CBS News aired the ninth GOP presidential debate on Feb. 13, a prime-time event starring the six remaining aspirants for the Republican nomination.
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.
Ted Cruz: “Eighty years of not confirming. For example, LBJ nominated Abe Fortas. Fortas did not get confirmed. He was defeated.”
John Dickerson: “But Kennedy was confirmed in ’88.”
Cruz: “No, Kennedy was confirmed in ’87…”
Dickerson: “He was appointed in ’87.”
Cruz: “He was appointed in…”
Dickerson: “… confirmed in ’88. That’s the question, is it appointing or confirming, what’s the difference?”
Cruz: “In this case it’s both.”
— exchange in the debate
Dickerson is correct, Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in an election year. But one can certainly understand why Republicans such as Cruz don’t count that as an election-year confirmation.
Kennedy was Ronald Reagan’s third choice for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Reagan’s first choice was Robert Bork, who was nominated on July 1, 1987. Bork was rejected by the U.S. Senate and Reagan’s second choice, Douglas H. Ginsburg, withdrew his name from consideration after it was revealed he had used marijuana as a student.
Kennedy was nominated on Nov. 30, 1987 and confirmed on Feb. 3, 1988. So this was not an election-year vacancy or an election-year nomination. Indeed, the post had been vacant for seven months by the time Kennedy was confirmed — nine months before the election.
“I’m the only one on this stage that said, ‘Do not go into Iraq. Do not attack Iraq.’ Nobody else on this stage said that. And I said it loud and strong. And I was in the private sector. I wasn’t a politician, fortunately. But I said it, and I said it loud and clear, ‘You’ll destabilize the Middle East.’ That’s exactly what happened.”
Yet again Trump said he opposed the Iraq War ahead of the invasion. But the evidence is very slim he ever warned “Do not attack Iraq” before the invasion on March 20, 2003.
The Fact Checker’s extensive review of news coverage prior to the invasion surfaced just two references of Trump and his views. First was a two-sentence reference in a March 25, 2003, article in The Washington Post’s coverage of the Oscars after-party:
Donald Trump, with Amazonian beauty Melania Knauss at his side, pronounces on the war and the stock market: “If they keep fighting it the way they did today, they’re going to have a real problem.”
Looking as pensive as a “Nightline” talking head, the Donald concludes, “The war’s a mess,” before sweeping off into the crowd.
Then, Trump said on Fox News during the weekend after the invasion: “I think the market’s going to go up like a rocket!”
Trump clearly was outspoken about his opposition starting in 2004, the year he reportedly considered a presidential bid. (Instead, he launched his popular TV series, “The Apprentice.”) The most direct criticism of the Iraq War by Trump was in an August 2004 cover story of Esquire magazine:
“My life is seeing everything in terms of “How would I handle that?” Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we’re in. I would never have handled it that way. Does anybody really believe that Iraq is going to be a wonderful democracy where people are going to run down to the voting box and gently put in their ballot and the winner is happily going to step up to lead the county? C’mon. Two minutes after we leave, there’s going to be a revolution, and the meanest, toughest, smartest, most vicious guy will take over. And he’ll have weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam didn’t have.
What was the purpose of this whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who’ve been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!”
But that was said long after the war started — and Iraq was unraveling under the U.S. occupation.
“The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion.”
“We’ve spent $5 trillion in the Middle East with thinking like that.”
As usual, the source of Trump’s claims are unclear. But depending on how you crunch the numbers, his $2 trillion figure for Iraq might be in the ballpark.
A 2014 study released by the Watson Institute at Brown University said the amount spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through fiscal year 2014 was nearly $1.6 trillion.
The actual appropriations for the war in Iraq, including State Department and USAID spending, was a little over $800 billion.
But Watson says that additional war-related spending — including additions to the Pentagon base budget and Veterans health and medical disability expenses — total about just under $1 trillion. “Thus, war and war related spending from 2001 through the end of fiscal year 2014 is about $2.6 trillion,” the study says.
If you add in homeland security spending and interest on the debt borrowed to fund the wars, you end up with nearly $3.4 trillion. Future obligations for care of veterans through 2054 would add another $1 trillion to the tab.
That would get you close to $5 trillion, but it’s unclear what Trump was including in his definition of “Middle East.”
“In addition to that, Marco went on Univision in Spanish and said he would not rescind President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty on his first day in office.”
— Ted Cruz
Cruz cleverly uses the phrase “first day in office” to make this claim relatively accurate, even though Sen. Marco Rubio strongly disputed him in the debate.
Cruz is referring to Rubio’s April 2015 interview with Jorge Ramos on Univision. Based on partial translations of the interview, Rubio was criticized for calling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy “important.” While Rubio took a softer tone during the Spanish-language interview, he did say the program would have to end.
Ramos asked Rubio: “If you made it to the White House, would you keep the DACA program; that is, Deferred Action for the Dreamers, and would you keep President Barack Obama’s executive action, which would benefit more than four million undocumented people?”
Rubio’s answer, according to Univision’s official translated transcript:
“DACA, I think it is important; it can’t be cancelled suddenly because there are already people who are benefitting from it. But it is going to have to end. It cannot be the permanent policy of the United States. And I don’t think that’s what they’re asking for, either. I think that everyone prefers immigration reform.”
Ramos then asked if Rubio would cancel DACA even if immigration reform doesn’t pass. Rubio answered:
“At some point it’s going to have to end. That is, it cannot continue to be the permanent policy of the United States. I do think that if I wind up being president, it will be possible to achieve new immigration reform.”
Thus, while Rubio said the program must someday end, he indicated it would last longer than his first day as president.
“We have in Social Security right now thousand and thousands of people that are over 106 years old.”
The developer is kind of correct. A 2013 audit by the Social Security Administration Inspector General found that at least 1,546 people who were deceased were still receiving benefits, totaling $30,956,695 through May 2012. Some had received them for up to 20 years.
Another 2015 audit found that e 6.5 million people who have active Social Security numbers who are 112 years of age or older. But it’s unclear how many might be receiving benefits.
“We’ve gone from an $8 billion hole to a $2 billion surplus. We’ve cut taxes more than any governor in America, by $5 billion.”
You can count on Kasich to say this at every debate — in fact, he said it twice during the first half. He’s mostly on point, but there are some caveats to note.
Kasich is referring to a $7.7 billion shortfall that his budget staff projected when he took office as Ohio governor in January 2011. That was a projected shortfall the state would face if it continued with the same level of revenue and spending that was set by the previous administration. Of course, that’s what the budget process is for — to fix such projected budget imbalances.
The $8 billion figure was an initial projection. Ultimately, the projection was not as high as $7.7 billion, and the actual shortfall was decreased by hundreds of millions of dollars. The state reports a current account balance of $2 billion, as Kasich says.
Kasich says he’s cut more taxes “than any governor in America.” That’s based on his staff’s analysis. But comparing tax cuts across states accurately is difficult and not always an accurate comparison, because states have varying budget cycles and types of tax revenue. Ohio does rank among the top five states with the biggest income tax cuts, looking at the cuts as a share of the economy.
“That’s what I did as governor of the state of Florida, $19 billion of tax cuts. … Florida led the nation in job growth.”
These are two of Bush’s favorite talking points about his record, but they’re quite problematic.
First, on tax cuts: The $19 billion is in cumulative state revenue changes as a result of state and federal decisions. The majority of that figure is revenue changes from tax and non-tax legislative actions while he was governor of Florida. Then he adds revenues that the state would have received if the federal estate tax credit had not been phased out.
Bush’s campaign argues he should get credit for not fighting the repeal of the federal estate tax credit, like other states did. But it’s important to note that Bush didn’t enact this cut in state tax revenues.
Bush’s point on job growth is just not supported by Labor Department data. We’ve awarded him Four Pinocchios for this claim. It’s inherently misleading to attribute job creation claims to the decision of one policymaker, because several factors can drive jobs numbers.
Bush was governor from January 1999 through December 2006. When he took office, there were 6,709,300 jobs, and when he left office there were 8,033,700 jobs. That is a net increase of 1.3 million jobs, and Florida ranked just behind California (1.45 million jobs) in that overall count of net jobs.
But as we’ve noted before, the best way to measure job creation is to look at the rate of job growth. Florida is a larger state, certainly much larger than Ohio or New Jersey. When looking at the rate of growth, Florida placed fifth overall during those years at 19.8 percent gain. Nevada (34.4 percent), Arizona (25.9 percent), Wyoming (23.3 percent) and Idaho (22.1 percent) ranked higher than Florida in terms of job growth rate.
Florida had the highest number of net jobs three out of the eight years of his term, in 2002, 2003 and 2004. In growth rates, Florida ranked eighth, seventh and third respectively in those three years.
Bush: “And, it’s really weak to call John McCain a loser because he was a…”
Trump: “… I never called him — I don’t call him…”
Bush: “… That is outrageous. The guy’s an American hero.”
— exchange in the debate
Trump is wrong here. He did call Sen. John McCain “a loser” because he lost the 2008 election to Barack Obama: “He lost. He let us down. I never liked him as much after that because I don’t like losers.”
Trump also knocked McCain’s heroism: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured…I like people that weren’t captured.”
Trump never withdrew those statements and in fact defended them. Here’s an ABC News report titled, “Trump Calls McCain Loser, Not a War Hero.”
“Sixty-three percent of Americans can’t make a $500 car payment.”
Bush correctly cites recent findings of a Bankrate.com survey on how Americans budget for unexpected expenses.
According to the survey of 1,000 people, 37 percent of people are prepared to pay for unexpected expenses with savings. That’s consistent with the survey’s findings the previous year.
The rest of the respondents, 63 percent, said they’d have to resort to other means to pay for a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill. About a quarter of respondents said they would pay for unexpected costs by cutting back on spending elsewhere. The rest said they would borrow from family or friends, use a credit card or would do something else.
Bush: “Someone that doesn’t brag, for example, that he has been bankrupt four times and it was great, because he could use the legal system.
Trump: “Let me respond. That’s another lie. I never went bankrupt!”
— exchange in the debate
What’s going on here? Trump is 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 to help make loan payments, and his equity stake in various casinos was greatly reduced. Our colleague Robert O’Harrow wrote a terrific account of one such Trump business disaster in Atlantic City.
“Trump gave up half of his stake in each casino to his lenders,” O’Harrow wrote. “As part of his reorganization, the casino commission put him on a short leash, requiring him to file regular reports about his other businesses, delinquent taxes and personal spending. Trump eventually sold the Trump Princess yacht, his Trump Shuttle airline and other holdings.”
Trump claims he is worth $10 billion but other estimates put it much lower — around $3 billion.
“When you consider how much regulations cost us each year, you know? $2 trillion dollars per family, $24,000 per family, that happens to be the same level as the poverty level.”
Carson appears to be referring to studies that have calculated either a $1.7 trillion regulatory burden or a $1.8 trillion burden — studies that we have found questionable in the past. When we last looked at this, the talking point was $15,000 per household; it’s unclear how Carson jacks it up to $24,000.
There is one huge element missing from these kinds of calculation — the benefit side of the analysis. The report concedes that the $1.8 trillion figure purposely does not subtract any potential benefits from regulations. But that’s unbalanced. Every regulations has costs — but also benefits.
“We’re on the verge of economic collapse and, you know, we’re — it’s not just the $19 trillion, but it’s also the $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities.”
— Ben Carson
Carson repeatedly says the United States has $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities beyond the $19 trillion federal debt. What he is talking about is the “fiscal gap,” which is the government’s budget imbalance over a certain period of time.
Such a gap exists, and it’s projected to grow by all counts. But the specific dollar figure varies depending on the economist and the accounting method used. The $200 trillion figure was calculated through a particular method — by calculating unfunded liabilities through infinity. Some economists have criticized this method, saying it is unreliable.
Another way to calculate the fiscal gap and federal debt is as a percentage of the GDP, as the Congressional Budget Office does. CBO calculated the fiscal gap for 2015-2039 as 1.2 percent of the GDP, much lower than the calculation Carson cites (10.5 percent of the GDP forever, under current laws). The CBO also projected the fiscal gap would be roughly 50 percent larger over a 75-period than over a 25-year period, under current laws. (But it adds a caveat that projections grow in uncertainty beyond the first few decades.)
“Joseph Stalin said, if you want to bring America down, you have to undermine three things: our spiritual life, our patriotism and our morality. We, the people, can stop that decline starting right here in South Carolina.”
During his closing statement — which presumably was carefully prepared ahead of time — Carson quoted a nonexistent Stalin statement that has been circulating via a viral social media meme.
The fact-checking website Snopes.com looked into this and found no evidence to support that Stalin made such a statement, and found no references of it dating back to Stalin’s lifetime.
“We have yet to find a presentation of this quotation that references a verifiable source for it. Nearly all reproductions of this quotation simply offer it as an undated, unsourced statement attributed to Stalin,” according to Snopes.com.
The earliest reference to a version of this quote was from 1983 — 30 years after Stalin died.
Tip to the Carson campaign: Next time, consult Google. It took us all of about five seconds to figure this out.
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