidates multiple times that the cross-talking meant they would get fewer questions.

Scott says there is no redeeming quality in slavery

The topic of education also led to the issue of teaching about racism in public schools. Under DeSantis, Florida approved a controversial curriculum that suggests some enslaved people learned useful skills while they were in bondage.

Scott, the only Black candidate on stage Wednesday night, reiterated his criticism of the curriculum under DeSantis by saying, “There is not a redeeming quality in slavery.”

He also suggested that the United States had turned the page on its history.

“We are the greatest nation on earth because we faced our demons in the mirror,” Scott said. He added that, “America is not a racist country.”

Debate brings the cringe

A question about education took two uncomfortable and unexpected turns at Wednesday night's presidential debate.

Saying that America’s public schools are “run by the teachers unions in this country,” Christie said U.S. schools would continue to struggle because, in his view, the Biden administration is too close to the unions.

“When you have the president that states sleeping with a member of the teachers union, there is no chance that you can take the stranglehold away from the teachers union every day,” Christie said.

In a later question, Pence chimed in, saying that he had been “sleeping with a teacher for 38 years” — but noting that his wife, Karen, is not a union member.

No new ground broken on immigration at debate

Candidates have devoted significant time to discussing the border but said nothing significantly new. Their policy prescriptions were largely in line with each other and with Trump, who made it a signature issue.

Pence, ignoring a question about what he would do to protect immigrants who came to the country as young children, spoke about a Trump-era policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings and cracking down on asylum. Ramaswamy spoke about repealing a constitutional right to birthright citizenship, a position that Trump has entertained.

Candidates spoke as if the influx of asylum-seekers began under Biden’s watch, but it began years earlier. By 2017, the United States became the world’s most popular destination for asylum-seekers, a position it has held ever since, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Migration has unquestionably grown sharply under Biden. Border arrests topped 2.2 million at the Mexican border in the 2022 fiscal year, which runs from October to September, the highest on record and more than twice the peak year of 852,000 under Trump in 2019. Arrests topped 400,000 during Obama’s last full year in office.

People arriving in families with children under 18 are again behind surging numbers, reaching 93,108 arrests in August, surpassing the previous high of 84,486 under Trump’s watch in May 2019.

So far, no talk of funding for Ukraine

The debate’s more than halfway done, but there has been no mention so far of the big political issue that is threatening a government shutdown as soon as this weekend — funding for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

Much discussion in the candidates’ first debate on Ukraine funding.

Youngest candidate says teens should avoid ‘addictive social media’

He’s the only GOP presidential candidate on TikTok, but Ramaswamy is talking about teens staying away from “addictive social media.”

In a question about security, Ramaswamy pivoted to a discussion of border security, talking about teens turning to social media like Snapchat to procure pharmaceuticals.

“If you’re 16 years old or under, you should not be using an addictive social media product, period,” he said.

Ramaswamy, who at 38 is the youngest candidate on stage, has referred to TikTok as “digital fentanyl” but earlier this month joined the platform, with his campaign saying he was angling to appeal to younger voters.

The platform has been met with bipartisan criticism that it is a potential spy mechanism for China.

Border wall won't stop fentanyl from coming across border

DeSantis raises the possibility of military intervention in Mexico when asked about fentanyl. Ramaswamy calls for more border wall when asked about fentanyl. Both ignore some critical facts about how the drug gets into the country.

Fentanyl seizures occurred predominantly at official land crossings, where commuters and visitors smuggle drugs on their bodies or in their vehicles. From September through August, 11.4 tons of the 12.8 tons of fentanyl seized at the border Mexico were discovered at land crossings, while the remaining 1.4 tons were in between border crossings, where people enter the country illegally.

At a hearing July 12, James Mandryck, a Customs and Border Protection deputy assistant commissioner, said 73% of fentanyl seizures at the border since the previous October were smuggling attempts carried out by U.S. citizens, with the rest being done by Mexican citizens.

Trump gets a nickname of his own: Donald Duck

Christie has a new name for Trump — Donald Duck.

A former ally who broke with Trump over his election denial, Christie awarded the moniker to the absent Republican front-runner for skipping the debate.

Speaking into the camera, Christie said, “I know you’re watching” because “you can’t help yourself.” And he accused Trump of being absent because “you’re afraid of being on this stage and defending your record.”

“No one up here is going to call you Donald Trump anymore. We’re going to call you Donald Duck.”

Pence reminds voters of his time as VP

Pence is using his time onstage to remind viewers he’s a White House alumnus.

Twice asked a question about working to protect immigrants from deportation if they came with their parents as young children, Pence ignored it and emphasized his resume instead.

The former vice president recalled how during the Trump administration, he had negotiated the policy to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for court hearings in the U.S.

“This is no time for on the job training,” Pence said. “I’m going to be ready on Day 1.”

Scott accuses Ramaswamy of being in business with CCP

Scott briefly shed his Mr. Nice Guy reputation to flame Ramaswamy for being “in business with the Chinese Communist Party.”

The attack line, a reference to Ramaswamy’s former career as an entrepreneur, fulfilled a promise from Scott’s campaign that the South Carolina senator would be more aggressive after being overshadowed in the first debate.

Ramaswamy responded angrily, leading to a long stretch of crosstalk that the moderators struggled to rein in.

“When you all speak at the same time, no can understand you,” said Univision anchor Ilia Calderón.

Some of DeSantis' ideas for China match Biden's actions

DeSantis says the United States needs a “totally new approach to China.”

Part of what he calls for Biden is already doing. That includes strengthening U.S. hard power in the Indo-Pacific. DeSantis does call for “decoupling” the U.S. economy from China.

Biden is trying to wean the U.S. supply chain off China but denies seeking to decouple the two economies.

Burgum not waiting for his turn

Burgum is looking for more talking time — and he’s not being shy about it.

The North Dakota governor interjected a couple of times in the first 20 minutes of Wednesday night’s debate, talking over moderators and his fellow hopefuls, in one response interjecting, “Nobody answered the question” after others were asked about child care.

“We will get you some questions,” said moderator Dana Perino. “But you will have to let us move on.”

There have already been several moments where the moderators struggled to get candidates to stop talking among themselves and focus on the question at hand.

Candidates agree US economic future should be powered by gas

GOP presidential candidates started their second debate by mostly agreeing that the U.S. economic future should be powered by gasoline.

In lockstep, they all demonized the Biden administration’s support for electric vehicles. It’s a shift that is meant to limit the damages of climate change, but presidential candidates say it would hurt the U.S. auto sector and enrich China. The unanimity reflected the challenge candidates face to stand out on policy issues.

“Joe Biden’s Green New Deal agenda is good for Beijing and bad for Detroit,” Pence said.

Burgum said unionized autoworkers are striking because their employers “need two-thirds less workers to build an electric car.”

Ramaswamy went to his refrain that he would “unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear energy.”

DeSantis takes early swing at Trump in debate

After taking criticism for going soft on Trump, DeSantis took a swing at him early in the debate.

“And you know who is missing in action? Donald Trump is missing in action,” DeSantis said, blasting the former president for skipping the debate.

The criticism came shortly after a similar attack from Christie, who said Trump “hides behind the walls of his golf clubs” instead of answering questions.

DeSantis’ swipe at Trump marks a definite shift for the Florida governor, who largely avoided pointed criticism of the former president in the first debate.

Scott angling to be more of the conversation

Scott didn’t have much talking time during the first GOP debate, but he started to make up for that as soon as Wednesday night’s gathering got underway.

The first question went to Scott, who caught criticism for saying “you strike, you’re fired” about the United Auto Workers dispute. Scott quipped that Biden “should not be on the picket line, he should be on the southern border,” turning the rest of his answer to concerns about border security.

Scott also was asked to respond after Pence said Biden “belongs on the unemployment line,” saying he disagreed with Scott.

“There’s no doubt that Joe Biden needs to be fired,” Scott said. “That’s why I’m running for president.”

Republicans turn questions about autoworkers strike into Biden attack

The debate started with questions about the United Auto Workers strike, but the Republicans kept the focus squarely on Biden.

“Joe Biden should not be on the picket line. He should be on the southern border,” said Scott, who got the first question.

Next up was Ramaswamy, who said the workers should “go picket in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.,” because “that’s really where the protest needs to be.”

Pence took a swing at it next. “Joe Biden doesn’t belong on the picket line. He belongs on the unemployment line.”

Trump's mug shot appears in debate intro

Trump skipped the Fox Business-Univision debate but appeared briefly in its introduction - or at least his mug shot did.

The debate at the Reagan library started with a montage of the former president followed by clips of the seven candidates who are appearing on stage.

Trump’s mug shot — from one of the criminal cases against him, filed in Georgia — flashed on screen as a voiceover questioned: Would Reagan even recognize the country today?

The Associated Press