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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the CNBC Debates

Republicans make false and misleading claims on jobs, taxes and entitlements in economic-focused debates.


The Republican candidates met once again, and we found several claims worthy of fact-checking. Here are some of the highlights from the debate:

  • Former CEO Carly Fiorina claimed that 92 percent of the job losses in President Obama’s first term belonged to women, but women — and men — gained jobs by the end of Obama’s first term.
  • Businessman Donald Trump disputed the idea that he had criticized Sen. Marco Rubio and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for supporting H-1B visas. In fact, Trump’s immigration plan, posted on his website, is critical of both of them.
  • Trump also claimed his campaign was 100 percent self-funded, but more than half of the money his campaign has raised came from supporters’ contributions.
  • Fiorina blamed the Affordable Care Act for a large disparity in firm closings versus openings every year. But closings outnumbered firm births by the widest margin in 2009, a year before the law was enacted.
  • Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson said it was “total propaganda” to say he was involved with a controversial nutritional supplement company, but he appeared in promotional videos for the company, touting its products.
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said that Social Security would be insolvent in seven to eight years. But even after the trust funds are exhausted — estimated to be in 14 to 19 years — the program can still pay out 73 percent of benefits for several decades.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz said women’s wages have declined under Obama, when in fact the latest figures show their wages have increased.
  • Rubio claimed CNBC’s John Harwood was wrong that a Tax Foundation analysis of his tax plan found those in the top 1 percent of earners would get nearly twice the gain as those in the middle. Harwood was right, and that’s on a percentage basis.
  • In the undercard debate, former New York Gov. George Pataki claimed the Iranians, Russians and Chinese “hacked” the private server Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state and obtained “state secrets.” There’s no evidence of that.


Ten candidates vied in the main event of the Oct. 28 economy-focused third Republican debate, hosted by CNBC at the University of Colorado Boulder: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio and entrepreneur Donald Trump.

Fiorina On Job ‘Losses’ For Women Under Obama

Fiorina revived a dated, and now incorrect, talking point from Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 when she claimed that “92 percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women.” It’s true that in the early years of Obama’s presidency, job losses from the recession continued to mount, and women lost a higher percentage of those jobs. But that ignores the massive job losses by men in the recession prior to Obama taking office. And by the end of Obama’s first term, both men and women had gained jobs.

Fiorina: It is the height of hypocrisy for Mrs. Clinton to talk about being the first woman president, when every single policy she espouses, and every single policy of President Obama has been demonstrably bad for women. Ninety-two percent of the jobs lost during Barack Obama’s first term belonged to women.

Back in April 2012, we wrote about Romney’s frequent campaign line that “over 92 percent of the jobs lost under this president were lost by women,” which Romney cited as evidence that Obama’s policies amounted to a “war on women.” Romney was referring to Bureau of Labor Statistics data between January 2009, when Obama took office, and March 2012, the latest available at the time. We noted that statistic was accurate, but didn’t tell the whole story.

Looking back at the whole recession, we wrote, men had lost many more jobs than women. But the biggest job losses for men came earlier in the recession, and recovery for men came faster than it did for women.

Fiorina, however, referred to “Obama’s first term,” and, of course, we now have access to data from the entirety of that first term. And looking at the full four years of Obama’s first term, both men and women gained jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women gained 416,000 jobs in Obama’s first term (about 32 percent of the overall job gains).

As for Obama’s second term, women have gained another roughly 3.5 million jobs between January 2013 and September 2015. That accounts for 49 percent of the overall job gains during Obama’s second term.

Update, Nov. 2, 2015: After initially sticking by the claim the day after the debate, Fiorina backtracked on two Sunday political talk shows on Nov. 1 and said she had “misspoken.” On ABC’s “This Week,” Fiorina said, “Well, in this particular case the fact checkers are correct. The 92 percent, it turns out, was the first three-and-a-half years of Barack Obama’s term, and in the final six months of his term things improved.”

Trump’s Forgotten Criticism 

Trump denied ever criticizing Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as well as Marco Rubio, with regard to the H-1B visa program. But he actually did so — in his very own immigration plan on his own website.

During a question about the visa program that allows companies to bring foreign workers to the United States for “specialty occupations” in technology and other fields, CNBC moderator Becky Quick said that Trump had criticized Zuckerberg for his position on H-1B visas. He responded:

Trump: I was not at all critical of him. I was not at all. In fact, frankly, he’s complaining about the fact that we’re losing some of the most talented people. They go to Harvard. They go to Yale. They go to Princeton. They come from another country and they’re immediately sent out. I am all in favor of keeping these talented people here so they can go to work in Silicon Valley. …

So I have nothing at all critical of him.

Quick: Where did I read this and come up with this that you were …

Trump: Probably, I don’t know — you people write the stuff.

Quick also said that Trump has called Rubio Zuckerberg’s “own personal senator,” which Trump again denied, claiming “I never said that. … Somebody’s doing some really bad fact-checking. I never said that.” But Trump’s own immigration plan, posted on his website, appears to criticize both Zuckerberg and Rubio, and does contain the line Quick mentioned. His plan calls for raising wages paid to H-1B workers, which it says would convince companies to hire more Americans:

Trump’s immigration plan: This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.

After a commercial break, Quick pointed out that Trump had indeed criticized Rubio and Zuckerberg on his website. He did not address that point in his response, stressing the need for legal immigration and emphasizing his own job creation record.

Trump Not Completely Self-Funded

Trump claimed that his campaign is 100 percent self-funded. That’s false.

Trump: I am the only person in either campaign that’s self-funding. I’m putting up 100 percent of my own money.

Trump has spent about $1.9 million of his own money running for president, according to his October quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission. That includes a $1.8 million loan to his campaign, as well as in-kind contributions of nearly $104,000. But his campaign has spent more than $5.5 million to date, and the majority of that has come from campaign donors. In total, the Trump campaign has received more than $3.8 million from campaign supporters, which is more than half of the $5.8 million the campaign raised as of September 30.

And while Trump reportedly referred to the donations as “unsolicited,” his campaign website features a donate page telling supporters how to make contributions.

Fiorina on Business Deaths 

Fiorina cited outdated figures on business openings and closings, saying that 400,000 small businesses form “every year” while 470,000 go out of business. “And why?” she asked. “They cite Obamacare.”

The most recent numbers, from 2012, show a disparity of about 15,000, and the gap between the creation of new firms and firm “deaths” has been narrowing. In 2009, a year before the Affordable Care Act was even signed into law, there were 409,133 firm births and 499,803 firm deaths.

That’s close to what Fiorina cited, and the figures come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s business dynamics statistics. The fact that those new firm births were outnumbered by deaths was highlighted in a Brookings Institution report from May 2014. That report said: “In fact, business deaths now exceed business births for the first time in the thirty-plus-year history of our data.”

That report said nothing about the Affordable Care Act, but rather that it didn’t determine the causes and the trend could reverse in the future.

Brookings Institution, “Declining Business Dynamism in the United States,” May 2014: Our findings stop short of demonstrating why these trends are occurring and perhaps more importantly, what can be done about it. Doing so requires a more complete knowledge about what drives dynamism, and especially entrepreneurship, than currently exists. But it is clear that these trends fit into a larger narrative of business consolidation occurring in the U.S. economy—whatever the reason, older and larger businesses are doing better relative to younger and smaller ones. …

To be sure, three years have passed since our latest data were collected in March 2011, so it’s entirely possible that some of these negative trends have reversed—or at least stabilized—since then.

We spoke with one of the authors of that report — Ian Hathaway — in May, and he sent us updated figures for 2012. Those showed new firm births were still outnumbered by deaths but the gap had continued to narrow since its peak in 2009. For 2012, deaths outnumbered births by nearly 15,000, not the 70,000 figure that Fiorina cited.

Update, Nov. 4, 2015: Census released its latest figures in September, and they now show that business births outnumbered deaths in 2012 by about 36,000. Births also outnumbered deaths in 2013. Census considers multiple years in compiling its business data, which is why the 2012 figures were revised. For more, see our Nov. 4 post “A GOP Talking Point Turned False.”

Carson’s Involvement with Mannatech

Carson claimed that he had no “involvement” with a controversial nutritional supplement company called Mannatech, and he called any claim to the contrary “propaganda.” But he actually has a long history with the company that goes beyond what he described, including giving paid speeches, participating in promotional videos and other activities.

CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla: One more question. This is a company called Mannatech, a maker of nutritional supplements, with which you had a 10-year relationship. They offered claims that they could cure autism, cancer, they paid $7 million to settle a deceptive marketing lawsuit in Texas, and yet your involvement continued. Why?

Carson: Well, that’s easy to answer. I didn’t have an involvement with them. That is total propaganda, and this is what happens in our society. Total propaganda.

I did a couple of speeches for them, I do speeches for other people. They were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of a relationship with them.

Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product.

Though one can debate the definition of “relationship” and “involvement,” there is ample evidence that Carson has at least some sort of history with Mannatech. He admits to giving paid speeches for the company, but reports by the Wall Street Journal and the National Review have pointed out other connections as well going back at least a decade. For example, he participated in shooting several videos with or about the company; though the Wall Street Journal reported that Mannatech has removed those videos from its website, at least one video remains on YouTube as of this writing in which Carson touts the company’s work and products.

The National Review also reported that Carson was paid to appear on a PBS special and endorse Mannatech’s products, though the company said it was “a group of Mannatech independent distributors, not Mannatech Incorporated,” that actually paid for Carson’s appearance. Carson also once gave a speech in which he said the company helped fund an endowed post in Carson’s name at Johns Hopkins University, but his campaign has since said that Carson was mistaken, blaming “confusion” for the error.

Though the extent of Carson’s involvement isn’t clear, it’s by no means “total propaganda” to say he had an involvement that went beyond “a couple of speeches.”

Social Security Spin 

Christie claimed that “Social Security is going to be insolvent in seven to eight years.” That’s an exaggeration. The Social Security trust funds can continue to pay full benefits for another 14 to 19 years, according to government projections.

Christie: All that’s in that trust fund is a pile of IOUs for money they spent on something else a long time ago. And they’ve stolen from you because now they know they cannot pay these benefits and Social Security is going to be insolvent in seven to eight years.

Social Security benefits are not in any imminent danger.

It is true that Social Security has been paying out more in benefits than it collects in revenues since 2010. But the Social Security trust funds hold Treasury bonds — or the “pile of IOUs,” as Christie calls them — for past years when Social Security collected more in revenues than it spent. The trust funds at the end of 2014 held nearly $2.8 trillion in Treasury bonds.

Those trust funds have enough to keep paying full benefits until 2034, according to the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds’ most recent report.

“Interest income and redemption of trust fund assets from the General Fund of the Treasury, will provide the resources needed to offset Social Security’s annual aggregate cash-flow deficits until 2034,” the trustees report says.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the trust funds would be depleted by 2029 — which is earlier than the trustees project, but still longer than Christie claimed.

Once the trust funds are exhausted, Social Security can still pay benefits with payroll tax income — but not the full scheduled amount. The trustees say tax income would be able to cover 73 percent of the benefits through 2089.

Cruz on Women’s Wages

Cruz claimed women’s wages have declined under Obama, when in fact the latest figures show their wages have increased.

Cruz: [U]nder Barack Obama and the big government economy, the median wage for women has dropped $733.

Actually, the most recent breakdown from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers shows that for women the figure was $728 in the three months ending Sept. 30, up from $647 in the last three months of 2008, just before Obama first took office. That’s an increase of $81 per week.

Even adjusted for inflation, women workers’ median wages increased by more than 1 percent during the same period, in which inflation-adjusted wages for men remained flat.

Cruz meant to refer to total income, rather than just wages. It’s true that the latest Census Bureau figures show median annual income for women dropped by $705 (not $733) between 2008 and 2014 (expressed in inflation-adjusted 2014 dollars). That reflects changes in many factors besides full-time wages, including changes in business income, capital gains income, and increasing numbers of retirees drawing pensions rather than working for wages or salaries.

Cruz got his $733 figure from an outdated GOP talking point that relied on figures for 2013. Newer figures were released last month. Figures covering 2015 won’t be available until late next year.

Rubio’s Tax Plan

Rubio said CNBC’s John Harwood was “wrong” that the Tax Foundation analysis of his tax plan found “you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale.” But that is what the Tax Foundation found.

Rubio responded that the largest percentage gains would be for those with the lowest incomes, which is also true, according to the Tax Foundation’s analysis. But that doesn’t make Harwood’s statement wrong.

The Tax Foundation concluded that Rubio’s plan, when scored “dynamically” to account for expected economic growth, would result in an after-tax income increase of nearly 28 percent for those in the top 1 percent, while those in the middle income deciles — 40 percent to 50 percent and 50 percent to 60 percent — would see their after-tax income rise by 15.7 percent and 15.3 percent, respectively. People with incomes in the lowest 10 percent would see the greatest percentage gains, nearly 56 percent.

In other words, the greatest percentage income gains would be realized by those with low or high incomes, with smaller percentage gains for those in the middle.

Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

Harwood: The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale. Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, don’t you have that backward?

Rubio: No, that’s — you’re wrong. In fact, the largest after-tax gains is for the people at the lower end of the tax spectrum under my plan. And there’s a bunch of things my tax plan does to help them. Number one, you have people in this country that …

Harwood: … Senator, the Tax Foundation said after-tax income for the top 1 percent under your plan would go up 27.9 percent. And people in the middle of the income spectrum, about 15 percent.

Rubio: … Yeah, but that — because the math is, if you — 5 percent of a million is a lot more than 5 percent of a thousand. So yeah, someone who makes more money, numerically, it’s gonna be higher. But the greatest gains, percentage-wise, for people, are gonna be at the lower end of our plan, and here’s why: because in addition to a general personal exemption, we are increasing the per-child tax credit for working families.

Rubio’s tax plan, which he coauthored with Sen. Mike Lee, includes a number of dramatic changes to the current tax code, including a reduction in the number of tax brackets to two (15 percent and 35 percent), the elimination of most itemized deductions (excluding charitable and mortgage interest deductions), and a new child tax credit of $2,500.

The Tax Foundation’s analysis of the plan, released in March, concluded it would increase incomes across all income levels. But some would do better than others.

Looking at the plan on a “static basis,” which does not assume that tax cuts in the plan would spur economic growth, the Tax Foundation said the average gain in after-tax income would be 3.9 percent. But the biggest winners — on a percentage basis — would be those at the bottom and top of the income scale. For example, the analysis stated, the gain would be 11.4 percent for the 10 percent to 20 percent decile, 11.5 percent for the highest 1 percent, but only 1.7 percent for the 50-60 percent decile.

Those disparities are not as dramatic when looking at the tax plan on a “dynamic” basis, which assumes the cuts would lead to significant economic growth. But the general pattern holds, with those at the upper and lower incomes faring the best, on a percentage basis.

So Harwood and Rubio were talking past each other a bit. Harwood was pointing out that those at the top income levels were seeing greater benefit — on a percentage basis — than those in the middle income levels. And that’s true. Rubio, meanwhile, insisted that those at the very lowest income levels would see the greatest percentage increase in income. That’s also true. Rubio further confused the issue with his explanation that “5 percent of a million is a lot more than 5 percent of a thousand.” As we noted earlier, it’s not just that those in the top 1 percent of tax filers would be seeing greater dollar savings in Rubio’s plan than those in the middle income brackets, it’s that those at the top would see a greater percentage gain as well.

Clinton’s Server

Four more candidates — Sen. Lindsey Graham, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Sen. Rick Santorum – debated separately earlier in the evening.

Pataki claimed that the private server Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state was “hacked” and, as a result, the Iranians, Russians and Chinese obtained “state secrets.” While the FBI is conducting a security review of Clinton’s server, there is no evidence so far of a security breach.

Pataki: Hillary Clinton put a server, an unsecure server, in her home as secretary of state. We have no doubt that that was hacked, and that state secrets are out there to the Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese and others. That alone should disqualify her from being president of the United States.

It is true that Clinton, the front-runner in the Democratic presidential field, had an unusual email arrangement when she was secretary of state. She had a personal email account on a private server, rather than using the government email system.

It is also true that the inspector general of the intelligence community said emails maintained on her private server contained unmarked classified information, and he made a “security referral” to the Justice Department. Clinton turned over her computer server to the FBI, which is now investigating.

But was Clinton’s server “hacked”? And did the Iranians, Russians and Chinese obtain “state secrets”? That’s all speculation.

Pataki is referring to reports of hacking attempts that may or may not have been successful.

Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent an Oct. 5 letter to a firm that provided security on Clinton’s server. In his letter, Johnson wrote that the committee had evidence of hacking attempts that originated from China, South Korea and Germany, and that the security provided by the firm was not active for a three-month period.

It was also reported on Oct. 1 by the New York Times that Clinton received spam emails that may have originated from Russia. As the Times wrote, Clinton’s server could have been compromised if she clicked on links in those emails, but there is no evidence that she did.

President Obama said in an Oct. 11 “60 Minutes” interview that Clinton’s server did not compromise national security, but that has not been confirmed either. The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, wrote on Oct. 16: “Investigators have not reached any conclusions about whether the information on the server was compromised or whether to recommend charges, according to the law enforcement officials.”

Manufacturing Jobs

Santorum claimed that the U.S. has lost 2 million manufacturing jobs under the Obama administration. It’s actually a net job loss of 243,000.

Santorum made his statement while touting his economic plan, which he says will increase manufacturing jobs.

Santorum: We’ve lost 2 million jobs — 2 million jobs — under this administration in manufacturing — 15,000 manufacturers have left this country. Why? Because of bad tax policy, bad regulatory policy and, yes, bad trade policy.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. had 12,561,000 manufacturing jobs in January 2009 when President Obama assumed office. The number of manufacturing jobs hit a low in February 2010 at 11,453,000 after 14 straight months of job losses — a loss of a little more than 1.1 million manufacturing jobs during that time.

Since then, however, the U.S. has added manufacturing jobs, and as of September, it had 12,318,000 such jobs. That’s still 243,000 manufacturing jobs fewer than the U.S. had in January 2009, but not nearly the 2 million fewer that Santorum claimed.

Here is a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows the drop and recovery in manufacturing jobs under Obama:


We asked the Santorum campaign where the former senator got his data. We will update this item when we get a response.

However, Santorum may be referring to a January 2015 report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. In that report, the ITIF said that “there are still two million fewer jobs and 15,000 fewer manufacturing establishments than there were in 2007.” But that, of course, includes job losses under President Bush.

Wage Growth

Santorum made a misleading statistical claim about wage stagnation.

Santorum: In fact, the last quarter [had] the lowest wage growth ever recorded.

In fact, as we’ve written before, real weekly wages for rank-and-file workers have been rising nicely. Using the most recent figures, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “real” (inflation-adjusted) average weekly earnings of rank-and-file, nonsupervisory workers were 2.3 percent higher in September than they were a year earlier, and 8.7 percent higher than they were a decade earlier.

Santorum may have been referring to a recent headline stating “Wage growth hits a record low,” which turns out to be misleading. The report refers to the BLS Employment Cost Index, which put the gain in wages and salaries of civilian workers for the April-June quarter of this year at 0.2 percent, the smallest three-month gain since the series began.

But Santorum failed to mention that this statistical series only began in 1982, a relatively brief historical record. Furthermore, the same index jumped up 0.7 percent in the first quarter of the year — and for the full 12 months ending in June the gain was a full 2 percent.

Food Stamps

Jindal suggested a record number of Americans are getting food stamps, which is no longer true.

Jindal: Let’s be honest, $18 trillion dollars of debt. Record low participation rate in the workforce, record number of Americans on food stamps. We are going the way of Europe.

Actually, the number getting benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) has been declining for nearly three years as the economy has improved. It peaked in December 2012 at nearly 47.8 million, but had declined by 4.8 percent to fewer than 45.5 million as of July, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CO2 Emissions

Pataki said that the U.S. is the only country to have reduced its CO2 emissions since 1995. That’s not true — other countries, particularly in Europe, have reduced their emissions over the same time period, some by a greater margin than the U.S.

Pataki: There’s one country in the world that has fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the world. You know what that is? The United States. Our emissions are lower than they were in 1995.

A spokesman for Pataki clarified in an email that he meant that “the U.S. is the only country in the world that actually emits less carbon than it did in 1995.”

The U.S. has reduced its CO2 emissions since 1995; according to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. emissions were about 5.32 billion metric tons in 1995, and 5.27 billion metric tons in 2012, the latest year with available data. But other countries have also seen CO2 emissions drop over that period.

For example, France’s emissions were about 373 million metric tons in 1995, and that fell to 365 million in 2012. Germany’s emissions fell from 891 million metric tons in 1995 to 788 million in 2012, a greater drop than the 50 million seen in the U.S. Italy, the United Kingdom, Nigeria and several other countries also saw emissions drop.


Santorum said that “we’ve brought in 35 million — 35 million legal and illegal immigrants over the last 20 years, more than any period in American history.” The number of the foreign born now in the U.S. is the largest in sheer numbers, but several decades around the turn of the century saw higher percentages of the foreign born among the total U.S. population.

Santorum said that 35 million immigrants had been “brought in” over the last 20 years. But we get a lower figure than that, using Census numbers, which show that 11,242,300 immigrants entered the country from 1990 to 1999, and 12,124,053 entered from 2000 to 2009. That’s a total of 23 million entering the country over 20 years.

The U.S. does have the highest number of foreign-born now — 42 million immigrants, 48 percent of whom are U.S. citizens. Santorum has made that claim before about the sheer number of the foreign-born.

But as we pointed out then, immigrants made up a larger share of the population in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The latest figures from Census show the foreign-born make up 13.3 percent of the total U.S. population. The share was higher or the same from 1870 through 1910. The peak was 14.8 percent in 1890.

— by Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, Dave Levitan and D’Angelo Gore, with Rebecca Heilweil


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