Republican debate: Fact-checking the candidates

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WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2015) — The CNN Fact-Checking Team is working through both Republican debates Wednesday night comparing notable, surprising or otherwise interesting claims from the candidates against the facts.

The team, comprised of researchers, editors and reporters across CNN, will pick the juiciest statements, analyze them, consult issue experts and then rate them either: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It’s Complicated.

This story will be updated throughout the night as new claims are checked.

Fact check: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio claims “The (legal immigration system) primarily is built whether you have a relative living here instead of merit.”

Approximately two-thirds of the people who were admitted to the United States from 2000 to 2013 as lawful permanent residents were admitted on the basis of family ties, according to a November 2014 report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service. In 2013, the most recent year for which we have aggregate data, of the 990,553 foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States as lawful permanent residents, 649,763 were admitted on the basis of family ties.

If “merit” is defined as “foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields,” the relevant category of visa is the H-1B visa. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, by law, there is a quota — or annual maximum — to the number of H1-B visas that can be issued. In 2013, that maximum was 65,000, which was met.

Verdict: True

Fact check: Rubio says America is the “most generous” nation on immigration.

Rubio said that America is the most generous country on immigration.

“Despite the fact that we have the most generous country in the history of the world in allowing people to come here legally, we have people still coming illegally,” Rubio said.

The Department of Homeland Security’s data shows that just over 1 million immigrants moved here legally in 2012. That number dropped a bit to 990,553 in 2013, but these numbers still make the United States the highest in sheer number of immigrants accepted. Germany is the next largest acceptor of immigrants, with almost 966,000 in 2012. When you look at the number of immigrants compared to the population, however, the U.S. does not look as generous. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States ranks 19th with these immigrants, making up about 0.33% of the total population.

VERDICT: True, but misleading

Fact check: Jeb Bush says U.S. has failed to bolster ties to any nation under Obama.

President Barack Obama has reopened ties with at least two countries that the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with when he entered office.

In 2012, the Obama administration renewed full diplomatic ties with Myanmar, which had been an international pariah for more than two decades over the crackdown of its military government on the pro-democracy movement. Obama has visited the country twice as president.

This year, Obama renewed relations with Cuba, meeting the country’s leader, Raul Castro, at a summit in Panama and officially reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana last month.

While many Republicans fiercely oppose the renewal of ties to Myanmar and Cuba, it’s clear the official U.S. relationship with those countries is better than when Obama took office, since there was virtually no relationship beforehand.

America’s diplomatic ties to other countries, including Israel, have been strained under Obama, as Obama has acknowledged in some cases. But it’s not accurate to suggest that all U.S. relationships abroad have suffered under Obama.


Fact check: Carly Fiorina said the Planned Parenthood videos show a “fully formed fetus on the table, with its heart beating, its legs kicking.”

Carly Fiorina said, “Anyone who has watched this video tape — I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.”

Fiorina was referring to a video released by the anti-abortion group The Center for Medical Progress last month, in which a former worker for StemExpress, a biomedical research company, said she saw a fully formed fetus’s heart beating.

“This is the most gestated fetus and closest thing to a baby I’ve ever seen,” Holly O’Donnell, a former procurement technician for StemExpress, said in the video. “I’m sitting here looking at this fetus and its heart is beating and I don’t know what to do.”

The clip does show what appears to be a fully formed fetus on an operating table with its legs twitching. But the clip Fiorina references is not part of the CMP sting video but was instead taken by another anti-abortion group and was added to the sting video. The Center for Medical Progress, however, doesn’t explain where the fetus video was shot, so it’s not clear whether it was taken at a Planned Parenthood clinic. For its part, the women’s health organization has flatly denied the accusations.

VERDICT: True, but misleading

Fact check: Chris Christie says he repeatedly defunded Planned Parenthood in New Jersey.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said that as “the brand new, first-ever, pro-life governor of New Jersey,” he repeatedly defunded Planned Parenthood, now the subject of conservative ire.

He has indeed vetoed funding for Planned Parenthood repeatedly during his governorship. But it hasn’t always been because of his anti-abortion bona fides.

Christie blocked $7.5 million in New Jersey for women’s health and family planning services in 2010, during the midst of the Great Recession, but his veto statement didn’t emphasize it was out of a respect for life.

“The State of New Jersey continues to confront unprecedented financial difficulties. Due to the economic crisis, my Administration was forced to make tough decisions,” he wrote in a veto statement, trying to address an $11 billion budget shortfall.

VERDICT: True, but misleading

Fact check: Donald Trump said he never lobbied Bush for casinos in Florida.

Bush knocked Trump, saying, “The one guy that had special interests that I know of that tried to get me to change my views and was generous and gave me money was Donald Trump. He wanted casino gambling in Florida.”

Trump flatly replied, “No, I didn’t.”

But although Trump himself never personally appealed to Bush for casino gambling in Florida, he had lobbyists do so on his behalf, and he ultimately lost. Trump hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for Bush in 1998, shortly before he won office, and gave $50,000 to the Florida Republican Party. But upon taking office, Bush stuck to his stance against gambling and Trump’s proposed casino never materialized.


Fact check: Trump says he never went bankrupt.

There have been two comments so far about Trump and bankruptcy: At the prime-time debate, the mogul said he never went bankrupt, hours after former New York Gov. George Pataki said in the earlier debate that every one of Trump’s Atlantic City casinos went bust.

Trump himself has never filed for personal bankruptcy. But he has filed four business bankruptcies — Trump Taj Mahal, 1991; Trump Castle Associates, 1992; Trump Hotel & Casino Resort, 2004; and Trump Entertainment Resorts, 2009 — which says makes Trump the top filer in recent decades. All of them were centered around casinos he used to own in Atlantic City. They were all Chapter 11 restructurings, which lets a company stay in business while shedding debt it owes to banks, employees and suppliers.

Trump claims that successful businesses file for bankruptcy all the time. At the August debate, he said, “Virtually every person that you read about on the front page of the business sections, they’ve used the (bankruptcy) law.”

But the facts don’t back up that comment. Fewer than 20% of public companies with assets of $1 billion or more have filed for bankruptcy in the last 30 years, according to data from and S&P Capital IQ.

VERDICT: True but misleading

Fact check: Lindsey Graham says we need legal immigrant workers in order to replenish the workforce, based on historical ratios of workers to retirees.

“In 1950, there were 16 workers for every retiree. How many are there today? There are three,” Graham said in the first debate. “In 20 years, there is going to be two, and you’re going to have 80 million Baby Boomers like me retiring en masse, wanting a Social Security check and their Medicare bills paid. We’re going to need more legal immigration. Let’s make it logical. Let’s pick people from all over the world on our terms, not just somebody from Mexico. Let’s create a rational, legal immigration system because we have a declining workforce.”

According to Social Security data, in 1950, there were 16.5 covered workers per Social Security beneficiary. In 2014, the latest figures available, there are 2.8, which is lower than Graham’s figure. Twenty-five years from now, in 2040, the projection is 2.1.


Fact check: Bobby Jindal says letting more Syrian refugees into the U.S. would involve a circumvention of the normal immigrant vetting process.

“The answer to this is not to put a Band-Aid on this and allow even more people to come into America,” Jindal said at the first debate. “We should not short-circuit the vetting process — we’ve got a normal vetting process. Simply allowing more people into our country doesn’t solve this problem,” Jindal said.

Actually, the increase the Obama administration is proposing would be managed through the normal process within the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

The 10,000 refugees the administration plans to admit in fiscal year 2016 will follow this multi-step process, which involved registering with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, then undergoing a physical exam, interview and interagency security vetting.

Once they’ve completed this process, the refugees will be referred to approved sponsor agencies in the U.S. that will facilitate their integration into American life.

The president of the United States, in consultation with Congress, sets the quota for how many refugees can be admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program at the beginning of each fiscal year, and can change that number mid-year if there is a humanitarian refugee crisis.