A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center
FactCheck.org is celebrating 15 years of holding politicians accountable.

False Debate Claims Put in Ads


Two claims from the fifth Republican debate that we flagged as misleading are now being used in new TV ads.

  • An ad from Sen. Ted Cruz reiterates a false claim regarding the 2013 immigration bill that Sen. Marco Rubio cosponsored. Cruz claims the bill “would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees, including ISIS terrorists.” That’s nonsense. U.S. presidents have been admitting refugees since at least the Refugee Act of 1980. And the immigration bill certainly wouldn’t have allowed the admittance of a known terrorist.
  • An ad from a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush features footage of Bush at the debate saying: “Two months ago, Donald Trump said that ISIS was not our fight.” That’s a cherry-picked quote. In his fuller comments, Trump argued the U.S. should sit out the fight with the Islamic State group, or ISIS, in Syria, but in the same interview, Trump made it clear he thought the U.S. ought to combat ISIS in Iraq.

Cruz’s Attack on Immigration Bill

In his ad, Cruz claims that the Senate immigration bill “would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees, including ISIS terrorists.” The Cruz campaign launched the ad on Dec. 17 as part of a reported “six-figure” buy in Iowa.

Ted Cruz for President TV Ad: “Win”

Cruz: Securing our borders and stopping illegal immigration is a matter of national security.

That’s why I fought so hard to defeat President Obama and the Republican establishment’s Gang of 8 amnesty plan.

Their misguided plan would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees, including ISIS terrorists.

That’s just wrong.

When it comes to radical Islamic terrorism I think we need to rediscover Ronald Reagan’s strategy: We win, they lose.

I’m Ted Cruz and I approved this message.

Again, U.S. presidents have been admitting refugees from around the world since at least 1980, when the Refugee Admissions Program began. And under current law, terrorists are not admissible in the U.S., and the immigration bill would not have changed that.

So what is Cruz’s point?

Cruz’s claim is a variation of one he made against Rubio during the Dec. 15 GOP debate. There, Cruz said the bill Rubio cosponsored, S.744, “gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees — including Syrian refugees — without mandating any background checks whatsoever.” That’s false, too.

As we’ve said before, the immigration bill would have made it easier for members of certain groups designated by the president to qualify as refugees. That’s because Section 3403 authorized the president to declare certain groups with common characteristics as refugees for special humanitarian purposes. In order to qualify as refugees, individuals would only have to prove that they were a member of the group designated by the president.

That’s a different standard than current law, which says that individuals applying to come to the U.S. as refugees must demonstrate that they can’t or won’t return to their home country because of “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

That section of the bill was modeled after 1989’s Lautenberg Amendment, which the Congressional Research Service says “allows certain former Soviet and Indochinese nationals to qualify for refugee status based on their membership in a protected category with a credible fear of persecution.” The amendment has since been expanded to also admit members of religious minority groups from Iran.

But immigration experts told us that even those who would qualify as a member of a refugee group designated by the president would not automatically be resettled into the U.S., because they would still be subject to the same security vetting as all other refugees. That’s a multistep process, including background checks, that can take two years to complete.

“In cases where it is obvious — or should be obvious — that members of designated refugee groups are subject to persecution, the law would allow the president to expedite processing by not requiring that each individual belonging to that group has a well founded fear of persecution,” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a migration and refugee resettlement agency in the U.S., wrote in an email to FactCheck.org

“However, the provision does NOT waive or ease any of the security or other admissibility requirements. So, in fact, it would allow the Department of Homeland Security to focus on security concerns, not whether or not the applicant has a well founded fear of persecution. It makes the process faster and more efficient for designated groups, but not less secure.”

Trump on Fighting ISIS

Bush and Trump had a heated exchange during the Republican debate in Las Vegas after Trump said he would be “very firm” with the families of Islamic State terrorists (a variation of Trump’s statement two weeks prior in which he said the U.S. ought to “take out their families”). Bush responded that it was “another example of the lack of seriousness” of Trump’s campaign.

“Look, two months ago Donald Trump said that ISIS was not our fight,” Bush continued.

That’s one of the lines highlighted in a new 60-second ad from Right to Rise USA, a super PAC supporting Bush.

The ad then cuts to a clip of Trump in a CNN interview on Sept. 28 saying, “Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we care? Let ISIS and Syria fight.”

As we wrote in our debate fact-check when Bush made the claim, that’s an incomplete account of Trump’s fuller comments to CNN. In the fuller account, it is clear that Trump says that while the U.S. ought to fight the Islamic State group, or ISIS, in Iraq, it should let Syrian President Assad and the Russians take on ISIS in Syria.

Trump, Sept. 28 on CNN: We have ISIS, and ISIS wants to go after Assad, but we’re knocking the hell out of ’em — even though it’s not a very full-blown thing, we’re still dropping bombs all over the place and, you know, look, they’re not exactly loving life over in Syria. So we’re stopping them, to a certain extent, from going after Assad. You have Russia that’s now there. Russia’s on the side of Assad, and Russia wants to get rid of ISIS as much as we do, if not more, because they don’t want ’em coming into Russia. And I’m saying, ‘Why are we knocking ISIS and yet at the same time we’re against Assad?’ Let them fight, take over the remnants. But more importantly, let Russia fight ISIS, if they want to fight ’em … in Syria. …

Let Syria and ISIS fight. Why do we care? Let ISIS and Syria fight. And let Russia, they’re in Syria already, let them fight ISIS. Now look, I don’t want ISIS … ISIS is bad, they’re evil … I don’t want them. But let them fight it out. Let Russia take care of ISIS. How many places can we be? …

We have to get rid of ISIS, very importantly, but I look at Assad, and Assad to me looks better than the other side. And you know, this has happened before. We back a certain side, and that side turns out to be a total catastrophe. Russia likes Assad, seemingly a lot — let them worry about ISIS. Let them fight it out. Now in Iraq, we have to do it.

It’s true that in an interview with CNN in July Trump uttered the words “that’s not our fight” referring to the Islamic State. But the context of that quote makes clear that Trump was saying while it was not a war he wanted to be in, it was one the U.S. must be in.

“The situation with ISIS has to be dealt [with] firmly and strongly,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I would love not to be over there. That’s not our fight. That’s other peoples’ fights. That’s revolutions. That’s whatever you want to call it … religious wars. I would do things that would be so tough that I don’t even know if they would be around to come to the table.” In that same interview, Trump vowed he “would bomb the hell out of those oil fields [in areas held by ISIS in Iraq].”

Trump was a bit more colorful in a Nov. 17 interview when he said of the Islamic State, “I’m going to bomb the s*** out of them.” In a CNBC interview on Nov. 16, Trump said of the conflict with the Islamic State, “This is like no other war we’ve ever had. This is a war, believe me. … We’re going to have to knock them out and knock them out hard.” Trump also has run radio ads “vowing to defeat ISIS.”

In other words, Trump has consistently talked about the need to engage the Islamic State militarily. The quote Bush refers to in the ad is one in which Trump argues that the U.S. ought to fight ISIS in Iraq and let Assad and the Russians take on ISIS in Syria. Agree or disagree with that policy, it’s not the same as Trump saying he does not want to fight ISIS.

— D’Angelo Gore and Rob Farley