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FactChecking the Seventh GOP Debate

There was no Donald Trump, but plenty to fact-check in the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses.


The Republican presidential candidates debated in Iowa Jan. 28 and stretched the facts:

  • Sen. Marco Rubio went too far in claiming that Hillary Clinton “wants to put Barack Obama on the Supreme Court.” An Iowa resident suggested such an appointment to Clinton, and she said she’d take it “under advisement.”
  • Rubio also said that the White House “still refuses to acknowledge” that the shooting of a Philadelphia police officer on Jan. 7 “had anything to do with terror.” But a White House spokesman said that terrorism may have been the motivation and that the Philadelphia Police Department would make that determination.
  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush exaggerated in saying that then-Sen. Obama killed the comprehensive immigration bill in 2007 that had the support of President George W. Bush.
  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich credited the Medicaid expansion with a reduction in the prison recidivism rate in Ohio. But the rate isn’t as low as he claimed, and the latest figures are on inmates released well before the expansion.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz claimed an amendment he offered to the 2013 immigration bill “didn’t say a word about legalization.” That’s technically true, but the effect of the amendment would have been to allow legalization of those in the country illegally.
  • Rubio claimed that when he opposed a “path to citizenship” when running for the Senate in 2010, it was due to legislation to provide “almost an instant path with very little obstacles moving forward.” But a 2010 Senate bill provided the same types of obstacles as the bill Rubio later backed as a senator.
  • Cruz claimed that “millions” had lost jobs and been forced into part-time work because of the Affordable Care Act. But the economy has added millions of jobs since the employer mandate, and fewer people are working part-time for economic reasons.
  • Kasich boasted of 400,000 jobs gained in the state under his governorship. But the rate of growth is below the national average.


The seventh debate among the Republican presidential contenders — and last before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses — featured seven of the top candidates on the main stage: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Sen. Marco Rubio, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul. Businessman Donald Trump did not attend the debate, which was hosted by Fox News and Google and held in Des Moines, Iowa.

Obama, a Supreme Court Justice?

Rubio went too far in claiming that Clinton “wants to put Barack Obama on the Supreme Court of the United States of America.” Clinton only said that she would take an Iowa resident’s appointment suggestion “under advisement.”

Rubio: She wants to put Barack Obama on the Supreme Court of the United States of America. She said that here in Iowa just two days ago. That would be a disaster for this country.

Rubio was referring to a comment that Clinton made Tuesday in response to a voter question during a campaign rally in Decorah, Iowa. Here is the question and her response (around the 7:40 mark) courtesy of Live Satellite News:

Questioner, Jan. 26: The next president will probably appoint several members of the Supreme Court. Will you consider appointing Obama?

Clinton: Wow! What a great idea! … He may have a few other things to do. … I would certainly take [your suggestion] under advisement. I mean, he’s brilliant and he can set forth an argument, and he was a law professor, so he’s got all the credentials. Now, we do have to get a Democratic Senate to get him confirmed.

Actually, in 2014, the New Yorker asked Obama whether he would consider serving as a judge after his presidency. It reported that Obama “sounded tempted,” but responded: “I don’t think I have the temperament to sit in a chamber and write opinions. … I think being a Justice is a little bit too monastic for me. Particularly after having spent six years and what will be eight years in this bubble, I think I need to get outside a little bit more.”

Obama may have changed his mind since then. However, it is clear that while Clinton responded positively to the suggestion to put him on the Supreme Court, Rubio exaggerates by saying that she “wants” to do so.

Terrorism and the Philadelphia Shooting

Rubio said that the White House “still refuses to acknowledge” that Edward Archer’s shooting of a Philadelphia police officer on Jan. 7 “had anything to do with terror.” That’s not exactly right. A spokesman for the White House has said that terrorism may have been the motivation for the shooting, but that the Philadelphia Police Department would ultimately make that determination.

Rubio: Megyn, that’s the problem. Radical Muslims and radical Islam is not just hate talk. It’s hate action. They blow people up. Look what they did in San Bernardino.

Look at the attack they inspired in Philadelphia, that the White House still refuses to link to terror, where a guy basically shot a police officer three times.

He told the police, “I did it because I was inspired by ISIS,” and to this day, the White House still refuses to acknowledge it had anything to do with terror.

Rubio was referring to the Jan. 7 shooting of Philadelphia police officer Jesse Hartnett by Archer, who reportedly told Philadelphia police that he shot Hartnett “in the name of Islam” and that he had pledged allegiance to terrorist group ISIS, or the Islamic State.

During his White House press briefing on Jan. 11, Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in response to a question about Archer’s reported confession, said that “we’re all wondering right now” if the shooting was an act of terrorism based on reports of Archer’s stated motivations. But Earnest said that the Philadelphia Police Department had not come to that conclusion.

Questioner: First, a quick follow-up to something on Friday, the attempted assassination of the police officer in Philadelphia. Does the White House consider that a terrorist attack?

Earnest: Jon, this is something that is still being investigated by the Philadelphia Police Department and they have not concluded that it actually is an act of terrorism. But given some of the circumstances of the event, obviously that is something that we’re all wondering right now. And I’m confident that as the Philadelphia Police Department investigates the shooting of one of their own this is something they will consider — that’s specifically the motivation of the individual who carried out this heinous act of violence.

When another reporter asked Earnest a follow-up question about it, he said that the shooting “could be an act of terrorism” and that investigators were still “trying to understand what may have motivated this individual to carry out this deplorable act of violence.”

Earnest: Well, Kevin, obviously those reports lead us to worry that this could be an act of terrorism. And I’m sure that’s part of the ongoing investigation that’s being led by the Philadelphia Police Department right now.

The FBI has been supporting that investigation and there obviously is keen interest in trying to understand what may have motivated this individual to carry out this deplorable act of violence. And it is relevant whether or not this individual was motivated by demons inside of his own mind, or by demons that he encountered through social media.

Earnest suggested that Archer may have been “motivated by demons inside of his own mind,” which could be based on reports that Archer’s mother, Valerie Holiday, said that her son was suspicious of the police and had been “hearing voices in his head” and “talking to himself.”

The FBI has been investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism, but has not concluded that it was such. According to an Associated Press report, the FBI has at least ruled out that Archer was part of an organized terror cell.

Medicaid and Recidivism in Ohio

Kasich takes credit for using Medicaid expansion funds to help reduce the state’s prison recidivism to “less than 20 percent.” It’s actually 27.5 percent — much lower than the national average, but it is not less than 20 percent.

Also, the rate has been in a steady decline since 2000 — long before Kasich took office in January 2011.

Kasich made his remarks when he was asked about his decision to bypass the Legislature and accept federal funding to expand Medicaid in his state under the Affordable Care Act.

Kasich: It was our money, and we brought them back to tend to the mentally ill. Because I don’t think they ought to live in prison or live under a bridge; to treat the drug-addicted so they’re not in an in-and-out-of-the-door policy out of the prisons; and to help the working poor so they don’t live in emergency rooms.

How has it worked? Well, we have treated the drug-addicted in our prisons and we released them in to the community, and our recidivism rate is less than 20 percent. That’s basically bordering on a miracle because of our great prison director.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction defines recidivism “as the first return to a DRC institution within 3 years of release.”

The three-year recidivism rate was 39 percent for inmates released in 2000 and has been falling ever since, reaching a low of 27.1 percent for inmates released in 2010, according to a 2014 state corrections department report.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, in a March 2014 story, trumpeted the new low rate, saying it is “much lower” than the national average.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 6, 2014: The state prison system said Wednesday that Ohio’s recidivism rate is 27.1 percent for inmates released in 2010. That is better than the previous rate of 28.7 percent. It also is much lower than the national average of about 40 percent.

The recidivism rate — or the rate at which inmates return to prison over a span of three years — has been in a downward spiral since 2000, when the rate was 39 percent in Ohio, according to prison records. The recent report marks the lowest rate in years.

That 27.1 percent figure is listed in the department’s annual report for fiscal year 2014. But the most recent annual report for fiscal 2015 says the three-year rate for inmates released in 2011 was 27.5 percent — up slightly from the previous year.

So, the state’s rate is relatively low. Is Kasich’s decision to accept Medicaid the reason?

Well, the most recent three-year recidivism rate published in the fiscal 2015 report is based on inmates who were released in 2011. The Medicaid expansion did not start in Ohio until 2014.


Bush: Obama’s ‘Poison Pill’ Amendments

Bush accused Obama of killing the comprehensive immigration bill that had the support of President George W. Bush, but failed to pass the Senate in 2007. But, as we have written before, that gives Obama too much blame or credit, depending on your point of view.

Bush: I have supported a consensus approach to solving this problem wherever it came up. and in 2007 it almost passed when my brother was president of the United States. A bipartisan approach got close. Barack Obama actually had the poison pill to stop it then.

We wrote about this “poison pill” claim when it was made in 2010 by Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and in 2008, when it was made by Sen. John McCain, a supporter of the 2007 bill who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

The claim rests on five amendments that Obama supported and one that he sponsored, as the McCain campaign outlined in a press release during the 2008 presidential campaign. Only two of those measures passed:

  • An amendment by Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman that reduced the annual visa quota for guest workers from 400,000 to 200,000. That passed easily, 74-24.
  • An amendment sponsored by Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan and sponsored by labor unions that would have ended the temporary worker program after five years. That was more controversial and passed 49-48, meaning it would not have passed without Obama’s vote.

Gillespie cited the Dorgan amendment as the “poison pill” that killed the immigration bill. A day later, the immigration bill — with the Dorgan amendment — gained only 34 votes of the 60 votes it needed to end debate on the bill and bring it up for a vote.

No Republican voted for the cloture motion that would have cleared the bill for a final vote. One of them, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, called the Dorgan amendment a “poison pill.”

Senate Democratic leadership tried one last time to end the Republican-led filibuster, but the bill fell short by 14 votes on June 28, 2007 — which was welcome news to groups on the left (AFL-CIO) and right (the Heritage Foundation) that opposed it.

Who was to blame — or deserves credit — for the defeat? That’s hard to say.

After the bill’s defeat, not even McCain blamed any one person for it. He blamed his own party for its strong opposition.

“A lot of the Republican base was passionate about the issue, and they made their influence felt,” McCain told Congressional Quarterly in a June 29, 2007, story for the New York Times.

At the time, the Washington Times gave credit to three Republicans in particular for leading opposition to the bill: Sens. Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and David Vitter.

The reality may be more complicated than that. The Washington Post wrote that the bill failed because it “was reviled by foes of illegal immigration, opposed by most labor unions and unloved by immigration advocates.”

In any event, it’s an exaggeration to say that Obama killed the bill.

Cruz’s Legalization Amendment

Pressed about an amendment he offered in 2013 to the “Gang of Eight” Senate immigration bill, Cruz claimed it said nothing about offering legalized status to immigrants living in the country illegally.

That’s true, but Cruz is being misleading about the effect of his amendment. It would have allowed legalization, a point he made very clear at the time.

“You know, the amendment you’re talking about is one sentence — it’s 38 words,” Cruz said during the debate. “Anyone can go online at tedcruz.org and read exactly what it said. In those 38 words, it said anyone here illegally is permanently ineligible for citizenship. It didn’t say a word about legalization.”

Here’s the 38-word text of Cruz’s amendment: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person who is or has previously been willfully present in the United States while not in lawful status under the Immigration and Nationality Act shall be eligible for United States citizenship.”

Technically, there’s nothing in that language that mentions anything about legalization. But that was the effect of it. That’s because while Cruz’s amendment would have stripped out a proposal in S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, that provided a “path to citizenship” for those currently in the country illegally — which Cruz derided as “amnesty” — his amendment purposefully left intact the bill’s provisions to provide legal status for them.

Cruz made that all perfectly clear when he introduced the amendment.

Cruz, May 21, 2013: They would still be eligible for legal status and indeed, under the terms of the bill, they would be eligible for LPR [lawful permanent resident] status as well so that they are out of the shadows, which the proponents of this bill repeatedly point to as their principal objective, to provide a legal status for those who are here illegally to be out of the shadows. This amendment would allow that to happen, but what it would do is remove the pathway to citizenship so that there are real consequences that respect the rule of law and that treat legal immigrants with the fairness and respect they deserve.

Cruz went on to say that if his amendment were adopted, it would result in a bill that “does not unfairly treat legal immigrants by removing a path to citizenship but allowing as this legislation does a legal status for those who are here illegally.”

During the December debate, Cruz said unequivocally, “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.” In two debates, Rubio countered that if that’s true, Cruz has flipped his position since 2013.

But as we wrote after the December debate, and again in January when Rubio raised the issue during another debate, Cruz now claims that his amendment was a bluff. Cruz’s campaign told us the intent of the amendment was to expose that the real motivations of the bill’s supporters were to provide a path to citizenship. His campaign said supporters claimed the bill’s aim was to allow 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to come out of the shadows, so by offering a legalization option — which Cruz knew would fail — it would show that the actual intent of the bill’s supporters was to provide citizenship to those immigrants so they could become future voters. We reviewed this issue in detail in our Dec. 16 story, “Did Cruz Support Legalization?

We noted that Cruz made numerous statements at the time in support of his amendment, but that ultimately it is up to readers to decide if Cruz once supported legalization as a political compromise, and now disavows it, or if he was merely employing a legislative ploy to expose the motivations of his opponents. Whatever one concludes about that, the fact is that the amendment Cruz proposed would have permitted a path to legalization.

Rubio’s Immigration Change

Rubio claimed that when he opposed a “path to citizenship” when running for the Senate in 2010, it was in the context of a Senate effort to provide “almost an instant path with very little obstacles moving forward.” But a 2010 Senate bill, which died in committee, provided the same types of obstacles as the bill Rubio later backed as a senator.

In fact, previous bills — a 2007 Senate immigration bill and a 2005 bill introduced by Sen. John McCain, a bill Rubio specifically said he opposed in 2010 — proposed a “path to citizenship” that included fines, payment of back taxes, probationary status, criminal background checks and proof of employment. Those measures are similar to those in the “gang of eight” immigration bill Rubio cosponsored in 2013.

In the debate, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly played clips of Rubio speaking against “amnesty” or a “path to citizenship” while he was running for the Senate in 2010. One clip, from an Oct. 24, 2010, debate, showed Rubio saying: “First of all, earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty. It’s what they call it. And, the reality of it is this … it is unfair to the people that have legally entered this country to create an alternative for individuals who entered illegally, and knowingly did so.”

Kelly asked Rubio about his apparent switch in positions: “Within two years of getting elected you were cosponsoring legislation to create a path to citizenship, in your words, amnesty,” she asked. “Haven’t you already proven that you cannot be trusted on this issue?”

Rubio responded that he doesn’t support “blanket amnesty,” but Kelly pointed out that “you said earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty.” Rubio responded to that: “It absolutely has been, and at the time in the context of that was in 2009, and 2010, where the last effort for legalization was an effort done in the Senate. It was an effort led by several people that provided almost an instant path with very little obstacles moving forward.”

Rubio has made this argument before when questioned on his change of position from when he was a candidate for Senate, and took a harder line on immigration than his opponent, then-Gov. Charlie Crist. We looked at this issue in 2013 and found that he had indeed changed his position from 2010.

While campaigning for the Senate seat, Rubio also said that those in the country illegally should be required to return home and apply for citizenship — not be allowed to stay in the U.S. and pursue a path to citizenship. But the Senate bill he backed, S. 744 “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” would have allowed immigrants in the country illegally to eventually gain citizenship without returning to their home countries first.

The Senate bill he cosponsored would have required that several border security measures be achieved before those in the country illegally could begin to gain legal status. They would then need to “submit to and pass background checks, be fingerprinted, pay $2,000 in fines, pay taxes, prove gainful employment, prove they’ve had a physical presence in the U.S. since before 2012 and [go] to the back of the line, among other criteria,” according to a summary of the bill posted on Rubio’s Senate website.

Rubio said that the last effort in the Senate in 2009/2010 “provided almost an instant path with very little obstacles moving forward.” But a 2010 Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez, another member of the “Gang of Eight,” also delayed legalization procedures until border security measures were implemented, and it required immigrants in the U.S. illegally to register with the government, undergo background and security checks, pay fees and back taxes. The bill died in committee.

In his 2010 Senate race, however, Rubio specifically mentioned McCain’s 2005 bill, saying of his opponent Crist, “He would have voted for the McCain plan. I think that plan is wrong, and the reason why I think it’s wrong is that if you grant amnesty, as the governor proposes that we do, in any form, whether it’s back of the line or so forth, you will destroy any chance we will ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America.”

The 2005 bill was the basis of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611), which was cosponsored by McCain. The legalization provisions required that those in the country illegally “would have had to establish employment for at least three years during the April 5, 2001-April 5, 2006, period and for at least six years after enactment, and would have had to establish payment of income taxes during that required employment period” to be granted lawful permanent residency status.

Cruz’s ‘Job Killer’ Claim

Cruz repeated an increasingly shopworn GOP claim that the Affordable Care Act has forced “millions” into unemployment and part-time work.

Cruz: It is the biggest job-killer in this country. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums skyrocket.

The facts are otherwise, as we’ve noted in 2011, 2012 and 2013. And the latest jobs statistics make it even more clear that what Cruz said is a partisan falsehood, no matter how many times it is repeated.

The fact is, the law hasn’t prevented the economy from adding millions of jobs, month after month. Furthermore, fewer people are being forced to work part-time, not more.

It’s true, as we’ve said, that independent, nonpartisan experts projected some negative effect on employment. That’s because some small employers may resist hiring new workers, or may cut back the hours of some current employees, to keep their total, full-time payroll under 50 — which is the point at which the law requires them to provide insurance to their workers or pay a penalty.

But the experts characterized the negative effect as “small” or “minimal,” and one estimate put the total job loss at 150,000 to 300,000 — all of them low- or minimum-wage jobs — and far short of the “millions” claimed by Cruz.

The ACA’s employer mandate went into effect Jan. 1 last year, after being delayed for a year. Since then, the economy has added more than 2.4 million new jobs.

And during the same period, the number of people forced to work part-time for economic reasons (because full-time work wasn’t available, or because an employer cut back hours) has gone down — by 762,000.

As for Cruz’s claim that Americans “have lost their health insurance” because of Obamacare, the fact is that millions have gained coverage. The most recent quarterly report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that during the first six months of 2015, about 28.5 million people of all ages reported being without coverage at the time they were interviewed. That’s a reduction of 16.3 million uninsured since 2013, the year before the main provisions of the ACA took effect. (See Table 1.1a of the CDC’s previous report for historical annual figures.)

As Cruz himself said in another context during the debate, “Facts are stubborn things.” And with that we heartily agree — no matter how many times Cruz misstates them.

Kasich’s Jobs Boast

Kasich boasted that “we just found out we are up over 400,000 jobs since I took over as governor.” That’s pretty close, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which show Ohio gained 383,500 jobs between January 2011, the month Kasich took office, and December 2015, the latest figures available.

That may sound like a lot of jobs, but it reflects a growth rate of 7.6 percent. That lags behind the national growth rate of 9.5 percent over the same period. Compared with its neighbors, Ohio’s growth rate was better than West Virginia’s (0.4 percent) and Pennsylvania’s (3.4 percent), but worse than Indiana’s (8.8 percent), Michigan’s (10 percent) and Kentucky’s (8.6 percent).

Update, Jan. 29: The Kasich campaign told us he was referring only to private sector job growth, though he didn’t say so in the debate. By that measure, Ohio has gained 400,700 jobs. Still, Ohio’s private sector job growth rate of 9.3 percent during Kasich’s tenure lags behind the national private sector growth rate of 11.7 percent.

As for the unemployment rate, Ohio’s has mostly tracked the national trend, though Ohio’s rate of 9.2 percent in January 2011 was slightly above the national average of 9.1 percent. And at 4.7 percent in December, it was slightly below the national average of 5 percent.

We generally caution readers to be wary of governors citing employment gains or losses without considering the prevailing national trends. For example, in August, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie touted the creation of 192,000 private-sector jobs during his time as governor, we noted that the job growth rate in New Jersey was less than half the national average and at the time, the growth rate ranked the state 44th out of 50 states.

It is also very difficult to compare governors who served during different times, when the national economic climate may have been very different. The Washington Post compiled a nifty analysis measuring the performance of the governors running for president on a slew of economic indicators, and attempting to account for some of the different economic conditions at the time.

Correction, Feb. 18: We gave the wrong party affiliation for former Sen. Jeff Bingaman in the original version of this story. He is a Democrat. We thank the reader who brought this mistake to our attention.

— by Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, D’Angelo Gore and Raymond McCormack


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