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Perry Defends HPV Shots, Illegal-Immigrants' In-State Tuition

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The other seven Republican presidential candidates beat up on Texas Gov. Rick Perry during tonight's CNN debate in Florida, including over a 2007 executive order he issued requiring the HPV vaccine for 6th-grade girls. The state legislature would later overturn his order, which sought to protect girls from a virus that can cause cervical cancer.

And, they hammered him on Texas' decision to grant in-state tuition rates to certain illegal immigrants working toward citizenship.

This was the fourth debate for a still-crowded GOP field. As in the first debate, Perry spent much of his time defending his record as governor as his opponents sought to draw clear lines between themselves and the man considered by many to be the Republican frontrunner. K-12 education never came up directly in the two-hour debate held in Tampa, co-sponsored by the Tea Party Express. Only the issues of HPV and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants touched on education policy.

As far as the HPV issue goes, it's tough for a Republican presidential candidate who's opposed to health care mandates to explain why this particular mandate is permissible, and others—albeit bigger ones, as in President Barack Obama's new health care law—are not.

Perry said he made a mistake in the way he went about his executive order in 2007, circumventing the legislature. But he stood by the policy, arguing that it was part of a broader cancer-fighting initiative, and that he wanted to side with saving lives.

Whether or not to require or encourage the vaccine that protects against HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is something most states have struggled with, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Campaign 2012While Perry defended the policy, opponent U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said she was against girls being "forced to have a government injection." It's important to note that the Texas policy (which was later overturned by the legislature) gave parents the ability to opt out. She also implied that the Texas governor issued the order because he got campaign donation from the drug-maker Merck & Co.

In a testy exchange, Perry admitted he got $5,000 from Merck, the drug company, but he declared that he was offended that Bachmann implied he could be bought for $5,000. And Bachmann replied that she was offended "for all the little girls."

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, chimed in with: "...there's no government purpose for having little girls inoculated at the force of government."

Bachmann also went after Perry over his state's decision to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants if they've been in the state for three years and are working towards a degree and citizenship.

"That is the American way," Perry said, adding that he is not in favor of the Democrat-supported DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some youth. "That's amnesty. What we did in Texas was a state's right issue. Regardless of what the sound of their last name is, [we are saying] that we believe in you. We're going to allow you to be contributing members and not be a drag on our state."

Bachmann replied: "The American way is not to give taxpayer-subisized benefits to people who have broken our laws."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney piled on. "Of course we don't give in-state tuition credits to people who've come here illegally."

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Photos: Top: Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry gesture during a Republican debate on Monday in Tampa, Fla. Bottom: Republican candidates at the debate, from left, Jon Huntsman; Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. (Mike Carlson/AP)

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