{{show_title_date || "Cruz challenges Obama to a debate on Syrian refugee plan, 11/18/15, 11:48 AM ET"}}

GOP presidential candidates throw down the gauntlet over refugees

Updated

GOP presidential candidates are throwing down the gauntlet.

Clearly irritated with President Obama’s recent jabs at Republicans who are opposed to accepting Syrian refugees on American soil, several White House hopefuls are firing back.

The most aggressive was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who happily assumed the role of Obama’s chief antagonist Wednesday while speaking to reporters outside of the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C.

“… I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face.”
Sen. Ted Cruz
“Let me suggest something Mr. President: If you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries. But I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face,” Cruz said. “Let’s have a debate on Syrian refugees right now. We can do it anywhere you want. I’d prefer it in the United States and not overseas where you’re making the insults.”

The remarks follow a candid press conference in the Philippines earlier Wednesday, during which the president chided politicians who are trying to close America’s borders in response to the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. Thirty-one governors — all Republican, except for one — have so far said they would oppose, refuse or suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states, challenging the Obama administration’s pledge to accept 10,000 refugees in the next fiscal year.

“When candidates say we shouldn’t admit 3-year old-orphans, that’s political posturing,” Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila. “When people say we should have a religious test, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted, that’s offensive, and contrary to American values.”

Taking another jab, he added: “These are the same folks often times that say they’re so tough that just talking to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or staring down ISIL (ISIS) or using some additional rhetoric will solve the problem — and they’re scared of widows and 3-year-old orphans.”

OPINION: America doesn’t turn its back on refugees

Throughout the campaign, Cruz has tried to position himself as one of the toughest candidates on foreign policy and defending religious freedom, both at home and abroad. But his rhetoric and messaging can sometimes border on the hokey. Earlier this year, for example, his fundraising page featured an image of Cruz’s head superimposed on a shirtless, tattooed body with a message that read: “Iran’s worst nightmare.”

Fellow headline-generator Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, also responded to the president’s remarks on Wednesday, telling MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that Obama’s accusations prove he’s “delusional.”

“If the president honestly believes that ISIS is concerned about what we think about them and that they are driven by that, then the president is more delusional than I ever imagined,” Huckabee said, later adding: “It’s just astonishing the president would make this all about himself, not about the safety and security of the American people.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also released a statement in response, saying “President Obama should be ashamed of himself.”

“[S]adly he is so ignorant to the threat posed by radical Islam that he doesn’t have have a clue how wrong he is,” Santorum said Wednesday. “Radical Islam is not exploiting Republican rhetoric. Radical Islam IS at war with the West!”

Speaking at a town hall in Keene, New Hampshire, businesswoman Carly Fiorina doubted whether Obama understood “who the enemy is.”

“Today he’s in the Philippines talking about Republicans giving ISIS recruitment tools. I don’t think he understands who the enemy is, and I don’t think he understands the exceptional nature of this nation,” she said.

Not to be outdone, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday that “the president lives in a fantasy world.”

“For this president to blame Republicans – this is what he and Hillary Clinton always do,” Christie told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum. “You remember back to two debate ago when she said one of the enemies she’s most proud of are Republicans. This is why the city is so divided in Washington, D.C., and our country is divided. Because they speak that way.”

“The president lives in a fantasy world,” Christie later said. “He sees the world as he wishes it were, rather than the way it is.”

Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz

GOP presidential candidates throw down the gauntlet over refugees

Updated