Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, center, speaks to potential… (Jeremy Portje, Associated…)
Reporting from Bettendorf, Iowa — Two Republican presidential candidates who are receiving more attention for blunders than policies sought to turn the page in Iowa on Tuesday, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry unveiling a dramatic plan to overhaul Washington and businessman Herman Cain arguing that too much attention is being paid to a video of him struggling to answer a question about Libya.
Quoting the biblical admonishments of Ecclesiastes in arguing the merits of his plan, Perry proposed cutting congressional salaries in half and making the posts part-time, ending lifetime appointments of federal judges, and privatizing the Transportation Security Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"I think it's time to tear down monuments of bureaucratic failure and put in place a smaller, more effective federal government that puts the American people first," said Perry, speaking to several dozen voters at the Schebler manufacturing plant in Bettendorf.
One of his proposals, ending lifetime appointments for federal judges and instituting 18-year terms for Supreme Court justices, would require a constitutional amendment. Perry on Tuesday also called for constitutional amendments requiring a balanced budget and outlawing abortion.
He reiterated his call to eliminate the federal Energy, Education and Commerce departments, the proposal that got him in trouble in a debate last week when he could name only two of the three agencies, struggling for nearly one minute as his rivals attempted to help. Perry finally gave up with an embarrassed "oops."
The moment caused some to write off his candidacy, and from the moment the debate ended, Perry has sought to defuse the uproar by using self-deprecation and humor. But on Tuesday, he did not mention it and instead sought to focus attention on his policy prescriptions.
"Americans know there is a season for everything under the sun. This is a season for tearing down and rebuilding again," he said. "Building a new government that is smaller, more humble, so America can be stronger and freer again — that is my vision."
Appearing with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who served in the Senate and the House for 16 years, Perry argued that Washington insiders were too enmeshed in the system to fix it.
"I'm unique" in the GOP field, Perry said. "I've never been an establishment figure, I never served in Congress, I've never been part of an administration, I've never been a paid lobbyist. My career has been that of a Washington outsider."
Cain, meanwhile, sought to downplay a video that has raised renewed concerns about his lack of foreign policy experience, an issue that has dogged his campaign. Earlier this week, the former corporate chief met with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board, and when he was asked whether he agreed with President Obama's approach to the uprising in Libya against Moammar Kadafi, he stumbled.
He said "Libya," and blinked rapidly, then said, "President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Kadafi — just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say, 'Yes, I agree,' or 'No, I didn't agree.'"
Then he said he disagreed, and began giving an answer, but then apparently realized that the answer he was about to give was on another topic.
"Nope, that's a different one. I've got to go back and see," Cain said. "I've got all this stuff twirling around in my head."
On Tuesday, speaking to reporters in Urbandale, Cain said he did not understand why so much attention was being paid to the answer.
"Well, first of all, you need to understand what happens at an editorial board, being in a room where you're being asked question after question on different topic after different topic. I paused, and I don't understand why that pause created so much quote-unquote controversy," he said. "I paused to gather my thoughts."
Cain has faced previous questions about his grasp of foreign policy, after suggesting he might negotiate with terrorists for an American soldier who was being held hostage, and after appearing not to know that China has had nuclear weapons for nearly half a century.
Cain said his lack of foreign policy experience would not hamstring his presidency if he was elected because he would surround himself with well-versed advisors.
He also batted back at a controversy over a comment he made in GQ magazine this week, when he said a prominent Muslim had told him that a majority of Muslims in the United States held extreme views. Although in the magazine interview he said he agreed with the sentiment, on Tuesday Cain sought to downplay it by insisting that he was merely repeating what he had heard.
"I would suggest we don't need to make a big deal out of that," he said.
The news conference was supposed to be held at Cain's headquarters, but protesters briefly occupied the building, so the event was moved to the Machine Shed, an Iowa institution known for its large portions that frequently serves as a backdrop for political events.
Cain also shot a political advertisement inside the restaurant. As he greeted volunteers and extras, some praised his wife's appearance on Fox News on Monday to dispute a series of sexual harassment allegations against her husband.
Cain replied that his wife didn't frequently do television and was nervous.
"I said, 'Sweetheart, Gloria be Gloria and God will be God,'" he said.