(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took the stage at the sixth GOP debate on Fox Business Network armed with a slew of attacks against some of his opponents. When Rubio ran down a laundry list of charges against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) for alleged flip-flops on various issues, Cruz criticized Rubio for “dumping your oppo [opposition] research folder on the debate stage. … At least half of the things Marco said are flat-out false. They’re absolutely false.”

Readers wanted to know whether Rubio’s charges were accurate, so we took a look. Cruz did not respond to every attack, and his campaign didn’t respond to our request for further responses.

The Facts

Rubio’s charge: “Ted Cruz, you used to say you supported doubling the number of green cards, now you say that you’re against it. You used to support a 500 percent increase in the number of guest workers, now you say that you’re against it. You used to support legalizing people that were here illegally, now you say you’re against it. You used to say that you were in favor of birthright citizenship, now you say that you are against it.”

Cruz’s response: “Let’s start with immigration and have a little bit of clarity. Marco stood with Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama on amnesty. I stood with Jeff Sessions and Steve King. …standing on this stage Marco supports legalization and citizenship for 12 million illegals. I opposed, and oppose, legalization and citizenship.”

The evidence: Cruz introduced five amendments to the Gang of Eight immigration bill in 2013. The amendments proposed to: triple the number of Border Patrol agents and quadruple the equipment along the border; deny means-tested government benefits to those who entered illegally; strip away the pathway to citizenship; expand legal immigration, by increasing employment-based immigration from 140,000 to 1,012,500 per year (623 percent increase); and raise the H-1B high-skilled worker cap from 65,000 visas to 325,000 per year (400 percent increase).

Cruz now says he only introduced those measures to kill the Gang of Eight bill, knowing that the provisions would break up the fragile coalition that formed to pass the bill through Congress. He now opposes offering more temporary visas to highly-skilled foreigners, and giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status.

We dug deeply into this when the two fought over it during the last GOP debate, and found it’s impossible to discern whether Cruz really intended to kill the bill using the amendments. In public statements, Cruz repeatedly said he supports the changes he proposed. So it means Cruz either was being disingenuous then, or is being disingenuous now.

On birthright citizenship, Cruz said in 2011 that he did not believe changing the 14th Amendment was a feasible legal endeavor. Cruz said conservatives should rather focus on securing the border, as PolitiFact found: “As much as someone may dislike the policy of birthright citizenship, it’s in the U.S. Constitution. And I don’t like it when federal judges set aside the Constitution because their policy preferences are different.”

Rubio’s campaign says Cruz now is shifting to the right of the issue, partly as a result of Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s hard-line stance against illegal immigration. Cruz now says he wants to pursue a way to change the policy on undocumented immigrants, either through a constitutional amendment or through legislation.

Our ruling: Rubio rightly points out shifts and inconsistencies on Cruz’s immigration views, but they can’t definitively be called flip-flops.

***

Rubio’s charge: “And, by the way, it’s not just on immigration, you used to support TPA, now you say you’re against it.”

The evidence: Cruz co-authored an April 2015 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with now-House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), in support of establishing the Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA. Cruz and Ryan wrote: “Congress needs to strengthen the country’s bargaining position by establishing trade-promotion authority, also known as TPA, which is an arrangement between Congress and the president for negotiating and considering trade agreements. In short, TPA is what U.S. negotiators need to win a fair deal for the American worker.”

Cruz voted for TPA in May 2015. Then, a month later, he penned an op-ed for Breitbart saying he no longer supported TPA because of two developments made on the deal since he voted for it. WikiLeaks revealed troubling information about the Trade in Service Agreement, negotiated by President Obama, he said. He also blamed Republican leadership for making “secret deals” with Democrats to make the deal possible. Cruz voted against TPA in June 2015.

Our ruling: Rubio’s right, Cruz changed his mind on TPA.

***

Rubio’s charge: “I saw you on the Senate floor flip your vote on crop insurance because they told you it would help you in Iowa, and last week, we all saw you flip your vote on ethanol in Iowa for the same reason.”

The evidence: Cruz changed his votes within three minutes on whether to restore money that was cut from a $3 billion crop insurance program, which would have given a boost to farmers. Our colleague David Farenthold reported that at about 8:43 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2015, Cruz voted “no,” to show he supported the cuts. Then, at 8:46 p.m. on the same day, Cruz changed his vote to “aye.”

What happened during those three minutes? Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who supports the crop insurance program, approached Cruz after his “no” vote, Politico reported. After they talked, Cruz changed his vote.

Cruz’s staff said he confused the series of votes, and didn’t mean to vote against the insurance program. But Roberts later told Politico that he approached Cruz to change his mind on the vote, and told Cruz his vote against the insurance program might hurt his chances in Iowa.

Meanwhile, Cruz consistently has opposed the ethanol mandate. Many, including Rubio, have criticized Cruz for flip-flopping because he initially supported ending the program in 2020 — but now tells Iowa voters he supports a gradual phase-out of the program with ultimate repeal by 2022. Since 2014, Cruz has proposed a five-year phase-out of the federal renewable-fuel mandate, which sets the minimum amount of corn-based ethanol to be mixed into gasoline to reduce or replace the amount of fossil fuel.

But Cruz had not specified when the phase-out would begin. Now, he says that he wants it to start in 2017, his first year as president if elected. The phase-out would be completed with an ultimate repeal by 2022.

Our ruling: Cruz changed his vote on the crop insurance program, but has held a consistent stance against the ethanol mandate.

***

Rubio’s charge: “That is not consistent conservatism, that is political calculation. When I am president, I will work consistently every single day to keep this country safe, not call Edward Snowden, as you did, a great public servant. Edward Snowden is a traitor. And if I am president, and we get our hands on him, he is standing trial for treason.”

The evidence: Cruz was asked about Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed government surveillance tactics, at a 2013 event held by TheBlaze TV. Cruz declined to label Snowden a “patriot” or a “traitor,” according to The Blaze, saying he needed more facts about Snowden’s motives and whether he was telling the truth.

Cruz said: “If it is the case that the federal government is seizing millions of personal records about law-abiding citizens, and if it is the case that there are minimal restrictions on accessing or reviewing those records, then I think Mr. Snowden has done a considerable public service by bringing it to light.”

But Cruz also suggested Snowden should be prosecuted if he broke the law: “If Mr. Snowden has violated the laws of this country, there are consequences to violating laws and that is something he has publicly stated he understands and I think the law needs to be enforced.”

In another 2013 interview, Cruz warned against a “rush to judgment or jump to conclusions” on the surveillance program without knowing more details about it. But he criticized the Obama administration for a “pattern” of “willingness to use the machinery of government to implement political and partisan ends and to mislead the people about it.”

In 2016, Cruz told the New York Times that he now believes Snowden is a traitor: “​It is now clear that Snowden is a traitor, and he should be tried for treason.”

Our ruling: Rubio’s wrong. Cruz didn’t call Snowden a “great public servant.” Instead, he said since the Snowden news first broke in 2013 that he needed more information to decide whether Snowden had done a public service or whether he should be prosecuted. He left himself room to decide on it later — and now, he’s decided against Snowden.

***

Rubio’s charge: “And one more point, one more point. Every single time that there has been a Defense bill in the Senate, three people team up to vote against it: Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. In fact, the only budget you have ever voted for, Ted, in your entire time in the Senate is a budget from Rand Paul that brags about how it cuts defense.”

Cruz’s response: “The attack he keeps throwing out on the military budget, Marco knows full well I voted for his amendment to increase military spending to $697 billion. What he said, and he said it in the last debate, it’s simply not true. And as president, I will rebuild the military and keep this country safe.”

The evidence: Cruz has, indeed, sided with the libertarian views of Paul and voted against the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal years 2014, 2015 and 2016. (Rubio suggests it was just Sanders, Paul and Cruz, but 15 senators in 2014, 11 in 2015 and 27 in 2016 voted against the Defense authorization.)

While Cruz did vote for Paul’s budget proposal in 2013, PolitiFact found that Rubio mischaracterized the plan as a “cut.” The budget proposal, did propose an increase in defense appropriations — though it would not have kept up with the Congressional Budget Office’s projections to sustain current defense levels. Paul does brag in the budget that “This budget proposal does not simply reduce military spending, but provides directives to realign the military for the 21st Century.” But it also says it reduces spending relative to the president’s and CBO’s budgets.

Cruz is correct that he voted for Rubio’s amendment to increase military spending. Rubio offered an amendment in March 2015 to increase military spending. Cruz sided with Rubio on the amendment, saying: “I think it is critical that we allocate the resources that are necessary to provide for our national security functions.”

Our ruling: They’re both correct about Cruz’s voting record. Rubio says Cruz voted for Paul’s budget that “brags about how it cuts defense.” Paul does brag about that, but the “cut” is actually relative to the president’s and CBO’s budgets. Interestingly, Rubio’s attack that Cruz supported a “cut” is more in line with Democratic rhetoric concerning sustaining baseline spending levels.

The Bottom Line

On the whole, Rubio rightly noted inconsistencies or shifts in Cruz’s policy stances — on immigration, TPA and crop insurance program. But Rubio also exaggerated or mischaracterized parts of Cruz’s record — on Cruz’s description of Edward Snowden, Cruz’s support for Rand Paul’s bill to “cut” defense spending and the alleged flip-flop on the ethanol mandate. (Check out The Fact Checker roundup for more suspicious claims made during the sixth GOP debate.)

This is a classic example of two senators using the sausage-making process of Congress to cherry-pick votes to attack another’s voting record or embellish their own. Cruz could have lodged the same line of attacks against Rubio using the same tactic.

So, dear voters: Beware whenever you hear senators rattling off votes of another senator to attack their record. The claims may have a grain of truth, but they are just as likely false or exaggerated.

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