Feb 17, 2016 10:24 PM

The Latest: Cruz says Obama shouldn't travel to Cuba

The Associated Press

BEAUFORT, S.C. (AP) The Latest on the 2016 race for president, three days out from the South Carolina Republican primary (all times local):

10:15 p.m.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says President Barack Obama should not travel to Cuba next month.

The White House is planning to make the announcement about the visit as early as Thursday.

But asked about reports of the president's plans on Wednesday night during a town hall in South Carolina broadcast on CNN, the Republican candidate for president said Obama shouldn't make the trip "as long as the Castros are in power."

Cruz's father was born in Cuba, where he was arrested and jailed before fleeing to the United States in the 1950. "My father has seen firsthand the evil and oppression in Cuba," Cruz said.

Cruz is also speaking out against any plans of closing the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying he fears Obama will do so before leaving office next year.


9:55 p.m.

Bernie Sanders is repurposing his well-received "America" television ad for the upcoming Democratic contests in Nevada and South Carolina.

The gauzy ad featuring the music of Simon and Garfunkel was first released during the Iowa caucuses. The people featured in the original spot were overwhelmingly white, leading top Hillary Clinton ally David Brock to say the ad presented a "bizarre" image of America.

Nevada and South Carolina are more racially diverse and the new ads feature more minorities, as well as scenes from locations in both states.

The changes come as Sanders tries to boost his appeal with black and Hispanic voters. Clinton's campaign is hoping to offset Sanders' strength with young voters by drawing big vote totals among minorities.

The new Sanders' ads are airing in the Reno, Nevada, and Greenville, South Carolina, areas, according to Kantar Media's CMAG data.


9:30 p.m.

Marco Rubio says a significant portion of minority families in America feel they're being treated differently.

The son of Cuban immigrants says he was a victim of racism as a 7-year-old, during a mass migration of Cubans in 1980. Rubio said older kids in his Nevada neighborhood told him to get on a boat and go back to his country.

Rubio said during Wednesday's CNN presidential town hall, "That disturbed me as a young child."

Rubio would become the nation's first Hispanic-American president if elected. He noted he was endorsed Wednesday by South Carolina's Indian-American governor and will campaign Thursday alongside the state's African-American senator.

He said, "That says a lot about the Republican Party."


8:45 p.m.

Republican Donald Trump says that, if he's elected president, any person he nominates for Supreme Court justice will have to pledge to uphold a landmark gun rights case.

Trump was answering questions on a televised town hall on MSNBC when he was asked whether he would make upholding the Heller decision a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees.

The 2008 case determined that Americans have the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

Trump responded: "I give that commitment right now. Absolutely. "

He added that he's been "very strong" on defending the Second Amendment and that both he and his sons are members of the National Rifle Association.


8:20 p.m.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson says he would probably nominate a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia if he was now in the White House.

"Why not do it?" Carson asks at a town hall broadcast by CNN from Greenville, South Carolina.

He'll be followed later Wednesday night by fellow Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. South Carolina's GOP primary is on Saturday.

Carson says he would have litmus tests for the candidates for the high court. But rather than ask potential nominees about where they stand on an issue such as abortion, "I would look back at what they've done throughout their lives."

Carson says that's a better way to learn about a candidate for the court, rather than in interviews for which candidates have prepared in advance.

Several of Carson's fellow Republican candidates for president have said the choice to replace Scalia should be made by the next president, and not by President Barack Obama.


7:34 p.m.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says he has been "saved and redeemed by the blood of Jesus" and that informs how he's running for president.

Cruz spoke Wednesday evening in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at an event organized by the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Cruz has been defending his trustworthiness against accusations from Donald Trump and Marco Rubio that he is a liar and engaging in dirty campaign tricks. Cruz has denied the claims. He said Wednesday that his religious faith informs every decision he makes, including how he runs his campaign.

Cruz frequently extols supporters in his stump speech to "awaken the body of Christ" to save the country.

Cruz's win in the Iowa caucuses was fueled by evangelical Christian support, a group of voters he is also aggressively courting in South Carolina ahead of its Saturday primary.


6:17 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is campaigning alongside Marco Rubio for the first time since endorsing his presidential bid.

The Republican governor campaigned alongside Rubio during a Wednesday evening event in suburban Columbia just hours after news her endorsement was announced.

She said there were a lot of good people running for president, but her job was to find one who could do the job best. She credited Rubio's fight, passion and conviction.

And she said she wanted to find a candidate who would prove to her immigrant parents they made a good decision by coming to America.

Haley said, "Ladies and gentlemen, if we elect Marco Rubio, every day will be a great day in America."

Rubio's Republican rival, Jeb Bush, described Haley as "the most meaningful endorsement there is" in South Carolina.


5:33 p.m.

Donald Trump says he worries the Republican-led Senate may cave to President Barack Obama and appoint a new Supreme Court justice.

At a rally in Walterboro, South Carolina, Trump says he's "hearing these little cracks" that suggest the GOP might not hold its ground in opposing any nomination before the election to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly last week.

Trump says Obama wants to nominate a justice who will be "very negative" on the Second Amendment and gun policy.

He says the Senate's GOP leadership "gave Obama everything" on the budget as well as the health care overhaul law.

Trump says if he can win in South Carolina on Saturday, he can "run the table" in the rest of the GOP nominating contest.


4:43 p.m.

John Kasich is spending the day of South Carolina's Republican primary campaigning and raising money in Massachusetts.

Kasich's campaign says he may return to South Carolina on Saturday evening to await the primary results after earlier events in Massachusetts, but the schedule is not finalized.

Saturday's events include a fundraiser in Boston and a town hall meeting in Worcester.

Massachusetts is one of just a few northern states holding its primary on Super Tuesday on March 1. The Bay State, alongside Vermont and Minnesota, are seen as more favorable territory for Kasich than South Carolina and a string of Southern states voting on March 1.


3:42 p.m.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is getting an earful of advice much of it about Donald Trump during a campaign appearance in South Carolina.

One man in the town hall audience of about 300 people told Bush his presidential "campaign has been co-opted by the P.T. Barnum of our time."

Another man at the same event told Bush, "I'm afraid that your message isn't resonating," suggesting Bush turn the other cheek to Trump's continual taunting.

Bush calls Trump "a bully," and suggests the best approach is to "punch him back in the nose."

The former Florida governor is struggling for a strong finish in Saturday's South Carolina primary. Gov. Nikki Haley is poised to endorse rival Marco Rubio.


3:19 p.m.

GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush says he is "disappointed" that South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is endorsing rival Marco Rubio just three days before voters in the state cast ballots for the Republican nominee.

Speaking to reporters after a campaign event in Summerville, S.C., Bush said of Haley: "She's a very good governor and should I win the nomination, there'll be a role for her in the campaign."

Haley's endorsement of Rubio was confirmed by a person close to the Republican governor with direct knowledge of her decision. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the endorsement ahead of a Rubio event Wednesday night, where she's expected to make it official.

Bush has struggled to keep his campaign afloat, calling in help from brother George W. Bush, the former president, and his mother, Barbara Bush. Jeb Bush's brother and father won big primaries in the state in 2000 and 1988.


3:00 p.m.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is endorsing Marco Rubio ahead of Saturday's first-in-the-South Republican presidential primary.

A person close to the Republican governor with direct knowledge of her decision says she will endorse Rubio at his event Wednesday night in Lexington County. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the endorsement ahead of the event and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Haley's endorsement was considered the most coveted among South Carolina politicians. She joins Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy in endorsing Rubio.

The state's first female and first minority governor said just Tuesday that she may not endorse this cycle. But she's been very critical of Donald Trump.

Haley endorsed Mitt Romney a month before South Carolina's 2012 presidential primary and campaigned with him. Romney lost to Newt Gingrich, breaking the state's three-decade tradition of backing the party's eventual nominee.


2:40 p.m.

Hillary Clinton is praising President Obama and pledging to continue many of his policies as she campaigns in his hometown of Chicago.

The former secretary of state told several hundred people at a Wednesday rally a few miles from Obama's home that she is "unapologetic" about her loyalty to the president. She called his two terms in office "impressive," saying he got the economy back on track, passed his signature health care bill and saved the auto industry from collapse.

Clinton says "I will build on the progress that President Obama has made."

Clinton also stressed her own ties to Chicago, reminding the crowd she was born in the city and raised in its suburbs and recalling previous visits, including a meeting with Obama where he asked her to be his Secretary of State.

Clinton was joined on stage by the mothers of several young black people from Chicago who were killed by the gun violence that has ravaged many of the city's predominantly black neighborhoods. Also with her: the mother of Sandra Bland, a suburban Chicago woman who was found dead in a Texas jail cell after a 2014 traffic stop.

Both Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders are trying to appeal to minority voters as the contest moves to Nevada and South Carolina.


2:30 p.m.

Marco Rubio has a new outside group in his corner, and it is backed by a Miami donor who says he will spend more than $1 million on the 2016 presidential race.

The super political action committee, called Values Are Vital, recently put $133,000 into pro-Rubio mailings in the next-to-vote primary states of South Carolina and Nevada. One postcard portrays Rubio rivals John Kasich and Jeb Bush as "liberals."

The group's chief donor, Ronald Firman, tells The Associated Press that he does not personally know Rubio, a Florida senator, but is "convinced he can win against the Democrats." Firman says Rubio has the best mix of foreign policy and economic credentials and proposals of any GOP candidate.

Firman, a 53-year-old in commercial real estate, and Las Vegas attorney Martin Burns formed Values Are Vital two years ago to help their childhood friend Paige Kreegel in a special election for a Florida congressional seat. The pair spent more than $1.5 million; Kreegel lost.


1:27 p.m.

John Kasich says he disagrees with Apple's CEO that the government overreached in ordering the company to help the FBI hack an encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the shooters in San Bernardino, California.

The Ohio governor told reporters Wednesday, "I don't think it's an example of government overreach to say that, you know, we had terrorists here on our soil and we've got to understand more detail about who they may have been communicating with."

Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, murdered 14 people Dec. 2 before the couple was killed by police. The phone was recovered from their vehicle in the aftermath of the attack.

Apple CEO Tim Cook says helping authorities unlock the shooter's phone could undermine encryption for millions of other users.

Kasich said if he was president he would resolve the problem quietly, adding "some of these things just shouldn't be talked about" in public.


1:15 p.m.

Rapper Killer Mike is touching off a controversy with his endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, in which the rapper told supporters, "a uterus doesn't qualify you to be president of the United States."

The remark Tuesday was an apparent reference to Sanders rival Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who would be the nation's first female president.

The comment raised tensions between the two campaigns as they head into pivotal contests in Nevada, South Carolina and a string of "Super Tuesday" states on March 1.

The rapper, whose real name is Michael Render, suggested that Clinton would be slow to move on issues of racial justice.


1:10 p.m.

John Kasich predicts he'll fare "better than squat" in South Carolina's Republican primary.

The Ohio governor said before a campaign rally Wednesday in Bluffton, South Carolina, that he hopes to beat expectations during the South's first presidential primary Saturday.

Kasich told reporters: "I don't think people expected me to do squat. And I think we'll do better than squat, but we'll see."

Kasich finished second in New Hampshire last week, but headed to South Carolina with less money and fewer campaign staff and volunteers in the state than his nearest rivals.

About 200 people turned out to hear Kasich in Bluffton, and he implored them to spread the word by calling friends.


12:56 p.m.

Hillary Clinton is being joined in Chicago by prominent black lawmakers and the mother of a black suburban woman who died in her Texas jail cell last year.

Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, is campaigning with Clinton Wednesday as the Democratic presidential candidate works to appeal to minority voters ahead of contests in Nevada and South Carolina.

Bland was found dead days after she was pulled over by a white officer in Texas last year. A medical examiner ruled her death a suicide, though the 28-year-old's family has questioned that account and how the stop was handled. The case became a symbol of mistreatment of blacks by law enforcement and inequalities in the criminal justice system.

Rep. Danny Davis, who has represented his West Side Chicago district since 1997, says he backing Clinton over rival Sen. Bernie Sanders because of her record of fighting for health care, education and other issues important to black people.


12:51 p.m.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz says he would not vote to approve a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court who he had previously supported for a federal appeals court post.

The Republican presidential candidate said at a news conference Wednesday that he would not vote to confirm U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Sri Srinivasan if he were nominated by President Obama. Srinivasan was approved on a unanimous 97-0 vote by the Senate for the federal court post in Washington D.C. in 2013.

Cruz says the Senate should not confirm any nominee in a presidential election year. Cruz says it is "very different" voting for a judge to serve on the federal appeals court and the Supreme Court.

Cruz says he wants to make the presidential election a referendum on which candidate would make the best appointments to the Supreme Court.


12:42 p.m.

Donald Trump says the GOP lost the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan his running mate.

Trump says the problem is the way Ryan's budget dealt with Social Security and Medicare.

Trump told several hundred people at a Sun City retirement community in Bluffton, South Carolina, Wednesday that Ryan represents cutting entitlements. Trump pledged that he would not cut the programs to assist seniors.

He recalled a Democratic-leaning group's 2012 ad that showed a stand-in for Ryan pushing an elderly woman off a cliff. Trump said "that was the end of that campaign, by the way, when they chose Ryan."

The Ryan budget would slash spending for safety-net programs for the poor, remake Medicare , cut personal and corporate taxes and push down the deficit.

Ryan's office had no immediate comment on Trump's remarks.


12:36 p.m.

Jeb Bush is getting more family support on the trail ahead of South Carolina's Feb. 20 primary. The Bush campaign says Barbara Bush will be in Clemson on Thursday for a rally with her son.

The former first lady campaigned with the former Florida governor in New Hampshire earlier this year.

On Monday, former President George W. Bush appeared with his brother in North Charleston.


12:16 p.m.

Ted Cruz says if Donald Trump sues him as threatened over a campaign ad, the lawsuit would be dismissed as frivolous.

Cruz lashed out at Trump at a news conference Wednesday in South Carolina, three days before the state's primary.

Cruz says the ad, which includes footage of Trump declaring his support for abortion rights, can't be defamatory because it includes comments Trump himself made on national TV. Trump has since said his position has changed and he is anti-abortion.

Speaking directly to Trump, Cruz says. "you have been threatening frivolous lawsuits for your entire adult life. Even in the annals of frivolous lawsuits, this takes the cake."


11:41 a.m.

Marco Rubio says going forward he'll address audience members who use "outrageous, over-the-top and egregious" language during his events.

That's in response to an incident Tuesday night when an audience member shouted out "Waterboard Hillary!" Rubio laughed on the suggestion at the time. He pointed to the press in the back of the room while chuckling and said he didn't hear the comment, but knew it wasn't profanity.

The next morning in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Rubio said he didn't hear exactly what the shouter said.

He added, "But I also can't be I the position of correcting everyone in the audience that says something, because I'll never get through my speech."

Rubio says that going forward, "If it's something outrageous, over the top and egregious, I'll address it."

Presidential candidates are often confronted with heated or violent rhetoric during their events.

Hillary Clinton was criticized after laughing off an audience member's suggestion last fall that someone strangle Republican Carly Fiorina. In 2008, John McCain corrected an audience member who called President Barack Obama an Arab.


11:40 a.m.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declared on Wednesday morning that "torture works" and repeated his vow to bring back waterboarding and approve other, tougher interrogation techniques.

"Don't tell me it doesn't work. Torture works, OK folks?" Trump tells a crowd of several hundred in Sun City, South Carolina. "You know, I have these guys, torture doesn't work. Believe me, it works, OK? And waterboarding is your minor form."

Trump has repeatedly advocated enhanced interrogation techniques for foreign prisoners, including during a recent GOP debate. He said again Wednesday he would "absolutely" allow waterboarding, which simulates the feeling of drowning.

"But we should go much stronger than waterboarding," he adds. "That's the way I feel. They're chopping off heads. Believe me, we should go much stronger because our country's in trouble, we're in danger. We have people that want to do really bad things."

"Waterboarding is fine, but it's not nearly tough enough," he says.

(Waterboarding was practiced until late in the Bush administration, but was disavowed by President Barack Obama. A 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that harsh interrogation techniques failed to produce information the CIA couldn't have obtained elsewhere or didn't already have. Republican leaders objected to the report's findings, as did some former CIA officials, who said they gained vital intelligence that still guides counterterrorism efforts.)


11:33 a.m.

An outside group supporting John Kasich's presidential bid is up with an ad in South Carolina featuring a defense by the most recent winner of this state's GOP primary.

In the television spot from New Day for America, the image - but not the voice - of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich appears, defending Kasich against attacks that paint the Ohio governor as soft on defense.

Earlier this week, an outside group backing Jeb Bush began airing an ad in this miitary-minded state - home to to Fort Jackson and Parris Island, massive training installations for the Army and Marine Corps, as well as a number of air bases and a naval training school for nuclear submarine officers - aiming to use Kasich's own words against him. Both Kasich and Gingrich denounced the criticism.

In the New Day ad, a narrator quotes Gingrich's recent remarks to a newspaper that Kasich, alongside whom he served in Congress, "consistently fought for a better, more effective military."

On the trail himself on Wednesday, Bush continued to take on some of his GOP rivals, including Kasich, who have not argued for military spending increases on the same scale Bush has, painting himself as best-positioned to assume the role of commander in chief.


11:22 a.m.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump slammed South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in Sun City on Wednesday, calling his former rival "one of the dumbest human beings I've ever seen."

Trump was responding to Graham's appearance on Fox News earlier Wednesday, when Graham called Trump "a kook" and "unfit for office" and said he would be "the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican Party."

Trump hit back from a stage in Sun City, mocking Graham's demeanor, saying, "He couldn't even talk. He was shaking - the hatred.

"He went crazy. The guy is a nut job," says Trump.

Graham appeared calm in the interview.

Trump also mocked Graham's low level of support in polls before he dropped out of the GOP contest as well as his perspective on U.S. military engagement.

"I could push him over with a little thimble," says Trump, adding: "This guy knows nothing."

It was in Sun City in June that Trump read Graham's cell phone number out loud to the crowd one of the first signs that his campaign was eager to break all the rules of political decorum.


11:10 a.m.

Jeb Bush is swinging hard at fellow Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and John Kasich Wednesday, dismissing them as ill-prepared as he fights for his political survival.

The former Florida governor says Rubio's claim that Bush has no foreign policy experience is "a low blow." Bush touts his two terms as governor and 30-plus years in the private sector, which included overseas trade missions.

He called Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, "a back-bencher" and "a guy whose office has a hard time actually saying what his accomplishments are."

National security is a key issue in the South Carolina primary. Bush is in a fight with Rubio, Ohio Gov. Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for second place to Trump's commanding lead in Saturday's primary.


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