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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the 10th GOP Debate

In a Texas showdown, Republican presidential candidates stretched the truth in the last debate before Super Tuesday.


There were several false and misleading claims in the Feb. 25 debate:

  • Businessman Donald Trump flip-flopped on making his tax returns public, one year after saying he would “certainly” release returns if he ran for president. Trump also made the dubious claim that he “can’t” release them while being audited.
  • Trump said Sen. Marco Rubio was “totally wrong” to claim that Trump had to pay a million dollars as a fine for hiring workers who were in the country illegally. Rubio wasn’t totally wrong. Trump lost a $1 million lawsuit and then settled on appeal for an undisclosed sum.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that a Wall Street Journal article said the state of Arizona has saved “hundreds of millions of dollars” on “welfare, on prisons, and education,” due to tough illegal immigration legislation. But the article said nothing about “welfare.”
  • Cruz said that Trump favored the U.S. intervention in Libya that led to the removal of Moammar Gadhafi from power. Trump denied having said that, but Cruz was right.
  • Cruz claimed that Sen. Harry Reid favors Trump because “he can cut a deal with him.” But Reid has denounced Trump as a “hateful demagogue.”
  • Trump wrongly claimed that Americans “pay more personal tax” than residents anywhere in the world. In 2014, the U.S. wasn’t even in the top 10 of industrialized nations in terms of tax revenues as a percentage of GDP or per capita.
  • Trump claimed he was beating Hillary Clinton “badly” in two polls. He’s barely ahead in one and narrowly trails in the other.
  • Cruz claimed Trump has donated more than $50,000 to members of the Senate who cosponsored the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill in 2013. We tallied $26,000 total, most of it contributed years before the bill was being considered.
  • Trump said he wasn’t proposing to build a wall along the U.S.-Canadian border because it’s “about four times longer” than the border with Mexico. Actually, it’s less than three times longer.
  • And Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Cruz and Trump repeated claims we’ve checked before.


Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ben Carson debated at the University of Houston in the 10th meeting of the GOP candidates. It was hosted by CNN and Telemundo.

Trump’s Tax Returns 

Trump flip-flopped on making his tax returns public, stating the dubious claim that he “can’t” release returns that are being audited.

Trump: I will absolutely give my return, but I’m being audited now for two or three years, so I can’t do it until the audit is finished, obviously. And I think people would understand that.

Trump’s refusal to make his returns public until after audits are done is a reversal of the position he stated one year earlier in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, who was also one of CNN’s debate questioners. Back then, Trump said he would “certainly” release returns if he ran for president.

Hewitt, Feb. 25, 2015: How many years back would you go on the day you announce? Three? Five?

Trump: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I actually have not even thought of that, but I would certainly show tax returns if it was necessary.

Hewitt: At least a couple of years?

Trump: Well, what have they been doing? They’ve been really doing one year, other than people that never made anything. But I would certainly, I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I do pay tax. But I’m very proud of what I did.

Trump — who said during the debate that he has been audited “every year” for a dozen years — would have known that he was under audit when he made that promise.

And as anyone who has ever applied for a mortgage is aware, any taxpayer may authorize release of otherwise confidential tax information to a lender — or to anybody else — simply by signing an IRS Form 8821. That form makes no exceptions for returns under audit, and we’re not aware of any law or regulation that would preclude Trump from signing such a form or simply making a public release of copies of what he filed with the IRS.

In a post-debate interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Trump elaborated on his reasoning, saying “lawyers would never allow” release while “negotiating” with the IRS: “Of course you don’t put it out. You’re in the midst of negotiating and talking to the IRS. You never put it out. You would never do that. Your lawyers would never allow you to do that.”

But that’s not to say he “can’t” release returns, only that he won’t.

Trump’s Illegal Hires?

In a heated debate on illegal immigration, Rubio claimed that Trump “had to pay a million dollars or so” as a fine for hiring workers who were in the country illegally — a claim that Trump said was “totally wrong.” Rubio wasn’t totally wrong.

The Trump Organization was sued by a labor union, lost the case, appealed and, finally, after 20 years settled for an undisclosed sum.

Here’s the exchange:

Rubio: He hired workers from Poland. And he had to pay a million dollars or so in a judgment from …

Trump: That’s wrong. That’s wrong. Totally wrong.

Rubio: That’s a fact. People can look it up. I’m sure people are Googling it right now. Look it up. “Trump Polish workers,” you’ll see a million dollars for hiring illegal workers on one of his projects. He did it.

The facts are a little more complicated than Rubio portrayed them, but he is essentially right.

Trump was sued in 1983 by union workers who accused him of using workers in the country illegally in 1980 to help demolish a building in New York City so he could construct the Trump Tower. The plaintiffs sought $1 million to be paid into the union’s welfare fund.

As the New York Times wrote, Trump testified in 1990 that he did not know the workers were in the country illegally and he did not hire them. He said the demolition project and the hiring for it was handled by a subcontractor, Kaszycki & Sons Contractors.

A year later, in 1991, a federal judge ruled against the Trump Organization and its partner in the project, the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. The judge ordered the plaintiffs to be paid $325,415 plus interest.

Trump appealed that decision. By 1998, 15 years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney estimated the total payment would amount to $4 million. It was settled in 1999 for an undisclosed sum.

No ‘Welfare’ Savings in Arizona

Cruz claimed that a recent Wall Street Journal article said the state of Arizona has saved “hundreds of millions of dollars” in costs “on welfare, on prisons, and education,” after enacting tough measures against illegal immigration. But the article said nothing about “welfare,” for which immigrants living in the country illegally don’t qualify.

Cruz: You know, in the past couple of weeks the Wall Street Journal had a very interesting article about the state of Arizona. Arizona put in very tough laws on illegal immigration, and the result was illegal immigrants fled the state, and what’s happened there — it was a very interesting article.

Some of the business owners complained that the wages they had to pay workers went up, and from their perspective that was a bad thing. But, what the state of Arizona has seen is the dollars they’re spending on welfare, on prisons, and education, all of those have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars. And, the Americans, and for that matter, the legal immigrants who are in Arizona, are seeing unemployment drop are seeing wages rise. That’s who we need to be fighting for.

The Wall Street Journal Feb. 9 article, headlined “The Thorny Economics of Illegal Immigration,” said that “[e]conomists of opposing political views agree the state’s economy took a hit when large numbers of illegal immigrants left for Mexico and other border states,” following the enactment of measures, starting in the mid-2000s, aimed at curtailing illegal immigration. There has also been less competition, higher wages and worker shortages for low-skill jobs, the Journal reported, as well as estimated cost savings, mainly on education for immigrants and their children.

The state’s population of immigrants in the country illegally fell by 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to estimates by the Pew Research Center, cited by the Journal. Moody’s Analytics determined for the newspaper that the departures had lowered the state gross domestic product by 2 percent per year on average from 2008 through 2015.

The state has saved an estimated “hundreds of millions,” as Cruz said, on education and prisons — and emergency room care — but not “welfare.”

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9: State and local officials don’t track total spending on undocumented migrants or how many of their children attend public schools. But the number of students enrolled in intensive English courses in Arizona public schools fell from 150,000 in 2008 to 70,000 in 2012 and has remained constant since. Schooling 80,000 fewer students would save the state roughly $350 million a year, by one measure.

During that same period, annual emergency-room spending on noncitizens fell 37% to $106 million, from $167 million. And between 2010 and 2014, the annual cost to state prisons of incarcerating noncitizens convicted of felonies fell 11% to $180 million, from $202 million.

“The economic factor is huge in terms of what it saves Arizona taxpayers,” primarily on reduced education costs, says Russell Pearce, who as a state senator sponsored SB 1070 [a 2010 law that allows police to check immigration status during traffic stops].

The article says nothing about welfare, and, as we said when Cruz claimed in a previous debate that he would “end welfare benefits for those here illegally,” those here illegally are already barred from receiving most government benefits, including “welfare” programs such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Trump’s Past Comments on Gadhafi

Trump said that he “never discussed that subject” after Cruz said that Trump favored the U.S. intervention in Libya that led to the removal of Moammar Gadhafi from power. But Cruz was right and Trump was wrong.

Trump: He said I was in favor of Libya? I never discussed that subject. I was in favor of Libya? We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now.

In 2011, Trump, referring to Gadhafi, said that the U.S. should go into Libya “on a humanitarian basis” and “knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively and save the lives.”

Trump made that comment in a video posted to his YouTube channel in February 2011:

Trump, Feb. 28, 2011: I can’t believe what our country is doing. Gadhafi, in Libya, is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is and we’re sitting around. We have soliders all over the Middle East and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage. And that’s what it is, a carnage. … Now we should go in. We should stop this guy which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it and save these lives. This is absolute nuts. We don’t want to get involved and you’re going to end up with something like you’ve never seen before. Now, ultimately the people will appreciate it and they’re going to end up taking over the country eventually. But the people will appreciate it and they should pay us back. But we have to go in to save these lives. These people are being slaughtered like animals. … We should do it on a humanitarian basis. Immediately go into Libya, knock this guy out very quickly, very surgically, very effectively and save the lives.

Trump now says that it was a mistake for the U.S. to get involved in Libya, and that “we would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now.” But that doesn’t change the fact that five years ago he advocated the U.S. action in Libya that helped end the Gadhafi regime.

Cruz on Reid Supporting Trump

Cruz claimed that Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid favors Trump because “he can cut a deal with him.” Actually, Reid has denounced Trump as a “hateful demagogue.”

Cruz: [T]here is a reason why, when Harry Reid was asked, of all the people on this stage, who does he want the most, who does he like the most, Harry Reid said Donald — Donald Trump.

Why? Because Donald has supported him in the past, and he knows he can cut a deal with him.

Cruz was referring to remarks Reid made to reporters on Jan. 27:

Reid, Jan. 27: Look, we’ve gotten along fine. …With that bunch of people running, I’m kind of pulling for him.

To start, saying he’s “kind of pulling” for Trump is a good way short of saying Trump is the one he likes or wants the most.  But more important, Reid quickly made clear, to those for whom it wasn’t clear already, that he was joking. On the floor of the Senate, he said:

Reid, Jan 27: Mr. President, there are some things I shouldn’t joke about. I tried to be funny an hour ago at my weekly stakeout, and I guess it wasn’t very funny. At least I don’t think so. The danger Donald Trump’s candidacy poses to our country is not a joke. Since he launched his bid for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump has proven over and over again that he is a hateful demagogue who would do immeasurable damage to our country if elected.

Americans Don’t Pay Highest Taxes

Trump wrongly claimed that Americans “pay more personal tax” than residents anywhere else in the world. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 countries when it comes to tax revenues as a percentage of GDP in 2014. And it ranks 17th out of 29 industrialized countries when it comes to tax revenue per capita.

Trump: If you look at what’s going on, we have the highest taxes anywhere in the world. We pay more business tax, we pay more personal tax. We have the highest taxes in the world.

We looked at corporate tax rates in our coverage of the sixth Republican debate on Jan. 15 and found that while the U.S. has the highest statutory tax rate among industrialized nations, it was second to France among industrialized nations when considering the marginal effective tax rate, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation.

Here, Trump said the U.S. also has the highest personal taxes. And on that claim, he’s way off.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 industrialized countries in tax revenue as a percentage of GDP in 2014. The three highest countries were Denmark (50.9 percent), France (45.2 percent) and Belgium (44.7 percent). The U.S. figure, 26 percent, was behind the OECD average of 34.4 percent.

The OECD also analyzed tax revenue per capita, and in 2014 the U.S. ranked 17th out of 29 industrialized countries. Here, the top three were Luxembourg ($49,911), Norway ($38,016) and Denmark ($31,054). In the U.S., the tax revenue per capita in 2014 was $14,204.

Not Beating Clinton ‘Badly’

Trump was wrong when he claimed that he is beating Hillary Clinton “badly” in the USA Today/Suffolk University Poll and the Quinnipiac University Poll. He is barely ahead in the former and narrowly trails in the latter, and both polls show the slim leads are within the margin of error.

Trump made his remark when Cruz — correctly — noted that Trump is trailing Clinton in eight of the 10 most recent polls on Real Clear Politics, while Cruz is either ahead or tied with Clinton in eight of 10 polls.

Trump: One other thing — Hillary Clinton — take a look at USA Today, take a look at the Q poll. I beat her, and I beat her badly.

The USA Today/Suffolk University Poll does show Trump ahead of Clinton in a hypothetical general election race. The poll, taken Feb. 11-15, has Trump ahead 45-43. However, the margin of error is 3 percentage points in either direction, so his 2-point lead is essentially a statistical tie.

Quinnipiac University Poll, which was taken Feb. 10-15, shows Trump trailing Clinton 44-43, although that too is within the margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

In neither poll did Trump “beat her badly.” This is the second time that we have written about Trump’s false claim that he is way ahead of Clinton in the polls. He made a similar claim on Feb. 1, and it was wrong then, too.

Cruz on Gang of Eight Contributions

Cruz claimed Trump has donated more than $50,000 to members of the Senate who cosponsored the so-called Gang of Eight immigration bill in 2013. We tallied a total of $26,000 contributed by Trump to five members of the Gang of Eight, but most of the contributions came years before the Gang of Eight bill was even under consideration.

Cruz: If you look at the eight members of the Gang of Eight, Donald gave over $50,000 to three Democrats and two Republicans. And when you’re funding open border politicians, you shouldn’t be surprised when they fight for open borders.

Cruz has been critical of Rubio’s cosponsorship of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, the so-called Gang of Eight Senate immigration bill. Cruz has called it an amnesty bill because it included a “path to citizenship” for those in the country illegally. During the debate, Cruz also faulted Trump for funding the politicians that made up the Gang of Eight.

We sifted through the Center for Responsive Politics’ database of the Senate contributions made by Trump over the years, and Cruz is correct that Trump has donated to five Gang of Eight members: Democrat Chuck Schumer, $9,900 between 1996 and 2010; Democrat Bob Menendez, $1,000 each in 2006 and 2007; Democrat Richard Durbin, a total of $1,500 in 1996 and 2007; Republican John McCain, $12,600 between 1998 and 2008; and Republican Lindsey Graham, $2,600 in 2014. That comes to $26,000.

Border Building 

Trump said the first reason he’s not proposing to build a wall along the U.S.-Canadian border is that it’s “about four times longer” than the border with Mexico. Actually, it’s less than three times longer.

Trump: The problem with Canada, you’re talking about a massively long piece. You’re talking about a border that would be about four times longer. It would be very, very hard to do.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “The United States has 5,525 miles of border with Canada and 1,989 miles with Mexico.” So the Canadian border is officially just under 2.8 times longer than the Mexican border.

Yep, They Said It Again

And we heard a few claims that we’ve fact-checked before:

  • Kasich boasted of creating more than 400,000 jobs in Ohio. As we wrote when Kasich made a similar claim in both the seventh and ninth GOP debates, Ohio has gained 400,700 private-sector jobs under Kasich. But the job growth rate in Ohio was 9.3 percent, lower than the national private-sector growth rate of 11.7 percent.
  • Cruz again claimed that the Affordable Care Act has “killed millions of jobs,” as he also said in the seventh debate. But the economy has actually added millions of jobs since the law was enacted, and it has added 2.4 million since January 2015 when the employer mandate went into effect.
  • Trump also repeated his claim of “self-funding my campaign,” which he said in the last debate. As we pointed out, nearly 66 percent of the campaign’s money has come from Trump, through the end of 2015. The rest — totaling $6.5 million — has come from individual donors.

Two of those claims (and more) are featured in a video by our sister site, FlackCheck.org, on repeated GOP debate claims.

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


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