The 2016 Republican Presidential Debate — a Fact Check

Was Marco Rubio or Megyn Kelly right about the candidate’s record on abortion? Did Rick Perry catch Donald Trump in a health care flip-flop? And is Trump (gasp) overstating his own importance?

The stage for the Republican presidential primary debate is seen at the Quicken Loans Arena on August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.
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Aug. 6, 2015, 2:21 p.m.

If your quest for your dream job was go­ing to be de­term­ined by a 17-way con­test to tell the most com­pel­ling per­son­al story, wouldn’t you be a bit temp­ted to take a bit of artist­ic li­cense?

That’s es­sen­tially the scen­ario that the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial field faced dur­ing their party’s first night of de­bates on Thursday, and some of them, at times, gave in to tempta­tion. Tasked with rising above the pack, some of the can­did­ates did — in­ten­tion­ally or oth­er­wise — col­or out­side the lines at times. More com­mon, however, was the phe­nomen­on of can­did­ates be­ing se­lect­ive in their re­tell­ing, play­ing up the most flat­ter­ing as­pects of their re­cords and leav­ing out the blem­ishes.

Here’s a look at how the can­did­ates’ biggest claims square with the facts at hand.

CLAIM: Il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion was not a ma­jor cam­paign is­sue un­til Don­ald Trump brought it up. — Don­ald Trump

VER­DICT: False.

Fox mod­er­at­or Chris Wal­lace chal­lenged Don­ald Trump on his highly con­tro­ver­sial com­ments about Mex­ic­an im­mig­rants be­ing rap­ists and drug deal­ers. Trump claimed cred­it for in­ject­ing the is­sue in­to the 2016 cam­paign. “If it wer­en’t for me, you wouldn’t even be talk­ing about il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion, Chris. This was not a sub­ject that was on any­body’s mind un­til I brought it up at my an­nounce­ment,” said Trump, who also said his com­ments were mis­con­strued.

But while Trump’s com­ments at his mid-June an­nounce­ment speech drew wide­spread cov­er­age (and cri­ti­cism from his rivals), the is­sue of how 2016 can­did­ates will grapple with the tricky polit­ics of im­mig­ra­tion has long been a ma­jor theme of the cam­paign and press cov­er­age of the hope­fuls.

For in­stance, Jeb Bush is widely seen as more mod­er­ate than many of the oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, while Scott Walk­er drew wide press cov­er­age when he said on March 1 that “my view has changed,” and that he no longer backed a path­way to cit­izen­ship for un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants. And more broadly, the ques­tion of wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans can make in­roads with Latino voters while tak­ing harsh stances on im­mig­ra­tion has been the fo­cus of heavy scru­tiny.

CLAIM: On al­low­ing ex­cep­tions to abor­tion bans in case of rape and in­cest, Marco Ru­bio says he has “nev­er said that and I have nev­er ad­voc­ated that.”

VER­DICT: False.

When Fox News host Me­gyn Kelly asked Sen. Marco Ru­bio about his sup­port for al­low­ing abor­tions in cases of rape or in­cest, Ru­bio said: “I’m not sure that that’s a cor­rect as­sess­ment of my re­cord. “¦ I have nev­er said that and I have nev­er ad­voc­ated that.”

Ru­bio runs in­to trouble with the word “nev­er.” He co­sponsored a 2013 bill from fel­low pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham that pro­hib­ited abor­tions after 20 weeks of preg­nancy. In­cluded in that bill, however, were ex­cep­tions if the life of the moth­er was at risk or if the preg­nancy was the res­ult of rape or in­cest. At oth­er times, however, Ru­bio has been af­fil­i­ated with plat­forms tak­ing a dif­fer­ent stance. The sen­at­or from Flor­ida in 2012 de­fen­ded the Re­pub­lic­an Party plat­form, which at the time did not in­clude rape or in­cest ex­cep­tions.

CLAIM: The U.S. spends more per stu­dent on edu­ca­tion than any oth­er coun­try. — Jeb Bush

VER­DICT: True, but in­com­plete.

Asked about his po­s­i­tion on Com­mon Core, Jeb Bush replied with a broad­er cri­tique of the U.S. edu­ca­tion sys­tem. “Today in Amer­ica a third of our kids — after we spend more per stu­dent than any coun­try in the world (oth­er than a couple of round­ing er­rors) — 30 per­cent are col­lege and/or ca­reer ready.”

In 2013, the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Eco­nom­ic Co­oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment re­por­ted that — when the cost of post-high school gradu­ation pro­grams such as col­lege and vo­ca­tion­al train­ing is in­cluded — the U.S. spent more than $15,000 per stu­dent, more than Switzer­land and Mex­ico.

That spend­ing, however, is not lim­ited to pub­lic spend­ing or pub­lic schools. In­stead, it in­cludes spend­ing from par­ents and found­a­tions. Pub­lic spend­ing re­flec­ted only about 70 per­cent of total U.S. edu­ca­tion spend­ing, far lower than the OECD av­er­age of 84 per­cent. And in a dis­cus­sion of school policy, par­tic­u­larly a dis­cus­sion that fre­quently ques­tions the ef­fic­acy of pub­lic schools, the dis­tinc­tion is crit­ic­al.

CLAIM: In Hou­s­ton, the gov­ern­ment tried to get ac­cess to min­is­ters’ ser­mons and to “in­vade the church to en­force its own opin­ion on mar­riage.” — Rand Paul

VER­DICT: Par­tially true, but in­com­plete.

Rand Paul said that in Hou­s­ton, “the may­or [was] ac­tu­ally try­ing to get the ser­mons of min­is­ters.” He went on to say, “When the gov­ern­ment tries to in­vade the church to en­force its own opin­ion on mar­riage, that’s when it is time to res­ist.”

The events Paul re­ferred to took place last year, be­gin­ning when Hou­s­ton’s may­or sub­poenaed the ser­mons of five pas­tors who op­posed a city or­din­ance aimed at pro­tect­ing LGBT Hou­s­ton res­id­ents from dis­crim­in­a­tion. The sub­poen­as were de­signed to de­term­ine how pas­tors were in­struct­ing their con­greg­a­tions to push back against the or­din­ance. The move was met with a strong and vo­cal back­lash, and Hou­s­ton’s may­or, an openly gay Demo­crat, with­drew the sub­poen­as two weeks later.

The Texas Su­preme Court later ruled that the or­din­ance must be sent to the bal­lot, and res­id­ents will vote on the or­din­ance in Novem­ber.

CLAIM: Don­ald Trump says he called “only Rosie O’Don­nell” a pig, a slob and a dog.

VER­DICT: False, many times over.

As Fox News host Me­gyn Kelly ran through a list of in­sults that Trump had made against wo­men — “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” and “dis­gust­ing an­im­als” — the cor­por­ate mag­nate in­ter­jec­ted: “Only Rosie O’Don­nell.”

It’s true that Trump has called O’Don­nell most or all of those things, but she’s not his only tar­get. Spe­cific­ally, New York Times colum­nist Gail Collins re­por­ted in 2011 that Trump had sent her a copy of her column with “the face of a dog” writ­ten on her pic­ture.

Bey­ond that, Trump has cri­ti­cized act­ress An­gelina Jolie be­cause “she’s been with so many guys” and sing­er Cher for her “bad plastic sur­gery.” He tweeted that Bette Midler was “an ex­tremely un­at­tract­ive wo­man.” There are also nu­mer­ous oth­er re­ports of un­sa­vory be­ha­vi­or to­ward wo­men be­hind closed doors.

CLAIM: IS­IS rides around in a bil­lion dol­lars of U.S. Hum­vees. — Rand Paul

VER­DICT: Un­clear.

Sen. Rand Paul said that he is the “lead­ing voice in Amer­ica for not arm­ing the al­lies of IS­IS. “IS­IS rides around in a bil­lion dol­lars of [U.S.] Hum­vees,” he ad­ded.

IS­IS has cap­tured U.S. mil­it­ary equip­ment, but the mon­et­ary value of those vehicles is murky. Prime Min­is­ter Haid­er al-Abadi re­cently an­nounced that Ir­aq lost 2,300 Hum­vees as the Is­lam­ic State took over Mo­sul. It has been widely re­por­ted that the State De­part­ment last year ap­proved a sale of 1,000 Hum­vees and oth­er gear es­tim­at­ing to cost $579 mil­lion. CN­BC re­ports that those Hum­vees would only be worth $16 mil­lion in an ad­mit­tedly “back-of-the-en­vel­ope cal­cu­la­tion,” but, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­na­tion­al Busi­ness Times, the vehicles taken from Mo­sul in June 2014 were worth more than $1 bil­lion “if sold new.”

CLAIM: I will im­me­di­ately un­wind Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions. — mul­tiple can­did­ates

VER­DICT: Not without su­per­powers.

Sev­er­al can­did­ates, when asked for their first moves upon tak­ing of­fice, vowed to undo a suite of Obama’s ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions. “I would be­gin by un­do­ing a whole set of things that Pres­id­ent Obama has done, wheth­er it is il­leg­al am­nesty or this latest round of EPA reg­u­la­tions,” said Carly Fior­ina, while Rick San­tor­um vowed to “sus­pend and re­peal every ex­ec­ut­ive or­der, every reg­u­la­tion that costs Amer­ic­an jobs and is im­pact­ing our free­dom.”

In the later de­bate among high­er-polling can­did­ates, Sen. Ted Cruz said: “If I am elec­ted pres­id­ent, let me tell you about my first day in of­fice. The first thing I in­tend to do is to res­cind every il­leg­al and un­con­sti­tu­tion­al ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion taken by Barack Obama.”

But that’s much easi­er said than done, be­cause not all ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions are cre­ated equal. While form­al ex­ec­ut­ive or­ders can be re­voked by a new pres­id­ent, oth­er types of policies, such as form­al reg­u­la­tions, are tough­er to un­wind. Take the new En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency cli­mate-change rules fi­nal­ized this week. As Vox notes, form­ally scrap­ping the rule would be a lengthy bur­eau­crat­ic pro­cess. On the oth­er hand, if court chal­lenges to the rule are still act­ive, a new ad­min­is­tra­tion could stop de­fend­ing it in court (which is what happened when Obama’s EPA de­cided that Bush-era ozone stand­ards were “not leg­ally de­fens­ible”). Reg­u­la­tions im­ple­ment­ing Obama­care, mean­while, will be deeply em­bed­ded in the health care sys­tem by the time a new pres­id­ent takes of­fice.

So while it’s cer­tainly true that the new pres­id­ent could move to un­wind his or her pre­de­cessor’s policies, the bot­tom line is that do­ing so is a long and messy pro­cess.

CLAIM: Don­ald Trump is “for single-pay­er health care.” — Rick Perry

VER­DICT: True in the past, but re­cently changed.

Rick Perry ac­cused Don­ald Trump of sup­port­ing single-pay­er health care, won­der­ing how such a per­son could run for the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion. Trump has voiced some sup­port for uni­ver­sal health care in the past and stood by that state­ment, as BuzzFeed re­por­ted. He has also said some nice things about oth­er coun­tries’ single-pay­er sys­tems.

However, via Bloomberg, Trump re­cently told MS­N­BC that while single-pay­er has worked “in­cred­ibly well” else­where, he doesn’t think it would work in the United States. His cam­paign told For­bes that he doesn’t sup­port “so­cial­ized medi­cine.”

Ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg, Trump would pro­pose com­pet­ing private health plans, some kind of cata­stroph­ic-care pro­tec­tions for hos­pit­als, and gov­ern­ment-fun­ded in­sur­ance for low-in­come people who get sick.

CLAIM: Hil­lary Clin­ton will not ap­prove the Key­stone Pipeline. — Lind­sey Gra­ham

VER­DICT: Un­known, for now.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, as part of a broad at­tack against Hil­lary Clin­ton, de­clared: “She is not go­ing to build the Key­stone pipeline. I will.”

However, Clin­ton has re­peatedly de­clined to of­fer a po­s­i­tion on Tran­sCanada’s pro­posed pipeline that would bring hun­dreds of thou­sands of bar­rels of crude oil per day from Al­berta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies. She has said that it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to weigh in on the pro­ject while it re­mains un­der re­view at the State De­part­ment, the agency she headed dur­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s first term. Clin­ton also said in New Hamp­shire last month, “If it’s un­de­cided when I be­come pres­id­ent, I will an­swer your ques­tion.” However, the White House has said that the de­cision will come while Pres­id­ent Obama is in of­fice.

Obama has been crit­ic­al of the pro­ject in sev­er­al pub­lic state­ments without ac­tu­ally tip­ping his hand. But even if Obama re­jects the pro­ject, Tran­sCanada CEO Russ Girl­ing has said he will con­tin­ue ad­voc­at­ing for Key­stone, rais­ing the pos­sib­il­ity that the next pres­id­ent — Clin­ton or Gra­ham or who­ever — could push it for­ward.

CLAIM: Pres­id­ent Obama said bor­row­ing from China cost the U.S. lever­age while ne­go­ti­at­ing the Ir­an deal. — Bobby Jin­dal

VER­DICT: Mostly false.

In re­sponse to a ques­tion con­cern­ing Medi­caid ex­pan­sion un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, Louisi­ana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal claimed that the pres­id­ent “stun­ningly” ad­mit­ted that the United States didn’t have the “lever­age” with China to get a bet­ter deal with Ir­an “be­cause we need them to lend us money to con­tin­ue op­er­at­ing our gov­ern­ment.”

If Jin­dal was re­fer­ring to Obama’s speech on Wed­nes­day, he’s in­cor­rect. Obama spoke about the im­pact of walk­ing away from the deal now in the hopes of bring­ing about a bet­ter deal through main­tained or in­creased sanc­tions. Obama said those who prefer that strategy are “selling a fantasy” and would hurt the U.S. eco­nomy, in part be­cause of what walk­ing away now would do to the U.S.-China re­la­tion­ship.

“We’d have to cut off coun­tries like China from the Amer­ic­an fin­an­cial sys­tem,” said Obama. “And since they hap­pen to be ma­jor pur­chasers of our debt, such ac­tions could trig­ger severe dis­rup­tions in our own eco­nomy and, by way, raise ques­tions in­ter­na­tion­ally about the dol­lar’s role as the world’s re­serve cur­rency. That’s part of the reas­on why many of the pre­vi­ous uni­lat­er­al sanc­tions were waived.”

The dif­fer­ence between what Obama said and what Jin­dal claims he said is the ques­tion of tim­ing. Obama on Wed­nes­day said the coun­try’s fin­an­cial ties to China make walk­ing away from the deal more pain­ful now — after the deal has been ne­go­ti­ated. In Jin­dal’s telling of the pres­id­ent’s re­marks, Obama said bor­row­ing from China cost the U.S. lever­age while those ne­go­ti­ations with Ir­an were still on­go­ing. That con­ten­tion is a mat­ter of de­bate, but it’s false to claim that that’s what Obama said.

CLAIM: Amazon is the largest re­tail­er in the coun­try and the world. — Marco Ru­bio

VER­DICT: False.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion, Wal-Mart is the top re­tail­er in the U.S., fol­lowed by Kroger and Costco. Amazon is the ninth-largest re­tail­er in the coun­try. In 2013, Wal-Mart’s re­tail sales were more than sev­en times high­er than Amazon’s.

CLAIM: The ma­jor­ity of people com­ing over the U.S. bor­der are not from Mex­ico. — Marco Ru­bio

VER­DICT: True, based on avail­able data.

Re­spond­ing to Don­ald Trump’s claims that Mex­ico was “send­ing” drug deal­ers and rap­ists in­to the U.S., Ru­bio as­ser­ted that the ma­jor­ity of people cross­ing the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der are not Mex­ic­an. By defin­i­tion, an ex­act count of un­doc­u­mented bor­der cross­ings is dif­fi­cult to come by. However, a Pew Re­search Cen­ter ana­lys­is found that more non-Mex­ic­ans were ap­pre­hen­ded at the bor­der than Mex­ic­ans in 2014, re­vers­ing a long-stand­ing trend. The data also points to a dra­mat­ic de­cline in ap­pre­hen­sions of Mex­ic­ans at the U.S. bor­der in re­cent years. Ad­di­tion­ally, U.S. bor­der patrol stat­ist­ics in­dic­ate that in 2014, non-Mex­ic­an ap­pre­hen­sions at the South­w­est bor­der ac­coun­ted for more than half of total ap­pre­hen­sions.

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