SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Facing off against the rest of the Republican field in the final debate before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, Newt Gingrich defended his work for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and didn’t back off from a number of his more contentious stances, including abolishing federal courts he finds too activist.
He also proposed cutting off all federal funding for sanctuary cities who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement, and said he would drop lawsuits against states that have passed their own immigration crackdown laws.
But he took fire from the other candidates, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota in particular, who questioned his pro-life record and said he was working for the two mortgage giants at a time when other conservatives were trying to close them down.
“I was trying to see these two entities put into bankruptcy,” she said. “We can’t have as our nominee for the Republican Party someone who continues to stand for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They need to be shut down, not built up.”
Mr. Gingrich vehemently denied her charge that the $1.6 million in payments he took from the two government-sponsored enterprises were for lobbying.
“I have never once changed my positions because of any kind of payment,” the former House speaker “The fact is, I only chose to work with people whose values I shared. And having people have a chance to buy a house is a value I still believe is important.”
Meanwhile his top rival for the GOP’s presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, repeatedly passed on chances to attack Mr. Gingrich and instead turned his fire on President Obama — the strategy that he had used for most of the campaign but got away from in recent months.
In particular, Mr. Romney ridiculed the president for asking this week that Iran return an unmanned American drone that went off course and went down over its territory and which Tehran said it will keep and try to download data from.
“A foreign policy based on ‘pretty please?’ You’ve got to be kidding,” Mr. Romney said.
Asked about criticism Mr. Gingrich has leveled against his record of bankrupting or cutting jobs at companies he invested in when he ran Bain Capital, Mr. Romney said he expects Mr. Obama to make the same charge.
But Mr. Romney said he’ll point to what the president did with General Motors, when the government pushed to close factories in order to save the core company.
“This president doesn’t know how the economy works. I believe to create jobs, it helps to have created jobs,” Mr. Romney said.
The 13th debate of the year, aired by Fox News, amounted to a closing argument for the seven candidates on stage ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, and aside from the repeated attacks on Mr. Gingrich, the field followed Mr. Romney’s lead in spending a majority of the time blasting Mr. Obama and sparring over who was most electable.
Mr. Gingrich said he sees himself following the model of Ronald Reagan, who was down dramatically in the polls to then-President Jimmy Carter before winning a landslide election in 1980.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, meanwhile, chose a more modern model: Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who has shocked sports fans with repeated miraculous comebacks.