Republican debate: CNN's Reality Check team inspects the claims

Story highlights

  • CNN's Reality Check team spent the night putting the GOP candidates' 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

Washington (CNN)The Republican candidates for president gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday for their last debate before the first votes of the 2016 primary season are cast, 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.

Jeb Bush

    Reality Check: Bush on authorization of force against ISIS
    By Kate Grise, CNN
    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the Senate did not give President Barack Obama the authorization he asked for to use military force against ISIS.
    "We shouldn't have the warfighters have their arms tied behind their back as President Obama wanted to do, but they had a chance to show support and it wasn't popular at the time," Bush said.
    Last February, the White House proposed a resolution which asked Congress to authorize the "limited use of the United States Armed Forces" to fight ISIS alongside the anti-ISIS coalition, but did not go so far as to authorize putting American soldiers on the ground.
    Neither the Senate nor the House brought the resolution up for a vote -- and it is still sitting on Capitol Hill.
    Last month, the President once again called upon Congress to vote on his resolution.
    "If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists," he said, using an another term for ISIS.
    It should be noted that the actions that the President's resolution would legalize were already underway and will continue whether or not Congress votes on this draft.
    We rate Bush's claim as true because Congress did not bring the resolution up for a vote.
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    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio then pushed back against Bush, saying, "The authorization that Barack Obama asked for was not against ISIS, it was against (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad. John Kerry described it as attacks that would be unbelievably small. I don't think the United States should be engaged in symbolic military activity. It was not against ISIS, it was against Assad."
    Obama did, in fact, go to Congress in August 2013 to ask for authorization to strike the government of Assad in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack. That resolution was never passed by either chamber but was presented to the Senate after passing through a Senate committee.
    We rate Rubio's claim that Obama's resolution was not about targeting ISIS as false, but we also rate his claim that Obama also asked Congress to authorize the use of force against Assad as true.
    Reality Check: Bush says you can buy his book for $2.99 on Amazon
    By Gisela Crespo, CNN
    A quick look on Amazon shows the Kindle version of Bush's 2013 book, "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution," goes for $11.99. The hardcover is priced at $18.78 and the paperback is $13.17. However, you can get a used copy for as little as 50 cents.
    When it comes to the price of his book, at least used, we rate Bush's statement as true.
    As for Immigration Wars not being a bestseller, it's true: it ranks #346,025 on the Amazon bestsellers list.

    Rand Paul

    Reality Check: Paul on bulk data intelligence program not stopping terrorism
    By Ryan Browne, CNN
    Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said, "The bulk collection of your phone data, the invasion of your privacy, did not stop one terrorist attack. I don't think you have to give up your liberty for a false sense of security. When we look at this bulk collection -- the court has looked at this -- even the court declared it to be illegal. If we want to collect the records of terrorists, let's do it the old fashioned way. Let's use the Fourth Amendment."
    The National Security Agency's bulk collection of American telephone metadata, which included the telephone numbers that originate and receive calls, as well as the time and date of those calls but not their content, has proven controversial. There has been robust debate as to whether it has actually contributed to the prevention of terrorist attacks.
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    Obama had strongly defended the Internet and phone data collections, saying in 2013 the programs have saved lives and thwarted at least 50 terror threats. However, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, former NSA Deputy Director John Inglis admitted that the number of cases where the program was used was actually 13. The program was terminated last year.
    Geoffrey Stone, a member of the review committee appointed by the White House to examine the program, said in an interview with NBC News that the committee found that the bulk data collection program by itself could not be credited with stopping any "really big attacks."
    The New America Foundation conducted an in-depth analysis of 225 terrorists that had been apprehended since 9/11, and the study found that the contribution of NSA's bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.
    But experts caution that that's the way intelligence works: many intelligence collection operations operate with multiple intelligence techniques that serve as redundancies.
    No one program is typically responsible for stopping an attack, so it is impossible to say with certainty that the program by itself stopped an attack that could not have been prevented with more conventional methods.
    Verdict: True.

    Chris Christie

    Reality Check: Christie on New Jersey job growth
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been attacked on his stewardship of the Garden State, bragged that "in 2015, New Jersey has had the best year of job growth that our state has ever had in the last 15 years."
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    He's correct. The Garden State added 65,200 jobs last year, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The next best performance was in 2012, when New Jersey employers added 44,000 jobs.
    Still, New Jersey's job growth was rather mediocre when compared to other states. In December, the state ranked 24th in year-over-year job growth, according to Arizona State University's School of Business.
    Verdict: True.

    Ben Carson

    Reality Check: Carson on "absurd" government regulations
    By Marshall Cohen, CNN
    Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson had a lot to say about the far-flung reach of the federal government.
    "Well, as anyone knows who's been listening to me, I'm very much against the government being involved in every aspect of our lives," Carson said. "Last year, there was an additional 81,000 pages of government regulations. If you stack that up, it would be a three-story building. This is absolutely absurd."
    According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, there were in fact 81,611 pages of new government rules, proposed rules, regulatory notices and executive orders in 2015. The group, which says it opposes onerous government regulation, notes that 2015 set a record for pages of new federal regulations.
    So, would all those pages really stack up as tall as a three-story building?
    We borrowed a ream of paper from the newsroom copier (500 sheets) and measured it to be two inches thick. The average building story height is 10 feet. So, if you do the math, a three-story building would be about as tall as 90,000 sheets of paper. That's pretty close to the height of an imaginary stack of new regulations.
    Verdict: True.

    Marco Rubio

    Reality Check: Rubio on Cruz's budget votes
    By Kevin Liptak, CNN
    Rubio sought to discredit the national security record of his Republican colleague Sen. Ted Cruz by claiming "the only budget that Ted has voted for is a budget that Rand Paul sponsored that brags about cutting defense spending."
    Rubio's claim harkens back to a 2013 amendment introduced by Paul that would have set defense spending levels at what, on paper, was a lower level than in previous years.
    Paul, who has warned against big government and overspending, did tout the measure as a way to shrink the military.
    The budget "seeks to reduce the size and scope of the military complex, including its global footprint to one that is more in line with a policy of containment," he wrote at the time.
    But the bill came after mandatory across-the-board cuts, known as "sequestration," were enacted that slashed defense spending. Taking into account the lower levels under the sequester, Paul's plan actually increased spending on the military.
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    Rubio's claim that the 2013 vote is the only budget Cruz has supported also begs scrutiny. When Rubio made a similar claim in a Fox Business debate, Cruz fired back that he supported one of Rubio's own budget amendments that increased military spending to $697 billion.
    Cruz was right: he voted for the measure in March 2015, though it ultimately failed to garner enough support for passage.
    Rubio's claim that Cruz supported Paul's budget -- which was advertised as reducing the size of the military, but which actually increased defense spending -- is true. But his assertion that Cruz hasn't supported other measures is false, since he supported Rubio's own bill that increased spending.
    Reality Check: Rubio claims he "never" supported cap-and-trade
    By Marshall Cohen, CNN
    Asked about environmental policy, Rubio said he has never supported cap-and-trade, a policy designed to drive down pollution by creating a regulated market for carbon emissions.
    "If they're going to impose this on us, we better prepare to protect the state from it," Rubio said, referring to efforts in Florida to create a cap-and-trade program. "I have never supported cap-and-trade, and I never thought it was a good idea, and I was clear about that at the time."
    His record at the time is clear -- but it's not what he claimed Thursday night at the debate.
    In March 2008, Rubio told a local TV station that he believed cap-and-trade was "inevitable" on the federal level, and therefore, Florida should act quickly to become "an early complier" so it can "help influence what that cap-and-trade looks like."
    He went on to propose giving the Florida Department of Environmental Protection a mandate to "design a cap-and-trade, or a carbon tax program, and bring it back to the legislature for ratification." Months later, Rubio presided over a unanimous vote in the Florida House to do just that, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
    So, Rubio's claim at the debate that he never supported cap-and-trade is false. He might not support the idea now, but he helped pave the way for Florida to create a cap-and-trade system when he was a state lawmaker.

    Ted Cruz

    Reality Check: Cruz on Obamacare as a job-killer
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    Blasting Obamacare fell to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Thursday night.
    "It is the biggest job-killer in this country," Cruz said. "Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work."
    In fact, Obamacare is not a job-killer, according to the 2015 Kaiser Family Founation/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. Kaiser found that 10% of employers reported that they were changing workers from part-time to full-time status to enable them to obtain coverage.
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    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.
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Cruz on naval power
    By Jamie Crawford, CNN
    Claiming that the United States military has been "dramatically downgraded" during the Obama administration, Cruz said that when the first Gulf War began in 1991, the United States "had 529 ships. Today, we have 272."
    That figure appears to be correct, according to the Navy's Naval History and Heritage Command website, which tracks the size of the navy going back to the 19th century.
    Under the section "U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels," the site says there were 529 active ships in the Navy as of September 30, 1991. The Gulf War took place in January 1991. For the record, the site claims there were 570 active ships as of September 30, 1990, less than two months after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and launched the international crisis that eventually led to the war.
    The Navy's website keeps tabs on the current force structure and says there are currently 273 deployable ships in the U.S. arsenal.
    According to the Navy, the Navy decommissioned many older ships after the end of the Cold War in 1991, a decision that led to a smaller overall fleet. Ship levels also were not greatly increased in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks as older surface warships have been replaced at a less than one-to-one ratio.
    While the numbers Cruz cited of naval power are correct, the decline of ship power took place over the course of two decades and multiple presidential administrations, and not just the past seven years, as Cruz posited.
    Verdict: True, but misleading.
    Reality Check: Cruz on carpet bombing
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    During a discussion of ISIS, Cruz offered a military history lesson: "You want to know what carpet bombing is? It's what we did in the first Persian Gulf War. One thousand, one hundred air attacks a day, saturation bombing that utterly destroyed the enemy."
    Cruz is wrong in his characterization of the Gulf War bombing campaign. The air attacks conducted during the Gulf War were precision-targeted, with laser-guided bombs designed to hit enemy fighters and minimize collateral damage. That is the mirror opposite of carpet bombing, which is an indiscriminate attack blanketing an area with explosives. The United States hasn't engaged in attacks that could be described as carpet bombing since the Vietnam War. In 1977, the Geneva Conventions adopted a protocol that banned indiscriminate air attacks of cities and towns with large concentrations of civilians.
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    The term carpet bombing dates back to World War II, when the Allies bombarded broad swaths of Nazi Germany and Japan, killing thousands of civilians. As technology advanced, enabling the military to conduct more precise airstrikes, the United States shifted towards narrowly targeted attacks. During the Gulf War, the United States used "smart" weapons systems designed to carry out attacks with surgical accuracy.
    The Texas senator, who has never served in the military, has used the carpet bombing line several times over the course of the campaign. During the CNN GOP debate in December, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Cruz if he would carpet bomb the ISIS-held city of Raqqa.
    Cruz said, "You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops. You use air power directed and you have embedded special forces to direct the air power. But the object isn't to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists."
    Cruz is wrong that the U.S. used carpet bombing in the first Persian Gulf War. To do so would have been a war crime.
    Verdict: False.

    Mike Huckabee

    Reality Check: Huckabee on manufacturing jobs
    By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
    Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said the nation has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs just since the year 2000.
    That's true. There were 12.3 million manufacturing workers in the U.S. last month, down from 17.3 million at the start of 2000, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    Huckabee went on to say he visited Newton, Iowa, where workers lost their jobs in 2007 after Maytag's washer-dryer facility went out of business. "All those jobs went to Mexico," he said.
    That's not so true. Maytag, which was headquartered in Newton, was bought by Whirlpool in 2006. Whirlpool shuttered the Maytag factory and shifted production to Whirlpool's existing factories in Mexico and Ohio, according to a 2007 New York Times story.
    Verdict: True on the loss of manufacturing jobs, but false on all of Newton's Maytag jobs going to Mexico.

    Carly Fiorina

    Reality Check: Fiorina on Planned Parenthood
    By Sonam Vashi, CNN
    "Planned Parenthood engages in partial-birth abortion, in late term abortion," former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said. "They alter those abortion techniques to harvest and sell body parts, they have admitted that they are not going to accept compensation for this anymore."
    Over the summer, a conservative group called the Center for Medical Progress released undercover videos and accused Planned Parenthood of performing partial birth abortions and selling fetal tissue.
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    Partial birth abortions are illegal, and Planned Parenthood has repeatedly denied that it performs partial birth abortions, or that it has participated in any illegal activity. On Monday, a Texas grand jury investigation into Planned Parenthood cleared the group, instead indicting two members of the Center for Medical Progress who secretly recorded Planned Parenthood members.
    Officials in 11 states have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, according to the organization. Officials in another eight states declined to even investigate the accusations made by the Center for Medical Progress.
    Planned Parenthood has said that money it accepts for fetal tissue is used to cover costs, not to generate profit. In October, the group announced that it would no longer accept any reimbursements for fetal tissue used for research.
    Planned Parenthood does not engage in partial birth abortions, and they do not sell tissue for any profit (although they have now said they will not accept any reimbursement whatsoever).
    Verdict: False.
    Reality Check: Fiorina on the Department of Veterans Affairs
    By Sonam Vashi, CNN
    Fiorina said, "The American people got a bill passed through Congress that said we could fire the top 400 senior executives at the V.A. For dereliction of duty, when we know that 307,000 veterans have died waiting for health care and the V.A. Handed out $142 million worth of bonuses for superb performances."
    Let's unpack her statements:
    The bill to which Fiorina is referring, the Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014, would give authority to the secretary of the VA to fire about 400 senior executives for poor performance. The bill passed the House in May 2014 but has since been sitting in the Senate.
    So Fiorina's claim that the bill has passed through Congress is false.
    The 307,000 number comes from a Veterans Affairs report released last September and it represents the number of pending records that belonged to veterans who had died in previous months. However, that number does not necessarily represent veterans who were actively seeking treatment in VA health care, according to the VA's inspector general.
    Due to problems with the VA database, some of those records include people who died before the VA had even started its health care enrollment system, or people who did not apply for health care benefits specifically. To say definitively that 307,000 people "have died waiting" for health care may be a stretch, so we rate her claim as it's complicated.
    And in November 2015, USA Today reported that the VA had given out $142 million in bonuses to employees in 2014, as incentives or tied to performance reviews. That claim is true.

    Rick Santorum

    Reality Check: Santorum on Americans without college degrees
    By Lisa Rose, CNN
    Presenting himself as a working class advocate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said the other candidates are ignoring a large swath of the populace. He declared that 74% of Americans don't have college degrees.
    Santorum, who has two postgraduate degrees, mentioned the same stat during the last debate two weeks ago, and our verdict was false.
    But let's check our numbers again. There are 209.3 million Americans aged 25 and older, according to the 2014 Census, and 142.4 million of them have not attained a bachelor's degree or higher. That's 68% of Americans, not 74%.
    During an appearance on "Face the Nation" in April, Santorum said that he would champion the "70% of Americans who don't have a college degree." That was close enough to the Census figure to earn Santorum a true rating from Politifact.
    Unfortunately, the Penn State graduate changed his calculation to 74% and has repeated the same incorrect stat at two debates in a row. Perhaps it's a Pennsylvania hat tip to Groundhog Day or maybe he needs a math refresher. Our verdict was and remains false.