Fox News aired two GOP presidential debates on Jan. 28: a prime-time event starring seven candidates and an earlier debate featuring four second-tier contenders, based on an average of recent polls. Front-runner Donald Trump opted out of the debate, preferring to hold his own televised rally.
Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact checked, but the following is a list of 12 suspicious or interesting claims. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
“First of all we have seen how in six years of Obamacare that it’s been a disaster. It is the biggest job killer in this country. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums sky rocket.”
— Ted Cruz
Cruz adds lots of things together to come up with his “millions.”
But he glosses over the fact that the Affordable Care Act has added nearly 18 million people to the health-insurance rolls since it was enacted five years ago, according the Department of Health and Human Services. (There were at least 2 million discontinued insurance policies that were no longer eligible under the law, but those policies were either temporarily extended or could be replaced.)
As for Obamacare’s impact on jobs, there is slim evidence that jobs have been lost. (In fact, the unemployment rate is now just 5 percent.) Recent, detailed studies have found that the Affordable Care Act had little impact on employment patterns.
One study, published in January in the journal Health Affairs, examined Census data and found no increase in the likelihood of working part time, except for a 0.18 percentage point increase in the likelihood of working 25 to 29 hours per week between 2013 and 2014 — a trend that predated the ACA. Even the researchers said the findings were surprising, given widespread reporting of scattered companies that said they had moved some workers to part-time work in response to the health-care law.
Thus far, however, it appears such anecdotal reports do not reflect a trend with any real impact on employment.
“The smallest Navy in 100 years.”
— Marco Rubio
Egad, what does it take to kill this zombie claim? This was repeatedly debunked in the 2012 presidential election, and yet at least one GOP contender manages to repeat it in every debate. Now it’s the turn of the senator from Florida.
The current number of ships in the Navy is 273. It is the lowest count since 1916, when there were 245 ships.
But a lot has changed in 100 years, including the need and capacity of ships. Here are some of the types of ships that were part of the Navy in 1916: gunboats, torpedo boats and “monitors” (that’s a kind of small warship).
These types of boats aren’t in the Navy anymore. Instead, the current list of Navy ships includes behemoths such as aircraft carriers, “SSBN” (nuclear-powered, ballistic-missile carrying submarines) and “SSGN” (cruise-missile submarines).
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.”
The current level of ships is on par with the level reached during the Bush administration, when the number of ships fell to 278 in 2007. 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.
“There have been three different investigations that have proven that I knew nothing.”
— Chris Christie
Only one of the investigations conclusively found that the New Jersey governor had no knowledge of the massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, as a result of a two-lane shutdown on the George Washington Bridge. Media outlets had revealed that the traffic delays may intentionally have been caused by the Christie administration because the mayor of Fort Lee did not endorse Christie in a gubernatorial election.
The one “investigation” that found Christie had no knowledge of the scandal before or during the lane closures was actually a study that Christie’s administration commissioned, through the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher.
The other two investigations were conducted by the New Jersey legislature and the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey.
The state legislature’s investigation found “no conclusive evidence” as to whether Christie was aware of the lane closure before or during it, PolitiFact said. The U.S. attorney’s investigation did not find criminal evidence that Christie was involved in the scandal, but did not say the case is closed.
“The only budget that Ted [Cruz] ever voted for was a budget that Rand Paul sponsored, that brags about cutting defense spending.”
— Marco Rubio
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas did vote for Paul’s budget proposal in 2013, and the proposal did brag about cutting defense spending. But the budget proposal used misleading language: the “cut” was not in actual defense appropriations, but a reduction relative to the president’s budget and the budget baseline of the Congressional Budget Office.
The proposal said: “This budget proposal does not simply reduce military spending, but provides directives to realign the military for the 21st Century.” But it proposed to raise discretionary national defense funding from $521 billion in 2014 to $634 billion in 2023.
So how is it a “cut” in defense funding? The proposal explained: “This budget proposal significantly reduces spending relative to both the President’s budget and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) baseline.”
“Just two weeks ago was the 25th anniversary of the first Persian Gulf war. When that war began, we had 8,000 planes. Today, we have about 4,000.”
Cruz’s data are a bit mysterious. It would be no surprise that aircraft inventory has declined since the Persian Gulf War, because the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a 25 percent cut in military spending (engineered by then-Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney).
But the current aircraft inventory for the Defense Department shows nearly 14,000 aircraft, including 3,290 fighter/attack, 859 attack helicopters and 4,563 airlift and cargo planes. That’s much higher than “4,000 planes.”
Bret Baier: “Can you name even one thing that the federal government does now that it should not at all?” …
Chris Christie: “How about one that I’ve done in new Jersey for six years: that’s getting rid of Planned Parenthood funding.”
Baier: “Anything bigger than that?”
Christie: “Bigger than that? Let me tell you something. When you see thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children being murdered in the womb, I can’t think of anything bigger than that.”
— Exchange at debate
Let’s add some context here. Planned Parenthood federal funding makes up nowhere near 1 percent of the federal budget — and even less from federal discretionary spending authorized by Congress every year.
Planned Parenthood receives about $450 million in federal funds annually, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The majority of federal funding that Planned Parenthood health centers receive is through Medicaid reimbursements or grants through the federal family planning program, Title X. In 2013-14, it received $528.4 million in state and federal funding, which comprised 41 percent of the organization’s revenues that year.
Nearly 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes from entitlement programs, or mandatory spending, and the remaining 10 percent comes from discretionary spending, PolitiFact reported. Applying that percentage to annual federal funding for Planned Parenthood ($450 million), that means the organization receives $405 million in mandatory funding and $45 million in discretionary funding.
Federal mandatory spending for fiscal 2015 was $2.45 trillion and discretionary funding for fiscal 2015 was $1.11 trillion. That means Planned Parenthood receives 0.02 percent of the federal mandatory funding and 0.004 percent of discretionary spending.
A long-standing legal restriction bans federal funds from paying for any elective abortions, which are for pregnancies that are not caused by rape, incest or that threaten the mother’s health. So while Christie mentions abortions, pulling federal money would not necessarily affect how Planned Parenthood’s abortions are funded.
“Hillary Clinton lied to the families of those four brave Americans who lost their life in Benghazi.”
This is one of Rubio’s favorite talking points. Rubio again and again claims that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lied to the families of the victims of the Benghazi attacks and asserted that the attack on a diplomatic outpost 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 brave Americans.” Some of those family members say they did not hear that.
“We know that 307,000 veterans have died waiting for health care.”
— Carly Fiorina
Fiorina repeated an inaccurate and widely misreported figure about veteran deaths.
The 307,000 number comes from a Sept. 2, 2015, VA Office of Inspector General report, which detailed the findings of an investigation into alleged mismanagement in processing health-care applications.
The Veterans Health Administration’s Health Eligibility Center, which processes eligibility and enrollment information, maintains about 22.3 million records in its system. Out of those records, about 867,000 records were in a “pending” status. That means the veteran applied for enrollment but the VA needed additional information (often financial) before approving the veteran for benefits. Of those, 307,173 were for people who were reported as deceased by the Social Security Administration.
That sounds like 307,000 veterans died waiting for care, right? Nope.
There’s no way to know whether those 307,000 veterans who died ever applied for health care through the VA. The database includes records of veterans who died even before the VA’s health care enrollment began in 1998. There also are records of veterans who never sought care from the VA, because millions of records from another VA data source were entered into the system in December 2013.
In short, it’s an unreliable data system — which is what the VA’s inspector general found.
“I cut 94 taxes in a state that had never had a general major tax decrease in its history.”
— Mike Huckabee
Some talking points just don’t go away; Huckabee has repeated this line since 2007. What he doesn’t say is that there was a net tax increase under his leadership.
There were 90 tax cuts when Huckabee was Arkansas governor, from 1996 to 2007. Many of them were narrowly tailored. The tax cuts ranged from tiny cuts, such as a $500 sales tax break for manufacturing machinery, to larger items such as $2.7 million annually in car lease exemptions for the rental car tax.
But the effect of these cuts was offset by 21 tax increases. That resulted in a $505 million net tax increase when Huckabee was governor.
“Hillary Clinton famously asked, what difference does it make how four Americans died in Benghazi?”
This comment by Hillary Clinton, made during a hearing on May 8, 2013, is frequently taken out of context.
She uttered it at the end of a tense six-minute exchange with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), in which he pressed her why she had not tried to immediately contact survivors of the 2012 Benghazi attacks to find out whether they were preceded by a protest. (She said she did not want to interfere with an FBI investigation.) Johnson asserted that “we were misled that there were supposedly protests” and “the American people could have known that within days and they didn’t know that.”
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton responded. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.” She added that it was “less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.”
“The reality is, most Americans find this practice [fetal tissue donation] horrific.”
Fiorina is referring to the previous practice of taking reimbursement for fetal tissue donations, as revealed through the Center for Medical Progress’s videos. She overstates by saying “most” Americans oppose Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donations, and/or accepting reimbursements for the donations.
Our review of polling data showed there was one survey that specifically addressed fetal tissue donations, and meets The Washington Post’s polling standards. Fox News in August 2015 asked: “Which of the following comes closer to your reaction to the [Planned Parenthood] videos?” Of the respondents, 49 percent said the videos are “disturbing, and the use of fetal tissue from abortions in research should be stopped,” and 43 percent answered that the videos are “disturbing, but if medical research needs this fetal tissue to save lives, it should continue.”
The options may have biased respondents toward more negative answers, because the response options both included the word “disturbing,” The Washington Post’s polling expert Scott Clement told us. The use of the word “disturbing” implied to respondents that the videos are, in fact, disturbing. More neutral language is preferred in effective polling.
“We saved 80,000 jobs. We went on to grow to 160,000 jobs.”
In defending her record as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina reached for a talking point that has been found misleading in the past.
The number of employees was 84,800 in 1999 and 151,000 in 2004, according to the 10-K reports. On paper, that certainly looks like an increase in jobs. But much of the growth came from an ill-fated merger with Compaq.
Before the merger with Compaq, HP had 86,200 employees and Compaq had 63,700 employees. That adds up to 149,900. HP’s filings show that the combined company had 141,000 employees in 2002 and 142,000 employees in 2003. By 2005, the number was 150,000. In other words, the number of employees barely budged from the pre-merger total — and people lost jobs as a result.
Fiorina ultimately fired more than 30,000 workers in the wake of the Compaq merger.
The Los Angeles Times, evaluating Fiorina’s record when she ran for the Senate in 2010, noted that during her tenure HP also acquired more than a dozen other companies with at least 8,000 employees.
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