Republican Town Hall: CNN's Reality Check Team inspects the claims

Story highlights

  • Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz gathered in South Carolina for CNN's Republican Town Hall on Wednesday
  • CNN's Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test

Washington (CNN)Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz gathered in South Carolina for CNN's Republican Town Hall on Wednesday, and CNN's Reality Check team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the event and selected key statements, rating them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it's complicated.

Ben Carson

    Reality Check: Carson on poverty
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty. It was the basis for his Great Society program, which included the creation of food stamps, Medicaid, Head Start and many other initiatives.
    A little more than 50 years later, Carson said that America has lost the war, adding that people should take care of the indigent, not the government.
    "By the time we got to the '60s, LBJ was saying, we, the government, are going to eliminate poverty. How did that work out? ... More poverty," he said.
    Not quite. In 1964, the poverty rate was 19%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
    Johnson's programs did help push poverty down to 11.1% by 1973. The rate bounced around for decades after that, hitting a recent low of 11.3% in 2000, the tail end of the economic heyday of the 1990s. During the Great Recession, it soared to 15.1% in 2010.
    The poverty rate was 14.8% in 2014, according to the latest Census data available.
    America has not won the war on poverty as Johnson had hoped, but the poverty rate is lower than it was when he started the battle.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Carson on high school dropout rate
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    Responding to a question from a voter about big ideas, Carson said he wants America to compete with countries like China and India. Education is pivotal, he said.
    "It doesn't make sense for us to have 20-plus percent of people who enter high school dropping out of high school in the technological age," the retired neurosurgeon said.
    Carson is correct in stating that 20% of high school students don't graduate, but he left out some crucial context. The number of teens who drop out of high school has been on the decline over the past four years, according to a study released in November by the Alliance for Excellent Education.
    In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, the dropout rate was 19.1%. In 2008, it was 25.3%. Although the difference may not sound dramatic, the report says the dropout rate was stagnant between 2001 and 2008, so the improvement in a four-year time window is notable.
    According to the study, the number of teens who drop out of high school declined from 1 million in 2008 to 750,000 in 2012.
    While Carson neglected to mention the fact that graduation rates are improving, his estimation that 20% of teens leave high school without a diploma is accurate.
    Verdict: True.

    Marco Rubio

    Reality Check: Rubio on entitlements' impact on the federal budget
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    One of America's pressing economic problems is the national debt, Rubio said.
    "In less than five years, 83% of the federal budget will be consumed by Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the interest on the debt," Rubio said. "That means we will only have 17% of our budget left for everything else, including the military. That's unacceptable. That's a debt crisis."
    Actually, those three programs and interest payments are projected to make up 60% of the federal budget in 2021, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, citing Congressional Budget Office estimates. They currently make up 54% of the budget.
    Rubio may have been referring to all mandatory spending by the government, which includes programs such as food stamps and Affordable Care Act premium subsidies, plus interest payments. All those are estimated to total 74% of the federal budget in 2021.
    While these numbers are high, they aren't as steep as Rubio said.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Rubio on Libya post-intervention
    By Ryan Browne, CNN National Security Producer
    At the town hall, Rubio stressed his experience and judgment in foreign policy, and highlighted his stance on the 2011 U.S.-NATO intervention in Libya as evidence of his foreign policy judgment.
    "I have a record of good judgment on those issues," Rubio said. "In 2011, when Moammar Gadhafi was facing his overthrow in Libya, I argued that if that became a protracted conflict it would leave a vacuum that would be filled by jihadists and that's exactly what happened."
    Rubio was a vocal supporter of the military campaign against Gadhafi, which began in March 2011. In a letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Rubio voiced support for a bipartisan resolution authorizing the military action. He also endorsed regime change, explicitly calling for the removal of Gadhafi and the recognition of the Libyan Interim Transitional National Council.
    But did Rubio warn against instability in the wake of Gadhafi's fall?
    After the Gadhafi regime was ejected from power, Rubio, along with several other senators, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that called for increased U.S. involvement to stabilize Libya.
    They wrote "We can also help Libya lay the foundation for sustainable security. This requires safeguarding the immense stockpiles of weapons and dangerous materials that exist across the country. It also requires bringing Libya's many militias under the TNC's civilian authority, and working toward their demobilization, disarmament and reintegration into Libyan society."
    Soon after Gadhafi was killed, Rubio criticized the Obama administration for taking too long to oust Gadhafi and warned that the proliferation of militias and weapons in the wake of Gadhafi's fall posed a serious threat. He also called for increased U.S. involvement to prevent this from happening.
    Verdict: True.
    Reality Check: Rubio on refugee vetting
    By Laura Koran, CNN
    Asked by Minister Jason Lee whether he would support letting in more Syrian refugees, Rubio offered a word of caution.
    "It's almost impossible to vet people now from that part of the world," he asserted. "We don't have a database to rely on. You can't just call up 1-800-Syria and ask them do you know so and so, and do you know who they are and why they are coming?"
    "It's just become harder and harder to vet people from certain parts of the world," he concludes.
    Rubio's analysis about the challenges of vetting Syrian refugees is actually shared by senior officials in President Barack Obama's administration.
    "If someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them," FBI Director James Comey said in congressional testimony last year.
    Another of Obama's top officials, CIA Director John Brennan, said his agency was looking for ways to strengthen the process, noting the potential terrorist threat demonstrated in Paris in November.
    The State Department, for its part, stands by the vetting process they use to screen refugees, with Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner calling it "the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States."
    Applicants are vetted by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the FBI, as well as the United Nation's High Commission for Refugees.
    These agencies use biographical and biometric information about applicants to conduct a background check and make sure applicants really are who they say they are.
    A senior administration official told reporters in November that the government has benefited from the lessons of past refugee crises -- such as including an influx of Iraqi refugees in 2007 -- to refine the screening process and develop systems for cases where background information about an applicant isn't readily available.
    So while Rubio is correct to say there are challenges involved in vetting applicants from countries where the U.S. doesn't have an established presence, the administration asserts they have ways to mitigate that challenge through other procedures.
    Verdict: True, but misleading.
    Reality Check: Rubio on the Fed's responsibilities
    By Sonam Vashi & Tami Luhby, CNN
    Rubio said, "That's not the Fed's job, to stimulate the economy. The Fed is a central bank. It is not some sort of overlord of the economy. They're not some sort of special Jedi council that can decide the best things for us. The Fed is a central bank. Their job is to provide stable currency, and I believe they should operate on a rules-based system where they have a very simple rule that determines when interest rates go up and when interest rates go down. Today, it's like a Magic 8 Ball. We don't know when they're going to raise interest rates, and it creates an incredible amount of uncertainty in the marketplace."
    The obligations of the Federal Reserve go beyond simply providing stable currency. It manages U.S. monetary policy, the aim of which is spelled out in the Federal Reserve Act, which specifies that Fed officials should seek "to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates."
    In order to do that, the Fed has to keep watch on the health of the economy. It took extraordinary actions during the Great Recession to keep the country from falling into an even deeper slump. It lowered interest rates effectively to zero and stabilized the financial institutions by allowing them to borrow funds more easily.
    Rubio also references the Fed's hesitation to raise interest rates last year. The Fed's decision to raise interest rates was an assessment of how much the U.S. economy had recovered from the Great Recession. In March 2015, the Fed said it would raise interest rates when it had seen more improvement in employment and was confident of that inflation would move back to 2%. Analysts knew that the raise was imminent in the coming months, and the Fed kept deciding to wait to raise interest rates, creating uncertainty about exactly when it would happen. In December, the Fed finally raised interest rates, the first time in nearly a decade. That judgment was made by a committee using measurements in the unemployment rate and price indices -- not by a "Magic 8 Ball."
    Verdict: False.

    Ted Cruz

    Reality Check: Cruz says Bill Clinton put Trump's sister on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals
    By Tom LoBianco, CNN
    Cruz berated Donald Trump's sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, calling her a "radical pro-abortion" judge for striking down New Jersey's partial-birth abortion ban. To cap his point, he said she was appointed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by former President Bill Clinton.
    "Last year, not very long ago, when talking about Supreme Court nominees, Donald said his sister -- now his sister is a court of appeals judge, was put on the court of appeals by Bill Clinton -- he said his sister would make a phenomenal Supreme Court justice," Cruz said.
    It is true that Clinton nominated Barry for the appellate court. He did so in 1999.
    But not mentioned by Cruz is that the president he so often embraces, President Ronald Reagan, is the one who nominated Barry to become a federal judge in 1983 following a career in the Justice Department.
    Verdict: True.
    Reality Check: Cruz on Trump and Planned Parenthood
    By Theodore Schleifer, CNN
    Cruz said Trump had "explained how many wonderful things Planned Parenthood does" at last weekend's Republican debate and deemed the controversial organization "the largest abortionist in the country." Cruz's argument, which he has amplified in both paid and free media, is that Trump is not as committed to restricting abortion rights as Cruz is.
    The most explosive exchange in last weekend's Republican debate may have been when Cruz claimed that Trump "supports federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood," causing Trump to dub him the "single biggest liar." Trump explained that while he did not support their abortions, Planned Parenthood does good work on women's health issues.
    Trump has repeatedly said that he believes Planned Parenthood should be defunded after controversial videos featuring group officials purportedly discussing the sale of fetal tissue surfaced last summer. Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told CNN's New Day after the debate that Trump is "wholeheartedly against abortion funding" but pointed to some services that he favored.
    "You can talk about life-saving things like cervical cancer screenings without talking about leaving poor women unattended -- and still being against abortion," Pierson told CNN's John Berman. "And that's one of the things that Mr. Trump has done in this situation."
    So even as he backs defunding the organization like Cruz does, Trump commonly takes pains to praise the organization in general.
    "It does do wonderful things -- but not as it relates to abortion," he said in the debate on Saturday evening.
    We find Cruz's claim that Trump supports Planned Parenthood to be true, but misleading.
    Reality Check: Cruz on Rubio's immigration policy
    By Laura Koran, CNN
    Cruz once again attacked on Rubio's record on immigration.
    "In fact, on 'Meet The Press' with Chuck Todd a few weeks ago, Marco said we should grant citizenship to people here illegally even if they have criminal convictions."
    Here is the exchange Cruz appears to be referring to:
    TODD: Let me ask you by the way, quickly on the 11 million, are you still for finding a way for them to legally stay in the United States?
    RUBIO: Yeah. Look. If you're a criminal alien, no, you can't stay. If you're someone that hasn't been here for a very long time, you can't stay.
    TODD: Wait a minute. Define criminal alien --
    RUBIO: I do believe we have to have a reasonable solution --
    TODD: Define criminal alien. Isn't anybody who's here --
    RUBIO: A felon. A felon --
    TODD: OK, so not -- 'cause some people argue --
    RUBIO: Well, I know some people have said that before, but I believe --
    TODD: OK, all right --
    RUBIO: -- the opposite. But -- no, but I've said that before, Todd. That's been convinced. I mean, a felon, someone who's committed a crime, a non-immigration-related -- and that's what I've talked about in the past. So I do believe -- I don't think you're gonna round up and deport 12 million people.
    Rubio's somewhat flustered answer on Sunday was a defense of the controversial Gang of Eight bill in 2013, which he supported.
    That bill would have provided a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with some misdemeanors, but not those with felony convictions. But the bill never passed and Rubio has since disavowed that bill.
    However, Cruz's paraphrasing of Rubio's remarks suggests Rubio supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with criminal records.
    Verdict: False
    Reality Check: Cruz on Cuban dissidents being blocked from press conference
    By Kate Grise, CNN
    Cruz railed against Obama's announcement that he would be traveling to Cuba in the near future. He went on to say that the Obama administration has been less than friendly to Cuban dissidents -- specifically those who attended a July press conference marking the resumption of normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
    "When the Cuban officials came to Washington with the opening of the embassy, a Cuban dissident came to the press conference and wanted to ask a question and the John Kerry State Department said if she asked a question, she would be forcibly and physically removed," Cruz said.
    Rosa Maria Paya, a prominent Cuban dissident and daughter of the late Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, another Cuban dissident and writer, attended a press conference between Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez as credentialed members of the press. They claim that they were intimidated by John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, and told that they would be escorted from the conference if they asked questions.
    Paya tweeted that Kirby asked her not to ask questions at the press conference or they would use force to escort her out of the conference.
    There is also a video posted to YouTube that shows Kirby speaking with both Paya and Lazo. The edited video was posted by pro-democracy Cuban activist group Cuba Decide, who said the video was taken at the press conference in Washington.
    Kirby tells Lazo, "If there is any disruption, any speaking out of turn, the security people will come in to escort you out." Later in the video, Kirby questions Paya's media credentials.
    Cruz, along with two other Florida representatives, wrote a letter to Kerry asking him to open an investigation into the treatment that Paya and Lazo received at the press conference.
    "According to Ms. Paya and Mr. Lazo, when they arrived at the State Department before your press conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, they were identified by members of the Cuban delegation. When they entered the briefing room they were confronted by your chief spokesman, Admiral John Kirby, who requested they refrain from asking any questions or they would be forcibly removed," the letter read.
    Verdict: True.