Fox Business News aired two GOP presidential debates on Jan. 14: a prime-time event starring seven candidates and an earlier debate featuring three second-tier contenders, based on an average of recent polls.
Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact checked, but following is a list of 14 suspicious or interesting claims. As a bonus, we also fact checked comments by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who boycotted the second-tier debate and instead appeared on “The Daily Show.” As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
“Someone who lies to the families of those four victims of Benghazi can never be the president of the United States.”
–Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
Rubio once again claimed that then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton lied to the families of the victims of the Benghazi attacks and asserted that the attack took place because of a YouTube video.
As we have noted, the evidence for this claim is murky and open to interpretation. But Rubio really goes too far in suggesting that she told this to all of the families of the four who were killed in the terrorist attacks. Here’s the rundown of what we know:
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens
- His father says Clinton did not mention a video.
State Department Information Specialist Sean Smith
- His mother says every administration official, including Clinton, cited the video.
Former Navy Seal Tyrone Woods
- His father says Clinton cited the video as the cause
- His mother says Clinton did not mention the video
Former Navy Seal Glen Doherty
- His mother says Clinton did not mention a video
- His sister says she did not mention a video but referenced a “spontaneous protest”
At the very least, Rubio cannot so sweepingly declare that she made such statements to “the families of those four victims.” Some of those family members say they did not hear that.
“It is also the case that that Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill, one of the things it did is it expanded Barack Obama’s power to let in Syrian refugees. It enabled him — the president to certify them en masse without mandating meaningful background checks.”
–Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
This is false. Cruz previously earned Four Pinocchios for making this claim in an ad.
The 2013 immigration bill, known as S.744, was forged by a bipartisan group known as the “Gang of Eight”and passed the Senate but was never taken up in the House. The Cruz campaign has cited an analysis that the bill would have allow categorical refugee status on various groups of refugees. But immigration experts have said that this is simply wrong.
The provision in the bill is simply a codification of something known as the Lautenberg amendment, which was enacted in 1990 as a rider in an appropriations bill and, thus, must be renewed each year. The provision eases the burden of proof for the applicant after the State Department has invited a particular group to apply for refugee status for reasons of “humanitarian concern,” such as religious persecution.
The Lautenberg amendment originally was aimed at refugees from the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia but over time has been expanded to include religious minorities. Essentially, it streamlines the process but does not waive any background checks.
With or without the Senate immigration bill, Obama had the authority to admit refugees, from any country, under the Refugee Act of 1980, as long as they are refugees and are admissible. Every president since the passage of the law — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — has exercised that right repeatedly for hundreds of thousands of refugees.
“First, I didn’t support Sonia Sotomayor. Secondly, I never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood.”
–New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R )
Christie is being misleading on both fronts.
He did support President Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, although begrudgingly.
Christie first opposed her nomination, saying in a radio interview during the 2009 gubernatorial primary she was “not my kind of judge.” Then, in July 2009, Christie released a statement expressing support, even though she “would not have been my first choice.”
His statement supporting Sotomayor read: “After watching and listening to Judge Sotomayor’s performance at the confirmation hearings this week, I am confident that she is qualified for the position of Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Elections have consequences. One of those consequences are judicial appointments. While Judge Sotomayor would not have been my choice, President Obama has used his opportunity to fill a seat on the Supreme Court by choosing a nominee who has more than proven her capability, competence and ability.”
On Planned Parenthood, it’s not clear exactly what happened. In 1994, Christie was quoted as saying that he supported “Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations.” (Christie was pro-choice in 1994, but then became pro-life.)
Now, he says he never made the donation. His campaign said there is no record of the donation – of course, given that Planned Parenthood is a non-profit and doesn’t disclose private donations, there wouldn’t be a record. Planned Parenthood couldn’t confirm a donation either, because of its policy not to disclose donors’ information.
Christie recently said he was misquoted in that 1994 article, which was even quoted in a 2012 biography of Christie by Bob Ingle and Michael Symons. Why it took 22 years to point out this error publicly, we’re not sure.
“If you look at my record as governor of New Jersey, I have vetoed a .50-caliber rifle ban. I have vetoed a reduction in clip size. I have vetoed a statewide-ID system for gun owners, and I have pardoned six out-of-state folks who came through our state and were arrested for owning a gun legally in another state, so they never had to face charges.”
Christie has a mixed record on gun control. While he highlights the pro-gun actions he took, Christie also signed into law 10 other measures that tightened gun restrictions in New Jersey. The state is considered to have some of the toughest gun restrictions.
Christie endorsed gun reform bills when he became governor in 2009. He called for a ban on the .50-caliber rifle. Then, in 2013, Christie vetoed the .50-caliber rifle ban sent by the legislature, saying he had wanted a narrower ban.
In fact, in 2013, Christie touted his support for banning the .50 caliber rifle and requiring photo identification for firearms purchasers as measures “responsibly expanding New Jersey’s already stringent gun control measures.” The news release is still on the Governor’s Office website.
Christie has become more pro-gun since he took office in 2009 as governor. Recently, The Fact Checker found that Christie flip-flopped in his description of how his experience as United States attorney in New Jersey for seven years shaped his views on gun laws. In 2009, he said his law enforcement experience made him more pro-gun control. Now, he says the experience helped shape his pro-gun views.
“When I looked at the migration, I looked at the line … where are the women? They look like — very few women, very few children — strong, powerful men. Young. And people are looking at that, and they’re saying, ‘What’s going on?’”
–businessman Donald Trump
In answering a question about refugees from Syria, Trump incorrectly cited refugee demographics data.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data show men and women are split evenly among 4.6 million registered Syrian refugees. These numbers reflect Syrian refugees registered by UNHCR in a number of countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. According to the data as of Dec. 31, 2015, 6.5 percent are “young men” of 12 to 17 years old. Another 22.2 percent of the refugees are men over 18 years old. The rest are women, girls and boys. So clearly, this data set does not support Trump’s description of refugees as mostly young men.
There is another dataset, the “sea arrivals,” that supports his claim. This is the UNHCR count of refugees and migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. There were just over one million arrivals by sea in 2015, and 49 percent of them were men. Women comprised 19 percent and children comprised 31 percent. But Syrians comprise 48 percent of the total sea arrivals.
“The FBI director told the American people, told Congress, that he could not guarantee that he could vet them [Syrian refugees] and it would be safe.”
Christie overstated what FBI director James Comey said in congressional testimony.
Comey made his remarks in response to a bill that would have required Comey to personally certify that every single refugee admitted into the country was not a security threat. “Could I certify to there being no risk associated with an individual?” Comey said on Dec. 9. “The bureau doesn’t take positions on legislation, and we don’t get involved in policy decisions. But that practically would be impossible.”
Comey has made it clear that the process in place to vet refugees has gotten better but there is nothing that is “risk-free.”
“We have the lowest percentage of Americans working today of any year since 1977.”
The labor participation rate fell to 62.4 percent in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the lowest since 1977, when it touched 62.3 percent. (The rate inched up to 62.6 percent in December.)
When Obama took office in January, 2009, the workforce participation rate was 65.7 percent. So there has certainly been a decline. But the rate had already been on a steady downward track since it hit a high of 67.3 percent in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
A key reason? The composition of the labor force has been affected by the retirement of the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in 2012 concluded that just over half of the post-1999 decline in the participation rate comes from the retirement of the baby boomers. Critically, the research showed that the problem is only going to get worse in the rest of the decade, with retirements accounting for two-thirds of the decline of participation rate by 2020. In other words, the rate will keep declining, no matter how well the economy does.
“Look, I have an A plus rating in the NRA and we also have a reduction in gun violence because in Florida, if you commit a crime with a gun, you’re going away. You’re going away for a long, long while.”
–former governor Jeb Bush (R-Fla.)
Some types of gun violence decreased while Bush was governor of Florida, but not all. And after Bush left office in 2007, Florida saw a spike in gun violence for a few years.
Overall crime decreased while Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. The downward trend continued after he left office, and is consistent with crime rates overall in the country.
This is not an exhaustive look at gun violence in Florida, but we crunched the numbers in three key categories of gun violence to see how they fared between 1999 and 2006 – and how they fared two years after Bush left office. Murders by firearm were at three per 100,000 in 1999, then four per 100,000 in 2006. But it increased to 4.4 per 100,000 in 2007, and then came back down to 3.5 per 100,000 in 2014.
Aggravated assaults with firearms and gun robberies went down while Bush was in office, but also spiked right after he left. But the rates per 100,000 for both categories were far lower in 2014 than when Bush first took office, indicating an overall decrease in firearm violence over nearly two decades.
The Sun-Sentinel reported in 2015 that Bush enacted pro-gun measures in Florida while in office, including the Stand Your Ground law. An investigation by the Sun Sentinel in 2007 found that 1,400 Floridians who had pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies still obtained concealed-weapons licenses.
As we often warn at The Fact Checker, there are trends within a city or state that can’t be accredited to the policy decisions of one city or state executive. The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation into gun violence in Florida found that there is no clear answer to explain the trend in murders by guns in Florida from 2000 to 2013.
Gun control advocates believe the increase in gun murders during those years are related to the increase in gun ownership in Florida. But pro-gun advocates say that’s misleading, because overall rates of crime and homicides have gone down over the decades.
“I stood yesterday with 75 construction workers. They’re tough, they’re strong, they’re great people. Half of them had tears pouring down their face. They were watching the humiliation of our young ten sailors, sitting on the floor with their knees in a begging position, their hands up. And Iranian wise guys having guns to their heads.”
In his closing statement, Trump referenced the brief capture of U.S. sailors by Iran, who had wandered into Iran’s territorial waters. The sailors were quickly released, but the incident was frequently mentioned in the debates.
We were struck by Trump’s claim that the Iranians had guns to the heads of the Americans. While he is correct that the men were on their knees, we reviewed the 12 photographs released by Iran and the video (below) and did not see such an image. Briefly, one can see an Iranian sailor holding a firearm on a boat floating near the American vessel.
“We have record numbers of men out of work. We have record numbers of women living in poverty.”
The first part of this statement is a bizarre claim, apparently touted by right-leaning Web sites. The former corporate chief executive appears to be referring to the number of men not in the labor force. The figure in the December jobs report reached a total of 38,233,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But only about 2.6 million of those men actually want a job, while a little under a million are marginally attached to the labor force (such as discouraged from seeking work). The other 34 million men are retired or simply are not interested in working, such as stay-at-home parents. So it’s highly misleading to claim that these men are “out of work.”
As for the number of women in poverty, that’s correct in terms of raw numbers, according to the Census Bureau. But raw numbers are inherently misleading, as the population of the United States continues to grow, and so the official poverty rate has not changed over the years. An alternative poverty rate, known as the Supplemental Poverty Measure, indicates the rate had dropped significantly since the mid-1960s.
“The hate crimes in this country — over 5,500 — about 1,100 were religious hate crimes. And of those, 58 percent were directed toward Jews. Only 16 were toward Muslims.”
–Former governor Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.)
Huckabee’s reference to FBI’s Uniform Crime Report hate crime figures checks out. But there are some caveats to note.
The 2014 Uniform Crime Report’s hate crimes data show that of the 6,727 hate crime incidents, 1,140 were victims of anti-religious hate crimes. Of those 1,140, 56.8 percent were victims of crimes motivated by anti-Jewish bias, and 16.1 percent were victims of anti-Muslim bias.
Crime data in the Uniform Crime Report are vastly underreported, as it only captures voluntary reporting from a fraction of police jurisdictions in the country. (The FBI has promised to improve its crime tracking system, particularly on fatal police shootings, after The Washington Post revealed just how underreported the police shootings were in 2015.)
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes have been rising since 2012, although hate crimes in general decreased in 2014. Given other figures reported in Bureau of Justice Statistics studies, the real number of hate crimes could be 25 to 40 times higher than FBI totals, which “means the real 2014 total of anti-Muslim hate crimes could be as many as 6,000 or more,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. [Update: We incorrectly wrote that the real number was 25 to 45 percent higher, but the Southern Poverty Law Center found it to be 25 to 40 times higher.]
As our Wonkblog colleagues reported, anti-Muslim hate crimes rose more than tenfold after the 9/11 attacks, and in the years since, have hovered in the 100-150 range. This is about five times higher than the rate prior to 9/11 attacks.
“It’s the smallest navy we’ve had since 1915, when my grandfather got on a destroyer in World War I when he was in the U.S. Navy.”
This zombie claim gets repeated in literally every GOP debate, and apparently won’t ever go away. Fact checkers repeatedly debunked this in the 2012 presidential elections, and it’s being repeated again this time around. We awarded Three Pinocchios when it re-entered the campaign rhetoric last year. So, let’s review it again.
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.
There are other ways to measure seapower than just the sheer number of ships, according to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: “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.
“The bottom line is, I put the original sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program when I was in the United States Senate.”
–Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)
Bottom line, this is a ridiculous embellishment of the historical record.
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 false to claim that this bill were the “original 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 Santorum legislation, which was relatively minor footnote in the effort to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“There are criminals running around with guns who shouldn’t have them. We don’t prosecute any of them. Less than 1 percent.”
Fiorina appears to be referring to claim we have examined before—that only 44 people (out of nearly 73,000 denials) were prosecuted in 2010 for trying to buy a gun. Almost 35,000 people had felony convictions and nearly 14,000 were fugitives, but the prosecutions amounted to just 0.06 percent of denials.
The FBI referred these cases to an arm of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), but after a review 90 percent were not deemed worthy of further investigation while another 4 percent turned out to be incorrect denials. But then even of the relatively small percentage of cases referred to ATF field offices, another quarter turned out to be a case of mistaken denial and most of the rest had no prosecutorial merit.
But it’s worth noting that these were federal cases, and prosecutors often are reluctant to conduct “paperwork prosecutions.” But there is evidence in state reports that hundreds of fugitives every year are captured when they tried to buy guns. Local authorities are notified by FBI examiners that a fugitive is a gun store, leading to an arrest and trial on the outstanding warrants. But those convictions are not captured in the federal data.
Rand Paul on ‘The Daily Show’
“Here’s a regulation: The Clean Water Act says you cannot discharge pollutants into navigable streams. … Over time, we’ve decided dirt is a pollutant and my backyard is the river. I do object to that. I think we’ve gone too far interpreting things. We put a guy in Mississippi in jail for 10 years for putting dirt on his land. We have 48 federal agencies that have SWAT teams. I mean, with helmets, body armor, the works. The Department of Education has a SWAT team. I think that might be an indication we’ve gone too far.”
–Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), interview on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” Jan. 13, 2016
Paul, in a one-on-one “singles debate” with host Trevor Noah, repeated two Four Pinocchio claims — one of which even made our list of the biggest Pinocchios of 2015. After being relegated to the undercard round, Paul boycotted the GOP debate and instead opted for a solo appearance on the show, to talk about his policy stances over sips of Kentucky bourbon.
These are two of Paul’s favorite talking points about federal government overreach. But they’re both exaggerated so much to the point of inaccuracy.
There was, indeed, a Mississippi man who was imprisoned nearly 10 years for environmental regulations. Paul says the man was imprisoned just for “putting dirt on his land.” But the man was convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy and environmental violations for his role in developing 67 mobile home lots inside federally protected wetlands, building on wetlands without approval and knowingly selling land with illegal sewage systems that were likely to fail.
Despite repeated warnings and cease-and-desist orders, the man continued to build and fill the land. He continued to sell property while his case was under appeal, which violated terms of his bond. Ultimately, the appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision, and the man was sentenced to a nine-year prison sentence in 2008.
And no, 48 federal agencies do not have “SWAT” teams. Only one federal agency does: the FBI.
Other agencies have tactical or specialized teams that some may view as similar to SWAT teams. These teams don protective gear and respond to high-risk situations within the jurisdiction of the specific agency. For example, the Bureau of Prisons has a special team that responds to high-risk situations in prison cells and the Energy Department has a security team to handle events and terrorist attempts associated with hazardous materials.
The Department of Education’s “SWAT team” that Paul is referring to is a team of officers from the DOE’s Office of Inspector General. Offices of Inspector General have special agents that are federal law enforcement officers, and are sometimes issued protective gear.
In 2011, the DOE Inspector General officers raided a Northern California man’s home. It was initially reported that the DOE had called in SWAT for the man’s defaulted student loans. But it turned out that officers were searching for materials related to violations of federal statutes regarding financial aid fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and others. Turns out, the man was involved in a student aid fraud ring, orchestrated by his wife. Both of them were sentenced for their roles in the scheme, along with other fraud ring members.
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