Fox News aired the 11th GOP presidential debate on March 3, a prime-time event starring the four remaining aspirants for the Republican nomination.
Not every candidate uttered statements that are easily fact checked, but the following is a list of 14 suspicious or interesting claims. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
“Every other country we do business with we are getting absolutely crushed on trade. With China
we’re going to lose $505 billion in terms of
trades. … Mexico, $58 billion. Japan, probably about, they don’t know it yet, but about $109 billion. Every country we lose money with.”
— Donald Trump
Trump got only one of these numbers right — the merchandise trade deficit with Mexico was $58 billion in 2015. For China it was $366 billion and Japan $69 billion, according to the International Trade Commission.
But Trump seriously overstates the case when he claims the United States is getting “absolutely crushed” in trade with “every other country.” There’s barely a trade deficit with the United Kingdom, and the United States has a trade surplus with Hong Kong ($30 billion), Netherlands ($24 billion), United Arab Emirates ($21 billion) Belgium ($15 billion), Australia ($14 billion), Singapore ($10 billion) and Brazil ($4 billion), among others.
As we have noted before, trade deficit means that people in one country are buying more goods from another country than people in the second country are buying from the first country. But the United States does not “lose” that money.
Americans wanted to buy those products. If Trump sparked a trade war and tariffs were increased on those Chinese goods, then it would raise the cost of those goods to Americans. Perhaps that would reduce the purchases of those goods, and thus reduce the trade deficit — but that would not mean the United States would “gain” money that had been lost.
“If you don’t like the Gang of Eight, Donald Trump funded five of the eight members of the Gang of Eight: $50,000.”
— Ted Cruz
Cruz continues to say that Trump financed the Gang of Eight. But this is misleading. The majority of Trump’s donations were made long before the 2013 Gang of Eight’s support for comprehensive immigration reform.
Campaign finance records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics via OpenSecrets.org show Trump directly donated to five of the eight members of the Gang of Eight. These direct donations were made for the senators’ federal elections and add up to $30,900, not $50,000.
Trump’s donations, in their federal elections:
- $9,000 to Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in 1996-2010
- $2,000 to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) in 2006-2007
- $1,500 to Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) in 1996 and 2007
- $15,800 to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2005-2008
- $2,600 to Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) in 2014
“A man flies into the World Trade Center and his family gets sent back to where they were going — and I think most of you know where they went and by the way, it wasn’t Iraq, they went back to a certain territory — they knew what was happening. Their wives knew exactly what was happening.”
Trump once again repeats a falsehood that previously earned him four Pinocchios. The most exhaustive report on the 19 hijackers and their actions prior to the attack is the 9/11 Commission report. There is no support for Trump’s claims, as the report states that virtually all of the hijackers were unmarried.
The report makes a distinction between the “muscle hijackers,” who were to restrain or overcome crew members or others, and hijackers who trained to pilot the aircraft. Regarding the muscle hijackers, the report says: “The muscle hijackers came from a variety of educational and societal backgrounds. All were between 20 and 28 years old; most were unemployed with no more than a high school education and were unmarried.” (Page 231 of the report.)
Only one of the muscle hijackers — Abdulaziz Alomari — is listed as being married. But there is no indication the wife ever traveled to the United States
Among the pilot hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi (who piloted United Flight 175) was married. But again, there is no indication that his wife ever traveled to the United States.
Finally, Ziad Samir Jarrah (on United 93) did have a girlfriend of Turkish descent who lived in Germany and with whom he kept in close contact while he was in flight training in the United States. “In October , he flew back to Germany to visit his girlfriend, Aysel Senguen. The two traveled to Paris before Jarrah returned to Florida on October 29. His relationship with her remained close throughout his time in the United States. In addition to his trips, Jarrah made hundreds of phone calls to her and communicated frequently by email.” (Page 224.)
What could account for Trump’s strange notion that the hijackers were married and shipped their wives home just before the attacks? Perhaps he is conflating reports of Saudi nationals leaving the United States after the attacks. But even so, it would have made little sense for such a carefully planned plot to have such poor operational security.
Indeed, the commission found evidence that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the plot in the United States, was upset about Jarrah’s continuing contact with his girlfriend, and Atta nearly replaced him at the last minute because of his concerns.
The report includes a number of references to the hijackers cutting off communication with their families: “The other operatives had broken off regular contact with their families.” (Page 227.) “The majority of these Saudi recruits began to break with their families in late 1999 and early 2000.” (Page 233.) “Atta complained that some of the hijackers wanted to contact their families to say goodbye, something he had forbidden.” (Page 245.)
“I’m not only talking about drugs, I’m talking about other things. We will save $300 billion a year if we properly negotiate. We don’t do that. We don’t negotiate. We don’t negotiate anything.”
This is the first time that Trump has said that his repeated claim that he would save $300 billion on prescription drugs in Medicare actually was supposed to mean negotiating for a range of products in the Medicare system. As we have noted previously, his earlier statements made no sense because total spending in Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) in 2014 was $78 billion.
But the $300 billion pledge doesn’t make much sense either. Projected Medicare spending in 2016 is $560 billion, so Trump unrealistically is claiming he will cut spending nearly 55 percent.
“He inherited over $100 million.”
— Marco Rubio
“Believe me, I started off with $1 million. I built a company that’s worth more than $10 billion.”
Rubio dropped his estimate of Trump’s inheritance from $200 million to $100 million, but that’s probably still too high. Trump and his siblings were reported to have expected $35 million each before Trump’s father died. The actual figure is unknown. Court documents suggest Trump and his three siblings shared $20 million in cash from the father’s estate in 1999 and $30 million in property from their mother’s estate in 2000. Trump’s father also set up various trusts before his death, including a $1 million one for Trump in 1976.
But, as we have explained, Trump’s “$1 million to $10 billion” claim is also false. He was silently backed by his father in the early stage of his career, with loan guarantees worth tens of millions of dollars and numerous loans. When Trump’s casinos were on the edge of collapse, Trump’s father bought $3.5 million in gambling chips (but did not use them) in a maneuver that gambling regulators later said was an illegal loan.
Many experts believe that Trump’s estimate he is worth $10 billion is overstated by at least a factor of three.
“I beat Hillary Clinton in many polls.”
Trump is wrong, according to the list of general election matchups maintained by RealClearPolitics.com, Clinton almost always consistently beats Trump, as does her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
“I have spent much of my life in law enforcement”
— Ted Cruz
Cruz is exaggerating his law-enforcement credentials. To claim that “much” of his adult life was spent in law enforcement really suggests at least half of his career, whereas the best-case scenario would be one-third, primarily from his 5 ½ years as Texas solicitor general. Even then, he was never a prosecutor or litigated criminal cases — and in private practice, he certainly defended criminals.
In particular, during his nearly five years at Morgan Lewis, Cruz headed the appeals practice. That means he was mostly advocating on behalf of people or companies that had lost earlier cases in which they had been charged with criminal or suspect behavior.
Rubio: “Vladimir Putin, who you’ve expressed admiration for, Donald…”
Trump: “Wrong. Wrong.”
Rubio: “You’ve expressed admiration for him.”
Rubio: “Donald, you said he’s a strong leader.”
— exchange during the debate
Rubio is correct and Trump is wrong. In December, in an interview with MSNBC, Trump said he believed the relationship would change if he was elected: “I think it would be good. I’ve always felt fine about Putin. I think that he’s a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader.” Trump cited the high opinion polls of Putin in Russia (where independent media is muzzled) as a sign he was well-respected.
When Putin called Trump “very talented,” Trump responded: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
“This guy has the number one absentee record in the United States Senate.”
— Donald Trump
Trump’s attack against Marco Rubio has merit.
In 2015, Rubio missed 35.4 percent (120 of 339) of votes, the highest among all senators.
It’s not unusual for senators running for president to miss a large portion of their votes.
The top three missed votes in 2015 were held by three senators who were running for president: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was the second highest, missing 28 percent (96 of 339) of votes. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was the third highest, missing 24 percent (80 of 339) of votes.
Of the other senators running for president in 2016, Rubio has had the highest percentage (41 percent) of missed votes between March 5, 2015 and March 3, 2016. The second was Cruz (36 percent), third was Graham (32 percent). Compare that to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who missed 62 percent and 45 percent of their votes respectively in a similar time period while running for president (March 1, 2007 and Feb. 28, 2008).
So far in 2016, though, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) has the lowest voting record, missing 97 percent between January and March 2016. Cruz was a close second after Sanders, missing 93 percent. Rubio missed 90 percent, and placed just behind Cruz.
“We have a 98 percent approval rating from the people who took the course. We have an ‘A’ from the Better Business Bureau.”
Megyn Kelly of Fox News did a fine job of fact checking Trump in real time on these claims — Trump University actually earned a D- from BBB before it was shut down — but if you want to learn more, read our comprehensive report on the troubled program.
“I will tell you, right from the beginning I said he was a spy and we should get him back, and if Russia respects our country they would’ve sent him back immediately. But he was a spy. It didn’t take me long to figure that out.”
Trump did call former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden a spy after Snowden revealed his identity. In fact, Trump called for Snowden’s execution. But Snowden was not an actual spy, as Trump says.
In a June 2013 interview on Fox News, Trump said: “You know, spies in the old days used to be executed. This guy is becoming a hero in some circles.” Trump added: “You know there is still a thing called execution. You really have thousands of people with access to the kind of material like this. We’re not going to have a country any longer.”
Snowden said in an interview in 2014 that he was trained as a spy: “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word — in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine.”
But Snowden has called the Russian-spy story “absurd” and said that claims he is working with Russian intelligence are based on suspicion. He rejected the claims in a 2015 Reddit Q&A:
“When you look at in aggregate, what sense does that make? If I were a Russian spy, why go to Hong Kong? It’s would have been an unacceptable risk. And further — why give any information to journalists at all, for that matter, much less so much and of such importance? Any intelligence value it would have to the Russians would be immediately compromised.
If I were a spy for the Russians, why the hell was I trapped in any airport for a month? I would have gotten a parade and a medal instead.
The reality is I spent so long in that damn airport because I wouldn’t play ball and nobody knew what to do with me. I refused to cooperate with Russian intelligence in any way.”
Moderator Bret Baier: “Senator Cruz, in 2013, you said you were open to the possibility that Edward Snowden had performed a considerable public service, you said back then, in revealing certain aspects of the NSA procedures. Many of your colleagues in the Senate, including Senator Rubio, called him a traitor. It took you until January of this year to call him a traitor and say he should be tried for treason. Why the change of heart? And why did it take you so long?”
Cruz: “I said in that initial statement that if the evidence indicated that Edward Snowden violated the law, he should be prosecuted for violating the law. And, indeed, since then, the evidence is clear that not only does Snowden violate the law, but it appears he committed treason. Treason is defined under the Constitution as giving aid and comfort to the enemies of America, and what Snowden did made it easier for terrorists to avoid detection.”
— Exchange during debate
Cruz has been repeatedly attacked or asked about his response to Snowden’s leak of information on government surveillance tactics, and he correctly describes his statements from 2013 and 2016.
When Cruz was asked about Snowden in 2013, he declined to label the former NSA contractor as a “patriot” or a “traitor,” 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.”
“This is all the result of the failures of the Clinton administration two decades ago that negotiated a deal with North Korea lifting the sanctions, allowing billions of dollars to flow in, and they used that money to develop nuclear weapons in the first place.”
Ted Cruz significantly overstates the monetary benefits of the Clinton deal to North Korea.
Clinton’s deal was called the Agreed Framework. Essentially, an international consortium was going to replace the North’s plutonium reactor with two light-water reactors. In the meantime, the United States would supply the North with 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil every year to make up for the theoretical loss of the reactor while the new ones were built. (North Korea’s program was clearly created to churn out nuclear weapons; the reactor at Yongbyon was not connected to the power grid and appeared only designed to produce plutonium.) There were also vague references to improving relations and commerce.
The consortium was called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). KEDO’s final annual report, issued in 2006, shows that 30 or so countries funding the project spent about $2.5 billion before it was shut down after the Bush administration accused North Korea of cheating on the Agreed Framework. (Most of the funds, about $2 billion, were contributed by South Korea and Japan alone.)
But this money did not go to North Korea. According to Joel S. Wit, who was in charge of implementing the Agreed Framework during the Clinton administration, it went to the companies that were building the reactors in South Korea, Japan and the European Union.
Between 1995 and 2003, the United States did spend about $500 million supplying the fuel oil that was required under the deal. (Another $100 million in fuel oil was supplied between 2007 and 2009, during Bush’s ill-fated deal.) But North Korea did not get those funds either; it just got the oil.
However, some experts note that North Korea did benefit broadly from South Korea pursuing joint projects with North Korea, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourism at Mount Kumgang. The Congressional Research Service in 2011 estimated that Kaesong, which opened during the Bush administration, provided about $20 million in wage revenue a year to North Korea. Hyundai Asan also paid North Korea $12 million for a 50-year lease on the entire Kaesong site. CRS cited a 2004 estimate that North Korea could “receive $9.55 billion in economic gains over the course of nine years if the KIC were to be developed fully and operated successfully,” mainly from sales and corporate taxes. Kaesong, however, has been closed periodically because of tensions between the two countries.