(CNN) - The Conservative Political Action Conference – better known by its initials, CPAC – is underway at a major convention center at National Harbor, just south of the nation's capital. The conference is the largest annual gathering of conservative leaders and activists, and when there's no Republican in the White House, it's a must-attend cattle call for GOP presidential hopefuls looking to pass the conference's conservative litmus test.
Christie touts conservative credentials
McConnell comes armed to CPAC
By: CNN's Alan Silverleib
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell - under fire from both the left and the right this year - showed up at CPAC this morning brandishing a rifle.
With Bon Jovi's 1986 hit "Livin' on a Prayer" booming in the background, the Kentucky Republican strode onto the stage holding the the firearm above his head. He handed the weapon over to Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn at the podium, saying," This is for you, for your distinguished service over the years."
McConnell was giving Coburn the NRA's "Courage Under Fire" lifetime achievement award.
"Liberals hate it, just hate it when Tom Coburn steps onto the Senate floor," McConnell told the crowd. "He's one of the smartest, most decent men I've ever served with." McConnell is facing a primary challenge this year from tea party favorite Matt Bevin.
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Assuming he survives the primary, the five-term senator will then have to endure what is expected to be a tough general election fight against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
3:59 p.m ET
Donald Trump on Hillary and immigration
By CNN's Ashley Killough
Real estate mogul Donald Trump, always a crowd favorite at conservative gatherings, argued Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.
"I think in 2016 you'll probably be running against Hillary Clinton. I think it's going to be a tough race, but I think it's going to be a race, that by that time, will be so bad that the Republicans will likewise take that and then you can actually end Obamacare, which is a total catastrophe."
He also took a shot at Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, for pushing immigration reform last year. He was one of the lead authors of a bill that passed in the Senate with bipartisan support and included a pathway to citizenship.
Trump called it a political damaging move for the party, warning that all 11 million undocumented immigrants, if they became citizens, would fall in the Democratic column.
"Every one of those votes goes to the Democrats," he said.
"We either have borders or we don't," he added. "It's true. I mean, you know, you have a border, you have a country. And if you don't have a border, what are we...just nothing. Nothing."
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Jindal: Obama not that smart
By: CNN's Ashley Killough
Hitting President Obama on his response to the crisis in Ukraine, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal questioned the President’s intelligence.
“We have long thought and said this President is a smart man. It may be time to revisit that assumption,” he said.
Jindal joined a number of conservatives who argued Russia was taking action against Ukraine because it feared no consequences from the United States.
Obama is a “president who doesn’t understand that a weak America leads to instability” and “who doesn’t seem to understand that our allies, our enemies alike need and want a strong America.”
Jindal is considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Rubio bashes President over foreign policy
By: CNN's Dan Merica
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida delivered a policy heavy speech at CPAC on Thursday, spending much more time on foreign affairs than the other possible Republican presidential hopefuls who addressed the conservative confab.
In front of a moderately receptive crowd, Rubio backed a robust foreign policy agenda for the U.S. while also stressing that an involved foreign policy doesn't mean more wars and foreign entanglements.
The GOP senator bashed the Obama administration for policy on Cuba, Venezuela and Russia.
"We cannot ignore that the flawed foreign policy of the last few years have brought us to this stage, because we have a president who believed but by the sheer force of his personality, he would be able to shape global events," Rubio said. "We have a president who believed that by going around the world and giving key speeches in key places, he could shape the behavior of other nations and other people."
He also talked tough on the United Nations, noting that the United States is the only nation capable of addressing pressing foreign policy issues.
"The United Nations cannot do this, in fact, they can't to anything," Rubio said.
Rubio favors House approach over immigration bill he helped author
But just as much as Rubio focused on foreign policy, he avoided one topic: immigration. And possibly for good reason.
Rubio was the Republican face of an immigration reform bill that was passed by the Senate in 2013. The bill, however, has failed to get any traction in the House and many conservative activists soured on Rubio because of his support for immigration reform.
Late last year, Rubio back tracked on his immigration position and advocated for the House GOP approach to the issue – a set of smaller bills – as opposed to the bill he helped author.
Christie: GOP governors 'getting something done'
By: CNN's Ashley Killough and Paul Steinhauser
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, receiving a warm reception from the audience Thursday, said the GOP needs to change the way it shares its message with voters in order to defeat Democrats in this year’s midterms.
“We’ve got to start talking about what we’re for and not what we’re against,” the Republican governor said. “Our ideas are better than their ideas and that’s what we have to stand up for.”
Christie on dealing with Obamacare concerns: ‘Elect a new President’
The pragmatic second-term governor, never popular with many in the party's conservative base, was not invited to last year's conference. CPAC organizers said Christie was snubbed because some of his positions were not conservative enough.
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie highlighted the work of several GOP governors in working toward entitlement reform, pointing to the heads of Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Florida-all of whom are up for re-election this year.
Christie, a consistent critic of Washington, argued that states are accomplishing more progress than lawmakers in the nation’s capital.
“Leadership is about getting in and getting something done and making government work. Leadership is not about standing on the sidelines and spit-balling,” he said. “And that’s all we see all across Washington, D.C. but it’s not what we see in the states.”
Unsurprisingly, Christie said nothing of the controversy he faces at home. Both state and federal investigations are underway over allegations that some of his aides closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not endorsing Christie's re-election.
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The governor has denied knowing anything about the gridlock until after it occurred and has said he knew nothing about any political mischief by members of his administration.
Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes CPAC each year, said the national media coverage of the controversies in New Jersey might help Christie with the party's base, which doesn't like to see Republicans attacked by the media, adding that the episode's made conservatives "kindred spirits with Gov. Christie."
Who's on the much watched straw poll ballot
By: CNN' s Paul Steinhauser
Here's the CPAC GOP presidential nomination straw poll ballot. There are 25 names listed, up from 23 last year. For a second straight year former Florida Jeb Bush has asked not to be on the ballot.
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Thinking ahead to the 2016 Presidential election, who would you vote for as the next Republican nominee for President?
1. NH Senator Kelly Ayotte
2. KS Governor Sam Brownback
3. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson
4. NJ Governor Chris Christie
5. TX Senator Ted Cruz
6. Former IN Governor Mitch Daniels
7. SC Governor Nikki Haley
8. Former AR Governor Mike Huckabee
9. LA Governor Bobby Jindal
10. OH Governor John Kasich
11. NM Governor Susana Martinez
12. Former AK Governor Sarah Palin
13. KY Senator Rand Paul
14. IN Governor Mike Pence
15. TX Governor Rick Perry
16. OH Senator Rob Portman
17. Former Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice
18. FL Senator Marco Rubio
19. WI Congressman Paul Ryan
20. Former PA Senator Rick Santorum
21. SC Senator Tim Scott
22. SD Senator John Thune
23. Business Executive Donald Trump
24. WI Governor Scott Walker
25. Former FL Congressman Allen West
26. Other _______________________
Cruz: ‘Putin is all but openly laughing at the President’
By: CNN’s Ashley Killough
Speaking briefly with reporters, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, blasted President Barack Obama’s response to the Ukraine crisis and argued the President’s foreign policy past cleared the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to take action against its neighbor.
“Putin would not be acting with this level of aggression if it were not for the consistent weakness and appeasement of our enemies of President Obama,” he said. “Bullies and tyrants do not respect weakness, and it that weakness that invites—Putin is all but openly laughing at the President.”
Inside Politics: Will CPAC be the launch of Cruz 2016?
Cruz also said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be a continuation of Obama’s economic policies if she were elected to the White House.
“Hillary Clinton would continue the failed Obama economic agenda and there comes a point where you can’t turn this country around. And that is why, here at CPAC and all across the country, there’s an urgency. People across this country understand it’s now or never,” he said, adding it’s time to “get back to the free market principles (and) the constitutional liberties.”
Ryan: 'Our side is energized'
Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, argued the 2014 midterm elections will turn out better for Republicans than the last presidential cycle.
"So, 2012 didn’t go as planned," the House Budget Committee Chairman said. "And last year, it was pretty tough to be optimistic after a loss like that. But now-a year later-I think there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic: I think the Left is exhausted. Our side is energized. And on Election Day, we’re going to win."
The Wisconsin Republican went on to highlight a number of Republican proposals in Congress that advocate for states' rights and lower taxes.
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"Right now, the tax code is 10 times the size of the Bible and has none of the good news," he joked.
The potential 2016 contender argued the "center of gravity is shifting" in favor of Republicans, thanks to what he described as the failed policies of the Obama administration.
Ryan to Iowa as he keeps 2016 'options open'
"The way I see it, let the other side be the party of personalities. We’ll be the party of ideas," he said. "And I’m optimistic about our chances-because the left? The left isn’t just out of ideas. It’s out of touch."
Cruz: HRC 'would continue the failed Obama econ. agenda & there comes a point where u can't turn this country around' pic.twitter.com/tLvJQbD9p1
— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) March 6, 2014
Cruz: HRC 'would continue the failed Obama econ. agenda & there comes a point where u can't turn this country around' pic.twitter.com/tLvJQbD9p1
— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) March 6, 2014
Cruz kicks off conference
By: CNN's Paul Steinhauser
A conservative rock star kicked off CPAC. And Sen. Ted Cruz lived up to expectations.
The freshman Republican from Texas called for the abolition of the IRS, urged the adoption of a fair tax, and said that "every single word of Obamacare" needs to be repealed.
The energetic speech was well received by the audience. Cruz, who was elected in 2012 with strong support from tea party activists and other grassroots conservatives, also said the GOP needs to stand for something.
"You want to lose elections, stand for nothing. Look at the last four congressional elections - 06, 08, 10, and 12. Three of the four we followed that strategy; 06, 08, 12 we put our head down, we stood for nothing and we got walloped. The one election that was a tremendous election was in 2010 when Republicans drew a line in the sand. We said we stand unequivocally against Obamacare, against bankrupting the country and we won an history tidal wave of an election," Cruz said.
"Of course, all of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney. Now look those are good men, they're decent men. But when you don't stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don't stand for principle, Democrats celebrate," added Cruz.
Cruz, who's considering a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, also called for a lifetime ban on lobbying for former members of Congress, and urged the passing of a constitutional amendment on term limits.
What Christie will say
By: CNN's Mark Preston and Paul Steinhauser
It's one of the biggest questions at CPAC this year: What kind of reception will Chris Christie get when be speaks to the conservative crowd on Thursday. The pragmatic New Jersey governor, never popular with many in the party's conservative base, was not invited to last year's conference. CPAC organizers said Christie was snubbed because some of his positions were not conservative enough.
Here's what a source close to Christie says the Garden State governor will speak about when he addresses the audience. "Governor Christie will be true to his reputation as a no-nonsense executive with a record of getting things done in a blue state. Christie will draw on other Republican governors as examples of executives who have followed this brand of leadership – making tough decisions, not letting politics get in the way of doing the job and focusing on action instead of automatically defaulting to partisan rhetoric – in sharp contrast with the dysfunction and inaction of Washington, DC."
"Governor Christie will also speak about what it means to be a conservative Republican and about the importance of focusing on what we are for and not what we are against. The message: we can't just be against something for the sake of being against it. Christie will call on the audience and the party not to waste time with political arguments that do nothing to turn our ideas into results. Conservative ideas are at work in states all across the country and when we lead with ideas, we win." "Also expect Christie to tell the audience we need to stop letting the media define who we are and embracing the stereotypes perpetuated by political adversaries. To do this, Christie will advocate the importance of doing what is uncomfortable, engaging unlikely allies and listening."
As Christie as Christie speaks this year, his administration's facing both state and federal investigations in allegations that some of his aides closed access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not endorsing Christie's re-election. The governor has denied knowing anything about the gridlock until after it occurred and has said he knew nothing about any political mischief by members of his administration.
While many conservatives may not be Christie fans, they like the mainstream media even less. "I think Christie is going to get a good reception, maybe even better than he would have before the bridge thing. He's a good, engaging, energetic speaker. He's been under attack by mainstream media and Democrats everywhere. The enemy of my enemy is my friend," added Ana Navarro, a GOP strategist and CNN contributor.
New numbers troubling for Christie and Bush?
A new national poll released hours before the start of CPAC indicated that three in ten Republicans say they wouldn't vote for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie if he ran for the White House.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, 9% of Republicans said they would definitely vote for Christie, with half saying they would consider voting for him, but 30% said they would definitely not cast a ballot for the New Jersey governor.
That 30% figure was the highest percentage for any Republican tested. Next was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a 2008 GOP presidential candidate, at 24%. The survey also indicated that while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is more popular with Republicans, if he runs for president and wins the GOP nomination, his family name may hurt him in a general election.
Fifty-percent of all registered voters questioned said they "definitely would not" vote for Bush. Bush is the brother of former President George W. Bush, who left the White House in early 2009 with very low approval ratings. Jeb Bush spoke at CPAC last year, but is not addressing the audience this year.
How can a Canadian-born Cuban be considered for President???
wow that's quite an impressive list of nominees for 2016 ;)
Why would Cruz's name be on the straw poll? He's ineligible to be president; he's Canadian born. Or do the Tea Party birthers no longer care about stuff like that?
According to Mr. Cruz, that issue was put to rest months ago....back when he declared himself as "automatically a citizen" by virtue of his birth. Cruz was "automatically eligible for citizenship", which is earned when applied for....something that Cruz has admittedly never done because he was "automatically a citizen." Claims he doesn't have to file for citizenship.
Food For Thought: If you're U.S. citizen, then there is some record of your birth somewhere in U.S. records. So, if you're born in a foreign country, then there is no record of your birth in U.S. records. You must apply for citizenship, which almost always granted.
How pathetic.. !
McConnell gives a gun to Mr. Conservative in hopes of shoring up KY conservatives for his primary. Promise them noting, but show them a gun. Most KYans can see through Mitch.
my head hurts. just when you think they can't get any dumber they just go over the top! and there are people I know who actually agree with these idiots. just did not know we could ever reach this level in what is suppose to be a civilized society.
Crazed lunatics aren't shooting up movie theaters and parking lots with 1-3 shot rifles. There's no 32 round magazine on that rifle.
Get you guns boys and girls.... Senator Ted "Crazy" Cruz is again inciting the ignorant masses all for political gain...WITHOUT any facts. Everything is the President's fault and of course by extension Hillary's. And WE all know the ONLY way to respond to a "Bully" is stronger bullying!! I am sure glad Ted doesn't know which hand the President uses to wipe, because I am sure he would be attacked for using the wrong hand....unless of course it was the "extreme RIGHT !!
"Chris Christie, said the GOP needs to change the way it shares its message with voters in order to defeat Democrats in this year’s midterms."
Is this the new politicspeak for "We need to lie better?"
McConnell bringing a gun to the CPAC underlines the insanity and extremism of the Republican Party. It is also a great metaphor for the Republican Party. They have no viable candidates, no platform or principles to run off, and so full of extremists – they keep "shooting themselves in the foot" and further destroying their Party and any sane person who would vote for them.
Boy are they desperate to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for candidates! Palin? Trump? Ryan? Walker? and the most hated Republican governors of their states? Walker was in a "recall" election by the people to remove him from office. Kasich is hated in Ohio. Christie in under indictment in NJ and the newspapers and legislature are calling on him to resign. These are the real candidates? What a laugh!
Wow republicans, talk about aligning yourselves with a pack of simpletons at CPAC.
I normally don't agree with Ted Cruz on anything that comes out of his mounth. However, this is one tihng that I agree with him. "called for a lifetime ban on lobbying for former members of Congress, and urged the passing of a constitutional amendment on term limits."
Good. Maybe they will have a shootout and we just vote for whoever is left standing. Idiots.
CPAC; A group that ensure ignorance, stupidity, and racism continues to be the mandate of the GOP platform.
Ted Cruz / Sarah Palin 2016
It takes more then brains to understand the big picture ?
Ah, but in this case (or article) a picture (as shown) speaks a thousands words. GOP "defiance" is as predictable as it is entertainingly laughable.
I D I O T S everyone of them.
They need to change their name to CRAP, Conservatives Representing Allwhite People.
The best way to show your Conservatism used to be to talk about fiscal spending, limited government, family values, etc. Now you just have to wave a gun around.
I was hoping to see the Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on the list of possible nominees. She got guts, I like that.
Why so many people on the list that have already said there was no way they would run? Like Huckabee and Condi Rice?
Cruz is a citizen. His mother was born in America, so that makes him a citizen.
Yessiree, CPAC can pick'em. Or actually, they can't. Every winner of the CPAC straw votes soon disappears into well deserved oblivion. And query to Canadian Cruz: How did President Obama make Putin invade Georgia 2008. And what id W. do in response? Or how about when jihadists blew 241 marines away in Lebanon with a truck bomb and one week later Reagon ordered all US troops out of Lebanon. I'm missing how that punished the Marines' killers. Short term memory loss.
The caption reads Senate Leader brandishes a rifle. Looks like he's just holding it up in the air. Who's he threatening?
I'm interested know if anyone in the audience was allowed to show up armed.
He wasn't armed he was carrying a rifle! It was a muzzle loader. It might have been a weapon when Lincoln was President but certianly not today. What idiots!
It's interesting how quiet the birthers are about Ted's eligibility.
Per a 2011 Congressional Research Service report – "The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term "natural born" citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship "by birth" or "at birth", either by being born "in" the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to foreign parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship "at birth". Such term, however, would not include a person who was not a U.S. citizen by birth or at birth, and who was thus born an "alien" required to go through the legal process of "naturalization" to become a U.S. citizen."
According to this definition he is not an nbc, since his parents were not "U.S. citizen-parents" (note the plurality). In addition, the Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that "the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens".
Again note use of plurality in the phrase "the children of citizens". He qualifies as a citizen alrighty, due to his mother being one, even if he was born in Canada. But since both his parents were not citizens at the time of birth, I would conclude he doesn't qualify as "natural born" – which makes him ineligible.