Fact checking the CNN debate in Jacksonville

at 02:15 AM ET, 01/27/2012


(Paul Sancya/AP)

We can hardly believe that there won’t be another GOP presidential debate for about a month—assuming there are enough candidates left. Here’s our round-up of bloopers and dubious statements at the CNN debate in Jacksonville, Fla., in the the order in which they were made.

As always, we may delve deeper into other statements in the coming days — and please remember that we do not award Pinocchios for instant fact checks, only full columns.

“What I said was: We want everybody to learn English because we don’t want — I didn’t use the word ‘Spanish.’”

— Newt Gingrich

Gingrich complained about a radio ad aired by the Romney campaign that claimed that Gingrich had said that Spanish was “the language of the ghetto.” (Romney at first suggested he was not familiar with the ad, but it ends with his voice saying he approved of it.)

Gingrich is technically correct that he did not specifically single out “Spanish” during a speech in 2007, but he was speaking about bilingual education and virtually everyone assumed he was referring to Spanish. In fact, the uproar was so strong in the Latino community that Gingrich taped what was in effect an apology — in Spanish.

You can watch a clip of his speech and mea culpa below.

“Honduras which stood up for the rule of law, which threw out a would-be dictator who was using the Chavez playbook from Venezuela in order to try to run for reelection in Honduras. And the United States government, instead of standing behind the pro-democracy — the people in the parliament, the people in the supreme court, who tried to enforce the constitution of Honduras — instead of siding with them, the Democrats — President Obama sided with two other people in Central America and South America. Chavez and Castro and Obama sided against the people of Honduras.”

— Rick Santorum

Santorum’s statement reflects a commonly held viewpoint among conservatives, but it glosses over the fact that there was a coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya.

The Obama administration, working with the Organization of American States, refused to recognize the parliamentary leader who had been named president and instead tried to broker a compromise that would have allowed Zelaya to serve out his term. But that effort failed. Eventually a new election was held and another man was elected president.

“We discovered, to our shock, Governor Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that. Governor Romney owns — and has an investment in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians.”

— Gingrich

“My investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee.”

— Mitt Romney

Romney’s defense of his blind trust prompted Democrats to circulate a quote from his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy in which he seemed to mock the idea, saying, “The blind trust is an age-old ruse.”

Indeed, questions have been raised about how “blind” Romney’s arrangements have been, especially since the trustee managing the funds also has represented Romney’s legal interests. For instance, the trustee invested $1 million in a fund managed by one of Romney’s sons, which on the surface appears a bit cozy.

In any case, Gingrich overstated the case when he asserted that Romney owned “shares” of housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who some blame for a role in the 2008 economic crisis.

As Romney noted, his investment portfolio contained mutual funds that invested in the bonds of those institutions. Bond do not represent ownership in a company, but loans to it. Gingrich has such holdings too, as do millions of Americans who own mutual funds. As an investor in a fund, you have no say over which investments are made by the portfolio manager; you can only pick a fund with a investment strategy that you favor.

The Boston Globe has reported that at least some of Romney’s Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac investments were made through a non-blind charitable trust but the Romney campaign has disputed the report.

“Newt’s mentioned this quite a few times about balancing the budget for four times. I went back and looked at the record. The national debt during those four years actually went up about a trillion dollars. What he’s talking about is he doesn’t count the money he takes out of Social Security.”

— Ron Paul

Finally, after the gadzillion times we have called Gingrich out on this claim, someone on stage actually says it isn’t true.

As we have noted, Gingrich was speaker for only two years of those “balanced budgets.” We have also noted that the “gross debt” — including bonds to Social Security and Medicare that eventually must be paid back— kept rising during this period. Gingrich’s response during the debate — that those were the budget rules of Washington — was so lame that it actually earned him a few boos.

But Paul overstates the amount of additional debt. According to the White House historical tables, the gross debt rose $400 billion in that four-year period, not $1 trillion.

“I don’t like the Obama plan. His plan cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn’t of course touch anything like that. He raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn’t do that. He wasn’t interested in the eight percent of the people that were uninsured. He was concerned about a hundred percent of the people of the country.”

— Mitt Romney

This litany of supposed differences between the Obama health care law and “Romneycare” is a bit specious. We have previously shown how the Medicare reference is misleading. But the last line is truly puzzling.

Both Obama and Romney were trying to deal with the problem of the uninsured, and both try to deal with it through an individual mandate. In Massachusetts, the percentage of uninsured was much lower than nationwide, since currently 17 percent of the non-elderly population in the United States is uninsured. Obama, like Romney, wanted to get 100 percent of the population covered but according to the Congressional Budget Office he fell short. Obama’s plan will eventually cover 95 percent, the CBO estimates.

“I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot. And in my state of Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in which either primary happens to be very interesting. And any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took. I have always voted for a Republican any time there was a Republican on the ballot.”

— Romney

Romney has given different statements over the years concerning his vote for Sen. Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic primary, when he was a registered independent. Over time, his comments have ranged from liking Tsongas’s ideas over Bill Clinton’s (1994) to making a tactical vote to get the weakest candidate in the Democratic field (2007).

But he certainly had a choice that year to cast a Republican ballot — then-President George H.W. Bush was in a hard-fought race against Pat Buchanan.

“This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president, I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the ‘67 borders as the starting point of negotiations.”

— Romney

The first part of this statement is simply incorrect. Obama, in both his 2009 and 2011 speeches before the U.N. General Assembly, made reference to the rocket attacks into Israel. The tone about Israel also shifted over the years, with the president making no mention of settlements in last year’s speech.

Here’s what Obama said in 2009:

“We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. ...We must remember that the greatest price of this conflict is not paid by us. It’s not paid by politicians. It’s paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It’s paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own.”

Here’s what Obama said in 2011:

“Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.”

As for Obama’s statement on the 1967 lines, he made it clear that “land swaps” would be part of the negotiations. Obama’s statement was certainly a significant diplomatic shift, but it is debateable that it was the equivalent of throwing Israel “under the bus.” Obama quickly clarified his statement and was thanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech before Congress.

Palestinian “was technically an invention of the late 1970s. And it was clearly so. Prior to that they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese or Egyptian or Jordanian.”

— Gingrich

Gingrich, attempting the double down on his claim that the Palestinians are an “invented people,” gets his facts wrong here.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization, for instance, was founded at an Arab League conference held in Cairo in 1964. The Palestinian National Charter, issued in 1964, refers repeatedly to the “Palestinian Arab people.” The PLO was granted observer status at the United Nations in 1974.

We are not sure what is significant about “the late 1970s” in Gingrich’s mind.

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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