BOULDER, Colorado —
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are done playing nice.
Sparks flew between the two Republican presidential candidates tonight at the third GOP presidential debate of the campaign season.
In the most intense exchange between the two men this cycle, Bush went after Rubio for missing votes in the Senate while running for the White House — an issue that critics have seized on.
“Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term and you should be showing up to work,” Bush said at the debate sponsored by CNBC. “What is this, like a French work week?”
Bush then delivered another punch: “Just resign and let someone else take the job.”
Rubio fired back, saying Bush never took issue with Sen. John McCain missing votes when he was running for president.
“The only reason you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position,” the senator said.
The back-and-forth underscored the competing rivalries that are simmering beneath a campaign that has been dominated by Donald Trump. Bush’s decision to go after Rubio for his work ethic in the Senate shows that he believes Rubio is blocking his lane. Bush, struggling to break through to the top of the GOP pack, was clearly trying to seize the narrative — but Rubio quickly and effectively counterpunched, owning the moment.
Of course, there could be other fights tonight — and all eyes are on Trump and Ben Carson, who is surging in the polls. Since launching his campaign this summer, Trump reserved his bomb-throwing tactics for more established politicians in the GOP field, such as Bush and Rubio. But that could change given Carson’s strength in recent surveys.
Ahead of the prime-time debate, the lowest-ranking GOP candidates — Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki and Lindsey Graham — battled it out at an “undercard” event.
For all four men, the pressure’s on to raise their national poll numbers to qualify for the main debate stage hosted by Fox Business Network on November 10. The so-called undercard candidates offered their views on a budget agreement passed by the House earlier in the day that would lift the debt ceiling and avert a government shutdown.
Graham, a national security hawk, called President Barack Obama an “incompetent commander in chief” but said he approved provisions in the deal that would add billions of dollars to the Defense Department’s budget. Pataki, who was equally critical and accused Obama of holding the military “hostage,” said though he believed it was a “bad deal,” he would sign it in order to “protect our military.”
Jindal was critical of the agreement, but said closing the government over the budget deal was a “false choice.”
Graham was put on the spot for several policy stances unpopular among conservatives, including believing climate change is real, being willing to accept tax increases and supporting a path to citizenship for those who are in the country illegally.
“I’m not a scientist and I’ve got the grades to prove it,” Graham said, drawing laughter from the room. But the majority of scientists, he added, “are telling me that greenhouse gas effects are real, that we’re heating up our planet.”
Regarding immigration, Graham said he doesn’t believe in mass deportation, but instead wants to fix the problem by, in part, securing the country’s borders. “I want to talk about fixing the problem.”