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Republican debate: Fact-checking the candidates

Story highlights

  • The team rated the claims either: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It's Complicated.
  • The team compared candidate statements against research and reporting

Washington (CNN)The CNN Fact-Checking Team worked 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, picked the juiciest statements, analyzed them, consulted issue experts and then rated them either: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It's Complicated.
    Fact check: Sen. Rand Paul says Saudi Arabia is not accepting any Syrian refugees.
    Syrians have sought asylum in Europe, crossing through countries like Turkey and Jordan, and in some cases have met with resistance from governments there. Meanwhile, Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, have come under criticism for not receiving refugees fleeing Syria's civil war.
    An accounting of how many refugees Saudi Arabia has received from Syria is difficult, since Riyadh is not an official signatory to the U.N. refugee convention, which is a legally binding document giving refugees rights and protections.
    Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both say Saudi Arabia has so far declined to offer Syrian refugees formal resettlement.
    A United Nations' official refugee agency representative, meanwhile, told Bloomberg there are 500,000 Syrians in Saudi Arabia, though he didn't specify when they arrived, or their status.
    The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in a statement last week distributed by its official news agency, pushed back on allegations it hasn't welcomed a sufficient number of Syrians. It said it's given residency to 2.5 million Syrians since a civil war gripped the country several years ago.
    A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Saudi Arabia "did not wish to boast about its efforts or attempt to gain media coverage."
    The ministry added that it has provided $700 million in aid to the Syrian people.
    VERDICT: It's complicated: While Saudi Arabia says it has accepted 2.5 million Syrians under its guest program, it's not clear under what timeframe and whether those are people seeking refuge from the Syrian civil war.
    Fact check: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he was named U.S. attorney by President George W. Bush on September 10, 2001.
    Gov. Chris Christie responds to fact checkers
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    Gov. Chris Christie responds to fact checkers 01:28
    While Christie may have been notified he was the choice for U.S. attorney on September 10, it was not until December 7 of that year that the White House issued a press release announcing: "The President intends to nominate Christopher J. Christie to be United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey."
    Christie was officially confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 20 and sworn into office on January 17, 2002, more than four months after 9/11.
    VERDICT: False
    Fact check: Jeb Bush says Florida's school voucher program was created during his governorship.
    The voucher program was originally part of Bush's education reform plan, which was created in 1999. Florida became the first state in the nation with a statewide voucher program.
    It allowed students in some of the worst schools to get vouchers of up to $3,389 to attend private and parochial schools. But the Florida Supreme Court struck it down in 2006.
    In 2001, Bush signed into law a tax-credit scholarship program, which has grown into the largest single school-choice program of any state.
    VERDICT: True
    Fact check: Ben Carson says there have been numerous studies and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism.
    When asked to comment about Donald Trump linking childhood vaccines to autism, Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon by training, said "there have been numerous studies and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism."
    He said the claim was spread over the past two decades thanks to a now-discredited study, published in 1998, that linked the measles, mumps and reubella vaccine to autism. Dr. Andrew Wakefield was the lead researcher of the study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet. After learning that Wakefield was compensated for his research by a law firm hoping to sue the makers of the vaccine, most of the co-authors of the paper withdrew their names.
    In 2010, Wakefield lost his medical license, and in 2011, the journal retracted the study.
    Subsequent studies looking for a link between the vaccine and autism haven't found any.
    In February, in the midst of a measles outbreak, the autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks issued a statement stating, "over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated."
    VERDICT: True
    Fact check: Christie says he supported medical marijuana.
    "In New Jersey we have medical marijuana laws, which I have supported and implemented," Christie said. "This is not medical marijuana, this goes a much further step beyond. This is recreational use of marijuana. This is much different. And so while he (Rand Paul) would like to use the sympathetic story to back up his point it doesn't work. I am not against medical marijuana. We do it in New Jersey. But I am against the recreational use of marijuana."
    Christie did support a modest expansion of the state's medical marijuana program in 2013, but that was after he fought the implementation of the program signed by his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine. And, one year after he signed the medical marijuana expansion, he criticized medical marijuana as a "front for legalization."
    Christie did allow an expansion of the medical marijuana program created by his predecessor, but he never mentioned the times he fought medical marijuana in his debate answer.
    VERDICT: True, but misleading
    Fact check: Donald Trump says Wisconsin is losing $2.2 billion.
    In November 2014, the Wisconsin Department of Administration said state agencies' budget requests would exceed expected revenues by $2.2 billion dollars for the 2015-2017 budget cycle.
    However, Wisconsin is required by state law to balance its budget. Therefore, state lawmakers cut spending, including slashing funding for the University of Wisconsin by $250 million. The budget that Gov. Scott Walker signed in July did not have a deficit.
    VERDICT: False
    Fact check: Sen. Ted Cruz's criticism of the Iran nuclear agreement.
    "There are several facilities in Iran they designate as military facilities that are off-limit altogether," the Texas senator said. "Beyond that, the other facilities, we give them 24 days' notice before inspecting them. That is designed to allow them to hide the evidence and most astonishingly, this agreement trusts the Iranians to inspect themselves."
    The Additional Protocol, which Iran signed onto under the nuclear agreement, allows the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, to seek access to any site, including military sites.
    Specific access is determined by a parallel agreement between Iran and the IAEA, often referred to by the deal's detractors as "secret side deals."
    The 24-day window Cruz referred to comes into play if Iran and the IAEA are not able to agree on access to a particular site.
    From the time IAEA requests access to that site, they and Iran have 14 days to either arrange access or find another way to address the IAEA's concerns to that group's satisfaction. If its concerns aren't met, the P5+1 members (which consists of the U.S., Russia, China, France, the UK and Germany) have a week to determine a way to address it, and Iran has three days to comply with their order.
    The notion of self-inspections first arose when details of a draft of the so-called "side deal" between Iran and the IAEA were reported in the media.
    They revealed that Iran would participate in monitoring and inspecting the Parchin military facility, which the West suspects that Iran has used for military nuclear work.
    U.S. officials say that while Iranians would have a role in inspecting the site, inspectors from other countries will participate as well and the IAEA would be monitoring the process throughout. The leader of the IAEA said the suggestion of self-inspections "misrepresent the way in which we will undertake this important verification work."
    But neither the United States nor the IAEA have made the agreement public, citing precedent in keeping IAEA pacts confidential.
    Cruz's assertion falsely suggests that all nuclear inspections in Iran would be conducted by the Iranians, but without access to the full document, it's unclear exactly how inspections at Parchin will proceed. And the assertion that military facilities are entirely off-limits is also false.
    VERDICT: False in regard to self-inspections, but It's Complicated on the 24-day notice
    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 employment offers or specific professional achievement qualifies as "merit," then 161,110 immigrants became lawful permanent residents under this category in 2013, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The percentage of this category, called "employment-based preferences" constituted 16.3% of the total number of immigrants who became lawful permanent residents in 2013.
    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: 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.
    "What I know to be true is that the next president of the United States is going to have to fix an extraordinary difficult situation," Bush said. "This administration, with President Obama and Hillary Clinton, has created insecurity the likes of which we never would've imagined. There's not a place in the world where we're better off today than six and a half years ago."
    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.
    VERDICT: False
    Fact check: Carly Fiorina says a Planned Parenthood video shows 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.
    Chris Christie: I have defunded Planned Parenthood
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    Chris Christie: I have defunded Planned Parenthood 01:26
    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: Trump says 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.
    VERDICT: False
    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 Bankruptcy.com 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 Bankruptcy.com 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.
    VERDICT: True
    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.
    Bobby Jindal: Obama to blame for refugee crisis
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    Bobby Jindal: Obama to blame for refugee crisis 01:05
    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.
    VERDICT: False