CNN aired two GOP presidential debates Wednesday: a prime-time event starring 11 candidates and an earlier debate featuring four second-tier contenders, based on an average of recent polls.
Not every candidate uttered facts that are easily fact checked, but following is a list of 18 suspicious claims. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
The Main Event
“I never went bankrupt, by the way.”
— businessman Donald Trump
What’s Trump talking about? He’s making a distinction about the fact that his companies have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which means a company can remain in business while wiping away many of its debts. The bankruptcy court ultimately approves a corporate budget and a plan to repay remaining debts; often shareholders lose much of their equity.
Trump personally has not gone “bankrupt,” but as a result of his corporate bankruptcy restructurings, he did have to give up personal assets, such as a yacht, to help make loan payments, and his equity stake in various casinos was greatly reduced.
Trump claims he is worth $10 billion but other estimates put it much lower — around $3 billion.
Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post’s Wonkblog documented that Trump’s business performance was actually relatively poor given the massive real estate assets that he inherited from his father. Citing an independent evaluation, Business Week put Trump’s net worth at $100 million in 1978. Ehrenfreund said that had Trump gotten out of real estate entirely, put his money in an index fund based on the S&P 500 and reinvested the dividends, he’d be worth twice as much — $6 billion — today. So that suggests his business skills are not quite as savvy as he claims.
“As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”
— business executive Carly Fiorina
Fiorina might have trouble finding this video to show to Clinton. No video has surfaced showing the scene Fiorina describes taking place inside a Planned Parenthood facility.
But the third “human capital” episode (7th video) of secretly taped videos by the Center for Medical Progress includes a disturbing interview with a technician at a biotechnology company that had partnered with Planned Parenthood affiliates in California to purchase aborted fetus parts.
Holly O’Donnell, the technician, said she witnessed a scene similar to Fiorina’s description, but it is not actually shown. A supervisor “just taps the heart, and it starts beating. And I’m sitting here and I’m looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating, and I don’t know what to think,” she says. “She gave me the scissors and told me that I had to cut down the middle of the face [to get to the brain]. I can’t even describe what that feels like.”
There are images of a fetus intercut with her narrative, at about the 6 minute mark, but there is little evidence this is a fetus about to be harvested. (The source of the video is listed as the Grantham Collection, which collects stock footage of abortions.) Another image in this CMP video later turned out to be one of a stillborn birth, not an abortion. Neither CMP nor Grantham responded to queries regarding the source of this footage or whether it truly depicted a fetus in the biotech lab.
Update: The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform told The Federalist that it had supplied the video and that it “depicted an intact delivery abortion” at an abortion clinic. The Fact Checker received a similar statement from Gregg Cunningham, the group’s executive director, who said the group was “in the process of retrieving the original video.” (Second update: The video can be found here but it is very graphic.)
“The point is that the tech is describing what she was asked to do,” said Fiorina spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores. “This is the image playing that Carly saw.” She said Fiorina was referring also to a brief video clip using some of the CMP material. (Warning: disturbing images.)
“Illegal immigration is costing us more than $200 billion a year just to maintain what we have.”
The source of Trump’s figure is unclear, but he appears to ignore the fact that there are both costs and benefits to illegal immigration — and to dealing with the issue, especially if all undocumented immigrants are ejected from the country, as he proposes.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks to limit illegal immigration, says that undocumented immigrants cost U.S. and state governments $113 billion a year in welfare programs. But other reports have shown that there are benefits, as well, especially because illegal immigrants pay payroll taxes and cannot hope to ever collect the benefits. So it’s inaccurate to only look at the cost side of equation.
“Despite those difficult times, we doubled the size of the company, we quadrupled its topline growth rate, we quadrupled its cash flow, we tripled its rate of innovation.”
Under fire from Trump for her business record, Fiorina reeled off a list of statistics that we have found dubious before.
Doubling the size of the company is based on revenue, but the key factor for the jump in revenue was Fiorina’s decision in 2001 to merge HP with a rival company, Compaq. (Fiorina pushed the merger to make HP the dominant maker of personal computers — just as PCs began their long decline. Trump jabbed that the merger was “a disaster.”) In that year, Compaq had revenue of $33 billion and HP had revenue of $45 billion, or a combined total of $78 billion.
Quadrupling the growth rate — which campaign officials say is from 2 percent to 9 percent — is completely cherry-picked, using inconsistent quarterly figures and ignoring currency exchange rate gains. Apples to apples, revenue growth went from 7 percent before she started to 3 percent when she left — not from 2 to 9.
As for the rate of innovation, she’s talking about patents. The number of patents did triple. But rate of new patents a day was lower — from about five patents a day to eight patents a day. That’s less than double.
“There are several facilities in Iran they designate as military facilities that are off limit altogether. Beyond that, the other facilities, we give them [Iran] 24 days notice before inspecting them. That is designed to allow them to hide the evidence. And most astonishingly, this agreement trusts the Iranians to inspect themselves.”
— Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.)
Cruz repeats two dubious claims about the international nuclear agreement on Iran.
Iran’s declared nuclear sites, such as the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility, will be under continuous monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency – and the IAEA would have immediate access. The agreement even allows IAEA monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge production and storage facilities, the procurement chain, and mining and milling of uranium — verification measures that many experts say exceed previous negotiated nuclear deals.
At undeclared sites, the IAEA can demand instant access — but Iran could refuse. So the agreement sets up a process to resolve the standoff. But 24 days is the maximum, not the minimum, as Cruz claims.
Ironically, this provision was added to remove a loophole in an enhanced IAEA inspections regime known as the Additional Protocol, which Iran has agreed to accept. The Additional Protocol requires access to suspect sites in 24 hours, but it does not have immediate consequences for a nation that refuses to permit access. The deal’s 24-day provision is intended to close that loophole, though critics say that if it is stretched to the maximum, Iran might be able to eliminate evidence.
As for self-inspections, Cruz is referring a side agreement between Iran and the IAEA about the collection of samples at a military site, which is not subject to regular nuclear safeguard procedures. A disputed media report suggested Iran would take the samples itself, but other experts have said it would be overseen by IAEA inspectors. The actual process has not been confirmed.
“As the brand-new, first-ever pro-life governor of New Jersey since Roe versus Wade, I defunded Planned Parenthood.”
— New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
This is a shift in Christie’s rhetoric, tying his decision to veto Planned Parenthood funding to his antiabortion beliefs. A review of news coverage from 2010 and Christie’s vetoes of funding measures for Planned Parenthood clinics shows that Christie previously explained his veto as a measure to balance the state budget — not as a pro-life measure.
The Star-Ledger also recently reported that when Christie vetoed $7.5 million in funding for family planning clinics in 2010, he said that the funding was duplicative and that the state could not afford it. “However, Christie maintained publicly through the years that his family planning vetoes were made because the funding was duplicative. He said so much as recently as 2013, when he was running for re-election in a state where polls show support for abortion rights,” the Star-Ledger reported.
In his veto statement, Christie said New Jersey was confronting “unprecedented financial difficulties.” As a result of his office’s need to balance the budget, “many worthy programs were cut or eliminated. Grants to organizations providing this part of family planning services were one of the many programs eliminated from the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.”
“The facts are the facts. We balanced a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We did it by cutting taxes $4.7 billion.”
— Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
Walker overstates his success here. First, he legally had to balance the state budget. The “deficit” he describes is the difference between the amount of money that state agencies were asking to spend, and the amount of projected tax revenue. It’s fair to include the agency requests, but that skews this figure higher. Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau has calculated this figure at $2.5 billion, without the agency requests.
The $3.6 billion deficit figure applies only to Walker’s first budget. But his tax cut figure, $4.7 billion, is over the time he has been governor — since January 2011. This distorts the actual net tax cuts under Walker, which are more like $2 billion.
“I was named U.S. attorney by President [George W.] Bush on Sept. 10, 2001.”
Christie said this twice in the first debate, and it’s still not correct. Let’s review the timeline again.
Christie officially was nominated to the vacant U.S. attorney position in New Jersey on Dec. 7, 2001 — three months after the attacks. He was confirmed to the position in late December 2001 and began his role January 2002.
Christie emerged as a front-runner for the job by early September 2001. He later said in interviews that the Bush White House called him on Sept. 10, 2001, saying he would be nominated to the position and that the background check process would begin.
The Star-Ledger reported on Sept. 11, 2001, that the White House “notified Christie that he is the President’s choice and that extensive background checks on his qualifications would begin immediately. Those checks could take up to six weeks, after which the formal nomination would be put forth to the Senate.”
He didn’t hear back until two weeks after 9/11, when the White House said his nomination would be delayed because of a lack of FBI agents for his background check in the aftermath of the attacks.
It’s not the same thing as being “named” U.S. attorney on Sept. 10, 2001.
“I am the only person on this dais — the only person — that fought very, very hard against us, and I wasn’t a sitting politician going into Iraq, because I said going into Iraq — that was in 2003, you can check it out, check out — I’ll give you 25 different stories.”
Trump claimed that there were “25 different stories” demonstrating his opposition, but BuzzFeed News reported that an extensive review could not turn up any statements by Trump before the invasion in March 2003. However, the week the war started, he was quoted by The Washington Post as saying “the war’s a mess.” But apparently he also told Fox News that because of the war, “I think the market’s going to go up like a rocket.”
Trump became significantly more vocal about being against the war in 2004 — when U.S. troops began to be bogged down in an insurgency.
“I … went into Ohio and took an $8 billion hole and turned it into a $2 billion surplus. We’ve had the largest amount of tax cuts of any sitting governor. We’ve grown well over 300,000 jobs.”
— Ohio Gov. John Kasich
Kasich’s three-pronged, go-to claim is largely on point, but missing some important caveats. The most problematic is the first one, about the “$8 billion hole.” When he took office in January 2011, his staff projected a $7.7 billion shortfall that he had to balance for his first budget. But that was based on initial projections. The budget package he actually approved in March 2011 projected state revenue would grow, bringing down that $7.7 billion gap by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The $2 billion surplus and jobs figures check out. His comparison to other governors’ tax cuts is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. Ohio ranks among the top five tax-cutting states, as compared to the share of the economy. But it is difficult to compare tax revenue cuts across states, because budget cycles and types of tax revenues vary.
“Forty percent of people who come here illegally come here legally, and then they overstay their visa.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.)
This is a widely cited statistic. Data on this are scarce. Experts largely say it is still a reasonable estimate, but it’s worth pointing out that the figure is rooted in data that are nearly a decade old.
The most recent data we could find was the Pew Research Center’s fact sheet from 2006. It found that 40 to 50 percent (4 million to 5.5 million people) of the approximately 12 million unauthorized immigrants in 2006 had entered the country legally.
“And by the way, Mexico and almost every other country anywhere in the world doesn’t have that [birthright citizenship]. We’re the only ones dumb enough, stupid enough to have it.”
This is not correct. The United States is among about 30 countries granting automatic citizenship to people who are born on their soil, according to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictive immigration laws.
Mexico also has a form of birthright citizenship. The country grants “automatic nationality” to people born in Mexico, and then citizenship when the Mexican reaches 18 years old, the analysis says. Under Article 30 of the Constitution of the United Mexican States, one of the definitions for “Mexicans by birth” is people who are “born in the territory of the Republic, regardless of the nationality of their parents.”
“Now, what we need to do is look at something that actually works. Yuma County, Arizona. They stop 97 percent of the illegal immigrants through there. They put in a double fence with a road so that there was quick access by the enforcement people. If we don’t seal the border, the rest of this stuff [about curbing illegal immigration] clearly doesn’t matter. It’s kind of ridiculous all the other things we talk about. We have the ability to do it, we don’t have the will to do it.”
— retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson
Carson is referring to the sector of the Southwest border in Yuma County, Ariz., which contains a portion of the double-layer fencing along the border. But Carson overstates the impact of the fence and the sharp decline in the number of Mexican national apprehensions.
The decline that Carson references took place over 13 years, from fiscal 2000 to 2013. The Yuma sector, which comprises 126 miles of the roughly 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico, saw the largest decrease — 95 percent — in Mexican-national apprehensions out of the nine sectors over those years, according to the Congressional Research Service.
It was a combination of efforts that led to that decrease, officials say, and the fence is just one part of it. The number of agents assigned to the sector tripled since 2004 and there is better technology for surveillance, the Yuma Sun reported in 2014. Other factors that drove apprehension numbers down included the decline in job opportunities due to the Great Recession, drug cartel-related violence along the border and tougher immigration laws, the article said.
Jeb Bush: “When he [Donald Trump] asked Florida to have casino gambling, we said no.”
Bush: “We said no, and that’s the simple fact.”
Trump: “Don’t make things up, Jeb.”
Post reporters Philip Rucker and Robert Costa recently wrote about this very issue. Short answer: Trump did seek to set up a casino in Florida while hosting a fundraiser for Bush in 1997. And, as CNN reported recently, Bush rejected a plan from Trump to bring a casino into the state after Bush became governor. So the facts are on Bush’s side on this dispute.
The Undercard Debate
“If you poll Iranians and Iraqis, Shias in the region, more than two-thirds of them believe that the end of the world will come in their lifetime. Why? Because their regime preaches it. They believe in bringing about the end of times. That’s their theological goal, and we are in the process of giving them nuclear weapons to do just that.”
— Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.)
Santorum appears to be referring to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey on Muslims and faith, of 38,000 Muslims in 39 countries and territories. But he mischaracterizes what the survey says. In fact, there is also a strong belief that Jesus will return in their lifetime.
Among the questions, the survey asked about the imminence of two events that will take place before the Day of Judgment, according to Islamic tradition: the return of the Mahdi and the return of Jesus.
The Mahdi — the redeemer or “Guided One” — is believed to rule on earth “shortly before the day of resurrection of judgment to rid the world of error, corruption and injustice,” according to the survey’s glossary.
In nine of 23 nations where this question was asked, half or more Muslim adults said they believe the return of the Mahdi will occur in their lifetime. Two-thirds of these adults were in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and Tunisia. Half or more Muslims in seven nations said they expect the return of Jesus — the Second Coming, which would precede Judgment Day — would happen in their lifetime. This conviction was most widespread in Tunisia, Turkey and Iraq.
In some countries with big populations of Sunnis and Shiites, their views on the Mahdi’s return differed depending on the sect, the survey found. In Iraq, Shiites were more likely than Sunnis to expect to be alive for the Mahdi’s return.
How about the rest of the world? A 2012 Reuters poll found nearly 15 percent of people believed the world will end during their lifetime. In fact, the United States ranked among the 20 polled countries with the highest percentage (22 percent) of people who believe they will live to see Armageddon.
“We’re cutting our military; we’re on track to have the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915, and John Kasich says he wants to close more bases. I want to rebuild our military, and I want the Iranians to know that, if I had to, I would use it.”
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.)
Will this zombie claim about the shrinking Navy ever go away? Apparently not; we already awarded Graham Three Pinocchios earlier this year for the same claim. Fact checkers repeatedly debunked this in the 2012 presidential elections, and it’s being repeated again this time around.
The current number of ships in the Navy is 273. It is the lowest count since 1916, when there were 245 ships. In 1915, the Navy had 231 ships.
But, surprise: A lot has changed in 100 years, including the need and capacity of ships. After all, it’s a now a matter of modern nuclear-powered fleet carriers, versus gunboats and small warships of 100 years ago. The push for ships under the Reagan era (to build the Navy up to 600-ship levels) no longer exists, and ships from that era are now retiring.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus recently spoke about this problematic ship-counting exercise. There are other ways to measure seapower than just the sheer number of ships, he said: “That’s pretty irrelevant. We also have fewer telegraph machines than we did in World War I and we seem to be doing fine without that. … Look at the capability. Look at the missions that we do.” Plus, the Navy is on track to grow to just over 300 ships, approximately the size that a bipartisan congressional panel has recommended for the current Navy.
“Some of you may know me because I successfully put sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program in Congress. Over opposition of both parties initially.”
Santorum once again significantly overstates his role in implementing sanctions against Iran. As we have documented before, in 2004 Santorum introduced a bill to help foster democracy in Iran but it went nowhere; in 2005, he introduced a similar bill that also would have included some sanctions, but it also went nowhere. In 2006, he tried to attach the bill to a defense spending bill — and was defeated, in large part because the Bush administration opposed it, fearing it would undo delicate efforts to begin a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff.
A revised version of legislation, giving the president waiver authority to terminate the sanctions with as little as a three-day notice, eventually was approved. But it’s a stretch to claim that this bill led to crushing sanctions. In effect, the law made relatively minor modifications to the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, which was the first law that authorized U.S. penalties against third-country companies involved in Iran’s nuclear activities.
The Congressional Research Service in a 2014 report says that no sanctions have been imposed using the sanctions section of Santorum’s law. In fact, the comprehensive CRS report, over 78 pages, barely mentions the legislation, which was a relatively minor footnote in the effort to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Thus it is misleading for Santorum to suggest these sanctions were at all important to the sanctions regime imposed on Iran.
“Workers in America know that their wages are being undermined. If you look at, from the year 2000 to the year 2014, there are 5.7 million net new jobs created. What percentage of those new jobs are held by people who weren’t born here? All of them.”
This is one of Santorum’s favorite points about immigrants and jobs, implying that native jobs are shrinking due to immigrant workers. But that’s a misleading oversimplification.
Santorum uses numbers from the Center for Immigration Studies’ report on immigrant and native-born employment growth. (The center advocates for restrictive immigration laws.) There were, in fact, 5.7 million more immigrants with a job in 2014 than in 2000, and the working-age immigrant population grew by 8.8 million. That’s where his “net new jobs” figure comes from.
But there has also been job growth in the native-worker population. From 2010, native Americans saw more job growth than the immigrant population. The foreign-born population also grew disproportionately as a share of the labor force, compared to their growth as a share of the general population.