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
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.”
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
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
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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