Updated September 27, 2023 at 9:22 PM ET
This article will be updated throughout the debate.
Candidates vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination are debating tonight at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, Calif. Former President Donald Trump, who currently has a sizable lead in the crowded field of GOP candidates, will once again not be on stage at the debate.
Instead, Trump is in Michigan speaking at an auto parts manufacturing plant. That plant, owned by Drake Enterprises, is a non-union shop, according to the AFL-CIO. Other sources familiar with the situation say it is not affiliated with the UAW or the ongoing strikes.
Seven candidates qualified to take part in Wednesday's debate: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
The two-hour debate is being hosted by Fox Business Network, alongside the Spanish language TV news outlet Univision, and Rumble – an online video platform mostly used by conservatives. Fox News host Dana Perino, Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney, and Univision's Ilia Calderón are serving as the debate's moderators.
Candidates weigh in on President Biden joining auto worker picket line
Republican presidential hopefuls took aim at President Biden for walking the picket line on Tuesday with UAW workers. This week, Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to join a picket line.
Scott said the president "should not be on the picket line, he should be on the southern border."
Pence commented that the president instead belongs on the "unemployment line."
Ramaswamy instead focused on the workers. He said he blames the White House for their financial woes, but he understands why workers are upset. Ramaswamy said he doesn't "have patience with union bosses but sympathizes with the workers."
He did, however, accuse some of the striking workers of playing the role of victims and said "victimhood is a choice."
What else the candidates might talk about tonight
It's hard to imagine that Donald Trump won't be a major topic of conversation this time around. With the clear exception of Christie, most Republican presidential candidates have tried to avoid directly critiquing the former president. However, Trump is facing a new round of legal troubles this week. On Tuesday, a judge in New York ruled that Trump committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets.
Some candidates might be feeling more pressure to comment on what will happen if Trump becomes the nominee amid his growing legal issues.
Like the last debate, abortion will also probably take center stage, again. This is an important issue for the base of the party – but it's also a point of contention among the GOP.
Trump has not said whether he would support a federal ban on the procedure, if elected. However, he did criticize DeSantis for signing a six-week ban in Florida and called it a "terrible mistake."
Trump appointed key conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court – who then ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade last year. Their ruling left abortion laws up to the states, which all but outlawed the procedure entirely in some Republican-led states. The Supreme Court ruling remains unpopular among most Americans and arguably at least partly held back the party from larger gains during the 2022 midterm elections.
The economy is likely going to be a key topic during this debate, considering it didn't get much lip service during the first. Despite layoffs in some sectors, the economy has been performing better than expected. But fears over a possible recession haven't gone away.
Inflation and wages have been front of mind for voters. Inflation, in particular, was a key issue for Republicans during last year's midterms and will likely still be a focus next year. Presidential candidates hoping to stay in the running will likely start talking about their plans for the economy.
And lastly, the looming shutdown is also likely come up. If Congress doesn't reach an agreement this week, a shutdown is expected to start as early as Sunday. Fears of a shutdown began with disagreement within the Republican caucus. The struggle between more centrist and more far-right factions of the party has been a key issue for the GOP, and it's likely candidates will be asked where they stand.
Scott will be the only sitting member of Congress on stage at the debate. However, DeSantis was a member of Congress during the 2013 shutdown that lasted a little more than two weeks.
The two-hour debate starts at 9 p.m. ET and will be hosted by Fox Business Network, alongside the Spanish language TV news outlet Univision, and Rumble – an online video platform mostly used by conservatives.
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