Republican candidates for president faced off in South Carolina in their sixth debate
CNN's Reality Check Team put their statements and assertions to the test
The Republican candidates for president gathered Thursday in North Charleston, South Carolina, for their sixth debate,, 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 selected key statements and rated them: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It’s Complicated.
Reality Check: Bush on Iran missile tests
By Jamie Crawford, CNN National Security Producer
In discussing foreign challenges in the Middle East, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said, “As it relates to Iran, we need to confront ambitions across the board, reimpose sanctions. They already violated sanctions after the agreement was signed by testing medium-range missiles.”
The agreement Bush was referring to was the deal reached last year between Iran, the United States and five other countries that seeks to roll back Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Since the signing of that agreement, Iran has indeed tested missile technology. The test violated sanctions not covered by the new deal but rather in contravention of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions. Last month, a panel at the United Nations said Iran violated existing resolutions when it tested a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead in October.
But under the terms of the agreement reached in Vienna last year over Iran’s nuclear program, the missile tests, while violating existing resolutions, are actually not a violation of the new agreement because that accord is focused on restricting Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.
In fact, the October ballistic missile test violation would not contravene the nuclear agreement brokered with Iran once it goes into effect, which the Obama administration believes will happen soon. Under the new nuclear deal, Iran will be able to conduct ballistic missile tests – a concession to Iran included in the deal – meaning Iran could have simply waited until after implementation of the deal to do the test.
Verdict: True – Iran violated the sanctions, but not the nuclear weapons agreement
Reality Check: Rubio on Cruz’s opposition to ethanol
By Theodore Schleifer, CNN
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida claimed that Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas flipped on his support for ethanol, just one attack in a rapid-fire succession of them, but also the one that could matter the most in Iowa, which is a leading corn producer.
Cruz has always opposed the Renewable Fuel Standard, the fuel mandate supported by the state’s ethanol interests, calling it an example of corporate welfare pushed by “lobbyists and Democrats.” It’s an issue that Cruz has taken flak over all across Iowa, with voters frequently questioning him at town halls and retail stops concerned about his view.
Cruz admits that he did co-sponsor a 2013 bill that would’ve ended the RFS immediately. But his current position, as outlined in a 2014 comprehensive energy bill he introduced in the Senate, is to phase it out over five years, with his policy as of now to end the RFS by 2022.
The ethanol lobby sending negative mailers about Cruz’s record says that he did flip, but Cruz denies that, pointing to his bill instead of the one he co-sponsored. Cruz’s personal preference, however, has always been for a five-year phase-out.
Reality Check: Rubio says Obamacare is a certified job killer
By Tami Luhby and Kate Grise, CNN
Rubio said that Obamacare is “a certified job killer.”
In fact, Obamacare is not a job killer, according to the 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Education Trust survey released in September 2015.
The report showed that only 4% of employers with at least 50 employees said they shifted some staffers to part-time hours so they wouldn’t qualify for health care, and another 4% said they were reducing the number of full-time employees they planned to hire because of the cost of health benefits. In fact, that study showed that 10% of employers reported that they were changing workers from part-time to full-time status to enable them to obtain coverage.
An ADP Research Institute study had similar findings.
One reason may be that the economy has been improving. Some companies interviewed by ADP said they may increase their part-timers’ hours to retain talent and reduce training costs.
As to whether employers are cutting jobs because of Obamacare, it’s nearly impossible to determine from Labor Department data since the economy is recovering and adding jobs. The number of people who can only find part-time jobs has declined in recent years, signifying companies are hiring more full-time workers.
Marco Rubio and Chris Christie
Reality Check: Rubio claims Christie supported Sonia Sotomayor
By Marshall Cohen, CNN
Sen. Marco Rubio took a swipe at Chris Christie when he said the New Jersey governor backed President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009. Christie hastily denied the accusation.
But looking back at the record, Christie did in fact support Sotomayor’s nomination. It was July 2009, and Christie locked in a tight race for governor of New Jersey, a Democratic-leaning state. Perhaps in an attempt to appeal to moderate voters, Christie said “elections have consequences” and threw his support behind Obama’s nominee.
“While Judge Sotomayor would not have been my choice, President Obama has used his opportunity to fill a seat on the Supreme Court by choosing a nominee who has more than proven her capability, competence and ability,” Christie said at the time. “I support her appointment to the Supreme Court and urge the Senate to keep politics out of the process and confirm her nomination.”
Verdict: Rubio’s claim is true, and Christie’s is false
Reality Check: Rubio accuses Christie of donating to Planned Parenthood
By Marshall Cohen, CNN
Rubio also accused Christie of donating to Planned Parenthood, a highly contentious allegation, especially considering the effort among conservatives to strip the organization of its federal funds.
After the allegations first surfaced, The (Newark) Star-Ledger unearthed a 1994 article where Christie, who was running at the time for a position in county government, said, “I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations.”
But in the past week, Christie insisted that he was misquoted in the old article: “This is a quote from 21 years ago. I’m convinced it was a misquote,” Christie told The Washington Post. ” Understand what was going on. In 1994-95, I was fighting against county funding of Planned Parenthood even though I was pro-choice.”
So it’s true that Christie once said he donated to Planned Parenthood, and Rubio and his allies are holding that article up as proof. But Christie claims the quote was inaccurate. So given the “he said, he said” situation, it’s difficult to know for sure where the truth lies.
Verdict: It’s complicated
Reality Check: Trump says Paris has the “strictest no-gun policy of any city anywhere in the world”
By Ryan Browne, CNN
Donald Trump said the terrorist attacks in Paris last year happened despite the city having “the strictest no-gun policy of any city anywhere in the world.”
However, in France, private gun ownership, while heavily regulated, is permitted.
According to French law, to get any category one or four weapons, like a Glock pistol, you need to be 21, to have joined a shooting range for the last six months, provided a blank criminal record and a certificate of physical and mental health not older than two weeks. Then, the local police precinct starts a “morality investigation” in your neighborhood, according to French journalist Phillipe Coste.
While French laws are restrictive, the gun laws in the UK are even more so. After a series of mass shootings in the 1980s and 1990s, the UK passed a law effectively banning the private ownership of all handguns.
According to the UK government’s Home Office 2015 “Guide on Firearms Licensing Law,” the British Firearms Act of 1968 and its 1997 modification “has meant the prohibition of handguns.”
Reality Check: Trump on law professor about Cruz
By Kevin Liptak, CNN
In defending his questioning of Sen. Ted Cruz’s eligibility for the presidency, Donald Trump cited Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, who Trump claimed is raising “a serious question to whether or not Ted can do this.”
Although Tribe has weighed in on Cruz’s eligibility, he has not outright questioned whether Cruz – who was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father – would be considered a “natural born citizen,” the definition of which Tribe says is “completely unsettled.”
What Tribe has questioned is whether Cruz’s own originalist judicial theories – expressed when the senator was a student in his Harvard Law class, and again on the campaign trail when speaking about potential judicial nominations – would render himself eligible for the White House.
“Ironically, the kind of justices he says he wants are the ones that say he’s not eligible to run for president,” Tribe argued on CNN this week. “This is important because the way this guy plays fast and loose with the Constitution, he’s a fair-weather originalist.”
In a Boston Globe editorial, Tribe argued that almost any judge would avoid weighing in on Cruz’s eligibility.
“No real court is likely to keep Cruz off the ballot, much less remove him from the White House if he were to win – Bush v. Gore isn’t likely to get a return engagement over this issue,” he wrote.
But soon after the debate concluded, Tribe went further, telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the issue is a “serious cloud” over Cruz and saying he can see a challenge going to the Supreme Court.
“If some secretary of state refuses to put his name on the ballot if he’s the nominee, there’s no way out of it other than to have Cruz or the Republican National Committee sue the secretary of state. And that issue would then have to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Tribe said. “But the fact is, you know, it’s a serious cloud. It has to be taken seriously. It’s not just a matter of coming up with great talking points or winning some debate. I think he does a disservice to the Constitution and the country when he thinks he can slide his way, slip slide his way around this serious constitutional issue,” Tribe said.
Verdict: True (Editor’s note: We changed the verdict from false because Tribe’s comments after the debate suggested a legal fight was much more likely.)
Reality Check: Cruz on the U.S. sending $100 billion to Iran
By Eve Bower and Sonam Vashi, CNN
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said, “President Obama is preparing to send $100 billion or more to the Ayatollah Khomeini. I will tell you, it was heart-breaking …”
We previously fact-checked this when Donald Trump made a similar claim in the December 15 debate. Here’s what we found:
In 2011 and 2012, the United States and Europe imposed sanctions on Iran that included freezing some Iranian assets overseas. With the announcement of a deal in 2015, those same assets stand to be released, creating a pool of money that will be newly available to the Iranian government. The total amount of those assets is not known, but as a deal with Iran seemed imminent, some estimated that the number was as high as $150 billion.
In late July, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deal, House Speaker John Boehner, just as Cruz said, claimed that “more than $100 billion” in unfrozen assets would be available to Iran.
Both the Treasury Department and the White House have disputed these estimates.
In Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s July testimony to the Senate, he estimated that, after sanctions relief, Iran will only be able to access “about $50 billion” in unfrozen assets. He noted that another large portion – about $20 billion – was tied up in projects with China, and “tens of billions” comprise nonperforming loans to Iranian energy and banking interests.
The money already belongs to Iran but has been frozen, so the United States is not sending this money from its coffers to the Iranian government. Additionally, none of the parties with access to the assets have substantiated an estimate close to the figure that Cruz suggested.
Reality Check: Cruz on percentage of Americans working
By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
Asked whether America’s economy is as strong as President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address, Sen. Ted Cruz said, “We have the lowest percentage of Americans working today of any year since 1977.”
Last month, 59.5% of Americans age 16 and older were employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s higher than it was in 1977, when it ranged from 57% to 58.7%.
The share of Americans employed during Obama’s terms has ranged from as low as 58.2% in mid-2011 to as high as 60.6% when Obama took office in January 2009.
Since 1977, the highest share of Americans were employed in April 2000, when 64.7% had a job.
However, the overall percentage of adults who are working isn’t the best measure, since the number of retirees is growing as the nation ages. So let’s look at the share of prime working age adults (age 25 to 54) who are employed. Some 77.4% of these Americans were employed in December, compared to between 71% and 72.8% in 1977.
By no measure is the share of Americans employed at its lowest point since 1977.
Reality Check: Cruz on Dianne Feinstein taking away all guns
By Lisa Rose, CNN
During a discussion of proposed reforms to gun laws in the wake of recent mass shootings, Cruz claimed, “California senator, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said if she could say to Mr. America and Mrs. America give me your guns, I’m rounding them up, she would.”
Feinstein did say something to that effect – 21 years ago. And she was referring specifically to assault rifles, not all firearms.
Cruz exhumed the comment from a 1995 episode of “60 Minutes,” during which Feinstein discussed the limitations of the assault weapons ban. She talked about loopholes in the law that allowed dealers to sell assault rifles weapons at gun shows.
“If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them, ‘Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in,’ I would have done it,” Feinstein said. “I could not do that. The votes weren’t here.”
Because Feinstein’s comments were only about assault weapons and made 21 years ago, not as part of Obama’s current initiative, we rate his claim true, but misleading.
Reality Check: Cruz on Manhattan’s conservatives
By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Cruz, explaining his attack on Donald Trump’s “New York values,” asserted there are “not a lot of conservatives coming out of Manhattan.”
There’s no doubt New York City’s third-most-populous borough is known more for liberal urbanites than as a bastion of conservatism. But the island is not without its Republicans.
Voter registration records indicate there are 83,970 active Republicans on the rolls in Manhattan – only about 10% of the total number registered, but not an insignificant portion.
Some of those Republicans carry outsized influence on the national political stage. The latest federal campaign finance filings show Manhattan donors contributed $2.9 million to Republican presidential candidates, the second-highest concentration of donations in the country behind Houston.
Cruz himself has taken in $135,588 from Manhattan’s ZIP codes this cycle, behind his rivals Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, but still more than many other Republicans in the race. While those numbers are far behind the campaign cash taken in by Democrats in Manhattan, the borough clearly remains a magnet for politicians of all stripes looking to raise funds.
The federal filings also don’t account for contributions to outside groups like super PACs, which raise enormous amounts of money from wealthy Manhattan donors. One of the most prolific conservative political donors, David Koch, is a resident of Park Avenue.
Cruz’s claim that “not a lot of conservatives” come out of Manhattan is, based on pure voter registration numbers, true. But the influence of the Republicans that do reside there extends well beyond the East and Hudson rivers.
Verdict: Mostly true
Reality Check: Fiorina on vetting visa applicants’ social media accounts
By Kate Grise, CNN
During the Fox Business Network undercard debate, Carly Fiorina claimed that “this (Obama) administration has told us they don’t even bother to check Facebook or Twitter to find out who’s pledging allegiance to jihadists. We can do better than this, citizens. We need to take our country back.”
On December 16, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that the department has, in fact, been examining social media when reviewing visa applications since early 2015.
“Under my leadership as secretary, we, in fact, began to consult social media in connection with conferring various immigration benefits and we will be doing more of this,” he added. “Any reports or partial reports to the contrary are simply false.”
Johnson did acknowledge that there were some restrictions on looking at an applicant’s social media account before 2015, but said that there was no current policy prohibiting the check of an applicant’s social media.
“We had policies in place regarding consulting social media, which in my judgment, particularly in this current environment, were too restrictive,” Johnson said.
Many have criticized immigration officials for not checking the social media accounts of Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino, California, shooters, after there were reports that she advocated jihad in messages on social media. Her comments were made under a pseudonym and with strict privacy settings that did not allow people outside a small group of friends to see them, U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN.
FBI Director James Comey said that neither Malik or her husband and fellow shooter posted publicly on social media about supporting jihad.
However, they did show “signs in their communication of their joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom” in private messages, according to Comey. The comments were private communications, both by phone and social media, and the U.S. government was not monitoring them because they had no reason to. The couple were not on any terrorist watch lists, and Malik made her comments under a fake name behind many privacy settings that would have required a warrant to access them.
Even if immigration officials had looked at Malik’s social media accounts, they would not have had access to her private communications.
A U.S. official told CNN that the United States only recently began routinely reviewing the social media activity of visa applications from certain countries. The exact date that these types of reviews began is not clear, but it was after Malik’s application was considered, the source said.
While the policy changed only a year ago, Fiorina’s claim that immigration officials don’t bother looking at visa applicant’s social media has been untrue for more a year.
Reality Check: Fiorina on record numbers of men out of work
By Tami Luhby and Sonam Vashi, CNN
“We have record numbers of men out of work, we have record numbers of women living in poverty, we have young people who no longer believe that that the American Dream applies to them,” Fiorina said.
There were 42.1 million men who were not working in December, just below the record 42.9 million set in October 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes men who were not in the labor force, as well as those who are unemployed. (To be included in the labor force, you have to be working or actively looking for a job.)
While Fiorina’s comment is true, it is misleading because the vast majority of men who are not in the labor force are not looking for work. They include students, retirees and those who’ve just given up trying to find a job.
That said, there is an employment crisis among working-age men these days. The labor force participation rate – which includes those who are working or have looked for a job in the past four weeks – is near record lows. The share of men ages 25 to 54 in the labor force now hovers near a record low of 88%. It stood at nearly 97% in 1965.
Verdict: True, but misleading
Reality Check: Fiorina on Geneva Conventions
By Jamie Crawford and Ryan Browne, CNN
Regarding Iran’s brief detention of U.S. Navy sailors, Fiorina said, “The President wouldn’t even mention the fact that Iran had taken two Navy boats and our sailors – hostage. He didn’t mention the fact that they violated the Geneva Conventions.”
The Geneva Conventions are a series of treaties and rules that apply in times of armed conflict and also seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities.
In a briefing with reporters on Thursday, State Department spokesman John Kirby said, “The Geneva Conventions apply for wartime; we’re not at war with Iran. So, it’s a moot question.”
Legal experts with whom CNN spoke tend to agree with that assertion.
“We don’t have a state of declared war or actual armed conflict between the U.S. and Iran, therefore the application of the Geneva Conventions does not come into play,” Allen Weiner, the director of Stanford’s Program in International and Comparative Law, told CNN. “Both sides have said it was an inadvertent crossing into territorial waters, where Iran is entitled to exercise criminal jurisdiction,” Weiner added.
Steven Vladeck, a professor at American University School of Law in Washington and a CNN contributor, told CNN that “Common Article 2 of Geneva is clear on this,” and only applies in a state of war or armed conflict.
“There is a whole lot of daylight between animosity and armed conflict,” Vladeck said, adding other legal mechanisms applying to international human rights law or governing the law of the sea, but the absence of direct armed conflict between the two countries negates the application of the Geneva Conventions in this case.
But legal experts said there are relevant legal provisions that Iran could be in violation of based on what occurred.
Some experts CNN spoke to did indicate that the Iranian actions may have violated customary maritime law. In a situation where a ship enters territory waters due to a technical problem or damage, a country “would have the right to verify the problem” but not use force to detain the sailors, according to Craig Allen, a professor of marine and environmental affairs at the University of Washington.
Reality Check: Santorum on Americans without college degrees
By Lisa Rose, CNN
Rick Santorum said that President Barack Obama’s policies have hurt the manufacturing sector, creating dwindling employment opportunities for the “74% of Americans who don’t have a college degree between the age of 25 and 65.”
The former senator, a Penn State alum who once called the President a snob for promoting higher education, needs to check his numbers again.
According to 2014 census data, the most recent stats available, 67% of Americans between 25 and 64 have not graduated from college. The total number of people in that age bracket is 164.8 million, and 55.2 million of them have not attained a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Santorum made a similar statement in May on “Face the Nation,” although he blamed both parties for failing to address economic inequality among the “70% of Americans who don’t have a college degree.” Politifact checked his claim and rated it true, crunching Census numbers to conclude that 68% of Americans 25 and older don’t have degrees, good enough for a green light from the website.
Santorum wasn’t a math major at Penn State so he can be forgiven for the miscalculation, but he should have stuck with his original estimate. For that reason, our verdict is false.